We have been calling the “shortage of pizza chefs” well before Brexit happened, and in as much as we hate saying “we told you so”, this was plain and clear to everyone that would bother thinking about what would happen once the UK closed its borders. What we didn’t know was the extent of it, both in size and geographically. Brexit was the nail in the coffin, but the pandemic was the instigator.
Hospitality staff were in many cases either furloughed or made redundant. Some of the furloughed ones decided to stay put and enjoy some down time, do simple stuff they had never done before, like spending time with their families, walking their dogs, have a relaxed breakfast on a weekday, watch telly on Friday night. They started thinking there was another way to live their lives and decided not to go back. The ones that were made redundant had to find other work, some ended up doing deliveries or working for Amazon. They realised you don’t necessarily need to work split shifts, long hours, every weekend and all the holidays to make a living.
We also thought the shortage would be limited to the UK, but talking to our friends around Europe and in the States, we realised this is a worldwide problem; there has been a seismic shift in the way people plan on living their lives.
As Neil Rankin said in this week’s edition of “The Caterer” “Why chefs and front of house don’t want to work anymore isn’t the question. Why should they? What do we have for them? Good pay? Not really. Good hours? Definitely not. Good benefits? Not ever. Job satisfaction? Respect? Most of the time is the opposite”
We think most people working in the sector will agree with this. Pay is the easiest one to fix. Culture is an altogether different beast. The staff turnover in hospitality has always been huge; roughly 70% of the work force was replaced each year, but at the same time finding new team members was never that difficult.
Companies and employers never really made an effort. Sure we hear large chains talking about their commitments to their staff, how good their benefits and training are, but in most cases this is a lot of “corporate BS” and staff on the ground will tell you things, in reality, are different.
As a teenager I had a passion for cooking and I was good at it, so I decided to go to catering school. On the first day our “Chef professor” (I suppose nowadays you would call him “Culinary art professor”) looked at the 30 of us and said “only 5 of you will become professional chefs, this is a hard job, you’ll have to work weekends and holidays (and whole summers as well, which in Italy is kind of a big thing), basically when everyone else is having fun”. Either out of naivety or cockiness nobody paid any attention to him. Of course he was right. Only a few of us became professional chefs, a few went a long way working in 3 Michelin Stars, but many lost their way or started questioning their job. Some unfortunately got stuck in a profession they had lost passion for, as after 15 years or more working as a chef, what else can you really do?
Because I went to catering school, all my friends were doing the same (and the ones that were not I lost because our lives became incompatible). So we would just go out later, we all worked in the summer so we didn’t really miss going to the beach, that was our reality. In fairness we were also earning good money and could afford “stuff”, while friends outside the industry were mainly broke. I was always happy to take extra shifts on during the winter. In the summer it wasn’t uncommon to work 90 to 100 days in a row! Those were the times you were still able to hand your CV in by hand or at best mail it (and I mean by post). We never questioned “our reality”, it was that way and in general we were happy with that.
Nowadays things are different, youngsters look online, chat on Facebook groups, they compare salaries and work-life balance to other companies and other industries, they prize more their free time and family time. They want to live a fulfilling life. Employers should support that. Nobody on their death bed will regret not working on their son’s birthday.
Quoting Neil Rankin again “Employers should ask themselves “how do I make this a place people want to work for?”. Employers should worry about their staff’s future, empower them, give them credit for things they create under the company’s name. Employers should respect team member’s private commitments as much as their work ones. They should think about developing their business so that staff have a job to grow into.
Employers need to start running a company not for themselves, but for everyone.
Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash