Northumberland pub make move to overcome hospitality staffing crisis

An Alnwick gastropub is doing its bit to try and overcome a recruitment crisis which has hit the hospitality industry.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 10:00 am

The Dirty Bottles on Narrowgate has introduced a chef bonus scheme to reward its hard-working kitchen team and to encourage more chefs back into the industry.

Owner Mark Jones explained: “Staffing is a massive issue for the hospitality industry. Every week in the trade press there are more and more examples of businesses struggling.”

Michelin-starred London restaurants Pied à Terre and Michel Roux Jr’s Le Gavroche have both recently decided to close at lunchtime because of staffing shortages.

Chefs at work in the kitchen of The Dirty Bottles in Alnwick.

And Mark admits: “Quite frankly, if those places can’t get staff, what chance does anyone else have?”

The crisis has been fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic and the long lockdowns which have forced many in the hospitality trade to seek alternative employment.

"People who worked in hospitality have realised during lockdown that they quite like their weekends and their evenings to themselves rather than working in a hot, sweaty kitchen,” said Mark.

"A lot of people have left the industry and gone into the building trade or work as delivery drivers or gardeners. These are really good, experienced chefs that are being lost to the industry forever because of the money or the lifestyle that being a chef entails.”

The Dirty Bottles in Alnwick.

The Dirty Bottles, which employs 37 staff, is not immune to that.

"We have a strong team but could do with a couple more to take the stress off them,” said Mark.

“We’ve got lads doing 10 hours a week more than I would like and that’s going to get worse in peak summer as we get busier.

"Wages for chefs will rise but that hits the profits of the business. In fact, some of them might not be profitable at all any more and could go under. And then what happens in October when the trade drops off?”

So, the Dirty Bottles has come up with a scheme which boosts the hourly rate of kitchen staff during the busy summer season.

"We hope better working conditions and more financial rewards will help us to retain chefs or perhaps even persuade a few to come back,” said Mark.

"The bonus scheme is a first step so we’ll see how it goes.

"Those times when the business is thriving and really busy are also the most stressful and hard-working times for the chefs. If they meet the criteria they get an increase in their hourly rate as a bonus.

"In the quieter winter period trade will drop off and the business will be protected from having to shell out when it isn’t making those profits.

"So when the going is good everyone gets a slice of the pie but in quieter times we can retain jobs and grow the business.”

He is delighted with the initial feedback, especially the messages of support from those in the trade.

The impact of Brexit has also been an issue for some, although not at The Dirty Bottles.

Mark said: "I know Brexit, and, in particular, the movement of people, has affected businesses up and down the country and there will be some in Northumberland that are in that boat but all our staff are local people so it’s not really had an impact on us.”

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