Town’s restaurant industry going off the boil due to chef shortage

The team from Corker Outdoor, Award sponsor Jason Varney (Thomson, Snell & Passmore) & Eamonn Holmes

A job search by the Times’ performed early this week, found 93 live advertisements for chefs, sous-chefs, care-home chefs and more – all within a three-mile radius of the town centre and posted within the last four weeks.

Geff Stone, whose all-vegan restaurant, The Plant Base, recently moved back into its Camden Road premises after storm damage in mid- February, said the recruitment shortage was ‘dire’.

“To be frank, the hiring situation is dire. We’ve never had an issue before,” he said.

“My inbox would have a constant, steady stream of people looking for a job, so I never needed to even advertise. Now, I’m running paid ads and getting no applicants.”

Another restaurateur, who did not want to be named, said the business was now being sold due to a shortage of staff, which has meant they have had to turn away customers.

The business owner said they could simply not fulfill bookings, adding: “It’s been ongoing since a mixture of Covid and Brexit, and it’s not getting any easier, that’s for sure.

“I had an advert at £32,000 – that was for a sous-chef [assistant chef] – but I didn’t get one single application. It’s not about money anymore. They can go somewhere else. They can work for Amazon or the supermarkets and get more flexibility.”

Underlining the unavailability of trained staff, the business owner said the said the job applications the restaurant did receive were mostly from 16 and 17-year-olds, and there was no time to train them.

“We have an apprentice, but there are not enough people on chef courses these days,” the restaurateur said, adding one way for the catering industry to survive was to ‘dumb down’ the food offering.

“That is why Five Guys is opening here [in Tunbridge Wells]. They’ve got a model and they roll that out, and the service side of things is much simpler.”

Nick Moore from Elite Leisure Collection, which runs One Warwick Park Hotel, Bewl Water and Salomons Estate, as well as One Media, publisher of the Times, said recruitment in the area had ‘never been easy’.

“In an area like Tunbridge Wells the demand for talent outstrips the local supply,” he said, adding that increasing salaries was ‘important’, but so was ensuring chef jobs were rewarding for people.

“As important as the role itself and how it fits with the individual’s career aspirations, is how the employer can really help to further the person’s experience, knowledge and career,” he continued.

“As we have three very different unique local venues within our group, our chefs have the opportunity to work across more than one site, gaining experience of different styles and menus, variety and size of dining setting, whilst being encouraged to help adapt and develop the food side of our businesses with new ideas, ingredients and dishes”

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