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Bury St Edmunds chef Zack Deakins of 1921 outlines the challenges facing hospitality

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We are back from our winter break recharged, buzzing and full of energy – and to be honest. . . I think we are going to need it!

It is no secret that the last couple of years have been tough on our beloved industry, and I have to say that looking ahead at 2022, things don’t look like they will be getting much easier anytime soon. With any luck, it looks as though we won’t have to deal with any more lockdowns. Covid restrictions look as though they will be phased out, which is all very positive – but there are still many other trials and tribulations for us all to face.

The first and probably the biggest one we are facing is the staffing crisis within hospitality. I don’t think I know of a restaurant, bar, café or any other venue that isn’t currently looking for staff of some kind. Hiring has been pretty tough for a number of years now, but it feels that things are getting worse rather than better.

Facing rising costs (54633413)
Facing rising costs (54633413)

I will always stand up for this industry as it’s a great one to get into. Personally, it has given me so much joy. It’s just such a great pleasure to spend the day creating and being part of a team, family even, we are all pulling together for the same goal.

Growing up in restaurants in the past meant that you were expected to work 80 to 90-hour weeks for very little pay and just be grateful that you were a part of the team. The industry is changing so much and I am happy to say this is no longer the case. The four-day working week, for instance, is becoming more and more the norm, which is great to see and can only help to attract people into the industry. At 1921, we went to a four-day working week after the first lockdown and it was such a positive move. Giving the team a better work life balance has just made the energy within the business grow and means we have been able to raise the quality of our offering.

When we first went to the four-day week we were still open for five days but as we have been affected by the inability to find any suitable staff, we made the decision to close an extra day so we could guarantee the team the four-day week. It felt like a massive gamble, but a few months in now I do feel it was the right call. The team is happier and more settled, and it means we can keep the same high standard every day of the week because our best team is on every day. So, we will be continuing that for the foreseeable future, closing on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

The next challenge ahead of us this year will be the rising cost of living. National insurance going up will have an effect, but the big one will be the increase in energy costs. These additional costs to households will obviously have a big effect on their disposable income, which will, in turn, affect how often they eat out. Also, the energy cost rise will put a big increase on the running costs of businesses, squeezing what are already very tight margins. The majority of commercial kitchens have gas stoves that are on all day and if the cost of that is going to double, I would imagine there will be some price rises at many establishments, especially when VAT on food goes back up to 20 per cent in April.

All that being said, I am looking forward to this year and there are certainly things to be excited about.

Firstly, I am excited to be cooking and writing menus through the spring and early summer season. Due to lockdowns, the restaurant has missed these months for the last two years. I can’t wait to get the first load of wild garlic through the door, for instance. It won’t be long until asparagus and samphire turn up, as well as fantastic, sweet baby vegetables. Although from further afield I always get very excited at the prospect of morel season as well. Quite possibly my favourite mushroom.

Another thing we can get excited about is events. We have already had our first wedding of the year and have started to plan for the first of our famous wine dinners. The last one of these we had was back in 2019, so it has been a long time coming. It will be on March the 17th and feature wines from The Simpsons Wine Estate, in Kent. It seems only right to kick off by showing off some fantastic English wines, and these certainly are that. I always enjoy these events as it’s almost working in reverse to how we usually would. Normally, we try to pair wine to our dishes, but for these we come up with dishes to match the wine. I find it incredibly enjoyable. It often throws up flavour combinations that we wouldn’t normally go for and is a great chance for the team and me to get creative.

All in all, there may be some future challenges, but that doesn’t stop me feeling incredibly excited about what’s ahead.

Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds.

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