Is freelancing too tasty an option for chefs?

by Dan Izzard

30 November 2017

Last month we published a piece discussing whether there was a skills shortage in the restaurant industry.

That sure got people talking. Quite the roasting in fact. The opinion was, that in some areas there is a genuine skills shortage. On the other hand – and to shoehorn a well known saying – a case of too many freelance chefs spoiling the broth. With a better work-life balance and potentially lucrative returns, freelancing is big business and a popular choice.

Sounds ideal! Even so, Denzil, a chef based in Exeter commented that it isn’t a career-advancing motive, “they need us as the kitchen can't function without us, but we're all held to the standard of the worst of us - nothing is expected. It's a win on all counts”. An attractive proposition, higher pay for lower hours and arguably lower expectation.

There are many individuals who have made successful careers out of temporary assignments, and there is a high demand. Take event company Queen & Whippet Catering, a business who’ve found that more of the best West Country chefs and front of house staff are becoming freelance and no longer tied to one kitchen or establishment. Owner, Jo Cranston is using the flexibility to her advantage in “teaming up with some of the most exciting chefs in the area, whose skills match what we need on an event-by-event basis”.

Chefshare are a recruitment business who have first-hand experience of both freelancing and the difficulty of hiring staff. They believe that a core of permanent staff can be key in providing an environment in which staff can progress. By taking more responsibility in "understanding the needs of both the industry and by those working in it, there’s a greater chance of a valuable working relationship." Selfishly, we'd quite like chefs to stick around so we can get best quality food all of the time. But as many commenters mentioned, the hours expected of a chef are vast.

Working until your hands fall off is how you prove your passion and ambition though isn’t it?

To keep up with demand and with the competition, it's all too easy to fixate on output, keep the diners rolling through the restaurant. The rise of casual themes; American diners, burger joints, even pizzerias points to the magic formula (or at least easier road) to high street profitability.

Methods of mass-production and convenience that were pioneered by chains have also had an effect on how kitchens run and the skill development available. Adrian Searl, a chef of 50 years commented that “young chefs haven't a clue how to bone lamb, beef etc, and not a clue as to how to tie a joint” and that “everything seems to come out of a packet or tin”.

Where’s maybe in years past, long hours may have been racked up in junior positions accruing skills, that doesn’t seem to be happening with “employers churning them (young inexperienced chefs) over to keep the wage bill down, thus leading to no longevity and no accruement if skill base” adds Jean Cooper.

Hiring staff takes time, the commitment to finding a full-time chef is hard. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Where there are opportunities to bring in temporary staff, perhaps with the right help, there is also an opportunity to build and develop a core kitchen team who are fully invested in the restaurants success.  Now that sounds like a tasty investment.

This article was crafted with the help of Chefshare, and comments given from the Chefshare Facebook page. For more information on providing the right fit of staff for your business, please head to Chef-recruitment.net