There is a Talent Shortage. And it Has Nothing To Do With Pay

There is a Talent Shortage. And it Has Nothing To Do With Pay

James Sandrini 30th January 2018

Talent shortage. Answer abundance.

"Everything is relative. "
- Einstein, Trotsky and Coelho (now there’s a dinner party trio)

So, when either the product, the competition for it or the audience that demand it changes, the marketplace shifts. And yes, they change all the damn time.

One such change befalling the hospitality trade right now is the searing shift from a deep, ready pool of talent queuing up to wait tables and tend bar and cut veg, to a barren, hollow chasm. Where have they gone? We celebrate talent behind the pass and bar today more so than ever. The pre-eminence of fast casual has lowered the barrier to entry for most positions.

This isn’t an anti-Brexit argument (I’ll save that for Twitter), nor could it be; this reality is many years in the making and a result of significant changes in the industry, relative to others.

48.1 - Talent Shortage

1. Saturation

There are WAY more restaurants, bars and cafes (but fewer pubs) than ever before, therefore more roles to fill. An industry that is notorious for churn now spits out untrained managers and supervisors, further inhibiting recruitment and retention and creating a talent shortage, rather than simply a labour shortage.

2. Reputation

We laud the celebrity chef & bartender whilst simultaneously demeaning the rank & file. Stories of interminably long hours, poor career progression and a pervading drug culture are prolific. Would you recommend that to your loved one if another option were available?

3. Prioritisation

Positive notions – work-life balance; positive business ethics; environmentalism – have rapidly gained primacy. Good. However, hospitality has been slower to incorporate them compared to other industries. The idea of working for some free food and tips is no longer as appealing. (Don’t get me started on tips…)

"An industry that is notorious for churn now spits out untrained managers and supervisors, further inhibiting recruitment and retention"

4. Aspiration

Vlogger and Instagram entrepreneur. Bitcoin miner, poker millionaire and UX designer. Whatever a ‘Chief Entertainment Officer’ is. What do you want to try and be? One of these shiny new things, or a KP?

5. Accessibility

An undercover killer: A generation ago, someone trying to find an entry-level job would print out a CV and take it underarm to a town centre. Bars & restaurants are accessible, welcoming places. They ensnared many-a-talented-recruit.

Today, most people’s occupational careers start (and end) in front of a computer. This subtle advantage is long-since lost.

Suffice to say, the game gone changed. Both the competitive landscape and the needs of the workforce have shifted. The same cannot be said for hospitality. Why? The changes have not exactly been sudden, or subtle.


Training is not a priority. Work is brisk and operational. Even senior managers find very little time to diagnose issues beyond ‘….argh!’ with any regularity.

This reinforces flawed, anachronistic systems, and limits the pace of change.

Government Support

There is none. Rates go up. Rent goes up. Payroll is going up. (not arguing that one, but the cumulative effect should not be ignored). All the while, other trades are supported by the government to extraordinary degrees, despite falling far, far behind the level of productivity, employment and value of hospitality.

The costs squeeze a low margin model. Businesses operate in survival mode. Long-term thinking goes the way of the knobbly veg all too often.

A False Narrative

Until recently, most people figured the industry was in the ascendency. And why not? More restaurants opened in London during September 2017 than ever. More money piles in from abroad. The dream of owning a joint will always be popular.

But this belies….well…everything else we’ve just discussed. And it’s made us complacent and inert. You might laud the creativity of new chefs, cuisines and concepts. Good. They deserve it. But until that innovation is matched behind the scenes, the talent shortage will continue.