James Close: even a two Michelin-starred restaurant can’t find front of house staff

The  Staff Canteen

We’ve talked about the chef shortage, and no doubt we will continue to talk about it, but what about the crisis sweeping through front of house?

At least chefs see working in the kitchen as a positive and successful career choice, worryingly people seem to see front of house as ‘a stop gap while they are looking for something else’.

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The Raby Hunt

James Close, chef owner of two Michelin-starred, The Raby Hunt, has had enough – he wants everyone to know how tough it is to get skilled or enthusiastic front of house staff.

“We get so many CVs from chefs but for front of house we get nothing, no one knocking on the door.”

Front of house in the UK is not seen as a career

James says, ‘front of house in the UK is not seen as a career’. He believes that sommeliers in particular don’t get enough attention, and asked: “Why is the sommelier not seen to be as high profile as the chef? For me they are just as skilled and as knowledgeable in their role, yet we don’t give them enough focus.”

He knows that service is key to maintaining the high standards his customers demand, he has even reduced the number of covers to 24 from 32 to encourage consistency within his team who are delivering the 17-course tasting menu.

 “It’s not just about the food here, in fact at the minute I’m probably more obsessed with the wine list!

“Service is key to the success of enjoyment – yes the food has to be perfect but the execution on to the table and the way it’s presented by the waiter is just as important, you can’t be a chef with an ego and say it’s all about the food.”

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"We have a great team here

but it’s that lower level

we really lack"

You have to put more limelight on what front of house do

Eating in three and two star restaurants around the world has led James to get just as excited about the service as the dishes themselves.

“You have to put more limelight on what front of house do, the industry has to come together and make front of house be seen as a very high skilled job – which it is, because if they are not skilled they get found out in exactly the same way as chefs do.

“In France, Spain, Italy – being a restaurant manager is seen as one of the best jobs you can get in the industry – why is it not like that in the UK?”

Does location matter?

James explained it is very hard up north to find people who want to be waiters or junior sommeliers and he has done ‘so many Instagram posts trying to find one’.

“I don’t want them to come here and work with us for ten years or five years, just do two years and use the skills they learn to move on and keep getting better.

“It’s when they come for six months and move on, that is the let-down.”

Is there too much pressure in a Michelin-starred environment?

“This level is an eye-opener,” said James. “They either embrace it, or they think ‘I’d rather do something easier’. It’s not the hours but probably the pressure to deliver amazing service to the guests.”

He continued: “We have a great team here but it’s that lower level we really lack, and I could go and get people from abroad which is fine but why can’t I get people from the local area who I can train up?

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“They don’t even need any skill, I just want them to have a great attitude, be willing to learn, willing to embrace this industry and a drive to be the best.

“We need people to start seeing it as a career, you could be assistant manger here and then go and run a five-star hotel in London and earn loads of money! We just need to make people see the potential of putting those hours of work in and rising to the top of a restaurant like ours – the opportunities are fantastic.”


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th March 2019

James Close: even a two Michelin-starred restaurant can’t find front of house staff