Braise New World: The Future Of Working In Hospitality

Attribution/author:Article by: Suzy Pope
Publish date: 28 July 2022

Article Type:by:

As the hospitality industry continues to adjust to a tricky post-pandemic and Brexit reality, how can restaurants lure staff back?

In April 2020, just under 1.65 million staff in the hospitality industry were furloughed, and when the kitchens opened again after the latest lockdown, they didn’t all come flooding back. Long hours and a high-stress environment are no secret in the restaurant business. When forced to find alternative employment over lockdown, it seems former kitchen staff discovered the appeal of a 35-hour week ending at 5pm every day. Now the industry must make some big changes to entice staff back.

A handful of chefs and restaurateurs across Scotland have been trying to redress the work/life balance that existed before the pandemic. In 2016, Paul Wedgwood of Wedgwood The Restaurant on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile witnessed the toll which 60 to 80-hour working weeks took on his staff and decided something had to change. He introduced a four-day working week for all his staff, but retained the same wages as a five-day working week. ‘I realised that if we started treating our staff the best, we were getting the best out of them.’ 

Edinburgh chefs Paul Kitching and Stuart Ralston subsequently introduced a four-day working week in 2018 but were met with a backlash from others in the hospitality industry. It wasn’t a model that could work for every business and some smaller restaurants closed down weeks after trying to implement the same flexible working system. So, the years before covid failed to trigger a big industry-wide shift in working hours to avoid burnout, stress and high staff turnover. But the post-pandemic and Brexit-based labour shortage means restaurants are now having to offer a more enticing, flexible working system to attract the limited number of available employees. 

Peter McKenna of The Gannet in Glasgow introduced a four-day working week for his staff in 2021, citing immigration restrictions and the post-lockdown labour shortage as direct reasons. ‘There’s a bidding war for chefs at the moment,’ Wedgwood confirms. Anyone with experience doesn’t have to go through an agency, ‘they just need to post on social media that they’re a chef looking for work and folk will come snapping’, forcing a wage rise in the industry overall. Wedgwood welcomes this change. ‘The wage rise is a good thing; it will eventually encourage people back into the industry, and maybe encourage them to stay.’ 

We’re already seeing a rise in menu prices to cover costs and it’s clear that as well as seeing shorter opening hours, the customer will be footing the bill for some of those inflationary pressures facing the industry. In 2016, when Wedgwood introduced his four-day working week, hospitality was moving towards a better work/life balance at glacial pace, and it seemed that punishing work hours, staff fatigue and high turnover were set to be the norm for the foreseeable. But the current labour shortage might just accelerate that change, perhaps a surprising positive in an otherwise challenging time.

Join our newsletter