'It's a nightmare' - Pubs and restaurants face staff recruitment crisis

Alison Brewster, landlady and chocolatier, who has extended the Stokesby Village Shop at the Ferry I

Alison Brewster runs the Ferry Inn, which also has a village shop - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

A shortage of hospitality staff is hitting restaurants and pubs across the region as they gear up for the busiest time of the year.

Such is the lack of response to recruitment adverts that one restaurant has still not filled key posts for 18 months, while a rural pub is being forced to leaflet local homes to seek staff.

One Norwich venue is trying to get a licence to recruit chefs from Asia.

The lack of enough hospitality staff is said to be down to the lockdown leading people to pursue other interests, competitive wages and demographics. 

Back to the Garden in Letheringsett, near Holt, has been advertising for chefs as well as front of house staff for around a year and a half with no applicants applying for the roles.

Back to the Garden is facing recruitment difficulties

Back to the Garden is facing recruitment difficulties - Credit: Back to the Garden

Restaurant manager Joseph Lloyd said: "I am not sure what the final outcome will be except for having to raise prices, limit what we offer and reduce service levels."

Mr Lloyd said that lockdown had led to a lot of people in the hospitality industry pursuing new interests.

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He added: "A lot of our ex-employees have found themselves new opportunities like running their own businesses or perhaps working for friends who have started their own."

Mr Lloyd added that a "chef premium" on wage levels did not help the recruitment hunt.

Steve Hutton, managing director at Middletons Steakhouse and Grill in Timberhill, which is one of nine in East Anglia, said: "Recruitment with chefs is a nightmare. It is difficult. During the pandemic a lot became Amazon drivers."

Middletons Steakhouse and Grill, Timberhill, Norwich that has undergone a £500,000 refit after suffe

Middletons Steakhouse and Grill owner Stephen Hutton. - Credit: Steve Adams

He added that pre-pandemic the group had 100 chefs and now has 20 vacancies and if hospitality jobs were not filled the sector would stagnate.

Mr Hutton said the business was looking into getting licences so it could recruit chefs from Asia and implored the government to review its immigration policies.

At the Ferry Inn at Stokesby, near Great Yarmouth, there were similar concerns with its landlady resorting to putting flyers in villagers' letterboxes to try and find help.

Landlady Alison Brewster said: "We are finding it really hard to get staff.

The Stokesby Village Shop at the Ferry Inn. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Ferry Inn at Stokesby - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

"Last year it was chefs but this year it is bar staff.

"I'm not sure why but it is definitely not just us.

"We also now have the Horse and Groom in Tunstead and we have the same problem there.

"The impact is huge as we are fully booked in both pubs on Mother's Day and we will be trying our best with very few staff.

"We should have four - two bar, two waiters - but we only have two staff as my bar manager is off with Covid and we just can't get anyone else.

"We are definitely starting to panic a bit for the season as we don't know how we are going to manage.

"We will have to put signs up asking people to be patient and run a reduced menu so we can cope."

Eric Snaith is the owner of Titchwell Manor at Brancaster and also runs Eric's Fish and Chips in Thornham, Holt and St Ives.

Eric Snaith preparing pizza in The Yurt at Drove Orchards, Thornham, near Hunstanton Picture: Chris

Eric Snaith says recruitment has always been difficult in the north of the county - Credit: Archant

He said recruitment had always been an issue due to demographics in the north of the county.

He said: "It always has been really challenging on the coast for us, partly because the way demographics have changed locally.

"We have a lot of second homes and wealth come in, which is great for business but not for the work force really.

"In hospitality a lot of the work force is younger and part time jobs.

"It has always been a bit of a challenge and it has got worse and worse really.

"We have bought a staff house so that has helped and really also work hard to retain the staff we have, try and treat them as best as we can and be as good as employer we can be with the hope they don't move on.

Titchwell Manor

Titchwell Manor - Credit: Archant

"I think we will be ok, we are not in too bad a position now.

"Somehow we always make it work, maybe it helps having multiple places so we can move people around, plug gaps where we have to."

Restaurants call for improved work-life balance

Restaurateurs in Norwich are urging the hospitality industry to improve work-life balance for staff after major changes reducing shift patterns have proved a success.

Richard Bainbridge, owner of Benedicts in St Benedicts Street, said: "During lockdown we refocussed. We realised we wanted a better work-life balance and decided to work smarter."

Richard Bainbridge at Benedicts has sold out of his gourmet ready meals. Pic: Archant

Richard Bainbridge at Benedicts - Credit: Archant

He said staff do shorter shifts rather than long days and added: "The industry is changing. You have to adapt and the hospitality business will come back stronger."

Hannah Springham, co-owner of Farmyard Restaurant in St Benedicts Street, The Dial House in Reepham and Farmyard Frozen on the edge of the city, said the business changed how its chefs worked in May last year meaning they work four days a week.

She said: "We saw recruitment problems drop. The whole industry style isn't acceptable in terms of long working hours. It isn't sustainable. There is a problem with burnout and mental health."