Wagamama reveals chef recruitment struggles amid UK worker shortage

The noodle and katsu chain’s boss Thomas Heier said he was struggling to fill chef vacancies in around 30 sites.

Wagamama reveals chef recruitment struggles amid UK worker shortage

Pan-Asian chain Wagamama has revealed difficulty in hiring chefs across a fifth of its restaurants as the sector battles amid a “perfect storm” of supply chain woes and staff shortages.

The group’s recently appointed chief executive Thomas Heier said he was struggling to fill chef vacancies in around 30 sites.

He said Brexit was impacting the number of European workers looking for jobs in the UK, but also blamed tough competition in the recruitment market as logistics firms are resorting to wage hikes and steep cash bonuses to help plug lorry and delivery driver shortages.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Heier said: “We’ve seen a reduction in our EU workforce in particular, but the other thing we’re seeing is increased competition from logistics and delivery firms who are struggling with an increased number of vacancies.”

He said the seasonally quiet month of August saw sales on a par with peak trading levels normally seen in the autumn.

“It’s a perfect storm of higher than normal demand, with supply chain challenges in the mix and a shortage of staff on the logistics side,” said Mr Heier.

He said while Wagamama has not been in a position where it is desperately short of chefs or ingredients, it has felt the pressure like many of its rivals.

And he warned it could lead to rising food prices as the supply chain crisis mounts.

“I don’t think we or anyone else are out of the water yet,” he said.

The lorry driver shortage has seen big firms such as Tesco and Asda offering £1,000 starting bonuses for new recruits, while Amazon is also offering £1,000 “golden hellos” to attract new warehouse workers amid soaring demand for online shopping.

Rocketing demand for workers saw 193,000 new job adverts posted in the week to August 29 alone, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

Wagamama boss Thomas Heier is looking to expand the chain to nearly 200 sites in the UK (Wagamama/PA)

It confirmed that 50% of its menu will be meat-free for the first time from October 6, as part of a previously announced commitment.

The move is being made in response to climate change concerns and ahead of the COP26 conference in Glasgow this November, with research suggesting switching to a vegan diet can help reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73%.

Wagamama will be offering customers that sign up to the plant pledge online a free vegan side dish.

Mr Heier, who took over from predecessor Emma Woods in June, said: “We’re making choices big and small at a business level to tread more lightly on the planet.

“Now, it’s time we use our platform to ask guests to join that journey with us.”

Wagamama launched its first vegan menu on the high street in 2017 and since then its chefs have created meat-free alternatives to popular dishes, such as vegan chilli “squid” with mushrooms, as well as innovations including the vegan egg and a watermelon “tuna” dish.

Mr Heier also outlined plans to expand the 147-strong UK chain, with aims for up to around another 40 sites over the next five years, including delivery kitchens.

Wagamama also plans to boost its franchise in the US – where it currently has five eateries – and work with partners to expand further across Europe.

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