Bullying – is it still to blame for staff shortages?

“I don’t know any kitchen in the UK that isn’t looking for staff,” Andrew Fairlie, chef at the eponymous restaurant at Gleneagles, said at the launch of Scotland’s Junior Chef of the Year, this week. The skills shortage is a long-running issue that Andrew and thousands of other chefs have been trying to solve and one we’ve tackled on these pages frequently.

Changes to the immigration regulations are certainly one factor – just this week hundreds of Asian restaurateurs were gathering in North London to discuss how to fill the thousands of vacancies in their sector. Some analysts fear a third of the UK’s 12,000 curry houses face closure.

A reputation for long and anti-social hours coupled with poor pay doesn’t help either. April sees the introduction of the National Living Wage – perhaps that’ll encourage more people to seek a career in the industry?

Then there’s the hugely damaging effect of the scandal surrounding some restaurant’s less than transparent or honest management of tips and service charges.

But then there’s also the large elephant in the room – bullying. Interestingly, at the same event, Andrew Fairlie said he believed that the industry had changed for the better. “Over the last 30 years, to its great credit, the industry has taken many steps to remove this aggression. The macho culture has dwindled and kitchens are nowadays often calm places where the emphasis is on order as well as creativity.”

If that is the case, and there are those in the industry who aren’t so optimistic (you can re-read Tim Bouget of ODE-True Food’s blog from last year), then much needs to be done about perceptions. A new report shows that bullying is the number one reason that hospitality staff seek help online.

Hospitality Action revealed that almost one in five (17%) of the visits to the charity’s online help fact sheets were about bullying.

And for those that think that what goes on back of house or in the kitchen doesn’t have an impact on diners’ choices, think again. Our consumer research repeatedly tells us that consumers really care about how restaurant staff are treated.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons behind the publication in the US of a new restaurant guide book with a difference. The recommendations in Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, are all on the basis of how the restaurants treat their workers.

As author Saru Jayaraman says: “All of our “high-road” employers are able to point to the fact that you get better service, better food, better environment, a better experience if workers are treated well and paid well.”

And, let’s add one more benefit to that list: job applicants queuing at the door.

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