Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, leaves me in little doubt as to what’s the biggest challenge to the hospitality industry today – the licensed trade will certainly recognise this one – it’s finding chefs.
At the recent Licensed Vintners Association seminar ‘Food is the Future’, celebrity chef Kevin Dundon suggested that one doesn’t necessarily need a qualified chef but one that’s naturally skilled and passionate.
Adrian doesn’t necessarily disagree with Kevin’s assessment.
“You’re probably looking at a chef who’s also able to cope at the end of the day, so the standard of chef you need to get depends on the level of menu you’re offering,” he says, “It doesn’t always need to be a top quality chef, just a good cook.”
But it’s becoming difficult in all sectors to get cooks or chefs “as we’re all going to the same pool”. This has repercussions.
He points to the normal 10-year progression from trainee to Executive Chef, “…but now we’re finding guys coming out of college with one year’s experience looking at a Head Chef position”.
With such shortages at home, eyes look to abroad.
“Pubs in Dublin need 800 chefs. They’re not going to get them in Ireland or in Central Europe,” he points out, “They’re in the same boat as ourselves.”
So the RAI has begun organising recruitment trips abroad. For example the Loyola Pub Group’s Stephen Cooney picked up six wood pizza chefs in Zagreb on an RAI-organised trip there recently for which Adrian takes full credit. It was his brainchild to go to Croatia to interview 200 pre-selected candidates. The RAI is going to Romania and Moldova in December, then Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia in January, where the average salary is half or a quarter what it is in Ireland.
“We can also offer them full-time work here – unlike at home,” he says, adding, “Croatia is the new Poland.”
A mood exists within businesses to see CERT ‘reactivated’.
“Fáilte Ireland and the state agencies like Solus have made a complete mess out of putting a proper training structure in place for the industry,” he believes, “They’ve actively disengaged from tourism training in Ireland since 2009. They still have the remit but they just don’t do it.”
In 2012 he informed Fáilte Ireland about the chef crisis in the industry. In 2013 the Hotels Federation came out in agreement.
In 2015 the Depart of Jobs Enterprise & Employment commissioned Indecon to report on the skills shortage in the hospitality industry. Last August it confirmed what the industry had been saying for three years. The chef shortage would require 5,000 chefs to come onstream each year from 2016 to 2020.
“But only 1,800 chefs a year are currently graduating so there’s a shortfall of 3,200,” explains Adrian. And the outlook seems poor.
“The points for Culinary Arts have dropped in 2016 so less Culinary Arts students are going into college. Now we’ve the pub industry wanting to get into the food business using the slogan, ‘The Art of Food and Drink’ – should it not be ‘The Art of Drink and Food’?” he muses.
“If all the pubs thinking of going into food look again at the really low margins, the increasing labour costs, the amount of regulation and red tape etc, they’d want to think long and hard about getting into the food business.”
It’s the pubs, more so than restaurants, that are picking up the English language students, working 20 hours a week in the kitchens, he claims.
Cost of doing business
The restaurant’s challenges are no different to those of the licensed trade: red tape, food safety – oh – and EHOs where inconsistencies with regard to food inspections are “running riot”, according to Adrian.
“There seems to be a Fatwa by certain EHOs, who’re not being reined in by their superiors. They can cost a businesses up to €80,000 to meet their standards which can all be rendered unnecessary when one EHO is replaced by another.”
Having waited 18 months the RAI is now to meet with the FSAI and the EHOs to try and address this issue. It will be looking for an ombudsman or independent inspectorate not aligned to the FSAI or HSE to adjudicate the issue…. Other issues such as ‘calories on menus’ will be fought “tooth-and-nail,” says Adrian, “We’ll rally the troops for this one. They tried this in the States and it failed – in Australia, it failed. It’s nonsense.
“Who’s going to police it? Who’s going to pay for it?”
Restaurants becoming pubs becoming restaurants
Publicans think differently to restaurateurs, believes Adrian.
“Restaurateurs are innovators. I think they’ve survived the recession in a big way, dropping prices, innovating menus, doing whatever to keep their doors open,” he says, “Consumers can see that. Consumer trends have changed phenomenally too. Consumers want to go for a bite to eat and sit down with friends over a drink with food the driver for it.
“The days of drinking all night long are over – pubs will have to get into food in a continental style and will have to turn into restaurants.
“On continental Europe or the US, food sales are 60% of turnover and alcohol 40% – and increasingly, it’s going to happen here.”
The average restaurant here is 75% food which is going to go 70% food, so the extra 5% will move into the drinks business, he claims, warning, “The RAI is well able for the encroachment of pubs. We’re innovative and seek to sweat the asset from a drinks point-of-view within the legal parameter for restaurants”.
For his members, it’s all about how they can maximise sales and get as much of that leisure €uro as possible.
Adrian has been particularly active in Europe on behalf of the Irish hospitality industry. Recently re-elected to Hospitality Europe’s Executive Committee having joined it six years ago, it had been 20 years since Ireland had had committee representation on this Brussels-based lobby group for the hospitality industry.
Both the RAI and Hotels Federation are members.
“HOTREC lobbies the EU over potential legislation coming down the tracks that affects each country,” explains Adrian, “All 28 EU countries are members as are Turkey, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. The rest of Europe has pubs and cafes etc affiliated to this body.”
The allergens legislation, for example, emanated from Brussels.
“We’d have lobbied hard to ensure that legislation is given back to each owner state to make it a non-binding directive,” he says, “And Europe was going to bring in a blanket inspection fee for safety authority inspections. We stopped this.
“That’s where we see HOTREC being very active – stopping potential regulatory legislation that can be introduced across Europe that adds extra costs to business. We try to nip it in the bud before it gets out of Brussels.”
Adrian also Chairs The Food Taskforce and would still like to see the introduction of a ‘Skills passport’. HOTREC spent 10 years negotiating with the unions over this but nothing has emerged, he says.
As for growing the market here, he sees a need to finish off the map with regard to tourism drivers such as The Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East by adding The Lakelands and the River Shannon to the tourism marketing mix.
“We need to have a vision for tourism growth over the next five years to get 50,000 jobs into tourism and be able to sustain these jobs through a sustainable tourism industry.”
But challenges loom large.
“Within Europe there’s so much uncertainty in regard to Brexit and terrorism and the migrant crisis…. The French tourism industry is on the floor at the moment thanks to terrorism, as is Belgian tourism.
“Securing our EU borders is one of our biggest agenda items…… Oh! And there’s still a big debate about the availability of alcohol all around Europe,” he warns.