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Can a £1,000 Hiring Bonus Solve the Chef Shortage?

Gauthier Soho is introducing a 'golden hello' to attract talent

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Alexis Gauthier, right
Courtesy Gauthier

Alexis Gauthier, chef-patron of Soho restaurant Gauthier, has announced a new initiative that he hopes will improve the business’ ability to attract new chefs and incentivise them once they’re employed. As well as a £1000 “golden hello,” the restaurant will also give staff the opportunity to access what the chef refers to as a “research and development” fund.

In an job advert posted to the site an offer for a chef de partie states the following:

“We are looking for a chef de partie to join our young and dynamic chef. You will be working 4 days a week under the supervision of our head chef. Ideal candidate must be open minded, creative and have a real love of cooking. We offer a great opportunity to learn, especially in the development recipe field. Excellent salary + private health + private pension + bonus payment "golden Hello"+ R&D monthly payment up to £250.

In a call today with Eater London, Gauthier said that the advertised “golden hello” was a £1000 ‘signing-on’ fee. How does that work in practice? “After their trail (usually a month) the chef will get bonus of £1000 if they commit to working for a year.”

He went on: “The reason we are doing this is [because of] the toxic cocktail we are in at the moment. London is not such an exotic destination for chefs anymore. It is the best place on earth to eat but it’s a very expensive to live. Chefs now have to think twice before moving to London because often they are not well remunerated.”

The chef, who by “toxic cocktail” is referring to “Brexit and many other things,” including the high number of restaurants opening in the capital, says that London can no longer rely on chefs to “drop their jobs in Italy, France or Spain” where comparable salaries afford them a much better standard of living. Instead, he suggested, we “therefore we need to appeal to chefs who are already here and for that there aren’t many ways to entice them. We need to attract them and make sure they stay, or at least ensure that they don’t have to much as much about financial matters.”

As well as the £1000 “golden hello,” Gauthier is also giving new members of staff the opportunity to access the businesses’ research and development fund. Or, rather, he is broadening the number of employees who have access to it. For a long time, he’s given his sous chefs, sommeliers and general manager the ability to expense restaurant experiences; a perk of a senior position. But in a bid to better enable the restaurant to attract talent at all levels, he is extending this to junior members of staff as well. In an interview with with Big Hospitality, the chef stated that the £37,000 annual fund amounts to only 1% of the restaurant’s £2.8m turnover (but it is not tax free; it is declared under the P11 scheme.) “We need to pay the staff better; there is a lot of money in this industry — restaurants have a lot of available funds,” he asserted.

“We have to have people who are totally devoted,” he said. “They have access to £250 a month at least. Normally, [a fund such as this] is used by the owner: travelling business class around the world and eating in top restaurants. I don’t do that unfortunately, because I cook! When people take up the offer it means I know they are into the restaurant and are passionate about [the industry.]”

In recent years, the chef has taken his staff on trips and cited a visit for the team to New York’s — indeed the world’s so-called ‘best restaurant’ — Eleven Madison Park. Anyone (traditionally senior staff) who has been at the restaurant for more than a year has been to New York. “EMP highest in terms of service, the effort they put in [for my staff to experience that] is good for my business, it is good for them to be aware of what [EMP] are doing,” he said. Staff have also traveled to Bangkok, Paris and the Napa Valley — the latter to The Restaurant at Meadowood “to understand wine and vegetable pairing.”

“Market forces are pushing us to do something serious for our staff. It’s tough and we need to reward people who are committed,” he stressed. “It’s easy to find a head chef but it’s different when it comes to commis chefs and chefs de partie. It has to be an exciting proposition financially. Young chefs in London just cant afford it — 700/800 pounds on rent, a travel card, a packet of cigarettes and it’s gone; at least we offer them a little bit on top of that.”

He seems entirely genuine when saying, “It’s so so so important to do that as a reward. A famous employer (Michelin-starred chef who he wouldn’t name) told me I’m too generous. But, I say, without staff, we are nothing!

“At least until we know what is going to happen in the future, we simply don’t know how we’re going to get these chefs. There is nothing coming — this is the reality. It’s our turn. We need to not be tight!”


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