The ongoing shortage of skilled hospitality staff has seen some restaurateurs accuse their rivals of using "underhand" methods to poach employees in the run-up to Christmas.
Hospitality business owners told The Caterer they have been shocked by some of the blatant tactics used to try and steal staff.
These have included coming into rival restaurants with business cards and phoning venues to try and speak to team members directly with offers of higher pay.
Andy Dempster, operations director at Romet Group, which runs six restaurants in the east London area, described it as a "dog eat dog" scenario ahead of the busy festive period.
He said: "A large restaurant group nearby was proactively coming in with business cards and speaking to our staff while they were working. I felt that was not on.
"As a company we lost over 90% of our workforce come April for various reasons. Everyone in the industry reopening at the same time exacerbated the demand for talent, so people are having to be proactive, but there are lines being crossed by some companies. It's a very small industry world so I'm surprised at some of the tactics."
Competition for staff
The number of job vacancies in the UK hospitality industry has risen by 50,000 since before the pandemic began in early 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. Between July and September this year there were 134,000 empty roles in the accommodation and foodservice sector.
Andrei Lussmann, founder of Lussmanns Sustainable Kitchen, which is soon to open its fifth restaurant in Hertfordshire, said: "Poaching has always been out there but generally speaking there has always been an unsaid understanding between hospitality providers locally that you don't steal each others' staff.
"Now we've got people calling up the restaurant to find out who is working and trying to elicit them away from the business.
"It's all rather cloak and dagger and people are telling staff, ‘we can probably pay you 30%-40% more than you're earning at present'."
Lussmann added that he had seen a number of employees return after being lured away by "massive" pay rises at other companies.
"A couple of our staff have gone and come back saying ‘we were the only member of staff there'. In some cases they were being led under false pretences to kitchens that had no staff so they had to work much longer hours in far more intense environments, so they ended up coming back."
The loss of many European workers after Brexit and the pandemic means hospitality is also competing with other industries for staff. Lussmann said his local fishmonger had increased wages for fish specialists from £28,000 to £40,000 "overnight" while Dempster lost one manager to a delivery brand offering a Monday to Friday, nine to five job.
Spencer Craig, founder and chief executive of Pure, which runs 19 cafes in London, said supply chain issues were making competition for staff "very tough".
"There's lots of stuff outside the control of every company. If you run out of chicken it's worse for the person on the front line who has to explain that to the customer. That can be very disheartening, so people are quicker to look around [for different jobs] as they know opportunities are elsewhere," he said.
Dempster anticipated attempts to poach staff will get worse in the run-up to the busy Christmas period. He said: "There are big restaurants that are massively under-resourced and they're going to get desperate. The only way they can compete is offering more money per hour but that also has a shelf life. Are the team members that leave going to be getting the same amount of hours come January or February?
He added: "Obviously people will have their heads turned, it's very flattering. We've all had those emails, but I think people see through it. We've been honest with our staff, ‘if you get approaches come and talk to us because you might be able to get what you need without having to leave'. We're a small company and can make changes."
Lussmann believed many hospitality businesses offering inflated wages over the festive period will struggle to survive in the New Year. He said: "I've told all my teams that this is just short-term chaos, and if they're going into a business that's going to pay that much to question if they will still be here next year. We're coming into Christmas when things [for hospitality] will bounce back but I do think after Christmas there will be a little bit of carnage."
Image: Volodymyr Goinyk / Shutterstock
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