One-trick ponies: Are single-dish restaurants widening the industry skills gap?

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chef

Richard Gladwin has found it difficult to recruit talented staff for his restaurant in Notting Hill
Richard Gladwin has found it difficult to recruit talented staff for his restaurant in Notting Hill
The co-owner of a restaurant and bar in Notting Hill says the recent flurry of single and dual-dish restaurants is changing the skill set of up-and-coming chefs and making it harder for more varied and traditional concepts to attract new talent.

Richard Gladwin, who opened The Shed with his brother Oliver last October,​says business at the 50-cover venue has started extremely well, but the on-going issue of recruiting new staff members is beginning to take its toll and has become much harder with the rise of restaurants offering simpler menus.

“Employment of good, reliable people - especially in the kitchen - is proving near impossible and has put strain on our concept and business,” Gladwin told BigHospitality. “With all these new, single-item concepts with great names, the way that chefs cook is changing dramatically.

“He might cook a great lobster and a great burger at the same time, but he doesn’t necessarily have the grounding or the traditional skill set.”

The past year has seen a number of new concepts, particularly in London, where menus are pared down with just a handful of options, albeit prepared with multiple variations. Burger & Lobster, Flat Iron Bubbledogs and Tramshed are just a few examples, and then there’s the wave of burger joints continuing to populate the capital.

This, combined with the on-going boom in the casual dining sector, is exacerbating the problem as fewer chefs are receiving adequate training to have a well-rounded set of cooking skills, argues Gladwin.

Staffing squeeze

The Shed, which serves up a broad, regularly changing menu of British small plates and produce fresh from the family farm, this new wave of establishments is affecting the search for new chefs.

“The Shed opened with a small team, persuading girlfriends, school friends and even the landlords grandchildren to come and help,” added the 28-year-old. “Of course, we are still working long hours and loving every bit of our success, but the issue of recruiting new talent to help us is getting us down.

“We have been searching for a sous chef and additional chef de parties since January and have interviewed over 40 applicants without a successful new appointment. At first we thought it was us, so went to interview training courses which were fine but mainly things I already knew, having run restaurants for the for the past 10 years.

“We’ve offered several chefs roles in our kitchen but the night before they are due to start, we get a text saying ‘it’s not right’ or ‘the girlfriend doesn’t want me to do it’.

“What has happened to our industry? We pay well and are offering a great opportunity to be a key part of our exciting, creative kitchen. What do great, passionate chefs do now?”

Despite these difficulties recruiting new staff members for the kitchen, the Gladwin brothers have continued to make the venue on Palace Gardens Terrace a success, with a full house most evenings. They are still on the lookout for another chef to join the kitchen brigade.  

Attracting talent

Recruiting the right staff and then retaining them is notoriously difficult in the hospitality industry. The growth in the restaurant market is piling the pressure on restaurateurs to solve a staffing squeeze that runs from front-of-house waiters through to general managers. Seventeen per cent of all employers in hospitality have job vacancies and, of those, 64 per cent are at manager level. 

The industry has over 150 trade bodies, delivering around 4,000 employment-related initiatives. Many argue this is too much; that employers, education institutions and the Government need to talk with one voice in order to incentivise people to be trained and developed.

The issue was brought to light at last year’s Restaurant Show, with a BigHospitality panel discussion focusing on how to attract the next generation of talent to hotels, restaurants and pubs across the UK.

Speaking at that discussion, ex-Roganic chef Ben Spalding argued that, while there is a band of young people who are choosing not to work, the prospect of unsociable hours and low pay are all putting people many off entering the profession.

“There’s a big factor that we’re overlooking: there’s a large percentage of youngsters in England who are just bloody lazy,” he said. “It’s overlooked and I’m going to say it because it’s true. You can point the finger at the schools, the parents, but it will always be a big chunk of people that could work in the industry but aren’t. 

“From my point of view though, chefs should be liaising more with schools, trying to strike up a deal to bring young people in. I’m more than happy to spend my own personal time helping to nurture young people.”

The Shed restaurant is now looking for a senior Chef de Partie to join its expanding team, working alongside former River Cottage chef Oliver Gladwin. The position is advertised on BigHospitality Jobs and can be viewed here.

What do you think?

Has the issue of finding new staff members been a real issue for your business? Where do you think the problem lies; what needs to be done to ensure more talent is breaking through across the hospitality industry? Cast your vote in our readers’ poll and leave a comment below.

Survey

Finding new staff: Where do the problems lie?

  • Single-dish and fast-casual restaurants: Fewer people are being trained on the job and skills are limited.

    6%
  • Education system: The food curriculum needs to be re-energised.

    13%
  • Government: More money should be provided to support hospitality training.

    9%
  • The media: TV chefs and cooking programs give young people the wrong impression.

    7%
  • Young people: The work ethic is not the same as it used to be.

    39%
  • Business owners: Should be more proactive in their efforts to attract new talent.

    26%

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