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The UK hospitality industry’s elephant in the room, that of
working conditions for chefs, is now on parade and causing
a stir. And faced with chronic chef shortages there, leading
restaurants are opening four days a week only so they can
attract and retain quality chefs, while still paying five days. And
some operators fear their industry could implode, taking their
livelihood with it. So how are things in New Zealand?
A recent article by Tony Naylor in the Guardian newspaper
claims the shortage of skilled chefs had “boiled over into an
existential crisis” that could change the way people dine. And an
article by James Merrill in the Independent states some industry
leaders believe Britain is caught in a “recruitment crisis” that
could force some of the country’s best restaurants to close.
While the UK industry grapples with its challenges, one leading
New Zealand hospitality operator doesn’t think things are as
bad here yet. “It’s tight though,” says John Hellebrekers from
Barworks Hospitality Group. “We still get applicants for positions
but the choices aren’t as great. For example, an ad for a sous chef
used to get 20 responses, now we get half that.”
Conditions in the UK have always been tougher for chefs,
which is compounding problems at the moment, according to
Hellebrekers, who doesn’t see that shorter weeks will be required
here any time soon. “Barworks employees usually work 40 – 50
hour weeks and have two days off a week,” he says.
Mike Egan, (Monsoon Poon and Osteria del Toro), says the
situation in New Zealand is not as bad as in the UK, “We are a little
behind [the UK] though and immigration helps us out a bit, but
there’s always a shortage of good people. We’re lucky that talented
backpackers help fill the vacancies and like staying in the cities.”
What’s actually more concerning to Hellebrekers is the ability
of chefs to come out of training and jump into roles beyond
their experience because of the shortage of trained staff, “As
a consequence, you notice the offerings on some menus are
simplified as more venues focus on a single proposition such as
burgers or steak.”
It’s a trend some are calling production-line cuisine and if this
trend grows, ultimately, it’s not healthy for the industry, according
to Hellebrekers. Part of the problem he says is caused by TV
programs presenting the chef’s life as a glamourous one when it’s
mostly anything but.
“The way to combat that perception is to portray the industry
realistically,” he says. “Encourage school leavers to see a
career in the industry, attract adult workers too, and harness
the opportunities that immigration brings to help us staff our
kitchens.” Undaunted by current challenges, however, Barworks
is opening a new Goode Brothers outlet in West Auckland’s
recently redeveloped Lynnmall.
Interviewed by Hospitality Business in March this year,
Hellebrekers said he was forced to hire temps for the first time
in his career. He hasn’t had to do so since, although now looking
to staff the new venue, the Group’s definitely finding it more
challenging, “We have to advertise for longer and if we have to
take temps again, we will.”
It takes a special person to be a chef, Egan says, “For most,
their life’s nothing like you see on TV – it’s mostly a manufacturing
business. We get young ones who think you have to be creative to
be a chef but that’s not true. Sure, head chefs need to be creative,
but most staff don’t have to be.”
Egan hasn’t used temps to fill staff gaps and he did enlist an
agency 20 years ago to find a chef, but hasn’t done so since,
preferring to ask colleagues if they have any spare staff to help out.
The solutions to staffing issues, he reckons, are about
developing people through different sources, “And maybe having
one to two highly paid and trained employees, and then staff
on lower rates who have great work ethics and are happy to do
Chef shortage changing the industry?
BY JES MAGILL
Initiatives from Hospitality New Zealand (HNZ), and Helping
Hands are geared to relieve staff shortages. For a fee, HNZ’s
Hospo Recruit makes it easier for operators to recruit New
Zealanders but when that’s not possible, they can easily show
they’ve met the requirements of the required market and test
check. For an additional fee, Hospo Recruit provides short
lists and responses to candidates. www.hospitalitynz.org.nz/
careers or call 0800 407 704
Helping Hands turns the traditional model of hospitality
recruitment upside down. Candidates upload their profile,
picture, experience and desired role, then employers do the
searching. Finding a shortlist immediately, employers then
contact the jobseeker direct. www.helpinghands.co.nz
Regatta Bar & Eatery, a Bar Works Hospitality Group venue.
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