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Rochester restaurant at The Vines forced to close over lack of staff and recruitment problems since Covid lockdown restrictions relaxed


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A restaurant at a new upmarket hotel has been forced to close because it cannot hire enough catering staff.

The eatery at The Vines in Rochester will close "until further notice" but weddings or private events already booked will not be affected.

The Vines Hotel in Rochester has closed its restaurant due to struggles recruiting staff post lockdown restrictions
The Vines Hotel in Rochester has closed its restaurant due to struggles recruiting staff post lockdown restrictions

The owner, who also runs the Cooling Castle Barn hospitality venue, said recruitment of high quality employees had proved a huge problem since a gradual reopening after lockdown.

Rebecca Collins also had to shut the Fire Station Brasserie in Chatham in June because she could not find suitable chefs and front-of-house workers.

Ms Collins now hopes to reopen the restaurant in New Cut as staff requirements there are less demanding.

She said: "We don't see this as the end, just a pause to regroup. We have had such positive feedback on the building, the decor, the staff and the food - it's been amazing to offer fine dining to the Rochester community.

"Unfortunately, something had to give. We pride ourselves on a high standard of service and food and we don't want to compromise. We temporarily closed the Fire Station Brasserie last month, but the recruitment issues are ongoing.

Rebecca Collins says the issue is 'pure numbers' with a lack of applicants and quality staff returning to the hospitality sector
Rebecca Collins says the issue is 'pure numbers' with a lack of applicants and quality staff returning to the hospitality sector

"We were aware we needed large numbers of staff across the three venues and deliberately opened The Vines slowly, while recruiting for key positions to supplement the excellent team we already have in place.

"Sadly, there is just a real lack of suitable chefs at the moment throughout the south east and the country as a whole. It's pure numbers.

"Rather than neglect our staffs' needs, or keep switching them from venue to venue, we have decided to shut The Vines for now and refocus all our attention on recruitment over the next few months.

"We can also ensure the amazing weddings we have been holding at The Vines recently - and Cooling Castle Barn, as always - continue unaffected.

"We don't know how long this will take, but we hope the industry will turn a corner soon so there will be a positive outcome."

The Vines, a restaurant and boutique hotel, opened its doors for the first time in May, but put off opening fully for a few months after an intense recruitment drive.

The Fire Station Brasserie in Chatham, which is also run by Ms Collins, was forced to close in June due to similar problems but has now reopened
The Fire Station Brasserie in Chatham, which is also run by Ms Collins, was forced to close in June due to similar problems but has now reopened

Businesses throughout the Medway Towns have reported struggles to recruit since the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Chef Sam Simmons said they had failed to find "a large and highly-experienced team" to provide the service they prided themselves of bringing to the table.

In a tweet, he posted: "It is with great sadness that we have taken the difficult decision to close The Vines restaurant until further notice. This closure will not affect weddings or private events - both already booked, or in the future - which we will continue to hold and cater for.

"We have felt extremely privileged to be able to provide the residents of Rochester and beyond, with a high dining experience unlike anything else in the area.

"However, to cater for this, a large and highly-experienced team is needed behind the scenes.

"Since Covid restrictions were officially lifted, we have done our utmost to provide an alternative wedding space at The Vines for couples who have had their special days postponed at our sister venue, Cooling Castle Barn, or other wedding venues across the south east.

"Sadly, there is just a real lack of suitable chefs at the moment. It's just pure numbers."

"Unfortunately, a shortage of chefs and hospitality staff across the industry as a whole, has meant we are unable to continue to offer the high level of service that we pride ourselves on, across each of our venues, simultaneously.

"Not only do we think it unfair to put any undue pressure on our excellent, current team, despite an intense recruitment drive, we have been unable to find the right appointments to fill many critical roles.

"For this reason, we have decided to close The Vines restaurant until we feel we have the full quota of staff needed to run each venue to the standards we uphold.

"This will allow us to continue to put on our weddings and other events without disruption and can ensure every couple gets the special day they have waited so long for and thoroughly deserve.

"We apologise again to any diners who have had future bookings cancelled and hope to see them again in the future.

"Thank you again for your patience, support and understanding at this difficult time for us – and many businesses in the hospitality sector.

The Vines in Rochester
The Vines in Rochester

"We will endeavour to keep you updated during the months ahead and as circumstances allow."

Earlier this summer, Ms Collins said she was shocked by the lack of interest in applicants seeking work with up to 70 positions on offer for months.

She said she had to close the Fire Station Brasserie despite offering reasonable working hours compared to the national average and a range of perks, including weekend days off.

Speaking at the time, Ms Collins said: "I don't think it's Brexit, but there has been a job drain nationally due to Brexit, with many Europeans moving back home.

"There's also the issue with many employees in the hospitality industry retraining while being on furlough or having time to reconsider what they want to do career-wise when everything opens up.

"We pay well and treat our staff well, so are just hoping we see some movement quickly."

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