Liam O'Keeffe - Crisis cooking in hospitality due to chef shortage 2022-03-26

Crisis cooking in hospitality due to chef shortage

As seen on RTE - you can view the original article here

They should be cooking up a storm in the kitchen, but a crisis is brewing in hospitality due to the shortage of chefs.

According to Fáilte Ireland there are 40,000 vacancies across the tourism industry, and 10,000 are for kitchen staff.

Its most recent research found that 88% of employers in hospitality say they are having 'considerable difficulty' recruiting chefs.

"We're in serious crisis mode now," said Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland. "Businesses just won't be able to open seven days a week because they don't have the people."

Liam O'Keeffe sees first-hand the pressure on restaurants, hotels and kitchens. He provides relief chefs to the sector through his business Phone A Chef.

"We have over 60 chefs on our books now and they do relief work. Hotels would call us, and we would send out chefs when they are struggling."


Phone A Chef has over 300 clients and is inundated with requests. Mr O'Keeffe gives the example of a 5-star hotel which was supplied with a full team of chefs recently.

"They had no chefs in the hotel at all," he said.

"They couldn't operate without Phone A Chef being there or the hotel would have had to close."

The pandemic had a profound impact on hospitality, with lockdowns creating uncertainty for workers who opted for more secure employment in other industries.

Arguably, however, the seeds were sown for the current chef shortage back in 2003 when Bord Fáilte and the Council of Education, Recruitment and Training (CERT) merged to become Fáilte Ireland.


The RAI has been calling for the re-establishment of CERT and investment in chef training since 2017

Mr Cummins said hospitality "dropped the ball" in terms of the numbers going through college to supply a growing industry.

"Now is the time to bring back CERT," he said. "Fáilte Ireland has an education remit but it's for tourism not for hospitality. That has to change."

Mr O'Keeffe agrees.

"There has been very little training of commis chefs or trainee chefs in the past 20 years. There's nobody coming through."

He also said foreign labour was considerably cheaper than Irish labour in the 2000s, which hotels took up.

The Irish Hotel Federation said hotels maintained "a very high level of engagement" with their teams throughout the pandemic, including providing significant levels of upskilling and training, which has stood to the sector.

IHF Chief Executive Tim Fenn acknowledged however, that like many other sectors recruitment remains an ongoing challenge, and this includes a shortage of chefs.

"Hotels across the country are continuing to actively recruit chefs and where any shortfalls exist, we are confident that these will be met by new or returning team members, as well as through further training and upskilling, including earn and learn options such as the Commis Chef Apprenticeship Programme," Mr Fenn said.

"Where it is necessary in the short-term, however, overseas recruitment remains a challenge - part of the difficulty is the backlog in issuing permits for skilled employees which needs to be streamlined urgently."

The Restaurant Association of Ireland agrees that this is the solution to address the skills shortage in hospitality right now.


Liam O'Keefe, Phone A Chef (far right) with chefs John and Ben

Long term, there is plenty that can be done to attract chefs to Irish kitchens, according to Phone A Chef's Liam O'Keeffe, including addressing long, unsocial hours and poor pay.

Mr O'Keeffe has 35 years' experience as a chef and admits that he has missed important family events because he had to work.

"You'd have the executive chef and the head chef on high salaries and then you'll have junior chefs on €25,000 to €30,000 a year. It's not a lot of money when you are working in Dublin," he said.

"What can be done? I think the hotels need to reintroduce commis chefs. I think these commis chefs need to be treated fairly.

"I think they need to be taught by professional chefs. I think the kids that come into the industry, they need to be nurtured. If you put a new chef into a kitchen where they are already down five chefs, that kid is not going to learn the proper way, he is going to learn the quick way, and that's what's relayed in five years' time when he's teaching someone else."

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