East Worthing & Shoreham MP Tim Loughton was joined by Employment Minister Mims Davies, MP for Mid Sussex to service customers at The Fat Greek Taverna in Portland Road, Worthing, on Thursday(September 30).
It came after owner Andy Sparsis challenged the MPs to work a shift at his restaurant so they could see first-hand the challenges those in the hospitality industry face.
Mr Sparsis said: “We really want to be able to show the government exactly what it is like working in the restaurant because I think sometimes it’s hard for them to ‘mansplain’ our industry.
“What we are trying to do is say, ‘Look, these are the real issues’ and it’s very easily done when they are here rather than over a Zoom chat.
“I hope we can find a greater understanding surrounding VAT and the impact of costs for restaurants because we won’t be able to put wages up unless we get a decent package from the government, which VAT is a big part of. We need to see that stay at five per cent and not rise to 20 per cent.”
Ms Davies said it was ‘absolutely right’ that the government listened to people like Mr Sparsis. She added: “We did have the five per cent VAT which was brilliant to bring people back into hospitality and give them that confidence with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.
“We are still lower than we were before. We were at 20 percent, we are now at 12.5 percent. I can’t right the Chancellor’s budget for him, but I’m sure the Chancellor and the Treasury will be listening to people like Andy, and the sector, who have been lobbying really hard to make sure that we try to remain competitive, and of course it has been an ask across the hospitality industry.
“But I would point out that, actually, our councils and the business sector have been brilliant, working together around reducing business rates and giving people all the support that they need.
“Of course as a government we want businesses like Andy’s to be thriving, so we will always be listening and it will be down to the Chancellor to see what he can do when he makes that statement.”
Mr Loughton said one of the reasons The Fat Greek was so successful was because employees were well looked-after.
“They’ve got a number of employees, including quite a few that have come over from the EU, who have stayed here and are a great experienced workforce,” said Mr Loughton.
“We need to make sure all businesses are looking after their employees well, but also because of the changing work patters that have happened partly because of the pandemic, in things like hospitality where the hours are not particularly social, I think we need to look at more creative job-sharing schemes.
“I just think we are going to have to look at creative new work models to enable more people to work more flexibly in the future.
“Work patterns were changing and the pandemic has accelerated that whole process, and businesses will be and are being creative, and the government needs to make sure the tax system and the employment system are complementary to be able to work smarter.”
Ms Davies said although the shift was fun, it had served as a reminder of how hard people in the hospitality sector work.
She added: “It’s been really fun, and we’ve been juggling responsibilities. Tim and I have been waiting on the same tables and haven’t had any mess-ups or spillages, but it’s been a really good reminder of the camaraderie of what its like to be in a restaurant.”
Mr Loughton said he took his hat off to the people who work in the hospitality industry. He added: “Looking after lots of customers coming in, making sure everyone gets the right course, and making sure they remember to pay is quite a tall order but it really helps when you’ve got a fantastic restaurant with a great reputation, serving great food.
“It makes the life of the staff much easier when people are very happy and you get a big smile at the end of it.”