Chiswick’s restaurants struggling with staff shortages

Images above: ‘Sorry we are temporarily closed’ sign on Pho door

Chiswick’s restaurants are having to restrict the service they offer because of staff shortages, which are continuing to plague the UK’s hospitality sector.

Restaurants have been forced to close entirely some days, restrict service to takeaway-only or amend menu items which would normally be available. Job vacancies have either been gathering dust or attracting young, inexperienced staff who take a long time to train and are usually not looking to make their career in the industry.

A recent Business Confidence Survey revealed that a massive 96% of hospitality bosses envisage staff shortages in either front or back of house in the final quarter of 2021. The survey, by international data & insight consultancy CGA, in association with the hospitality analytics software company Fourth, found that 16% of roles in the industry were currently vacant and only one in six businesses were confident in staff recruitment & retention.

Hospitality bosses have described the staffing crisis as ‘a perfect storm’. Many blame Brexit, as EU nationals account for a big percentage of food and beverage workforce, especially in London. Some left because they no longer saw a future for themselves here. Others went home because of Covid and now find they can’t get back, or it’s just easier and more conducive to work in Europe. Mass redundancies handed out by companies in the early stages of the pandemic have also played a part, putting some workers off the idea of a career in hospitality.

The Chiswick Calendar has spoken to some of Chiswick’s restaurant managers to find out how they are coping with the current difficulties in attracting staff.

Images above: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, burgers fries and onion rings served on site.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen – “Vacancies have been open for two or three months”

Gourmet Burger Kitchen at 131 Chiswick High Road is one of the chain’s 40 UK restaurants. The company pride themselves on serving up a variety of handcrafted burgers, combining 100% prime beef with fresh ingredients and burger sauces made from scratch in their kitchens.

In October 2020 it was announced that the chain would be closing 26 of its restaurants and axing 362 jobs, despite being saved from going into administration in a rescue deal by Boparan Restaurant Group.

One of the managers at Chiswick branch of GBK told The Chiswick Calendar she has been having trouble finding staff to fill vacancies in the team for months and shortages are affecting the way the restaurant operates. While management don’t expect to have to close the restaurant on selected days anytime soon, they aren’t confident to be able to say the same in the coming weeks and months.

The manager said:

“[The] vacancies have been open for two or three months. We had a few people that applied but they’re either not picking up [their phones] or not showing up to the interviews. The few staff we have managed to hire come to work for a few shifts and then they leave. [They say] it’s too hard or not enough money. Front of house is less difficult to find, but they’re all students so it means they can usually only work on Saturdays or Sundays. Finding chefs is really hard; we are always understaffed.

“A lot of the time we have really long waiting times and we need to block the difficult burgers and sides so we can be faster. Sometimes we block the [Deliveroo] tablet just to be able to cope.”

Front of house and back of house team members at GBK, according to vacancies listed online, are on minimum wage. Because of the way the chain operates (customers go up to the till to order their food) service charge and tips are virtually non-existent. Recently the company has bumped up wages for back of house roles in the hopes to attract recruits, but the manager said the increase wasn’t significant.

Asked why she thought it was so difficult to find staff, the manager said:

“I think people aren’t applying because usually in hospitality it’s all people from other countries. With Brexit and COVID, nothing much is left.”

Images above: Republic Chiswick, chefs prepare food in the restaurant’s kitchen

Republic closed Mondays and Sundays – “It is really difficult to get staff”

Indian restaurant Republic at 301-303 Chiswick High Rd is having to stay closed on Sundays and Mondays and may have to close another lunchtime because they can’t get staff.

Chef Kuldeep Mattegunta worked in several Michelin starred restaurants in different countries while he acquired the skills to enable him to start own venture. His business parner, restaurant manager Mustaq Tappewale, has worked in top notch restaurant groups in London and met Chef Kuldeep when they both worked for the Indian restaurant group Kricket, where they decided to combine their two decades’ worth of experience to open Republic.

They faced an initial setback when the December 2020 lockdown meant they had to cancel their opening night, but since then they have built up a loyal clientele in Chiswick.

READ ALSO: New restaurant owners “gutted” they can’t go ahead with Chiswick opening

Image above: Republic owners Kuldeep Mattegunta and Mustaq Tappewale

“It is 100% because of Brexit”

Mustaq told The Chiswick Calendar:

“It is really difficult to get staff. Everywhere is experiencing the same problem. It is 100% because of Brexit. I’ve been in the business ten years and have a lot of contacts. They’ve all moved to Italy or Germany or Spain.

“Covid could also be impacting it, putting kerosene on the fire, because people have gone home during the pandemic and now find they can’t get back.”

Since 1 January 2021 EU citizens moving to the UK have had to apply for a work visa, but these are designed for skilled workers in jobs which require a skill level of A level or equivalent at an annual salary of at least £25,600 a year.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has recently backed calls from the hospitality industry for the Government to issue a Covid recovery visa to help tackle staff shortages in the industry.

“Many sectors that are important to our economic recovery, from hospitality to haulage, construction to culture, are now under huge strain due to the lack of EU workers and the Government’s immigration rules” he said.

Ministers have rebuffed calls for a post-Brexit visa exemptions for the hospitality industry, similar to those recently afforded to HGV drivers. One UK Government source told the BBC:

“In order to move to a high-wage, high-skilled economy, businesses should invest in their workforce and improve pay and conditions.”

Images above: inside Republic customers can watch their food be made in front of them, a dish served in the restaurant

Mustaq knows of several restaurants who, like Republic, are unable to stay open all week. What is particularly galling for him and his partner Kuldeep is that they have sometimes had to turn away new customers. Their evening trade has become so successful they often have all the bookings they are able to cope with.

“People walk past and look in and see we are open and serving people and there are empty tables yet we have had to turn them away. They think it’s something personal but it’s just that we aren’t fully staffed and have had to limit the number of tables.”

Mustaq and Mattegunta tend to employ Indian chefs who know the cuisine, but most of their table staff are European rather than South Asian and they are happy to train people from scratch.

Images above: Pho’s restaurant front with a sign explaining their closure

Pho Vietnamese closed to diners – “We can’t find people to work”

Pho is a chain of Vietnamese restaurants largely based in London but with restaurants scattered around the UK. The chain make all of their menu items fresh in-house from the spring rolls to their pork and lemongrass meatballs to their popular peanut butter satay-style dipping sauce.

Chiswick’s branch of Pho has been closed to dine-in customers since Friday 1 October because of staff shortages. The manager said “hopefully” they’ll reopen to diners again on Friday 8 October but couldn’t commit to whether that will actually happen.

“Many of our staff are going back to university and we can’t find people [to work] straight away” the manager told The Chiswick Calendar.

Chiswick’s Pho has found that many of their staff returned to their home countries in 2020 because of the pandemic and they’ve not returned. The manager said usually plenty of EU nationals apply but there has been a dearth of applications, meaning the restaurant has had no other option than to restrict their dine-in service.

The manager said Brexit was “absolutely” a significant reason for the branch’s difficulty in recruiting new members of staff.

Images above: High Road Brasserie October 2021, food served in the restaurant

High Road Brasserie retaining staff – “We’ve been quite lucky… but the pandemic Brexit has affected recruitment”

High Road Brasserie at 162-170 Chiswick High Road remains relatively well staffed, but the manager admitted they haven’t been immune to shortages facing the wider industry. The restaurant and bar is part of the larger Soho House group, which according to the manager is generally is experiencing shortages. It’s a European-style brasserie and is open from morning until late at night.

Luckily for Chiswick’s branch staff shortages have not drastically affected the way the restaurant is being run because they have managed to retain plenty of their staff, something which the manager attributes to the higher pay staff receive as well as other additional benefits.

Pizza chefs working for Soho House are on £13 per hour and receive a cut of the service charge (which is added to every bill). Some other high street chains, such as Pizza Express, pay their pizza chefs £9.20 per hour as a starting rate. Franco Manca pay anything between £9.50 and £16.00 to their pizza chefs, depending on their seniority.

One of High Road Brasserie’s managers told The Chiswick Calendar:

“Like the entire industry, of course, we are experiencing the same. Here we’re quite lucky as we’ve got quite a loyal team and what we’ve tried to do as a company is we’ve tried to make it so all the benefits we give go towards the staff so we can basically keep the staff that we have and sort of posture ourselves as being ‘the best in the market’ such as offering higher wages and incentives on taxis home late at night, things like this.”

On the other hand, though, the manager said:

“Because of Brexit and because of the pandemic recruitment has absolutely been affected. People have had time to think about what they want to do and have realised that the hospitality industry is quite a strenuous career, with mental health being at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.

“There’s people going back abroad and hospitality is built around our European task-force… Lots of Italians, French and Spanish have obviously gone home because of settled status and not being able to stay and work here.

“We’ve got a few vacancies but definitely some of our larger sites have got more. Because of where we’re situated, whereas a lot of our sites are in Soho Shoreditch and Central London they’re obviously suffering more because the City there isn’t necessarily the guests coming in, whereas here we’re quite lucky in Chiswick people have got money to spend and disposable income in this area of London. We’re well known and having a membership service has also helped a lot.”

Images above: The Italians Chiswick High Road, the Deli counter inside

The Italians has no pizza chef – “We might have to close for one or two days”

The Italians at 454-456 Chiswick High Road are a ‘small community of people passionate about fine Italian produce and top quality wines’. Their small bakery is in operation daily and aims to produce freshly baked breads, pizza and pastries – exclusively using Italian flour and sourdough. Recently though, they haven’t been able to find a pizza chef. The operations manager, Michele, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“It’s a really difficult time to find staff. Especially for us because we usually hire exclusively Italians, the only reason being we want people who come to ‘The Italians’ to feel the Italian atmosphere. Obviously, since Brexit, people from Italy are not able to come and work in the UK anymore. That’s the first reason I believe.

“Secondly, the pandemic and the furlough scheme is many of the reason why plenty of people aren’t looking for a job yet. We’re getting very very little applications. We’ve had a couple of vacancies for more than three months, actually we had to stop making Pizzas in the evenings because our pizza chef left and we weren’t able to find another pizza chef.”

Michele added that staff shortages have forced them to change their opening times:

“We close two hours earlier on the weekends, we used to close at 10.00pm and now we close at 8.00pm. The main reason is because we don’t have more staff. We are actually thinking at some point, if we can’t find staff, we might have close for one or two days. We don’t want to take that into consideration, but it’s starting to get to that point now.”

Image above: CGI of Dining Domes at Chiswick House

Dining Domes cancelled at Chiswick House

‘Dining Domes’ at Chiswick House & Gardens were set to be a large part of their autumn programme but were cancelled at the last minute. Organisers Eventist Group apologised to bookers blaming the ongoing challenges in the hospitality sector – including staff shortages and supply chain issues.

READ ALSO: Dining Domes’ at Chiswick House cancelled 

Image above: Pianta Turnham Green Terrace

Pianta owner opted for ‘soft launch’

Pianta, the new plant-based Italian restaurant which opened at 6 Turnham Green Terrace at the weekend, is open in the evenings only from Tuesday – Saturday, opening for lunch only on Sundays from 12.00 – 7.00pm.

READ ALSO: New plant-based Italian restaurant Pianta opens in Chiswick

Owner Stefano Fraquelli has opted for a ‘soft launch’ and while this is in part the sensible strategy of an owner with decades of restaurant experience, it also reflects the reality of not being able to get enough staff to do more.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Hounslow expecting a leap in unemployment as furlough ends

See also: Chiswick’s petrol stations run dry

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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