Updated | Profits fall in restaurants, foreign staff found to be ‘more loyal’

MIA-Deloitte survey paints picture of restaurant sector burdened by energy costs and facing decline in local patrons or skilled staff.

chris_mangion
Chris Mangion
29 May 2013, 12:00am
Tourists find little local colour in Maltese restaurants, and spend less than local patrons.
Tourists find little local colour in Maltese restaurants, and spend less than local patrons.


Delays in roadworks and infrastructural projects, and a lack of "resources" were the main culprits for decrease in profits, restaurants told a Deloitte-MIA survey that also listed energy costs and lack of public amenities as major gripes.

The Deloitte survey presented by partner Raphael Aloisio also pointed out that the general elections in March contributed to the decline in profits, apart from other factors such as unlicensed competition and increase in food costs.

A survey of over 100 outlets that generate over €40 million in turnover annually found a slight increase in profits for restaurants in the St Julian's area, but also in Valletta and Gozo

The survey, presented today, said that 41.9% of restaurant owners interviewed have been operational for over 16 years, while 27.9% have been in operation for the past five years.

The survey said the owners highlighted a lack of access to EU funds and banking credit, as impediments to their businesses' development.

Energy costs have also dented the profit margins for restaurants, and owners said they have had to turn to social media to improve their marketing efforts and monitor commentary of their reputation on websites. Four out of every five restaurants in Malta is now believed to have its own webpage, the survey found.

Of concern was the belief that tourists holidaying in Malta did not consider dining at restaurants "an integral part of their holiday", and that eating out was more about satisfying a basic need rather than "tapping into the local culture".

Restaurant owners have however had to get to grips with particular dietary needs of their patrons, with 45.5% saying they now provide vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives.

Malta Tourism Authority spokesperson Tanya Sultana said that the majority of restaurateurs interviewed in the MIA-Deloitte survey felt there had been an increase in tourist clients over local patrons, but 44% claimed that tourists spent less on food anyway.

Patrons are also showing greater preference for al fresco dining, but a lack of regulations over encroachment warranted the need for a one-stop-shop solution on information and permits.

Owners also felt the need to tackle the trend of illegal employment in the waiting and kitchen areas, saying black market jobs were not being addressed strongly enough, and that this was affecting both profits and human resources for bona fide employers.

The establishments surveyed employed 1,111 persons altogether, 57% of which were part-timers, a sign of a lack of skilled workers found in the catering sector. "The ability to innovate and multitask are two of the hardest skills to come by," Sultana said.

And "loyalty" was also a value that was sorely missing among restaurant employees: "foreign workers tend to be more loyal to their employers than locals."

Potential employees in the catering industry also tended to seek jobs in the hotel industry rather than at restaurants, because they felt there was more job security in these establishments.

This appears to have led to an increase in illegal employment, where both employees and employers seem to view restaurant employment as a stop-gap measure rather than a job for life.

Matthew Pace, of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association's restaurants action group, said that an effort should made to portray jobs in the catering industry as a career, and not just a fallback option when all else fails.

"The fact that foreign employees show more loyalty towards their employers while locals tend to take their jobs for granted, is something to consider," Pace said.

On his part, Intercontinental Hotel human resources manager David Vella said the sector could not expect the Institute for Tourism Studies to do miracles. "ITS can only cater for a number of a students at the same time. Training should be followed up, in order to ensure that more people in the sector see their jobs as careers."

ITS's deputy director James Perry said in reply that his institute was trying to portray the importance of the service industry as a career. "While celebrity chefs have hyped up the career of cooking, waiting on people has never been equally promoted. The decline in the attractiveness of a professional waiting career has even been affected by the disappearance of waiting arts such as carving and flambé."
chris_mangion
Chris Mangion is MaltaToday’s photojournalist, joining the newspaper in 2013.

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