Sunday, May 26, 2024
GeneralRestaurants say a shortage of chefs is a major challenge

Restaurants say a shortage of chefs is a major challenge

THE shortage of restaurant chefs is a serious issue facing businesses in south Down. So say a number of business owners and managers in the area. John McGreevy from the Kilmorey Arms in Kilkeel told the Mourne Observer that in the past year the lack of staff has been stark. He said: “I am very concerned. You would have thought that Covid had wiped out everyone in the hospitality business. We came back in after the lockdown and we couldn’t find any chefs. “It used to be that an agency chef would cost you £16-£17 an hour, maybe not a great chef. Now the going rate is £27 an hour. The guys who send them down don’t even have anyone to send. “I was speaking to another hotel owner and they said that they had a guy who was sent to them who couldn’t chop vegetables julienne style. “We were no different. We had to let a guy go, and then we had another guy who had to take time off for two weeks, I had to go in and give the head chef a hand just to keep the thing on the road.” John believes that the reason for the shortage is the coronavirus pandemic. “The supply of chefs fell off during the pandemic because the chefs got a new vision of life, most people did. “I’ve been in this business most of my life. And I’ve always known that you are going to be working Friday and Saturday nights. “When the pandemic came in the hospitality industry was shut and chefs were going from making £600 to £700 a week minimum, to getting three quarters of that. “Everyone started shopping online, Amazon started asking questions, and I know of two or three highly qualified chefs who are out there in a little electric Amazon van, making £100 less per week, but who are home every evening six or seven o’clock and they won’t go back into the business.” John from the Kilmorey Arms says that there is a long-term solution. He says that the work needs to be put in to encourage younger people to get into the hospitality industry. In the short-term the industry could have more support from the government, he adds. “The solution is that there are foreign workers out there who want to come in and work. The problem is work visas. I had a guy who I wanted to bring up from the south. The paperwork bamboozled me. I nearly cried. “So, there are workers out there. I would say that Brexit is not the problem, it plays a part for some of them. But that’s not the problem.” Stephen Higginson from Coulter’s restaurant in Ballynahinch has a similar experience to that of the Kilmorey Arms. Stephen and his wife took over the restaurant in 2019 and had been fitting it out before opening properly last year. He told the Mourne Observer how the situation has affected their restaurant, which has only just opened. CHALLENGE “Business has been going well, the challenge is the lack of chefs. “It is one of the biggest things that holds us back as a company because it limits everything that we do. “We always have to think if we have enough staff to cover. That is a big thing in stopping driving the thing forward.” Stephen runs another restaurant called Square bistro in Lisburn, where he is from. He said that the situation regarding lack of chefs in their restaurants is very serious. “We can’t even find bad chefs, never mind good ones. “It has been going on for many years. In the last five years, maybe a bit more, it has been hard to find chefs. Covid has exacerbated it. But it has been mad.” The effect it has had on their business has been to restrict opening times. Stephen explained that they can only operate for a shortened week. “We limit opening hours. We have to limit the range of the product, not the quality. We have to restrict our menu size because we don’t have enough chefs to prep, or to cover all the shifts. That’s why we only open three and a half days.” Covid has amplified the problem, but he said it has not been the only hindrance. “Brexit hasn’t helped either because it is hard to bring people in.” Stephen has worked as a chef since he was a teenager and he says he has witnessed the shortage of chefs increasing every year. He said that they are doing their best to deal with the problem. “We do tap into the local college and I do have a few who are leaving school. Even in school the hospitality industry isn’t promoted as a career. ATTRACT “It is hard to get them in from school. It is one of those industries that is hard to attract people. “On the flip side it is a great industry to be in.” Another restaurant owner, who asked not to be named, echoed the views of both Stephen Higginson and John McGreevy. Their restaurant is based in Newcastle, and they added they had noticed a shortage of chefs. “It is impossible to get chefs. You would place an ad, we did in April, and we still haven’t got one reply. “At first you take it personal, but there are no applicants. Before lockdown I felt it was tough. “I thought after lockdown some restaurants would close down and there would be more chefs about. But the opposite happened. A lot of people have left the trade. “It’s even worse than before. “We always close on Mondays. But during the summer we had to close on Mondays and Tuesdays because we didn’t have the staff. That was for the sake of our staff, but that was a loss of money. “In the summer we were crazy busy, but we couldn’t open. We would have the trade, but we don’t have the depth of the staff to do it. “We are worried. It only takes someone to take sick and then we would have to close. It is very worrying.”

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