Baz Butcher at The White Hart Wytham has been forced to close a few days a week to give his existing staff proper time off

Baz Butcher from The White Hart in Wytham, where business is booming, is having to close the pub a few days a week due to the current staffing crisis.

At The Magdalen Arms in East Oxford staff shortages and a surge in customers has meant the pub has been forced to shut on Sunday nights, Mondays and Tuesday lunchtimes and lose valuable income.

The Boxing Hare in Swerford is closing for an extra day a week to give staff some proper time off, despite being madly busy.

It’s a similar story throughout Oxfordshire, where staff shortages are having a massively detrimental effect on our cafes, pubs and restaurants.

“IT’S LONG BEEN AN INDUSTRY THAT CAN CAUSE HUGE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AND NONE MORE SO THAN NOW”

But one good thing to come out of all this is that hospitality bosses are now concentrating on providing a better work/life balance for their staff.

Baz says: “I am extremely lucky to have an incredibly professional team who voluntarily, and without me asking, have been putting in hours that are off the scale in order to help this business recover.

The dining pods at The White Hart in Wytham

“But they are suffering, and today we’ve discussed and planned closure on one or two days of the week, and a restricted menu, to enable proper ‘time off’. It’s long been an industry that can cause huge mental health problems and none more so than now.”

“do we need to be more open to things like job sharing so employees can lead a more balanced life?”

Matt Beamish at The Kingham Plough has brought in a similar policy and sees it as a positive step in the right direction to get more people back into the industry.

“We are very lucky. We have held onto all our staff and are very busy but we have altered our structure to give our chefs a four day working week and then three days off. We are also paying our staff more to give them a better working environment,” he said.

Matt and Katie Beamish

Chris Brewster at The Duke Of Marlborough in Woodstock announced that the pub would be closed on Mondays until July due to staff shortages to allow their existing staff time off, a practice now being repeated up and down the county.

“We want to look after our team, so while it has been difficult to find staff, and we have had to close three Mondays in a row, it’s important that our existing staff get time off,” he says.

Chris Brewster at The Duke Of Marlborough in Woodstock

Sarah Heather-Holt at The Mole in Toot Baldon says: “If we don’t find a chef to support Darryl in the kitchen we will be forced to close on a Monday and Tuesday to ensure the staff are not overworked. It is the only option.” 

“A REAL SHAKE UP NEEDS TO HAPPEN – PEOPLE HAVE REALISED THAT 80-90 HOUR WEEKS AREN’T SUSTAINABLE”

Kay Chandler at The White Hart in Fyfield says: “Lockdown has made a lot of hospitality workers revaluate their careers but we have always treated our team like family – we pay way over the average wage and the wellbeing of our team is central to our business.

“Even so, with every shift being like a Saturday night since we reopened, it is vital that we do even more. We are currently recruiting for extra front of house and chefs, with the aim of reducing everyone’s hours and giving a better work life balance. The chefs are moving to a 4 day working week and the front of house will have an extra shift off a week as well, whilst all retaining the same pay. 

The new outdoor dining option at The White Hart Fyfield by night

“Although it is tough at the moment for everyone in hospitality, us included, with such a shortage of staff about, I hope that the long term benefit will be that everyone reacts the way we have to take care of their team, and that there will be a much needed shift within hospitality in general to provide a better work/life balance and become an attractive career option.”

WHY IS THERE A STAFFING CRISIS? READ OUR PIECE HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/we-just-cant-find-any-staff-chronic-lack-of-chefs-and-front-of-house-staff-in-oxfordshire-reaches-crisis-point/

At the Oxfordshire Yeoman in Freeland, landlords Anna and Paul have been forced to book street food vans to feed customers while they search for a chef.

Paul Hughes and Anna Munday have taken on the Oxfordshire Yeoman pub in Freeland

“Demand may be high, and that’s great, but there’s only so far you can stretch staff before you have to think about shutting at certain times to make sure we are as good as we can be when we are open,” Anna says.

“There can’t be many other industries where split shifts are the norm and no weekends off”

“Like many others, we think a real shake up needs to happen – people have realised that 80-90 hour weeks aren’t sustainable and that’s fair enough but people assume that’s the norm and recruit for it.

“And so as pubs, restaurants do we need to be more open to things like job sharing so people can lead a balanced life? And do potential chefs need to consider what they want for that within a reasonable monetary limit? We also need to look at how people enter the industry – are they valued? Are they going in at the right wages and getting the right training and support?”

The Magdalen Arms

Florence Fowler from The Magdalen Arms says: “Yes, it’s hell, we have been recruiting for months and are now losing revenue by having to close, but we just don’t have enough staff! And as owners we cannot take a break because we don’t have the staff to cover.”

“today we’ve discussed and planned closure on one or two days of the week and a restricted menu to enable proper ‘time off’”

Luke Champion at The Hollybush in Witney is thankful the current crisis hasn’t hit them but ensures his staff have a 45 hour week and are properly paid.

Nick Anderson chef patron at The Boxing Hare in Swerford said: “I think that our industry has always expected and relied upon staff to work very long hours, and do whatever it takes!

“For a lot of people the forced breaks of lockdown have given us all a taste of what other industries experience as the norm, proper time off ! We like many are having to close an extra day to give our staff the time off they deserve. There can’t be many other industries where split shifts are the norm and no weekends off. Our staff are paramount to our success and must be looked after.”

Lee Morris at Goldstar Recruitment in Kidlington is inundated at the moment with hospitality staffing requests. “Places are having to shut because they do not have the staff,” he says. “There are so many vacancies to fill and yet there is no long-term solution.

“The government needs to deal with the problem now or the hospitality industry will shrink. They need to incentivise people to come back into the UK to work in the hospitality business or we are screwed. It’s a national emergency.

Or as one GM who recently left the industry put it: “If people would rather work at Amazon than in hospitality then we are doing something wrong. Things have to change to give people a better work/life balance or people will continue to leave the industry. Something has to be done.”

KATHERINE MACALISTER