BZuleika Fennely Zuleika Fennell, Corbin & King Chief Operating Officer

The skills shortage in the restaurant and catering industry, and particularly of skilled chefs, is reaching crisis point.

When Chris Corbin and Jeremy King became restaurateurs in the seventies, it was a profession that was often derided and thought to be inferior and they decided then that it was both an obligation and a dream to raise the profile of the restaurant business in the eyes of the British by offering guidance, benefits, better financial security and a more balanced working life.

30+ years later, the company – now with six restaurants and a hotel (The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel, The Beaumont) – continues to make strides but felt it could go further.

Over the years significant changes were made to the way staff were recruited and managed: All chefs have the opportunity to achieve a real work-life balance, the possibility to earn a good industry salary by working only five straight shifts per week for the same salary as the six they had worked previously, and the flexibility to add to those shifts if they so desired and breaking an industry norm, to actually be paid overtime rates when doing so.

30 hour contracts were introduced to enable parents to return to the stoves without compromising childcare, making ‘job-shares’ a reality instead of a concept. Overnight working is an initiative, allowing those sharing child-care responsibilities to alternate their working hours with their partner. The company has strived actively to recruit women, in the strong belief that a better gender-balanced kitchen is a happier and more civilised one and, in parallel, a Code of Conduct was launched which precludes shouting, swearing, bullying, belittling or any intimidating behaviour traditionally associated with hospitality and certainly professional kitchens.

Nonetheless, it is clear more is required.

The considerable numbers of female employees who have chosen not to return to work at Corbin & King following maternity leave suggests new mothers do not consider hospitality a viable career option when juggling the demands of a family. Our aim is to change this school of thought and present realistic and attractive options for women. We therefore felt we needed to look at an innovative scheme to encourage experienced mums back to work with hours that suit their childcare needs.

To kick-start the process, we are hosting a forum, which I will lead, in central London on Thursday 10th September (11:00 – 13:00) to meet with chefs to get a better understanding of what it is holding women back from returning to work after having a family and devise job roles and working patterns that meet these needs within the current opportunities at Corbin & King.

All mums with chef experience in a professional kitchen are welcome at the forum and should email GourmetMums@corbinking.com to book a place. Of course children are more than welcome and there are baby changing facilities on site.