Chef turnover is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, generating massive annual costs, recruitment expert David McHattie suggests ways to tackle the £95m question
When you last recruited a chef, the chances are it took you a while to fill the vacancy.
Out of the few applications you got, it's likely there wasn't a huge choice of skilled chefs to choose from, let alone a wide pool who fulfilled all of your criteria.
If this struggle sounds familiar, you're not alone. Chef vacancies are the most difficult position to fill across the hospitality industry, with over half of employers reporting that they have difficulty recruiting skilled chefs.
As a sector, a lot of time and money has been invested in careers promotions and making the industry a viable career option.
However, while that work is important, on its own, it will never address the recruitment problems the industry is facing.
We need to look at the problem another way – turn it on its head and address the issues that are causing such a high turnover of staff. We need to work at keeping the staff we already have, instead of letting them go.
Findings from People 1st show the restaurant trade loses £95m a year on staff turnover alone. For a business with a brigade of nine chefs, that's the equivalent of losing nearly £5,000 annually.
Conservative figures put staff turnover across the sector at 30 per cent per annum – with many larger businesses experiencing turnover at double or even treble that rate.
That is the equivalent of losing 63,600 chefs a year, or turning over a full brigade every three years. This is a massive cost to both the restaurant sector as a whole, and to individual businesses.
Research suggests that the main reasons staff leave are that they feel unsupported by their managers, think their work is not valued and that they do not feel that they are getting enough career development.
Poor management skills are partially to blame, and ongoing recruitment problems mean many businesses are being forced to promote people into management positions much earlier than they were five years ago, and, more importantly, often much earlier than these promoted staff are ready to take on extra responsibilities. Few new managers receive the support and training they really need. It is hardly a surprise that they have poor people management skills and that in turn their staff do not feel valued.
This feeling of lack of worth is a particular problem in the kitchen because staff are overworked and teams are understaffed.
People 1st's research shows that head chefs are particularly bad people managers – their efforts are made even more difficult due to the fast-paced culture and an intense working atmosphere. Split shifts and compulsory weekend working are the norm and make chefing a tough career choice. In a tight labour market, staff can find more social working patterns elsewhere.
By paying close attention to staff rotas and giving staff the most unsociable shifts on a rotating basis, kitchens can take one step closer to retaining staff.
Training and focusing on staff development are both positive ways to incentivise staff to stay with the business.
Evidence suggests that those employees who are offered training are more likely to stay in their jobs because they feel their employers value them.
However, many employers are confused about what training is available, where they can get it, and whether they can get financial support to help them deliver it.
Employers should work with their employees to explore the options and find a solution to suit both parties.
There are no quick fixes to crack chef retention but it is one that cannot be ignored any longer. It takes time and commitment from businesses to put in place their own solutions.
Take a look at the tips below to get started.
ukskillspassport.co.uk offers recruitment advice to businesses. It can also help employers match up their vacancies with potential employees looking for work.
Tips on staff retention
- Invest in basic skills
- Place greater emphasis on people management training for head chefs
- Provide ongoing training and development for staff
- Support and value your staff
- Hold regular appraisals – feeding back to staff and taking time out to listen to problems can knock any issues on the head before they get out of control
- Employ enough staff to do the job properly. This will reduce stress – something which many chefs say encourages them to move on
- Sign up to the new Chef Charter
- Sign up to become a Best Practice employer