Where have the staff of Irish hotels and restaurants gone? – The Irish Times

Sean Coffey had a heart attack last July at the age of 41. And the owner of Kate Kearney’s Cottage at the entrance to the famous Gap of Dunloe near Killarney thinks keeping the business afloat during the pandemic has a lot to do with it.

“The only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner,” he says. “I thought it was the worst moment of my life, but this year is much more difficult.” Its 170-year-old premises are perched perhaps at the opening of a 12km mountain pass that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year on foot, bike, pony, trapdoor and tourist bus, but it has reduced its opening hours due to staff shortages.

Instead of making life easier due to health issues, Coffey recently found himself working an ’80-90 hour week’ at the bar/restaurant when the general manager was hired to fill his shoes after the crisis heart attack was caught by a rival company. .

‘Poaching is ruthless,’ says Kerry man who managed to stay open three days a week doing takeout during lockdown and briefly thought he was ‘in an incredibly strong position’ as he approached of this summer. “Unfortunately the poaching has started,” said Coffey, who estimates his payroll at nearly €500,000 a year.

His plans were turned upside down when not only was his CEO taken, but his boss was also…by a friend. “Chefs are like chicken teeth,” he says.

Research published Friday by Fáilte Ireland confirms this is the case, with 86% of restaurants and 82% of hotels surveyed struggling to find chefs.

Given the long tradition of hospitality in his family business, Coffey says he is embarrassed to regularly close the bar at 9 or 10 p.m. due to a lack of staff. The premises have only been operating five days a week for a short time, with opening times often dictated by bookings made by tour operators already a year ago.

But with the students now away for the summer, he hopes he will soon be able to provide a seven-day menu, “although we are still very short of highly skilled labour”.

Award-winning chef Shamzuri (Sham) Hanifa, whose fine-dining restaurant, The Cottage in Jamestown near Carrick-on-Shannon, is only open two days a week, believes there was a skills crisis in hospitality though before the pandemic hits because not enough people are in training.

The Malaysian native, who has lived in Ireland for 22 years, and is interested in three restaurants in Leitrim, needs to recruit two, possibly three, chefs.

He has been advertising staff for six to eight months, he says, and in total needs to recruit 13 people to meet the combined needs of The Cottage and its two restaurants in Carrick-on-Shannon: Synergy and a steakhouse that he co-owns called Buffalo Boy.

Hanifa believes many experienced hotel staff have left the industry during the pandemic. “Chefs who were earning €700-800 a week couldn’t survive on the €350 Covid payment,” he says. “People with mortgages have moved into other sectors like construction or factory work and now they are earning maybe €600 a week, but without the night work.”

Research by Fáilte Ireland at the end of 2021 showed that the majority of companies in the hospitality sector (64%) believed that unsocial hours were a key factor in their recruitment and retention problem, while the second biggest obstacle cited was “competition from other employers”. .

As the recruitment drive is in full swing and many employers are raising salaries and improving working conditions in a bid to woo staff, Hanifa fears that if the level of service is not maintained, it could cause damage. sustainable in the sector. Friday’s update from Fáilte Ireland, a tourism barometer based on the experiences of 732 hotel providers, shows that a third of staff hired this summer will be new to the industry, while 50% of hotel staff who will work in Dublin during the summer of 2022 have no prior experience in the hospitality industry.

Hanifa says one of the reasons he is keen on not overloading his existing workforce is that he doesn’t want to lose the people who have helped him build a reputation.

New Zealand-born Jess Murphy, who set up Kai Restaurant in Galway with her Carlow-born husband Dave 11 years ago, is so concerned about the quality of life of her staff that its doors remain firmly shut the Sundays and Mondays, although its popular Sunday brunch was a mainstay of the business.

Murphy says she is currently going through a “double whammy” of price hikes and skill shortages. Although she loves the business, she thinks the ‘cooking culture’ and housing shortage in places like Galway make it less attractive as a career option for young people.

Kai currently has 24 employees and would need at least five more to comfortably operate seven days a week.

“There’s no way that’s going to happen,” she said.

Since the start of the pandemic, staff from countries like Croatia and Poland have not been able to return home. And because her employees are mostly young, she says many are now planning weddings that have been canceled due to Covid. “It’s quite a drama, a backlog of marriages, of people having to go home to see their families, which is also affecting their mental health. I haven’t been able to go home to New Zealand for three years and I won’t be able to go home until February and I have elderly parents.

While Murphy says she’s lucky the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology has “knocked out some amazing chefs,” she thinks the kitchen culture is a drag on potential new hires, especially women.

“You have to ask yourself about the industry itself. Would you like your children to enter an industry where you see Gordon Ramsay yelling at people. People think that culture no longer exists but it absolutely exists.

Its leaders work four days a week. “I want them to live their life. I want them to be able to go on vacation.

She also wants them to have a place to live and this is increasingly a major challenge in Galway.

“I have staff who stay on other people’s couches. I’ve even offered people to move into my house until they can have a home. Airbnb has been the ruin of what’s going on in Galway right now.

“I made three staff leave because they couldn’t find a place to live. I have a staff member looking for 2 1/2 months who is actually considering moving back to Dublin. It’s ridiculous.”

John Burke, general manager of the four-star Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, Co Clare, launched a major recruitment campaign earlier this year to coincide with the completion of a $3 million expansion and renovation project euros. He hoped to recruit 100 people with a mix of benefits such as night shift bonuses, private healthcare packages, maternity leave bonuses and wellness programs. “We ended up having 60,” says Burke, who expects to hire another 50 over the next two weeks but admits he’s still “on the edge” when it comes to staffing. With Covid still an issue, he says, it could be reduced by five to 10 staff any day because of the virus or the long Covid.

Weddings have long been a mainstay of the family hotel and due to the huge backlog built up during the pandemic, he says, by honoring all bookings made, he has tied up much of his staff.

The result is that he finds himself in the “foreign position” of having to turn away hundreds of visitors every Saturday and Sunday who show up expecting they can just walk in and order food.

“In 2019 we would have had 300 people for Sunday lunch but the maximum is now 80,” he said. If the hotel no longer has the ambition to provide 300 Sunday lunches, it feels bad for people who have just arrived for years, sure they are fed, and can’t take it anymore because they can’t. don’t have the staff to take care of them.

“We fire hundreds of people every Saturday and Sunday and it’s not nice for them and it’s not nice for us. Some of them are very upset.

The worst thing about turning people away is knowing they might not have a meal anywhere in the locality because of the same staffing issues, he says. “They often have to go home without eating.”

The hotelier counts himself among the staff who “have disconnected from the rhythm of night work” during the pandemic and knows why some are reluctant to return.

Dara Cruise, general manager of the Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise, Co Laoise, which has around 210 staff, has responded to the jobs crisis by being more open to offering older employees the flexibility to work shorter hours. “They bring a great set of skills and life experience with them,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

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