Chef recruitment crisis

“No half decent pub chef is paid enough” – ex-chefs on why they left the industry

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

James Walker: "Nowadays, [chefs] are treated like crap"
James Walker: "Nowadays, [chefs] are treated like crap"

Related tags Chef Salary

Sub-standard wages and long hours are driving chefs out of the sector, contributing to the industry-wide chef shortage, according to ex-pub chefs.

James Walker, who worked as head chef at various pubs over seven years, said: “The industry hasn’t caught up with the real world – there is little quality of life, the wages are always below what they should be and a decent personal life or sustaining a decent relationship is hard, especially if you have kids.

He added: “No decent pub chef is paid enough – lots of things would need to change before I would go back as a chef. Wages are a big issue.

The ex-chef also said working in a pub kitchen had a negative public image that needed to be dealt with.

He said: “The word ‘pub’ makes people thing of ‘ping’ chefs, but some of the best pubs in the country now have Michelin stars. It’s not fair on all the chefs working 12-14 hours a day, six days a week.”

Walker added that many things would need to change before returning to work as a pub chef.

He said: “When I first became a chef the respect shown to the chef was second to no-one and that’s how it should be. Nowadays, they’re treated like crap. I’m not saying they should be on a pedestal but some respect for years of hard graft and knowledge would be good.

“If you get a good head chef in your pub then pay him what he wants – within reason – and treat him well. These are the guys that will make or break your business. It will cost more to have the right chef leave than it will to employ the cheaper one that is a yes man.”

Never again

Clare Pennell, an ex-head chef who worked in pubs across the South East, said: “[Chefs are] not even close to paid enough. Most are on salaries but expected to work six or seven day weeks, split shifts and nights. I can’t remember my salary but it wasn’t a lot for the hours I was working.

Pennell said she would never again work in the UK due to the bad conditions and lack of pay.

She added: “On the whole I was treated well, but in my last employment I wasn’t getting paid regularly, things like holidays were non-existent and there was a lack of equipment to the job.”

Chef shortage

According to workforce development charity People 1st​, 42% of current chef vacancies are considered hard to fill, with the industry set to need an additional 11,000 chefs by 2022.

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