Pub group finds tough economy ‘aids chef recruitment’

By Claire Churchard contact

- Last updated on GMT

On the Upham: pub group looks to expand
On the Upham: pub group looks to expand
The chief executive of the Upham Pub Group has said that tougher economic conditions have made it easier for them to recruit staff, particularly much-sought-after chefs.

Upham CEO Chris Phillips told The Morning Advertiser​ that the period of intense competition for in-demand staff was easing for them.

“Where [the economic conditions] are helping us is in finding staff. It’s becoming a lot easier to recruit the right people. When people were opening up massive restaurants in shopping centres and so forth it had become quite difficult to find good staff. But these places are beginning to calm down a bit, like Byron for example.”

Labour market changes 

In the first three months of this year, a number of restaurant chains have announced site closures due to tough trading conditions, including Byron, Prezzo, Jamie's Italian and most recently Carluccio's.

While Phillips was not happy that these business were suffering, he had noticed the resulting change in the employment market.

He said: “Previously chefs had been coming to us, then they had been offered a ridiculous salary to go somewhere else, then that business goes bust. This had been happening a bit over the last few years.

“Now we’ve got people ringing us up and asking us if we’ve got any work, which is a nice turnaround.”

The employer also introduced an app for staff to keep in touch with what is going on across the group’s pubs and to alert them to internal vacancies to encourage promotion within the business. “Staff retention has improved massively this last year, partly because of the app,” said Phillips. “The app also highlights a number of courses staff can go on.”

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Expansion plans

The economic conditions may also support the group’s property expansion plans, Phillips suggested.

“We’ve always been a business that cherry picks pubs rather than buys groups of pubs. I’ve always got pubs in my sights that I’d like to buy. I’m waiting for them to get to the right sale price. So it’s a question of timing on that. What has restricted us in the past has been finding the right management. There are so many pubs we could buy but unless we find the right team to go in there it’s absolutely pointless because you end up with a terrific site and nobody to run it.

“When I’m buying a pub, I like to have in mind who will run it, who's going to be the head chef, is that style of cooking going to fit where they are.”

He said he would like to add another couple of pubs this year, but only if they have the right team to do it with.

Sales results

Earlier this year Upham announced sales of £15.6m to year ending December 2017, up 25% from the year before.   

Phillips said this success was partly down to the 16-strong pub group not being a branded operation. “This makes it easy for us to change our business quickly wherever we are without having to follow a particular format.”

The group has also increased its accommodation capacity, adding 10 bedrooms in 2017, taking the group total to 159.

Top sommelier praises UB5 craft ale

Upham also launched its first craft beer – UB5 – in 2017, which has recently been praised by leading beer sommelier and member of the British Guild of Beer Writers Annabel Smith. In her report on UB5, she said the addition to Upham’s brewery’s portfolio was “a well thought out, appetising beer” that combines the best characteristics of ale and lager.

In her report, she said lager versus ale was “the paradox of the beer world”, and she encouraged beer drinkers to move away from labels and definitions.

Commenting on UB5, she said: “It takes the invigorating tongue tingling freshness of lager, united with the seams of flavour supplied by an ale. It keeps the cherished cold temperature, which lager-heads demand, but allows the ebullient ale yeast and hops to rise through the chill.

“In the increasingly complicated world of beer, we don’t need another style description confusing and alienating drinkers. We just need a good beer…who cares if UB5 is a lager or an ale?”

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