Chef Jason Atherton — alumnus of Gordon Ramsay and patron of Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social in Mayfair — has said he will have to close restaurants in the new year due to the challenges his Social Company group faces recruiting staff.
Atherton specifically blamed policy decisions from the Conservative government in the aftermath of Brexit, and Britain’s exit from the European Union and single market. Speaking to the Evening Standard, Atherton said his company had 350 unfilled vacancies and that he unable to open Berners Tavern at lunchtime “because I have no staff.”
“I can only open for breakfasts for hotel guests. Social Eating House is on its knees. I just can’t get any chefs for that kitchen whatsoever,” Atherton claimed. He said the same was true at the bistro Little Social in Mayfair, and that he was even struggling to recruit “a qualified corporate chef on a big salary who would fly around the world on business class.” He said he felt powerless.
The comments appear part plea, part forewarning. He said that January next year would be “crunch time” and that he and his business faced “heartbreaking” decisions as a consequence of having a third of the roles across the business unfilled. Only in the new year, would he “decide whether to mothball restaurants and just pay the rent until the crisis eases.”
Atherton, who has cooked for David Cameron, Theresa May, and (steak for) former US President Donald Trump, is not pleased with the Government for “allowing Brexit to hobble” hospitality. “There is a really simple step that would help and that is rejoin the single market, we have no choice. Everyone knows the decision we took six years ago was the wrong decision. They sold us a lie.”
Atherton’s London restaurant portfolio includes his flagship Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, Little Social, Harrods Social, City Social, Berners Tavern, and the Blind Pig. He also oversees a number of international restaurants — in Switzerland, China, and Greece.