ONS Data Shows Drop in UK Chef Numbers

We recently conducted some research using the Office of National Statistics (ONS) employment data from 2018 which shows a 17% drop in the total number of chefs reported to be working in the UK compared to the same time period in 2017. Women took the brunt of the decline, with the estimated number of female chefs falling by 39% during the period, and the number of male chefs by 10%. This means that women are estimated to represent less than one in five (17%) of chefs working in the UK.


Overall, the data indicates that the number of people working in hospitality in the UK fell by 6%. Just over half of all (56%) people working in hospitality are women. However, one in four (39%) women employed in hospitality work as kitchen and catering assistants – so in the most junior roles. In addition, just over half (57%) of women working in hospitality works part time compared to one in three men (33%) who work in hospitality.


However, the data also indicates that the number of women in management positions is on the increase, and that in certain cases, women are over-taking men at this level. For example, the number of women publicans and managers of licensed premises increased by 133%, from 9,000 to 21,000 workers, while the numbers of men in these roles increased by a more modest 11%, from 18,000 to 20,000 people. Similarly, the number of women estimated working as catering and bar managers grew by 52% to 44,000, while the number of men working in these roles has stayed the same, at 35,000.


Front of house, the numbers of waiters and waitresses has declined slightly, by just over 5%, while the number of bar staff has increased by around 11%. Women still dominate front of house roles and bar roles, with just over three in five positions being filled by female employees.


As ever, the ONS offers a useful snapshot of employment in an industry that continues to be very challenged in terms of sourcing talent. The simple truth is that we need more people to want to work in the industry, especially as chefs. We need to demonstrate that this is a rewarding industry in every sense, and that there is a great career path. The dramatic decline in the number of chefs at a time when hospitality continues to thrive suggests that the real issue is sourcing chefs – it’s not a shortage of positions.


The fact that there are now so many women working in management positions sends a strong message that hospitality can be an inclusive environment for female talent. However, the decline in the number of female chefs, at a time when some of the leading lights in London’s fine dining scene are women, is very sad. More needs to be done to ensure that roles are structured to be accessible for women throughout their careers, especially in top kitchens.


A main concern is that immigration policy must create a candidate pool for unskilled jobs that British workers often do not wish to apply for. This is especially important as the Brexit negotiations reach their final stages. Attracting skilled talent to the UK is vital. It is also critical to ensure that we have workers willing to take jobs that British candidates are not applying for.


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