Restaurants and hotels in tourist resorts pay thousands of pounds in golden handshakes to attract chefs from India and South Africa amid extreme staff shortages.
The benefits of some jobs include £ 85,000 salaries, £ 5,000 sign-on bonuses, family holidays and even “settle-in” days for puppies, after Brexit and Covid left the sector with record-breaking vacancies.
At its highest in December, there were 7.8 vacancies per. 100 hospitality jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics – the highest level ever. This dropped slightly to 7.5 percent in March, but vacancies in hospitality are still higher than any other industry, with an estimated 164,000 vacancies.
At Vale Holiday Parks in Aberystwyth, Wales, owner Thomas Scarrott has hired five chefs from India this year – after struggling to find staff.
For every overseas chef, it costs him £ 5,000 to £ 7,000 in visas, travel and recruitment fees – but Scarrott, 40, says he had no choice. At a recent local recruitment day, only two people showed up, despite 100 expressing interest.
“People think we’re trying to bring in people from abroad because it’s cheaper. That’s not how we pay the same salary at all. Once you’ve paid the agency fees and fees to the Home Office for the sponsorship licenses, it seems much more expensive to do. it this way, he said.
Now he is launching a curry menu to make the most of the “absolutely dazzling” skills of his new recruits.
According to data from COREcruitment, an international recruitment agency, chef roles advertised at £ 45,000 a year would have been £ 35,000 two years ago and £ 28,000 in 2015.
Krishnan Doyle, its CEO, said: “We have offices in the Netherlands and France and they are actually seeing an advantage at the moment because chefs from countries like Italy, who used to spend six months in the summer in the UK, are now going there.
“In the UK, many places offer retention bonuses if staff stay with them for three months, 12 months or incentives such as holidays. One of our customers gives staff a day off with their new pet.”
Last week, a restaurant in south London placed an ad online stating that it was looking for a chef who would be paid £ 85,000 a year, including bonuses. The candidate should already be head chef elsewhere with a “stable resume”, it said, as well as having a “high presence” on social media.
Doyle said: “The highest sign-on bonus we’ve seen for chefs has been £ 5,000.” But elsewhere, perks can be even more lucrative. “An operations director for a hotel group that started two months ago received a salary of £ 130,000 and a £ 15,000 sign-on bonus,” Doyle said.
The salaries of kitchen staff are so high that some overseas applicants have questioned whether the UK job offers are a scam. The staff at COREcruitment had to call a coke grandmother to convince her that the role was genuine because it was 20 times his salary in Cape Town.
Across the country, wait staff and bartenders are also in high demand.
Big Mamma, a group of Italian restaurants in London, is offering a £ 1,000 joining bonus to bartenders and a £ 1,000 referral bonus to friends they help recruit.
TGI Fridays is awarding £ 1,000 welcome bonuses to chefs – who do not need any previous experience – for roles at Jersey.
At Starbucks, in some cases, £ 500 sign-up bonuses are paid out, while Hyatt hotels offer £ 500 sign-ons for kitchen porters.
Some venues have resorted to poaching by handing out business cards while eating at restaurants or even hanging posters up in staff smoking areas.
In the fishing village of Gorran Haven in Cornwall, Craig Holman, who runs the Llawnroc Hotel, says the industry is in high season for “transfer”.
“In addition to pay and flexible work, we come up with incentives such as vacationing at another resort for the staff and their families,” says Holman, 52. “It’s something we need to do to be able to sell the job now. It’s like they interview you because you need them and they know it. ”
His attempts to lure staff in come amid EU chefs from countries such as Spain, Italy and France leaving the UK after Brexit, while others left the industry as venues closed for months during several shutdowns.
As summer approaches, there are fears that job shortages could hit holiday plans, with restaurants and hotels already having to turn down customers.
There are approximately 4.2 vacancies per. 100 employee jobs across the UK. According to the job website Adzuna – which ONS uses to calculate unemployment figures – there is a shortage of staff in tourist hotspots. In Dorset there are 7.3 openings per. 100 jobs, where the number drops to 5.9 in Devon.
In Cairngorm National Park, near Aviemore, Scotland, The Highlander Hotel also recently hired a chef from India. Normally up to 35 employees would work there – the number is 13. Lack of staff has meant that bookings have sometimes been rejected.
“I have worked here for 31 years and my manager has been here for over 45 years and we have never experienced anything like it,” says Elaine MacRae, the vice president.
“The guests are extremely good and understand the pressure we are under, but we are not always able to give them the service we want because we can not always go in and make the rooms every day,” she adds.
Across the UK, more people are sponsoring staff coming from abroad.
Since January 2021, EU citizens have not been able to travel to the UK under free movement and must now be sponsored in the same way as non-EU citizens.
But where previously only highly qualified chefs of at least £ 30,000 could be sponsored, British companies can now do this with any kind of chef from abroad, with similar changes happening in other industries as well. The Interior Ministry’s immigration figures for last year showed that 239,987 work-related visas were granted, 25 per cent higher than in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.
Doyle, the recruiter, described being able to hire from other markets as a “lifeguard”, with hires from South Africa, Thailand and the Philippines.
Harriet Mansell owns two restaurants in Lyme Regis, Dorset, but does not have enough chefs – and has to open for fewer hours than she would like. “Our focus is on quality rather than quantity – we do not just want to open with a half-hearted offer,” she says.
Affordable housing is also a problem. “Holiday lets have pushed up prices. I have to live with my parents in Sidmouth. . . If I can not live here, I have no hope of attracting other people to the area – there is just no property available, “adds Mansell.
According to Adzuna, wages have risen by 20 percent for baristas in the past year, 19 percent for hotel receptionists and 17 percent for waiters.
At Hawksmoor, the exclusive steakhouse chain, executives “do a tremendous amount of training and development,” says Will Beckett, its founder.
“We take on people that we might not have traditionally done because they have a lower level of experience. we have taken a chance on people with the right mindset and just trained them ourselves ”.