How can we fix the staffing crisis?

By Tom Tanner

The statistics are eye-watering. A survey published this week by UK Hospitality shows that at least eight out of ten employers in the sector have vacancies – either front of house or in the kitchen – adding up to almost 200,000 unfilled posts.

Brexit, furlough fatigue and fear of further lockdowns, allied with everyone wanting to recruit at the same time, along with the longstanding gripes about career progression, long and anti-social hours mean restaurants, pubs and bars are facing a massive struggle to attract people to cook, wait tables and pull pints.

Here are the thoughts and approaches of some members of the Food Made Good movement, including the hospitality business rated Best Company to Work For – Dishoom and former Publican Awards Sustainable Pub Group of the Year, Darwin & Wallace. We’re also sharing details of campaigns and initiatives to try and tackle this major issue.

A career not a job

Gladwin Brothers have had success selling a career to prospective staff from Europe. Richard Gladwin told EuroNews that the key was treating staff fairly and creating quality jobs: “One of the first things I’ve done is, rather than paying hourly with zero-hours contracts, creating manager roles, so there’s a manager for the service there’s a manager for the wine. And it suddenly, being a manager, takes it out from being a casual job to – this is my career.”

Des Gunewardena of D&D shared a similar point of view with Bloomberg, saying they were being ‘more liberal’ in terms of who they’ve been recruiting, offering the same pay but providing more training.

There are new schemes springing up to address the staff shortfall, although clearly most won’t deliver an immediate new army of willing recruits. However, programmes like the new £5m initiative by Springboard, backed by Savoy Educational Trust, Diageo and Baxter Storey which will train up 10,000 new workers ready for 2022, should be welcomed and supported.

Brewdog has teamed up with marketing guru Mark McCulloch to champion the benefits of career in hospitality and dispel the ‘huge external misconceptions’. They’re looking to go live with a campaign in the fourth quarter of the year and are looking for champions of the industry to get on board. We’d encourage you to contact Mark to lend your support to this great, action-focused campaign.

Meanwhile, there’s also strong support for UK Hospitality’s call for the government to review its shortage occupations lists and a temporary visa scheme for lower-skilled workers.

Two Food Made Good members, Hawksmoor and Darwin & Wallace, are among those that have looked to their current workforce as their recruiter in chief, offering cash incentives of up to £2,000 to staff who bring in new joiners.

Using staff as recruiting sergeants

Simon Duff, Executive Chef at Darwin & Wallace told us though that while this had brought a few new staff, without the workers out there, even generous schemes like this weren’t working – and this at a business with a reputation for treating staff more than fairly.

Darwin & Wallace are currently about 50 people short of full operational capacity at its eight London sites, according to Executive Chef, Simon Duff.

“We have an ad on every platform there is and only get about seven applications in total for each role. We have had some success with incentivising our staff to recommend their friends and family but there just aren’t the people out there.”

Simon is also concerned about rampant wage inflation, adding: “We are loyal and we look after them – like paying full wages during furlough. We want to pay people for doing a good job. But we can’t pay the wages some are at the moment, or we won’t be open for long. But I am running out of reasons for not paying more.”

So, what about the Best Hospitality Company to work for, Dishoom?

Managing Director Brian Trollip is rightly very proud of their achievement, concerned about the current staffing situation and keen to share what’s work for Dishoom.

Brain puts the award down to a massive effort on the part of the senior management team to prioritise their 1,000 strong workforce during lockdown.

Daily calls with the whole team keeping them up to speed with plans and responding to individual concerns, built on a pre-existing culture that ensured managers checked up on staff welfare and wellbeing regularly, was one of the key tools that’s helped retain people and led to the award, Brian believes

Regular financial and wellbeing workshops helped people manage the stresses and strains everyone was feeling on furlough during the pandemic. Quizzes, cookalongs and cocktail making classes were added to the mix to lift people’s spirits and provide some fun.

“Our team engagement was the best it has ever been,” Brian says. He and People Director Andrew O’Callaghan made themselves available first thing every morning for staff. “We made it clear that if anyone was struggling financially or in any way, we wanted to know and we managed to solve a lot of little problems this way. You know, you can trust people a lot more than you think!”

How are things now, with all of the groups’ restaurants open again seven days a week 8am-midnight?

“It has been tricky, but I think we are better off than some. Some people went back to their home country and have not returned to the UK. That’s really the only way we’ve lost people. We’ve been lucky that the vast majority have stayed engaged.

“We have got most of the team we need, apart from being a bit short on chefs. The chef market is really challenging and as things get even busier, we know it is going to get harder to recruit.”

Three things that have worked for Dishoom?

A brilliant place to work

“We’ve always worked hard at making Dishoom a brilliant place to work, making whatever role someone does a rewarding one, both in terms of pay and training and other benefits.” Examples: An all-expenses paid trip to Mumbai awaits staff after five years with Dishoom, including visits to the places that inspired the business and to their charity partner. All staff have access to mental, physical and financial wellbeing classes.


“The last year has really taught us the value of this and encouraged us to double down on communicating with the team. It’s harder now everyone isn’t all in one place, but we can do it through the managers and through video recordings people can digest in their own time.”

Creating the right career path

“Being really open, honest and upfront with people about who we are so they can an informed decision about whether they want to come and work for us – including all the good bits as well as the challenging things. We also try and help people understand not just what they’ll be earning what how they can grow and develop so they can look ahead to the future and see that they can be the best possible version of whatever they want – whether that’s as a waiter or progressing into management.”

We’ll continue to share news of new initiatives and examples of staffing success over the coming weeks and months and will be bringing operators together in the summer to tackle this huge challenge.

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