Opinion

Dealing with the staffing shortage

By Dave Wall, head chef the Unruly Pig, Bromeswell, Suffolk

- Last updated on GMT

Facing the staffing challenge: the Unruly Pig head chef Dave Wall
Facing the staffing challenge: the Unruly Pig head chef Dave Wall

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While working with a hangover isn’t a new concept for many from the world of hospitality, dealing with the aftermath of Covid and Brexit is the ‘day after’ on steroids, presenting a whole new torrent of tangles, issues and problems to battle with on a daily basis.

The exodus of a sizeable chunk of the industry’s European workforce multiplied by a slashing of confidence in job security for both stalwarts and prospective candidates has created an unsustainable shortage of labour that is wreaking widespread havoc.

Early in my cooking career I was told that one of the merits of being a chef is that you’d always be sure of a job. In today’s climate, however, in the wake of lockdowns and the realisation that we can never be too confident in what tomorrow might bring, the knowledge that should we enter yet another lockdown hospitality will be the first to have to roll down the shutters once again is not a wonderful recruitment tool.

The fear of having your pay cut on furlough or, even worse, being uncertain your pub or restaurant will even have a job for you going forth has driven many to the world of retail et al where these concerns are just not an issue.

Potential for bums on seats

This shortage on labour inevitably has its knock-on effects. Fortunately, after spending a pretty large chunk of the past 18 months locked down, coupled with a boom in ‘staycations’, many are eager to get out and about and I think most pubs and restaurants have found themselves with plenty of potential bums on seats.

That is fantastic and we all aspire to be nice and busy but if we then can’t find the staff to deliver to the right standards then there will be a pretty quick fall from grace.

The inevitable conundrum you are then faced with is how to balance capitalising on demand, delivering the best product you can but also looking after your team. If you are tight on staff then that means the team that you do have are probably picking up the slack. Pulling together and smashing it out is one of the joys of working in hospitality that I love but, sooner or later, it can take its toll.

Everybody knows this and with how difficult it is to recruit new staff, nobody wants to run the risk of burning out the team that they do have and/or losing them.

Unsustainable models

Already many places have had to take the difficult decision to reduce their services or cap their covers to cope. Across the board there has been inflation on salaries and improvement on employee benefits as operations do their best to attract new candidates and make sure their own staff are not ‘magpied’.

This is really fantastic for employees and a welcome move, but if the jostling continues, too many operations are going to find themselves with unsustainable models. Margins in hospitality are generally already razor thin, and with too many consumers not empathetic of the necessary pricing inflations that most operations need to administer in order to survive (or even, daresay, turn a profit), the balance on the scales risk being very much out of control.

With further challenges around the corner, namely the uncertainty of Covid rates through winter and the VAT increasing, there’s going to be plenty more seat-gripping stuff to come. But as ever in hospitality, we’ll grit our teeth, put our game faces on and keep push-pushing on.

Related topics: Chefs

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