Why can't restaurateurs hire enough kitchen and waiting staff to keep up with the foodie boom?

It could be the prospect of hard work, unsociable hours and low pay

To foodies, they are the new rock gods. Chefs, with their tattoos and flashing knife blades, have TV commissioning editors keen to sign them, and queues outside their no-reservations restaurants, with buzz fed by Twitter plaudits. But all that isn't enough to lure enough chefs into the industry, according to some of Britain's top restaurateurs, who are struggling to fill gaps in their kitchens.

An unprecedented restaurant boom is piling the pressure on restaurant owners to solve a staffing squeeze that runs from front-of-house waiters and commis right up to general managers and experienced sous chefs.

The prospect of hard work, unsociable hours and low pay are all putting people off entering the profession, experts warn. And this is despite graduates facing one of the toughest job markets in years. A trend for more casual dining is exacerbating the problem because fewer people are being trained on the job.

Even London's top chefs, such as Bruno Loubet, are on the hunt for new talent. The acclaimed French gastronome is looking for a chef de partie to head one of the sections in his new and much-garlanded Grain Store restaurant at King's Cross. Tens of new jobs are added hourly to websites such as Gumtree. And industry insiders admit that anything goes when it comes to poaching staff, from scouting rivals for potential candidates to stalking targets via Facebook. At the closing day of a prestigious London restaurant, diners who were in the profession themselves were asking staff whether they were available (a kind of culinary ambulance-chasing, if you will).

Ben McCormack, who edits the online guide Square Meal, said the situation was so bad that new restaurants may find it hard to open. "If the industry can't, or isn't allowed to, attract enough high-quality staff [in the case of kitchens battling tough immigration laws], the boom will run out of steam," he warned.

Recent research from People 1st, a government-backed body that promotes training for the hospitality sector, found that there weren't enough students training to be chefs to fill the jobs. Worse still, funding cuts meant colleges were dropping full-time diplomas in professional cookery.

The problem is not confined to London, with top chefs in Bristol and Bath facing the same battle for staff. Chris Staines, who runs the Allium Brasserie at Bath's Abbey Hotel, said he had not received a single application for a chef de partie position. "People are struggling to find work, but I can guarantee that if they walked to their nearest restaurant they'd probably get a job on the spot," he said.

Neil Rankin, who is among those looking for staff to join his new venture, Smokehouse, in north London, said the industry needs a "shift in attitude", because working 16-hour days for as little as £4 an hour is unacceptable. "There are too many restaurants and too few people wanting to work there to continue undervaluing and underpaying staff. Restaurants have to start behaving like modern companies with career focus and incentives rather than treating staff as an expendable commodity," he said.

There are some signs of change, however. Alexis Gauthier, who runs Gauthier Soho, said he had taken advice from the French grandfather of fine dining, Albert Roux, and started offering his staff perks over and above their salary, including enrolling them in a private pension and providing private healthcare. "They get those if they stay more than one month. It's making a big difference," he said.

Elsewhere, Richard Gladwin, who opened the Shed in Notting Hill with his brother, Oliver, said he had reduced the number of hours he expected his chefs to work each week. "We've gone from an old-school eight-hour shift to seven, which means we have taken a hit and had to employ one more person."

He said it took him more than six months to find a sous chef, the second most important job in a kitchen. He claimed applicants lacked even essential skills such as chopping and filleting fish. "One chef's meat prep for fillet steak was picking something out of a packet. But we need people to butcher entire cows," he said.

The irony is that demand for do-it-yourself foodie classes, from butchery to smoking fish, has never been greater. New cookery schools are opening all the time. "We could sell butchery classes every Monday evening to every person who comes into the restaurant. But in reality, you can't start with butchery if you can't do the vegetables," Mr Gladwin said.

Not everyone was full of gloom. Adam Hyman, a restaurant consultant, predicted that the foodie renaissance would help to kick-start the industry. "Younger people are going into [the profession]. It's great fun," he said.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions