The staffing crisis is piling the pressure on existing hospitality teams who are "on their knees" as operators find it "impossible" to recruit.
Following the unveiling of UKHospitality's workforce strategy last week The Caterer asked operators for their reports of the recruitment crisis from the front line.
Sam Harrison (pictured below), founder of Sam's Riverside in Hammersmith, London, said the problem had placed enormous pressure on his employees and predicted the industry would see a "bloodbath" of businesses as a result.
He said: "It's just brutal, and I feel very passionate and angry because I just don't believe anyone is telling the truth of what is going on.
"There's nobody coming through the door, and if they do come through the door, they don't want to work nights and weekends, they want to work 30-40 hours max. Post-pandemic, I totally get the work-life balance and we all need to strive towards that, but restaurants are always late finishes and busy weekends – there's no way round that, it's what we do."
Harrison said he is faced with closing Sam's Riverside on Mondays and putting projects on ice because he doesn't have enough staff and his existing employees "are on their knees".
He added: "How do you survive? If I have to close one or two days a week, I still have to pay a chunky London rent seven days a week. My landlord doesn't care and we're still recovering from the last two years. Potentially, this could put me out of business. I have huge demand from customers seven days a week, but we can't [keep doing this]."
Harrison said two professional Italian waiters had approached him looking to work front of house, but he had had to turn them away.
"I would have loved to have offered them both a job but I can't. It's insane: they want to come to London and contribute to the economy, and I desperately need them.
"I think by the end of the year it's going to be a total bloodbath. People say I'm exaggerating, but I don't think I am. We're one of the busiest restaurants in London and I am seriously wondering if I can continue. I did 1,700 covers last week and I'm actually wondering, do I want to keep doing this?"
Simon Wood (pictured below), chef-patron of Wood restaurant in Manchester and WoodKraft in Cheltenham, told The Caterer recruitment for senior positions in the Gloucestershire restaurant was "disastrous".
He said: "We've increased salaries, we've made a better work-life balance. We've done all the things we should be doing, but we still can't find the quality of staff we want. A competent employee at the minute is an exception rather than the rule.
"In Cheltenham, recruitment is nothing short of disastrous – the worst I've ever seen it. It's so difficult. We've got head chef vacancies, sous chef vacancies kitchen porters, baristas, front of house – and this is for an eatery where they get every night off.
"There's a head chef role paying good money with every night off and a five-day week, and we can't even get an application. We were looking on Indeed for a sous chef, and in the Gloucestershire area there were 284 vacancies for that position. Bluntly, we're in the weeds. It's impossible.
"We have directors working in the kitchen just to get through. No matter what we do it's difficult to find any staff, never mind the right calibre for what we want to produce."
The business has made changes, but Wood said he is looking at adapting menus again because he can "only ask so much of people".
He added: "In Cheltenham we're looking at the business, going, ‘what do we do here, where do we find people, how do we do it?' It's a real strain.
"We've had to change the menu, reduce it, close certain days. We've had to take Sunday lunches off and we're revising the menu to make it more achievable for the staff we have. I don't believe it's sustainable. People want a varied choice, but when your team are tired and stressed, and to keep the quality, you can only ask so much."
Main image: Mikrokon / Shutterstock
If you would like to share your experiences with staffing issues email firstname.lastname@example.org
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