RESTAURANTS across the north face reduced opening hours due to a chef shortage simmering across Ireland.
Local eateries will face lean times post-Brexit, the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said, following the organisation's appeal to the Irish government to save the faltering industry south of the border.
A shortage of qualified chefs has forced some restaurants to shut on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the RAI has demanded the reintroduction of the State Tourism Training Agency `CERT' which was abolished in 2003 - to help train new catering staff.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummings also warned that Northern Ireland's growing reputation as a culinary destination was also at risk due to the lack of skilled kitchen workers, and he said Brexit could be the breaking point for struggling establishments who rely on overseas staff.
"The north, along with the south, faces a huge problem, and in NI it will be an even bigger problem when Brexit kicks in," Mr Cummings said.
"Closures such as we are seeing in the south are a definite possibility."
Calling for further training centres to be built to help reduce the Republic's annual deficit of 5,000 chefs to work in the thousands of restaurant, pub, and hotel kitchens, he added: "The hospitality and tourism industry is one of our most valuable assets. It is ludicrous that there are no training colleges for our industry in this country.
"Among the applicants submitted for chef positions, many are deemed not to be appropriately qualified. This reflects the fact that there is not enough chef training centres.
"We want to be able to market Ireland as a centre of food excellence, a true culinary experience with world-class chefs leading the way. Instead, we are finding ourselves in a position where we have a severe shortage of chefs in Ireland which is now threatening the success of the tourism industry's recovery."
The RAI's post-Brexit fears have been echoed by Hospitality Ulster, whose Brexit and Beyond policy paper highlighted that 20 per cent of the hospitality workforce in the north hailed from overseas.
In the document, the group called for no restrictions on the employment of foreign workers.
The report stated: "Any restriction on ability of our industry to recruit external labour will have a serious impact on Northern Ireland as it will directly impact our rate of growth and have a negative impact on the local economy."