Restaurant staff shortages have become a big issue in the UK as venues seek to reopen following months of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nine in 10 hospitality business owners expect to face recruitment problems this year, says new research by consultancy groups CGA and Fourth, published last week.
While many restaurant and pub staff have been forced to find alternative work following successive lockdowns, the report’s authors said ‘Brexit has also caused a steep drop in people travelling from Europe to work in the UK’.
‘Since the hospitality reopening, we receive almost every day emails [from] agencies or restaurants looking for sommeliers,’ Federica Zanghirella, vice president and course director of the UK Sommelier Association, told Decanter.
Michel Roux Jr, the high-profile chef patron of Le Gavroche, said, ‘We have found it very difficult to find staff across all of my establishments, including in Scotland, for all positions from KP to managers. Even ‘casual’ [and] agency workers are very scarce.
‘We’re very lucky that at Le Gavroche, all of our senior team members have come back.’
Adam Handling, chef and owner of Adam Handling Restaurant Group, said, ‘I actually think this is a harder time to recruit than I can ever remember before.’
He added, ‘Front-of-house doesn’t seem to be as difficult but there genuinely seems to be a national chef de partie shortage.’ He said he had been lucky at this flagship ‘Frog by Adam Handling’ restaurant in London’s Covent Garden, but still needed chefs at newly opened The Loch & the Tyne, in Old Windsor.
Emma Underwood, general manager of the soon-to-open Pem restaurant by chef Sally Abé, said the hospitality world was used to staff shortages but that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have created a ‘perfect storm’.
She said, ‘The last year has been extremely difficult for those working in restaurants, and it is with little surprise that they are now re-evaluating and changing their working life. Brexit and Covid travel restrictions mean that there are a fraction of workers coming to the UK from overseas to populate our teams.’
Underwood said that it was important to reach out to people who may not have previously considered careers in hospitality, and that the industry in general should reflect on the working environment, too.
‘We need to, as an industry, continue to demonstrate how wonderful a career in hospitality is,’ she said.
‘We need to truly consider the people that work for us and ensure they are being properly looked after and financially rewarded. The restaurant scene in London, and across the UK, is one of the most progressive and exciting in the whole world, and everyone should be singing about this.
‘I am optimistic that this will settle down, that we will once again see bustling and busy restaurants with happy full teams.’
Zanghirella said the UK Sommelier Association plans to restart its training course in October and that ‘we would like to help the sector [by] running more courses’.
She said the media also has a role in making people aware of career possibilities. ‘Young people don’t know how fast, rewarding and fulfilling [it] can be working in a restaurant as a sommelier. For all the talk of staff shortages, she added, ‘no one talks about the solution: training’.
The UK Sommelier Association is one of several groups offering a route into the sommelier world and hospitality, with the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and Le Cordon Bleu London among others offering training and wine education of different kinds.