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Michelin chef scraps lunch service to improve staff hours

By Sophie Witts , 25-Sep-2015
Last updated on 28-Sep-2015 at 10:16 GMT2015-09-28T10:16:50Z

Michelin chef scraps lunch service to improve staff hours

Michelin-starred chef James Close from The Raby Hunt in Darlington is scrapping his weekday lunch service in a bid to improve staff hours and encourage chef creativity.

Close told Bighospitality that excessive working hours had become ‘demotivating’ for staff and that the changes would have no impact on wages.

“We can’t keep chefs at the moment because we’re working too many hours and we’re just slowing down a bit creatively,” he said.

“We get chefs that come in for two weeks, don’t like the hours and then disappear. Being located in the middle of nowhere means that sometimes we’ll do lunches where we only have a table of two, and it can feel like we’re opening for no reason.

“It was becoming demotivating, so I decided to change it around.”

From October the lunch service will be replaced by a development kitchen, where chefs will be encouraged to experiment with new dishes. The restaurant will reopen on the last Sunday of every month with a special menu showcasing the chef’s creations.

“We’ve got to make sure we look after our staff,” said Close.

“Sometimes we’ll do so many hours a week that we won’t have that mental energy to create new dishes, so we’re just trying to counteract that.

“We’ll never go back to serving lunches again. As a small business we know the overheads are going to basically be the same whether we open or not.

“In the kitchen it means if someone walks out on us or we can’t get the staff we’re not going to struggle. I’ve spent the last three years just overworking everybody. It gets to the point where you think ‘these guys deserve better’. If I want chefs to stay with me they need a better standard of life.”

Industry shift

Sat Bains made headlines earlier this year when he announced his Nottingham restaurant was switching to a four-day week.

Close believes more restaurants will need to adopt a similar approach if the industry is to realistically tackle the chef shortage.

He said: “I think a lot of other restaurants are going to start following suit, especially those which are around our size (24-covers). We’re a destination restaurant, so if we’ve got a table of four in for lunch we’re not going to suddenly get a walk-in of 12.

“There are lots of jobs outside the catering world where everybody has a set amount of hours they do and they have to stick to that. There seems to be an overriding idea in the chef world that you can get away with working people too many hours.

“The world of chefs is changing. It can’t be like it used to where you work 16-17 hours a day. You can’t get away with that anymore.”

Changes at The Raby Hunt will begin from the first week of October, with the first development menu being served on the 25th. Close said tickets will be released on the 6 October, when he will be sharing further details on Twitter @rabyhunt.