The heir to the throne’s Rothesay Rooms restaurant in Ballater remains closed due to a shortage of chefs and waiting staff. A notice on the website says it will open for the summer season at a date to be confirmed. Good luck with that.
Across Scotland, the biggest challenge facing every hotel and restaurant right now is staffing. The industry is facing a perfect storm with Brexit and Covid combining to push many operators to breaking point.
After lockdown trading restrictions, this should have been a time to make money and pay back the loans taken out during the pandemic just to stay afloat. Instead our departure from the EU has seen some overseas staff returning home. And Scottish hospitality workers found other sources of employment when bars and restaurants were shut and some have decided not to return to a world of split shifts, demanding customers and long hours.
From improving pay to offering four-day working weeks, employers are transforming businesses to attract workers but the reality is that demand far exceeds supply. A leading catering website is currently advertising vacancies for more than 300 chefs in Edinburgh and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Tom Kitchin has just opened his new restaurant Kora in the teeth of the recruitment storm. “We had to keep delaying opening to get the right staff and enough staff but we got there in the end by sitting down with them and being flexible about what hours they can work and when they can work them. We now have staff on all kinds of rota arrangements but it works for them and us,” he told me.
In rural areas, there's an additional challenge. New research shows up to 1,700 jobs on Skye are unfilled due to shortage of accommodation for workers. Nearly half of all businesses on the island are struggling to recruit and many of them are in the hospitality sector.
So what’s to be done? Alongside the gold rush of new developments in our major cities, we need more affordable housing in our most fragile rural areas. The days of staff putting up with a dilapidated caravan parked by the bins are long gone.
But more than that, we need to make hospitality a desirable profession. The campaign “Join The Army And See The World” turned around military recruitment and we need a similar industry-backed push to promote the amazing opportunities offered by restaurants and hotels.
We also need to stop seeing the sector as a stop-gap for students. With an ageing population, flexible hours could unlock a whole new workforce.
“We have some brilliant older staff working for us and I think we will see many more of them moving forward as they are re-entering the industry or even discovering hospitality,” said Tom Kitchin. “As an industry, we’re finding new ways to deal with staff shortages and together we will be the better for it.”
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Demand will eventually ensure supply but, until new workers are found for the industry, the best thing customers can be is a little bit patient.