‘In hindsight the staffing issues we had pre-covid, that wasn’t a crisis. This is a crisis.’

The  Staff Canteen

It feels like a mass exodus of hospitality staff when you talk to those looking to recruit, it has forced wages higher, less hours and better incentives which is great in the short term but is it sustainable and will it price smaller establishments out of the market when it comes to hiring?

The Staff Canteen spoke to former chef Aaron Mulliss, who has recently launched a hospitality recruitment agency, about the crisis and the impact on the industry and the people who work in it.

For those who don’t know, Aaron Mulliss worked alongside Tom Kerridge as part of the Hand and Flowers team for 12 years, admitting the experience was a ‘whirlwind’ due to the success and accolades they achieved.

He decided it was time to leave in 2019 and he toyed with the idea of opening his own place but after looking at sites and as the process went on, he found himself asking ‘am I 100% in this?’.

Taking a step back he thought about how his skills and industry relationships could be of benefit. He decided to create his own recruitment agency, We Are Tastie, which he was set to launch in March 2020 before Covid put that on hold.

“I think hospitality recruitment is not something which is done with love and passion for the industry," said Aaron, explaining his decision to start the agency. "I think it can be done better and I want to find people the right place or role where they can develop and learn.”

During lockdown he worked as a delivery driver and at Morrisons, stacking shelves on the night shift, which he says, ‘was massively eye opening.’

“I was very naïve as to how hard working and important supermarket workers are.”

A year on and he finally launched the hospitality recruitment business - he wants to create a ‘community of likeminded places’.

“Everyone always has someone who wants to leave, the hardest thing for that person to do is to have the conversation and hand in their notice. A lot of the time you feel like you are letting that person or business down, when in fact, if you have done your time somewhere then it’s ok to want to move on.

“One of the biggest kicks I got was seeing chefs leave The Hand and go on and do amazing things. There’s a huge sense of pride in being a part of that person’s journey.”

Aaron explained that often chefs will move and it’s not the right move, but they don’t have the information at the time to be aware of that.

He said: “What I want to create is Tastie as a platform and a community where chefs, not necessarily high profile, who have people who want to move, can move them without them falling out of love with the industry or being terrified of going into a space they don’t know if they can be in.

Reopening hospitality

Aaron is not alone in saying it feels like ‘everyone has reopened a brand-new restaurant’ since restrictions began to lift in April.

“Everyone is starting again from scratch,” he said. “And it is going to take time for restaurants to settle and be comfortable again in how they are operating.

“I think the government are definitely going to have to look at getting the European work force back into the country – being able to cook something perfectly or to serve guests and make them feel welcome, it is a skilled job. And the point-based system we have is not user friendly and it is not beneficial to our industry.”

He added: “In hindsight the staffing issues we had pre-covid, that wasn’t a crisis. This is a crisis.

“It’s incredibly challenging for all hospitality operators out there.”

The Burnt Chef Project posted on Instagram that hospitality vacancies in the UK have soared by 77% but the number of applications has slumped by 82%.

Aaron said: “I had a chap ring me the other day saying they needed a senior sous, a junior sous, four chef de parties and two commis! I said, ‘if I can find those for you, I’m going to take the rest of the year off!’."

He added: “When you work in hospitality, I think it’s embedded in you, it’s a passion and I don’t think it ever goes away. I still massively miss the kitchen, parts of it, not enough to want to get back into it but there is always that itch which needs to be scratched.

“So, people who have found that new job during lockdown, I don’t think that’s a passion I think it is a means to an end. I think if hospitality is inside of you, you will always want to be a part of it. I think there will be a change in people’s ideas, and they will come back.

“Good people are loyal people. If they have decided they don’t want to be in the industry or they want to move then they will do it the right way and if they don’t, do we need these people in our industry?”

What is the solution to the staffing crisis?

The shortage, Aaron believes, is across the board in terms of position and sectors and that is with some sectors still closed due to ‘Freedom Day’ being delayed until July. He says that the delay will of course have a negative effect but that it is ‘one of the smaller hurdles that we’ve had to get over’.

In terms of staffing, he believes now more than ever we need to look at ‘grassroots’.

“A lot of people come out of college or come into the industry and think they want to win three Michelin stars, or be the next Jamie Oliver and it’s a pipe dream, it’s fine to have those ambitions but it’s not the be all and end all.

“It’s about finding the right space for them to develop and working with young people to get them into great places to build for the next generation.”

Part of Aaron’s game-plan is to approach as many catering colleges as he can to make sure students get into places which they are going to be excited about.

“The moment you start to lose the excitement and the love, its important to reassess and make sure the next move is the right one . Now more than ever the younger generation or just staff in general need that person they can trust who has integrity and an understanding of the industry. For me it’s not about putting someone in a job just to make money.”

Mental health

Businesses want and need to be open, they need to make money but what are the repercussions of the pressure people are now under? Last month chef Luke Henderson, 27, took his own life after a battle with his mental health, someone who Aaron knew well from his time at The Hand and Flowers, he had recently opened his own restaurant in Oslo.

“Mental health is a huge talking point at the moment and has been for a while, I’ve had first hand experiences and it’s so easy to say ‘go and talk to someone’ but it’s so f***ing hard to actually do it.

“Although there is a lot more awareness and understanding of mental health now it can still be seen as a weakness.

“The biggest message I can get out to people is don’t ever let something spiral – as soon as you have something playing on your mind just say it.”

Project backs

As well as We Are Tastie, Aaron has also been busy building another platform called Project Backs.

“It’s an online storytelling and resource platform where people can share their experiences throughout lockdown and covid. It’s for people to use as a tool to drive for a brighter future, they can see changes others have made and continued because of covid and hopefully they can tap into that to ma ether business more profitable or a better place to work.

“If we share our experiences and people can learn from them then I think the industry will become stronger.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th June 2021

‘In hindsight the staffing issues we had pre-covid, that wasn’t a crisis. This is a crisis.’