Online food delivery company Menulog has partnered with the National Indigenous Culinary Institute (NICI) to take a deep dive into staff shortages in food service that are impacting pubs and the broader hospitality sector.

The ‘Australia’s Kitchen Talent Review’ report asked on-premise owners and managers to share their thoughts on the skills gaps they were experiencing and on the future of the industry.

Over 500 food services industry owners and managers were surveyed for the study, and half of these respondents said they had to close at least one venue during the pandemic.

Two-thirds said they had let local chefs go during the pandemic, with a slightly higher number (68 per cent) reporting they had to lay off chefs from overseas.

Surprisingly, pubs were found to be one of the most resilient sectors, with 46 per cent saying that they had to close a venue, compared to 62 per cent of cafés, and 53 per cent of restaurants.

Predictably, businesses that were able to pivot to takeaway service were able to better weather the pandemic’s storms, with 89 per cent of those surveyed saying that food delivery services helped keep their businesses alive.

Over-reliance on international culinary talent and the role of delivery services were among the key themes to emerge.

A large majority – 91 per cent – agreed that there has been an over-reliance on international chefs in Australian kitchens, with 59 per cent reporting a shortage of local chefs.

According to the report, this suggested an opportunity for the hospitality industry to refocus its efforts on fostering home-grown talent. 67 per cent of respondents said they would like to see greater support for career pathways for local trainees, and almost all respondents (99 per cent) said local staff could offer long-term commitment and reliability benefits to venues.

Moreover, 95 per cent of respondents believe that the industry would benefit from skilled culinary training programmes like the NICI, which offers training and experience to aspiring indigenous chefs.

Despite the challenges the industry has faced, those surveyed said they were satisfied with their careers, with nearly all of them (96 per cent) recommending a career in the food services industry. Creativity, and seeing customers enjoy food they had created, were both cited as reasons to become a chef.

The executive chef of Rockpool Bar and Grill Corey Costelloe said, “There is no better time to be a chef or to start up an apprenticeship because it’s not like it was in the old days. It’s a lot more relaxing in the kitchen now.”

Gamilaroi elder and Indigenous chef, Aunty Beryl Van Oploo, said, “The main thing is that we start recruiting our young people, because they’re the next generation. I’m sure there are young people out there who would love to become a chef, but they don’t really know how to go about it.”

Menulog’s managing director Morten Belling said, “Now’s a really good time for all of us as leaders, educators and partners of the industry to come together, look back and reflect on the past 18 months.”

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