There is already a chef shortage, so how will Brexit impact on this further?

The  Staff Canteen

Are we really experiencing a chef shortage? Why is this happening and how could Brexit impact on this further?

According to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper, there are not ‘enough trained chefs and waiters’ to go around and there are worries that Brexit could cause this shortage to increase further.

empty kitchen
Kitchens need chefs...

In Britain, there has never been such a wide array of high-quality food available. Some are even calling it ‘a golden age’ for eating out with food lovers spoilt for choice about where to eat. However, this boom is under threat due to the current shortage of waiting staff and chefs. The hospitality industry is Britain’s fourth biggest employer and is responsible for six million jobs.

How will Brexit affect the hospitality industry?

The chef shortage, post-Brexit is likely to become more complex as a report from the British Hospitality Association (aided by KPMG) reflects that by 2029, the hospitality industry could have a deficit of more than a million workers. The report recommended that the industry will need to find at least another 60,000 workers per year on top of the 200,000 required “to replace churn and to power growth”.

Whilst 2029 is a long way off; the shortage is still very much prevalent in 2018. Adam Hyman from Code Hospitality, a consultancy on restaurants and recruitment says, “Every single restaurant in London is constantly looking for people – and good people.” So much so, that the head of recruitment for a top London private members’ club was forced to travel to Australia last year to find chefs.

A golden handshake

One example of how restaurants are trying to use more unusual methods to fill prime positions in the kitchen is Gauthier Soho. Chef patron Alexis Gauthier ended up having to offer successful candidates a £1,000 “golden handshake” in return for committing to work for one year.

Why are restaurants struggling to find and retain great chefs?

Chef Josh Overington of Le Cochon Aveugle, told The Guardian: "It's been a constant struggle to find chefs. We’re a very small restaurant, we can fit four chefs in at one time, and the chef de partie has, in particular, been an elusive position. We’ve had long periods where it’s not filled, and it’s still not filled even as we speak.” Overington /le cochon aveugle 2015 315.jpeg
Josh Overington

Why is there a chef shortage?

When probed about why there is a chef shortage, Josh says that one factor is that the young chefs coming through the industry have their eyes set on a higher position. He said “A lot of it is young chefs don’t have any patience. They just want to go straight to sous chef, head chef. Or they can sign up for an agency or work in a private home and the pay is better, the hours are better, you’re not being shouted at. You don’t really have any responsibilities and life is a lot better.”

Should I stay or should I go?

Other factors that seem to be affecting the situation show the industry’s antisocial hours and in some instances, the low pay is instrumental in people wanting to train up as chefs or indeed stay within the hospitality industry.

Josh reflects: “Another reason why there are no chefs is because they get bullied, they work long hours, getting paid little money for that.

“I’m not saying everywhere is horrendous, because it’s not, but I’m sure nearly 100% of chefs my age would have had horrendous experiences.”

Wanted - 11,000 chefs

In 2015 People First reported that 51% of catering colleges have seen enrolments drop, in an industry which, by 2020, will need a predicted 11,000 new chefs. We are now two years away from 2020 and it seems, that we are way off target to fulfil this figure.

4 days a week

So how can this chef shortage be remedied? Many of the bigger restaurant groups are taking proactive measures now and are creating new initiatives such as in-house programmes. Other restaurants such as Aizle restaurant in Edinburgh, The Raby Hunt in Darlington and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham are moving to a four night per week opening, to provide both chefs and waiting staff with an improved work-life balance and to ensure that 'the industry (is) more attractive’.

The Burlington Restaurant at The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa, Bolton Abbey, which has three rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide, is tackling the chef shortage by also introducin4-day day working week, in an effort to both retain and attract the crème of the industry’s talent.

General Manager of The Devonshire Arms Hotel and Spa, Adam Dyke, comments: “The introduction of shorter hours in The Burlington is a groundbreaking move, which demonstrates our commitment to the sustainability of the hospitality industry, as well as putting the welfare of our chefs first and foremost – we wish to reward our chefs in a manner commensurate to their talents and hard work

Feedback from the industry

When asked about the chef shortage issue, Steve Cannell, Head of the Hospitality and Catering Academy at South Thames College said "We’re just busy trying to address it, it’s not just chefs it’s food service staff and managers as well. I think some of it is endemic to the industry, there are so many places open that people are moving so quickly which isn’t helping the issue."

Chef Chris Black reflects on his time in the industry "In the twenty-five years I have been a chef I have worked 100+ hours a week, I have worked in full time and agency and now I work as a casual. The chef shortage is due not only to the hours, the tv hype or the wages, the fact that the college's put kids through to meet targets or any number of reasons. It is a culmination of all these things! Yes, the wages are crap the hours are long but get over it. If you don't want to be a chef go and do something else, cos it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Treat the guys you have now with respect and kindness because we are the ones keeping it going."

Chef Don McGovern thinks that there are "lots of reasons there is a shortage of Chefs. Training should be in-house, take it out of colleges and train yourself with incentive plans with clear routes of progression. If they aren’t cut out for it you move them on.

Matt Davies, Vice Chairman of the British Culinary Federation and executive chef of The Lewis Partnership thinks that chef/skill shortage can be resolved by capturing the attention of future chefs from a young age. 

Arwyn Watkins, the Culinary Association of Wales president, believes not enough students progressing into the industry which makes this an uphill battle in the first instance. He says "I believe that this is no longer a skills shortage but a people shortage, not enough individuals are taking this industry as a serious career choice..We have to work with employers to share best practice on work life balances and the changing dynamics and expectations of the workforce. No longer can our industry survive on goodwill. We all have to think differently if we are to secure a sustainable workforce. Not an easy task but necessary."

What are your thoughts on the chef shortage, has your restaurant been affected? We would love to read your comments on this.

By Emma Harrison 

*Main image illustration credit: “Your restaurants need YOU” Illustration; Eddie Ward from

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th March 2018

There is already a chef shortage, so how will Brexit impact on this further?