By Luke Butler – contributor
Over the last 18 years in senior operational roles with large multi-faceted hospitality groups, and more recently as a pub owner in Surry Hills, I have seen a lot of change across the industry. I now find myself recruiting talent for the industry I’ve worked in for the better part of my life – funny how the tables have turned.
Coming from industry, I’ve always been acutely aware of the chef shortage, but now even more so through my recent experiences in the world of hospitality recruitment. Perhaps controversially, I can tell you that the solution to this industry-wide problem won’t occur as a sole result of engaging the best recruitment consultants or agencies to fill positions.
There are currently over 3,100 chef positions being advertised on the online job search platform Seek. Of these, 2,800 fall in the sub-$70k category, highlighting a candidate-driven market for Commis, CDP and Sous positions predominantly.
Unsurprisingly, most are roles in NSW (36%) and Victoria (27%). The other 300+ advertised positions above the $70k mark are indicative of the employer market for Head and Executive Chefs nationally. This total of course does not represent the entire jobs market, but is an indicator of the extent of the challenge, and the opportunity for those venues willing to explore new ways of working.
Combined, these extraordinary levels of demand for talent sub-$70k and the net loss of talent and employment growth in every major city within the Hospitality & Leisure sector, have created a perfect storm in the hospitality talent marketplace.
What these numbers also confirm, is that the issue doesn’t sit at the top of the food chain; there are a number of quality Head Chefs ‘on the market’, but the talent bottle neck at this level is an entirely different story.
New ways of working
With no end to the candidate shortage in sight, creative operators are considering new ways of combating this great chef shortage, and for some venues, this has meant taking a leaf out of the QSR* playbook. In fact, there are a number of businesses already taking a different approach to staffing their kitchens, particularly in environments with streamlined product offerings.
There are an increasing number of high-profile businesses that are taking a more strategic approach to their product offering and kitchen structure in order to deliver high quality food, while employing the same quality staff you would traditionally see working behind the bar.
By implementing highly regimented preparation procedures, intensive staff training programs, clear section break-downs and McDonald’s-like order management systems, these businesses are able to employ unqualified staff to occupy kitchen positions, while maintaining high product and execution standards.
Under the guidance of a strong head chef, and with a clear product specification, these venues have shown that there is no reason why staff with no kitchen experience or culinary training can’t be taught to deliver to a high standard.
If you consider the level of training provided to bar staff that enter your business, without any formal qualification other than an RSA, it is absolutely reasonable to see a similar approach could be taken to culinary positions.
Operationally, it means treating your kitchen like your bar, by structuring your menu and implementing a training program to support. It also requires you to create a product offering that focuses on doing one thing really well, in order to streamline production, prep and training. Conversely, it could mean driving volume evenly to a number of sections in the kitchen in order to spread the load – in which case you would train specialists on individual sections.
To be clear, I’m in no way suggesting that businesses accept a drop in the standard of food produced. Nor am I suggesting that this approach is right for every venue. What I am saying is that for many businesses, combating the talent shortage could be a matter of rethinking the kitchen, and developing complementary approaches to training and development – rather than battle with inflating salaries, which are contributing to an industry-wide transient culture of candidates seeking new opportunities on whim.
Whatever your opinion on the state of the market, there is no denying that the current employment market is unsustainable and it will take operational creativity to adapt and survive the talent shortage.
*QSR: Quick Service Restaurant
Luke Butler is Principal Consultant, Hospitality & Leisure at FutureYou Executive Recruitment. He has more than 18 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including senior roles as Group GM of The Keystone Group and GM Melbourne for Urban Purveyor Group, and owner of Surry Hills’ Carrington Hotel.