Staff shortages force top gastropub to close week before new year

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Festive trade: the pub saw more than 300 covers lost in the lead up to Christmas (image: Getty/Igor Vershinsky)
Festive trade: the pub saw more than 300 covers lost in the lead up to Christmas (image: Getty/Igor Vershinsky)

Related tags Kent Staff Training Legislation Health and safety Top 50 gastropubs

Staffing shortages forced the Duck Inn at Pett Bottom, Kent to close a week before New Year’s Day and made Christmas a difficult trading period, said chef-patron Dean Legg.

Across the past few months, a number of Legg’s small team have contracted Covid including himself, the restaurant manager, some front of house team members, his business partner and girlfriend.  

“The week leading up to New Years, I contracted Covid as did as did three of my staff members, so we actually had to close for the week up to New Year's unfortunately,” said Legg. 

This came after many cancelled table reservations before Christmas, with the Duck Inn losing 313 covers in the first half of December, due to fears about the Omicron variant. 

Sticky situation

Legg continued: “Initially we were going to open the Tuesday to the Friday leading up to New Year's Eve. We normally close on a Tuesday, so I don't think a lot of people knew we were open, but then on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we were fully booked. 

“That’s the downside to being a small team: if one or two people do get ill, it puts us in a sticky situation”.  

Furthermore, Legg said staffing issues in the industry at the moment made it “incredibly tough” to recruit new staff who saw the industry as a career. 

He said: “It's easy to find uni students, it's easy to find people that just want to make a quick buck, but they're not in the industry for the long run; they don't have the pride and passion. That's where we're all struggling at the moment”. 

For Legg, the salaries and wages of jobs in hospitality did not match the intensity of the industry. “It’s incredibly hard, the hours are long, and it’s enjoyable work at certain times,” said Legg. 

He added: “On the flip side, it's also an incredibly rewarding job. So, it’s just about trying to find the people that have the passion and see the industry as a career as opposed to just a quick money-maker”. 

Basic training and hard graft

Legg believed social media and TV programmes gave the wrong impression about what working in the industry was actually about, with programmes showing junior rising rapidly to the top of the ranks. 

“They perform fairly well, and then they have the financial investor wanting to back them for their own restaurant,” according to Legg. 

“For me,” he continued, “that’s setting a lot of people up to fail, before they've put the hard work they’ll just walk into the kitchen and demand to be a chef position, wanting £35,000 already. 

“That’s not how it works. It’s about the basic training and hard graft you have to put in before you get there. It doesn't happen overnight in this industry”. 

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