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‘It’s catastrophic’: Italian restaurants in London struggle to find staff post-Brexit



Emanuela Reccia has lived in London for almost a decade. She was a teenager when she left her home city of Naples to become a waitress in the UK, bringing her expertise and love of Italian cuisine to the capital.

But the 27-year-old, like thousands of other Italians working in the UK hospitality industry, now feels she has no option but to leave and return to Europe after the latest round of post-Brexit rules.

The new Brexit-driven regulations, which came into effect last week, raised the minimum salary threshold for a skilled work visa from £26,000 to £38,700, far more than many restaurant employees earn. The average wage for waiting staff in London in 2024 is £28,000, according to recruitment site Glassdoor.

Last week, the Italian press lamented the end of a rite of passage for young Italians, who would no longer be able to get visas to work as waiters in London. In the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, Antonio Polito wrote: “A young Italian with initiative, the will to work and curiosity could once say ‘I’ll go to London’.”

Reccia, who works at Ciao Bella, a restaurant in Bloomsbury that has been open since 1983, said: “In this country we are very stressed now and under pressure. Before Brexit … we were free.

“If I leave, I’m going to miss it a lot. When I’m away from Italy I miss my family, but London became my second home and I bought a house here. For me, it’s very hard to leave.”

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Authentic Italian places ‘need cooks and waiters that understand the food and the wine’ says the owner of Ciao Bella. Photograph: Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Reccia’s husband has already moved to Spain to pursue job opportunities because the couple are finding UK living costs too high.

Plaxy Locatelli, who runs Locanda Locatelli in Marylebone, central London, with her husband, Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli, said that before Brexit they had never had any problems finding Italian chefs and waiting staff.

In recent years, however, she has noticed a downturn in the availability of Italian staff. “It has been an absolute disaster,” she said. “We’ve been open for 22 years and held on to many of the same staff for a long time. They’re now feeling it’s not worth it in the UK and are deciding to leave after all this time.”

Reccia’s boss, Ciao Bella’s owner, Patrizia Pollano, took over the restaurant with her late husband in 1999. She said she had never faced such a shortage of Italian staff in 25 years: “I have staff who have been with me for eight years but now they want to leave.” She added that even if they earn good wages, they are finding the cost of living in the UK too high. “I completely understand that. If they go, I don’t know how long I can carry on [with the business].”

Pollano has offered her staff higher wages in the hope of encouraging them to stay. And although she does hire non-Italian staff, she expects them to know about Italian food and culture. “When running an Italian restaurant, you need to have cooks and waiters who understand the food and the wine,” she said. “This is an authentic Italian place: the customers expect it to have an Italian atmosphere and vibe.”

Locatelli agrees: “Food is important in the Italian lifestyle. Young Italian people come to the UK to work in cafes and restaurants, and see it as a real art. It’s more than a job – it’s a career. People come to the restaurant for the Italian food and have commented that it’s strange to not have as many Italian staff as would be expected any more. This is catastrophic for the industry.”

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