There is a chronic shortage of chefs and front of house staff in Oxfordshire, with the situation worsening by the day.
“In the 18 years I’ve been doing this I’ve never known it like this. It is unprecedented. we have never had this many vacant positions and so few applicants,” Lee Morris, director of catering recruitment company Goldstar in Kidlington tells me.
The Feathers in Woodstock announced today that it would have to close on Sunday nights and Mondays because of staff shortages – they are two chefs down:
“Whilst we are a business trying to regenerate a loss of revenue from the global pandemic we feel it’s also highly important the take care of all our hard working staff,” GM Dominique says.
Head chef Ben Bullen adds: “Staff shortages are straining everyone right now! What we need is understanding customers and patience. Our beloved industry has taken a beating but when people are rude and not understanding it’s making it a million times worse!
“What’s even worse is that no staff are coming through the door, and people are not turning up to interviews! Hospitality is what I live and breath (apart from my gorgeous family) and watching this slowly get worse is saddening! We all need to stick together and push forward but looking after what we’ve already got is the main thing.”
“Our business has had to reduce it’s opening hours as a result, resulting in a lower turnover”
Chris Brewster who has just opened The Duke of Marlborough in Woodstock said: “In all my years in the industry I have never know anything quite like this. Staff are the be all and end all in the hospitality industry and it is impossible to function without them. Our business has had to reduce it’s opening hours as a result, resulting in in a lower turnover.”
“two members of staff were brought to tears by customers because they were so rude. The general public needs to hold the people cooking and serving their food in a higher regard!”
Chris Mulhall of The Plough 38 in Oxford said: “We can’t remember it ever as bad. We are struggling to get both chefs and front of house staff. Many hundreds of thousands left hospitality during the pandemic, I suspect never to return. The pandemic has obliterated employment in the industry. Experienced staff are the lifeblood of our business, we hope they come back anytime soon.”
Another chef patron I spoke to yesterday said that his chef went for a cigarette break on Friday and never came back.
Ross Drummond at No1 Ship Street said: “Getting good, experienced staff is always really difficult but more so than ever at the moment. The shortages are driving up the hourly rate, the number of people that reply to an advert is pretty small. The percentage that actually turn up to the interview, then the trial and successfully begin their training is smaller still.”
Lee Morris at Goldstar has seen twice as many jobs coming in with 80% less applicants for each one
Which means that those currently working in kitchens and restaurants are absolutely flat out, heightened by the sudden increase in customer traffic brought about by the easing of lockdown, the sunshine, and customers supporting their local pubs and restaurants like never before.
Jo Chapman from The Wandering Kitchen in Berinsfield said: “During the pandemic staff have taken the opportunity to retrain and leave! They found jobs that paid the same or more, but with probably 100% less stress. It is really sad.
“Hospitality is a vibrant and alive industry full of exciting possibilities. People need to be encouraged to view it as such”
“We now have the problem that customers are coming out of the pandemic wanting ‘normal’ service to resume. And nothing is normal for the industry. We had to take staff on at the last minute so no one was trained. We were so busy over the bank holiday that two of my members of staff were brought to tears by customers because they were so rude. The general public needs to hold the people that are cooking and serving their food in a higher regard!”
Lee Morris at Goldstar has seen twice as many jobs coming in with 80% less applicants for each one. So what’s gone wrong?
“Brexit meant huge numbers of foreign hospitality staff went home, more followed when lockdown was announced and then failed to return, plus many of those on furlough found other employment and haven’t returned to the hospitality industry. Throw in a lack of new recruits coming up through the ranks, and there is now a gaping void in hospitality staffing levels,” he says.
“Those working in the industry have been taken for granted for a long time and it’s time for change”
Paul Welburn, head chef at 215 in Summertown, called it “the perfect storm” and urged the government to step in and reboot recruitment into the hospitality industry: “It’s a real problem and as an industry we need to do something about it, to make hospitality more attractive as a career option, offer a better work/life balance and review the pay. Those working in the industry have been taken for granted for a long time and it’s time for change.”
Hamish Stoddart, MD of Peach Pubs such as The Fishes in Hinksey, The Thatch in Thame, The Ragged Bear and Staff in Cumnor and The Fleece in Witney says: “Brexit has removed our European team, while Covid has reduced international travellers. Large corporates are also now paying well, some as much as £15 per hour for drivers, and for some, this prompts them to leave hospitality. As a result we have lost some really great overseas teams even though Peach has been awarded Best Companies to Work For, year on year. “
“There’s a huge job to be done by the hospitality industry and the educational sector to make ‘cheffing’ an attractive career option. The pipeline is currently empty”
Baz Butcher from The White Hart Wytham says: It’s pretty horrific across the board. We’ve been saved by a very loyal team who are working incredibly long hours – and of course that’s no good to man or beast. They get that we could have been out of business and evidently have decided to pull together, which as an owner is very heart warming.
“I don’t see an improvement for possibly years. There’s a huge job to be done by the hospitality industry and the educational sector to make ‘cheffing’ an attractive career option. The pipeline is currently empty.”
“Soon we will be faced with some very difficult business decisions such as closing the restaurants for a couple of days each week”
Sarah Heather Holt of The Mole in Toot Baldon and The Mole & Chicken in Easington says: “Business is booming but it is proving very difficult to recruit. Soon we will be faced with some very difficult business decisions such as closing the restaurants for a couple of days each week to make sure that the staff are not overworked, because looking after our staff is paramount to us as well as being able to deliver the standard of food and quality of service we want to deliver and our customers expect.
Hamish Stoddart added” “We’re also seeing less live-in team from Australia and New Zealand due to travel restrictions, so the pandemic is having a huge impact. We are staying positive but profits have greatly suffered during the pandemic, and we like so many in the industry, continue to need government support and a passionate team to deliver great food and drink, in order to survive.”
“Hospitality is what I live and breath (apart from my gorgeous family) and watching this slowly get worse is saddening!”
So what can be done? “The industry needs to pull together and show that hospitality is a great place to work. We have to offer a good work-life balance, where wellbeing is top of our agenda, and also make sure we are doing the right thing for the planet and our environmental impact. We need to encourage balance in our kitchens, and offer apprenticeships and placements so team can experience what it’s like,” Hamish adds.
So is there anything the industry can do as a whole to help? Rufus Thurston from Arbequina on Cowley Road said: “The pandemic has given a lot of people a kick to really assess how their business moves forward, and this seems to be shaking up a lot in general.”
So who is the hospitality industry now looking for and why aren’t they coming forward? “Skills can always be taught to those with the drive to learn them. Hospitality is a vibrant and alive industry full of exciting possibilities. People need to be encouraged to view it as such,” he adds.
Lee Morris agrees: “I think a lot of it is to do with mental health. People are finding it really difficult to go back into such a busy workplace after the pandemic. In the meantime, they have had time to explore other options that don’t take up their evenings and weekends. So going forward the government needs to make hospitality a more attractive career and employers to review pay, hours and staff wellbeing.”