'We're going to run our business in a more expensive way in the hope that customers will support it'

The  Staff Canteen

"Something's got to change," Said Hannah Springham, who owns and operates Farmyard Restaurant in Norwich and the Dial House in nearby Reepham.

She and her husband, chef patron Andrew Jones, are overseeing a complete revision of staff pay, working hours and conditions for their teams.

Though closed during lockdowns, the couple created and sold freezable restaurant-standard meals, given them a "pandemic-proof" offering to see them through.

"Now we're reopening, it's very, very busy," she said. "Which is great, but it's been zero to a hundred. People are f***ing knackered," and while they've been lucky not to lose staff, "people are leaving the industry in their droves."

"Everybody is on the recruitment hunt and it's a nightmare. Something's got to change."

"There's no wonder there's such a huge problem with mental health in our industry, it obviously relates to the hours and the working conditions." 

"We can talk about bullying, but actually if you're going to put anyone under that kind of pressure, doing those kind of hours and asking them not to see their family or friends or have any kind of social life, I'm sure we'd all start shouting at each other." 

This needs to be a race to the top

And so, they have decided to make the move that many talk about but daren't follow-through on: they have increased prices across the board in order to implement a system that prioritises their staff's wellbeing. 

"We said, 'right, we're going to put our money where our mouth is and we're going to only put our chefs on four-day week contracts.'" 

Going further than this, she said, "we're asking people what they want and which days off are important to them."

"Basically, we're not going to dictate contract terms anymore." 

As the word has spread, the response has been massive, as it is in perfect alignment with the mood in the industry since hospitality has reopened. 

"It's really important that this change is made throughout the industry, otherwise restaurants won't function," she said.

And with restaurants poaching each other's chefs left right and centre, there is reason to hope for a momentous change in the industry.

"If we do it, they have to do the same to keep their teams. Everybody wins."

If people see the industry improved, they might want to work in it

Hannah also makes the point that taking such measures could bring people back - thinking of the many who left the industry to reclaim their lives after a year in lockdown. 

"People just don't want to lose their lives, we all have gone on about the positives that have come out of it and how we've seen family life."

"We're really going to try and put our foot down with it and make sure that we really stick to what we're saying." 

Everything comes at a price

But as with any improvement, someone will have to pay, and in this instance it will be their guests - or their business, should customers decide to go elsewhere.

"There's a newfound respect for hospitality," she said, "but we're about to see how much people really mean that. Because it costs more than people are paying." 

"The reason we make chefs do these hours is not because we're awful people, it's because we can't f***ing afford anything else." 

"Customers need to really understand that this is where we're at. You hear it all the time, people slagging off other places, people come to you and go, 'God, those people made me work crazy hours,' and obviously as a restaurateur, you think to yourself, 'yeah but they don't do that because they want you to feel s**t and work all the hours."

"The majority of us do it because there's no other option. Firstly, because it's really hard to find chefs, if you burn them out they leave and it's this vicious cycle.The other thing is that it's really expensive: it's really hard to make money in this industry anyway.

"If we just go, 'oh, I'll have another chef, if you just look at your overheads, you don't make any profit, or worse still, you're actually going to be in debt."

It's nerve-racking to think that guests might not be willing to pay, but on the other hand, it is highly likely that if they know what they are paying for, they will. 

Though confident that it is the right thing to be doing, she continued, "we're a little bit nervous about doing it because it is expensive. We're going to run our business in a more expensive way in the hope that customers will support it." 

"And maybe we'll die trying, but we cannot keep going. Morally, we can't keep burning people out." 

Ultimately, Hannah said, it's not just about paying staff more, it's about investing in the quality of their lives.

"It's more than money," she said. "You can't bribe people away."

"It's not enough to offer people money, we're trying to offer them sustainability - a job that lasts, that works for the business and them. We'll pay them good money and we're also going to give them a life, and that is at our grasp. We can do that."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th May 2021

'We're going to run our business in a more expensive way in the hope that customers will support it'