Here’s an answer to the restaurant staffing crisis: Take the wait time to eat out | Food industry

AAt a certain point, the anecdotes begin to resemble – rightly or wrongly – hard data. A friend tells me that a chef-patron near his home cut his blankets in half so he could continue. A colleague recounts something about a group of restaurants he heard about that recently ran out of as many as 24 chefs at four locations. Booking a table at a favorite spot the other morning, I learn on its website that it will be closed an additional two days a week for most of July. That night, as a waiter hands me an affogato (just a tiny one), I gently ask him about it. Yes, he said, shaking his head: shortage of personnel. The restaurant contacts up to 70 potential new cooks a day, and they still don’t have the people they need. Seventy? Did I hear correctly? He’s laughing. Yes, he said. In fact, it may even be more than that.

Don’t look like the editor of The trainer magazine, but what on earth to deal with staffing issues in the hospitality industry, the seriousness of which is now obvious to anyone with an eye in their head to see?

According to my informant, thanks to both Brexit and the pandemic, it’s carnage there, chefs are leaving in the workplace because they got a better offer elsewhere, students in hospitality schools have been ripped off before they even graduated. Kitchen porters, waiters and bar staff are, he says, also hard to find, although I had already noticed this myself; at the theater last month, a single waiter made his way through the winding queue for interval drinks. She was quick, but it was clear she wasn’t going to be able to make much serious progress before the bell rang. If this situation repeated itself every night – and why wouldn’t it? – it is not difficult to imagine the consequences for much-needed arts income.

There must be many things the government could do, if only it had the will or any shred of skill. I also know from an industry perspective that there is bureaucracy to work around; even if staff appeared overnight, there would still be training, paperwork, health and safety, all that stuff. But even so, I’ve found myself fantasizing more than once lately about going back to waitressing. We had “eat out to help”. Maybe now we need help to, uh, help. Couldn’t the massive ranks of middle-aged people, who long ago paid for their college and university education by working in pubs and restaurants, work shifts? If we’d be amateurs alongside professionals, we’d also be savvy, hard-working, and completely thrilled to hang out with lovable, groovy youngsters. We could do this in exchange for a free dinner, say, once a month – although staff meals are what they are today, I would be very happy with one of them. Not too long ago, Jackson Boxer, the chef-patron of Orasay and Brunswick House, posted a photo of that day’s staff tea on social media. It was a breaded sausage with sriracha mayonnaise and curry sauce and to be honest it looked to die for. (“No mess,” as he put it.)

I know from experience that working in hospitality is often difficult, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, as a lovely waitress at Joe Allen in Covent Garden told me in a long, heartfelt speech the other day. The industry has also improved beyond recognition since my time – and I’m perhaps better suited to that now too. Middle age brings serenity and, in the case of women, a new tenacity that can be useful in front of the public.

When I worked in a pub-restaurant in Sheffield, what I liked least was coming home late at night; walking in the parking lot after my shift really terrified me. But those days are over for me. I’m rarely afraid of anything, or not in that physical, visceral way. I don’t know how good I’d look in 2022 with a black polo neck, long white apron and hoop earrings – my fantastic waitress wardrobe – but I’m good at juggling multiple plates at the same time and to manipulate the kind of crusader who prefers not to admit that he doesn’t really know anything about the wine list.

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