Chef Q&A: How can pub owners effectively attract staff?

Recruitment challenges in hospitality

With a huge amount of people leaving the industry and perceptions from young people being generally challenging, recruitment might seem like a never ending battle. Equally as important is reducing the churn of staff so that people grow their careers and find opportunities in pubs.

As this is among the biggest challenges for hospitality operators impacting on their business, we’ve gathered the expert opinions on three pub operators to get a snapshot of some of the strategies you could use to attract new team members and encourage long careers in the pub industry.

Seamus O’Donnell, Culinary Director at The Alchemist

Established in 2010, The Alchemist innovative cocktail bars and restaurants are known for theatre served through mystical concoctions and unconventional dishes created to tantalise the senses at its 21 locations in the UK.

Invest time into developing your teams

“We have a number of programs, such as, “The Alchemist Chef”, team building days and the introduction of our culinary competition that we staged in January 2023 to inspire the new generation of chefs which Bidfood and Oliver Kay sponsored.

The culinary competition was designed to invigorate teamwork amongst chefs, old and new, and give the team the chance to step out of their comfort zones and build relationships with other departments. Not only this, it also allows the business to reinforce valuable relationships with suppliers and provide insights and trends to aid menu development. The chefs create some seriously innovative dishes served with a high level of quality and of course, theatre. It’s been fantastic to allow our teams to network, thrive and battle it out for the bragging rights of reigning supreme!

The hospitality industry is a fun environment with flexible working hours and gives you the perfect opportunity to not only have a career, but a passport to travel the world to gain valuable life experience.

Knowledge is King and education is the best way to facilitate change.”

Ross Pike, Chef Director at Oakman Inns & Restaurants

The group, which focuses on Mediterranean and British food, currently has around 35 sites, with further growth planned. Each inn is individual with a personality that reflects the local area it serves.

Grow your own talent

“Labour is a big challenge for us, like for so many other operators, as there just isn’t enough good staff members coming through the recruitment pipeline at the moment.

Our Chef Academy, launched in December 2021, is helping with this and is going really strong. The academy, which encourages people with no chef experience to give cheffing a try and teaches them skills on a paid programme, has seen 68 people having gone through it so far.

The academy starts with a week-long skills programme at our training kitchen in Woburn and the recruits then continue their training with a week’s placement in our sites. We have seen people from a range of ages and backgrounds join us. It is something we need to continue with to help develop chefs for the business.”

Lewis Allington, Head of Food at St Austell Brewery

St Austell Brewery is a family-owned company which has around 38 managed pubs. Lewis oversees the food offering, as well as 140 tenanted and leased pubs and a historic brewery, whose brands including Korev and Tribute.

Flexible foundations

“Staffing is one of our biggest challenges, with currently around 90 chefs short across the estate. We have few head chef and sous chef vacancies, but it is mainly line chefs, chefs coming into the industry and starting their career where we have the biggest challenge.

We are doing loads of things around recruitment, including offering apprenticeships and have a dedicated apprenticeships manager, we also work with catering colleges to recruit and are looking at four-day weeks for chef teams.

In July we also launched ‘Pub Flex’, our flexible career scheme, which allows people of all ages and levels of experience to book shifts on demand (with no minimum number of weekly or monthly hours needed to sign-up), with 100 front and back of house people on this initially.”

Neil Bell, a consultant chef for pub and bar operators

Neil consultants include Yorkshire-based pub group, Appetite for Life.

The balancing act

“Due to the pandemic people are after that increased flexibility in their work-life balance and one of the things I recently helped introduce with a bar operator was a four-day working week for chefs, which has helped to alleviate their recruitment challenges and got all their kitchens open seven days a week again.

We had to gather enough people originally to enable existing staff to get down to four days too. Because volume of staff has increased, but labour cost hasn’t, it has allowed them to do other things like operating a brunch menu, which has increased their retail opportunity and hasn’t really added any labour cost.

It is also worth looking at having multi-trained staff, such as front of house team members who can also help prepare dishes.”

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