Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) talk to Chantelle Nicholson about the chef shortage post-Brexit

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2017

Our newest blogger, Sustainable Restaurant Association, speak to Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron of Marcus Wareing's Tredwells about the chef shortage and how the restaurant industry can retain staff post-Brexit.

Half of all chef vacancies are hard to fill and hospitality is facing a shortfall of 60,000 a year if immigration is too tightly controlled post-Brexit, according to research for the British Hospitality Association. That’s the very tough picture facing British restaurants right now.

Tredwells Restaurant
Tredwells Restaurant

If the industry does have to drastically reduce its dependence on EU workers – who make up a quarter of the workforce in our kitchens – then how well placed are we to do so?

Our fantastic industry employs about 3 million people and represents about a tenth of the UK’s economic wealth. Yet it is suffering from a huge skills gap – failing to attract enough young people and apparently incapable of hanging on to many of those that it does tempt in. Such is its reputation, half of parents asked in a survey for Best Western said they would discourage their children from a career in hospitality.

Newspaper headlines about chefs working in restaurants from high street to high end being paid less than the National Living Wage and restaurateurs dealing far from transparently when it comes to tips and service charges, are bound to have a negative impact on the industry’s reputation.

Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron at Tredwells, recently judged the Future Chef competition run by Springboard and says she found the experience inspirational and exasperating in equal measure.

“There were over 9,000 entries from the across the country, 12-16-year-olds culminating in the national final. It was so inspiring to see their passion and an incredible level of skill – it was off the scale,” says Chantelle. “Even better, there were nine females out of the 12 finalists.”

SRA quoteSo where is the drop-off happening and why? That is the big issue we have to tackle. If we don’t start trying to do something about it right now, nothing will change. And it needs to change, for a number of reasons, but the most pressing being that worst case scenario with Brexit could be disastrous. As a group we have a maximum of 20% British staff, so we won’t be able to function as a business if there are no EU people to employ.

>>> Read more about the chef shortage here

What is the answer to Chantelle’s six million dollar question? There are those, unite the union, for one, who would say that the industry has only to look in the mirror to find the answer. With almost two thirds of chefs working more than 48 hours a week and a 2015 survey finding a quarter of people working in hospitality being paid below the minimum wage, it’s not hard to see why people aren’t banging on the door of every restaurant begging for work.

Chantelle believes that while there is still much to do to, restaurants have already come a long way in terms of their employment pay practices, but that perhaps their sins of the past still haunt them.

Chantelle said: “One of my hunches as to the root cause is that it really hasn’t sunk in yet that the old school ways of the industry have given way to a new school. When I started 13 years ago I worked insane hours – 18-19 hours a day – regularly.
“We are much more conscious of fatigue and work-life balance now generally in the industry. It’s been a passion of mine to ensure staff here at Tredwells and across the whole group get a better deal when it comes to hours. That way they get more time to do things outside work which in turn will improve their performance at work.

Chantelle Nicholson
Chantelle Nicholson 

“Don’t get me wrong, there are still long hours and it is hard work. Our chefs do seven shifts per week and on a busy day can do 14-15 hours. But once you’re in the kitchen and working you want to complete the service and it’s a rewarding and educating experience.”

The Sustainable Restaurant Association believes that together we’ll create a more dynamic, attractive, resilient and ultimately more successful industry if we dish up a fair deal for every single employee. That’s why we’re running a month long campaign throughout April urging restaurants to do three things which we believe are not only intrinsic to a ‘good’ restaurant but will also have a positive impact on restaurants’ ability to recruit and, crucially, retain staff.

Firstly, we believe all staff should be paid at least the National Living Wage rate of £7.50 per hour, regardless of age. Why should a talented and experienced 24-year-old earn less than a green and untrained colleague who happens to be a year older? For an industry keen to attract young talent we think it makes sense to pay a viable rate.

Secondly, while pay is a huge part of job satisfaction, a fair deal involves more than what’s in your pay packet at the end of the month. Training, recognition, reward and an acceptance of work life balance all go towards developing a rounded, happy, motivated and productive team.

Chantelle Nicholson is adamant that the success of her brigade is founded on principles of flexibility and nurturing.
“What makes me most proud is that when I look around the 180 people in the business I see a lot of people who have been here for a long time and who have progressed hugely. That’s what really motivates me.

SRA quote 2“I love helping people to find the right spot for them in the business. I had three chefs working with me in the kitchen and it just wasn’t quite right for any of them. Now one’s flourishing as a waiter, another’s going great guns behind the bar and a third is doing really well as a receptionist. That for me is the secret of a happy team and good staff retention – finding out what people are capable of and then giving them the chance to shine and climb the ladder.”

The final piece in the jigsaw is, to mix a metaphor, that hot potato – tips and service charges. We think openness and transparency are the key here, for both staff and customers. There are some in the industry, like Le Gavroche and The Gallivant, who have chosen to ditch service charges altogether, seeing that as a more open and clear offering.

>>> Related: Michel Roux Jnr announces plans to go 'service included' at Michelin-starred Le Gavroche

At Tredwells, Chantelle views the current system with a degree of caution and scepticism but believes if done right can be fair.

“I see tips and service charges as an absolute minefield. There is no legislation and that allows some people in the industry to take advantage. No other industry relies on it for staff remuneration. At Tredwells we try and keep it clear and simple unlike at some places where it is really murky.”

Chantelle was one of the panellists at an SRA Member event hosted at Brigade in London on April 12, alongside Michel Roux Jr, Simon Boyle of Brigade and Harry Cragoe, owner of The Gallivant.

There are many different recipes for a fair deal for staff as well as a number of ongoing challenges for employers as they seek to strike the right balance. The SRA would like to hear about your formula for success as well as what might be holding you back. Go to to share, learn and inspire and join the conversation on social @FoodMadeGood #dishupfairpay

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit membership org that helps foodservice make smart, sustainable decisions through the Food Made Good campaign.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2017

Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) talk to Chantelle Nicholson about the chef shortage post-Brexit