Waiter on the terrace of a Madrid restaurant. / Óscar chamorro

Recovery of Spain's bar and restaurant sector is threatened by a lack of staff

The number of vacancies could be as high as 100,000 but employers refute claims that the pay is too low. The average pay is 17,000 euros gross a year, although it can vary from province to province

LUCÍA PALACIOS Madrid

'Waiting staff wanted'. This sign can be seen in the windows of thousands of bars and restaurants in Spain at the moment, and the Cepyme trade association says the number of vacancies could be as high as 100,000. Demand is particularly high in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Seville, Castellón, Malaga, Valencia and the Canary and Balearic Islands.

But what is happening? How can the country with the highest unemployment in Europe, with three million people looking for work, at the start of a summer which promises to be the busiest for three years, have so many vacancies?

Bar and restaurant owners are very concerned, and point out that the economic recovery of Spain after the pandemic depends on tourism, the sector which contributes most to GDP, and if there are not enough workers it will be difficult to maintain the services that make this one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Demanding work

José Luis Yzuel, the president of the Hostelería de España association, says part of the problem is that this type work is demanding and it is difficult for staff to reconcile their work and personal lives because of the hours involved.

The government is blaming low salaries and insecure working conditions for the problem, something the sector strongly rejects. Associations point out that many of the job vacancies are for qualified and experienced staff and they say there is a shortage of people with the relevant training.

Figures from Infojobs show that 70% of workers in the sector have no specific qualification and the Basque Culinary Center says that catering colleges have high numbers of aspiring cooks but hardly any students who want to become waiters.

The average pay for a waiter in Spain is 17,000 euros gross a year, which means they would take home just over 1,200 euros a month, although it can vary from province to province.

The pandemic is partly to blame

Unions say the main problem is that many of the 800,000 temporary jobs in the sector went during the pandemic, so staff had to find work elsewhere and have not returned. Another problem is that, with the return of international tourists, many bars and restaurants want staff who speak other languages, and they are not always easy to find.

Another reason, put forward by researcher Florentino Felueroso, is that this sector has traditionally employed a large number of immigrants, and this is something that changed during the pandemic. He also points out that in other European countries nearly 40% of students take on waiting jobs to earn some money, but in Spain that is not so common.