Atherton, who has seven venues in the capital including Mayfair flagship Pollen Street Social, told the Evening Standard he has 350 unfilled vacancies across his restaurant group — representing about a third of his workforce — and faces having to make 'heartbreaking' decisions as a result of the shortfall.
He said: “I can’t open the 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.
“Little Social is really struggling to get chefs as well. I can’t even find a qualified corporate chef on a big salary who would fly around the world on business class. I can’t do anything to fill that position.
“The people left standing are working seven days a week, 18 hours a day to keep us propped up. I’ve just one member of my team saying they’re done with it, they’re not going to put up with this sh*t anymore.”
If the current vacancy levels persist into 2023, Atherton said he will only have a big enough team to operate 'two or three' restaurants effectively, adding that January will be the 'crunch time' when he would have to decide whether to mothball restaurants and just pay the rent until the crisis eases.
There are estimated to be around 400,000 vacancies across the UK hospitality sector at present, with Atherton openly blaming the impact of Brexit for the current staffing crisis.
He said: “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.”
The chef added that the Government had made recruitment from outside the EU a bureaucratic nightmare that could not possibly make up the shortfall.
“We have a licence that cost us £50,000 to get talent from abroad. But the process takes six to eight months to get one visa for someone from India or the Philippines. It’s just such a slow process, it’s like putting a sticking plaster over a bullet wound.”
Atherton's intervention comes as new data from workforce management company Fourth reveals that more staff are leaving jobs in hospitality now than at any time since the start of the pandemic.
Amid the crisis, last week saw the launch of the ‘world’s biggest hospitality recruitment initiative’, targeting the next generation of workers.
The recruitment campaign, ‘Rise Fast, Work Young’, has been launched by Hospitality Rising and is backed by more than 300 hospitality businesses and global brands. It showcases the opportunities and promise that come with a career in hospitality with a dedicated site highlighting the current vacancies across the entire industry.
A series of campaign images will feature in phase one of a six-figure advertising campaign involving TikTok creators, digital ads and high-profile outdoor spots across the UK that feature slogans such as ‘Don’t grow old for a living’ and ‘9-5ers wouldn’t get it.’