13 vacancies - City chef lays bare impact of recruitment crisis

Chef Iain McCarten at The Last, happy to welcome customers back as Covid restrictions are eased. Pic

Iain McCarten at The Last Brasserie. - Credit: Archant

A Norwich chef has laid bare the impact of the hospitality recruitment crisis in an online post detailing his battle to replace 13 roles.

Iain McCarten, chef at The Last on Norwich's St George's Street, said the crisis was an ongoing struggle for the industry, with shifting priorities after the pandemic and some European workers returning home just part of a complex picture.

He took to Instagram to share details of its impact, saying for the last five years the team at the restaurant had been stable.

But he said after the last lockdown a few chefs had moved on and some kitchen porters, including one who had been the "mother of our kitchen" for eight years, left for various reasons.

He did not anticipate the challenge or scale of the recruitment issue. At The Last, three chefs, two kitchen porters, seven to eight front of house team members and one manager were needed.

"To give you an idea, just to replace my two kitchen porters I’ve replied to well over 100 emails, all I will have had a fair bit of dialogue with," he said.

"Last week I organised nine interviews/paid trials… Two people showed up."

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He said both, who were good candidates, were given the jobs, but one called in sick for their first shift, while the other left two hours into theirs.

One of the new chefs did not come into work all weekend, while two new waiting staff members didn't come to theirs.

"This is just one week. This has been going on for months. So if you go out to eat at some point in the future the food may take a little longer than usual, the waiting staff may be a little rushed," he said. "Please be understanding and kind to the staff that did turn up.

"Without them your table would be cancelled, your birthday dinner denied, anniversary meal no more.

"And with all this though we are rebuilding a fantastic new, young and energised team. It’s just taking a while."

In another post, Mr McCarten praised his team who had kept the restaurant open, including chef Jack Roper who at the last minute came into work over the bank holiday to fill in for a new recruit who had not come into work.

What is the problem?

In July, industry bodies said one in five workers had left the sector during the pandemic, with some doing so after reassessing whether they wanted the evening work and long hours traditionally associated with the industry.

In recent months, coronavirus absences and the 'pingdemic' have exacerbated problems.

Mr McCarten said the industry had a bad reputation for working conditions, but that many places were improving matters.

At The Last, he said, chefs were paid hourly, rather than signing a contract for a set numbers of hours and working more than they'd agreed to.

More than 80 eateries are taking part in Norfolk and Norwich Restaurant Week Picture: Getty Images/

More than 80 eateries are taking part in Norfolk and Norwich Restaurant Week Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The difficulties have been felt in Norfolk and Suffolk, with hundreds of businesses recruiting.

It has seen several close their doors early, reduce their opening hours or shut altogether.

Mambo Jambo's, in Norwich, reopened in mid-August after being closed for two months after its head chef left.

Norfolk crab and lobster restaurant, Rocky Bottoms, in West Runton, also closed while it recruited new staff.

Mambo Jambo restaurant is at the centre of a debate about the use of language. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mambo Jambo restaurant is at the centre of a debate about the use of language. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

National Hospitality Day falls on Saturday, September 18 and has been launched by charities Hospitality Action, The Drinks Trust, Springboard and Licensed Trade Charity.

It encourages people to book a table at their favourite restaurant to support them after a challenging 18 months.

If you’re unable to get out and about, you can donate to any of the charities involved by visiting nationalhospitalityday.org.uk 

If you’re a business, National Hospitality Day has a raft of promotional material available to help you get started promoting September 18. 

National Hospitality Day falls on September 18.

National Hospitality Day falls on September 18. - Credit: Archant