Independent restaurants are being forced to offer hefty sign-on bonuses of £1,000 or more for chefs and other kitchen staff as the shortage of skilled workers tightens in the busy festive season.
Small businesses such as Angie’s and D Grande, both restaurants in Chiswick, west London, the Coniston Hotel in Skipton, and Galeta, a bakery in Hackney, east London, are offering sign-on fees of between £500 and £1,000. Larger rivals are offering even more: recruits at Harry’s Bar, the Mayfair private members club owned by the hospitality entrepreneur Richard Caring, will get £2,500, while the Côte bistro chain is dangling dangling £2,000.
The job search site Indeed said that less than 1% of hospitality job ads currently mentioned a signing-on fee but the number of posts in the industry offering such a bonus had soared fivefold (443%) since the end of May.
“This is a new phenomenon for the hospitality industry that doesn’t show signs of abating, despite Omicron, as we head into the Christmas season,” a spokesman for Indeed said.
Steven Whibley, the operations director of Galeta, said he was offering a sign-on bonus of £1,000 after three months in the job on top of a salary of up to £40,000 in order to secure a head of bakery. The business is also offering £500 bonuses for less senior roles such as chefs de partie and drivers, posts which are also proving difficult to fill.
Whibley said: “We currently have 20 vacancies and our fully staffed team would be 60 people, so that is about a third missing. We are filling that with overtime and agency staff where we can. The problem has been there since the summer but it’s got tougher as the business has expanded with the opening up of the economy. We’ve got busier and busier, and the staffing needs more acute, and we have lost staff as other people are offering more.”
Whibley said the business had already upped basic pay by 10% as well as offering the bonus but will still be struggling to recruit staff. “It doesn’t seem they are there.”
Angie Steele, the owner of Angie’s in Chiswick, said she was offering a £1,000 bonus for chef roles as she faced the prospect of shutting two days a week, ending dinner service and laying off serving staff as she was struggling to replace three of her six chefs who are about to leave the business.
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She said that even with the bonus, the restaurant had attracted only two applications, neither of whom showed up for their interview.
“Two years ago if a chef left I would put an ad out and get four or five CVs and we would have gone to [kitchen] trials next day and I would have a choice. Now there are no CVs and no one is walking through the door. It is pretty extraordinary.”
She said that Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic had had a “huge impact” on the UK hospitality industry, with staff going home to mainland Europe when restaurants were forced to close and not returning to the UK.
Steele said she had been forced to offer a sign-on bonus because so many other restaurants were doing so in the battle for staff. “It is not a very nice atmosphere,” she said, with rumours that some restaurants are offering customers free food in return for recommending staff from elsewhere.