Press Release

London’s booming food scene could turn sour without action on education and working conditions

London must uphold its international culinary reputation, by reforming chef education and training and improving working conditions, a new report from think tank Centre for London has found. The report calls for a new London College of Food to transform the city into a world leading centre of culinary education.

Read the report


Hospitality is one of London’s largest industries; 21 per cent of the UK’s chefs work in London (55,000 chefs and cooks) and demand for chefs has been growing fast – the number of chefs in the city has tripled over the last 10 years.

But despite this growth, London’s kitchens still struggle to recruit and retain chefs. Approximately 10 per cent of the UK workforce – around 20,000 chefs – leave the profession every year, while ‘chef’ is the most in-demand job title across London on the UK’s largest job website Indeed.

The report found that the growing demand for chefs has not been matched with an expansion and improvement of culinary education and training.

London has a good provision of catering courses – 16 of London’s 48 further education colleges provide catering courses – but many employers don’t believe colleges prepare young chefs with the range of skills needed to thrive in the workplace.

The government’s apprenticeship scheme is also not delivering for the profession, with London behind the rest of the country. Just 660 chefs started a chef apprenticeship in London last year; 12 per cent of chef apprenticeships in England.

Students who successfully complete their education or training are met with tough working conditions. The report found:

  • Low pay: In 2017/18, 50 per cent of London’s chefs earned under £21,000 a year, and 80 per cent earned under £28,000. This means that, after adjusting for inflation, the average hourly pay was no higher in 2017 than in 1997.
  • Unpaid overtime and long working hours: The average working week is 50-60 hours in most restaurants, and it is not uncommon for chefs to work 80-100 hours at busy times of the year.
  • Lack of flexible working and frequent sexism: Women make up only 15 per cent of chefs in London’s restaurants, yet make up the majority of school, hospital or office cook positions which offer daytime shifts and more regular hours.

The challenges around recruitment are likely to be amplified in the coming years, as London’s restaurant scene is heavily reliant on migrant workers; around 85 per cent of London’s chefs were born abroad, compared to 50 per cent in the rest of the UK.

To ensure that London’s restaurants and the culinary sector continues to thrive, the report argues that London must take action to equip aspiring chefs with the skills and experience to succeed.

It recommends that London’s catering colleges should work with the Mayor of London and businesses to develop a two-stage culinary education system, with catering colleges brought together as a new London College of Food; a networked institution with several campuses across London, following the model of the University of the Arts London.

To make the chef profession more appealing to the next generation, the report argues that the sector must urgently address working conditions. It calls on London’s restaurants and food businesses to work with the Mayor of London to draft a long-term plan which would help them catch up to the Mayor’s Good Work Standard – including introducing family friendly working practices, taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying, and paying all staff the London Living Wage.

Chefs should also work together to establish an Institute of Chefs and Cooks that would give the profession a strong voice and spread best practice, building on existing structures such as the Craft Guild of Chefs, the Institute of Hospitality and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

“London’s food scene is booming but the city does not do enough to inspire chef talent.

“Despite being home to some of the best catering colleges in the country, London’s culinary education offer isn’t specialised and high profile enough. And London is a chef apprenticeship dark spot.

London’s restaurants and colleges need to cultivate local culinary talent to maintain and grow the city’s global and national reputation as a hub for culinary creativity and good food, and benefit its workers.”

Nicolas Bosetti, Research Manager, Centre for London and co-author of the report

“The hospitality industry makes a significant contribution to our economy and has made London the world’s leading culinary destination. We recognise the challenges facing the sector and are committed to ensuring the capital is providing the skills training that best meets the needs of employers, including those in hospitality.

“We are funding apprenticeship pilot schemes, the first of which will include working with the hospitality industry to train more chefs, promote apprentices as a way of meeting skills gaps and help employers access funding to create new apprenticeships. We look forward to continuing to work with the industry to ensure it attracts the talent it needs.”

Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills

“The report highlights some fundamental issues that require a new collaborative approach to hospitality training.

“Everyone in London’s hospitality and culinary industries has a responsibility to secure the future of our great city’s diverse hospitality culture and ensure that London remains a leading gastronomic centre and tourist destination.

“At Westminster Kingsway College, we constantly engage with employers to support their culinary talent needs and we’ve been delighted to share our experience and expertise with the Centre for London’s Kitchen Talent report.”

Gary Hunter, Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway College

“Since I came to restaurateuring in the 1970s the image of the profession has transformed. Come the 80s, kitchens were no longer the preserve of the unambitious as they became inhabited with the likes of Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leigh and Alistair Little who brought the intelligence and passion that fuelled the extraordinary exponential rise in the quality of restaurants in the UK.

“Unfortunately this century has seen the unfortunate perception of kitchens as being hostile environments and the demands of financial expediency has had a somewhat retrograde effect. It is time that the career seekers of today realise that a kitchen can inspire, bring great satisfaction and offer rewards in what is fast becoming the best of professions.”

Jeremy King, Director, Corbin & King said:

“This report shows that restaurants and catering educators have some work to do.

“Restaurants need to get better at engaging with colleges and schools, while catering educators must focus on equipping young chefs with the skills and understanding they need to thrive in a working kitchen.

“But training alone won’t create rewarding and fulfilling chef careers. London restaurants need to be more flexible and responsive to the needs and expectations of young chefs as well as those chefs thinking of returning to the kitchen after a break, especially working mothers”

Mark Sainsbury, Partner, Zetter Group

“We need to be focusing some of the energy on attracting youth to cheffing as a valid and rewarding career path.

“The sensationalised TV shows do nothing but discourage parents from it being a viable option for their children. There are not many jobs in the world where you see the fruits of your labour on a daily, sometimes twice daily, basis.

“Being a chef involves many, many skills; cooking is only one. Time management, organisation, team work, problem solving and creativity are just some of these that create a rewarding and motivating career path.”

Chantelle Nicholson, Chef Patron, Tredwells and Group Operations Director, Marcus Wearing Restaurants

“Restaurants need to break down the image of ludicrously long hours and aggressive work environments as somehow being character building when often the opposite is the case.

“It’s turning people away from our sector and is tantamount to modern slavery. We also need to recruit more widely from the talent pools around us – whether that’s ex-offenders, refugees or people on benefits.”

Iqbal Wahhab, Founder of The Cinnamon Club and Roast

“It is always going to be a challenge to find good chefs, but you need to be able to see someone’s potential, and then work with them to bring it out.”

“Training is ongoing and it is good to move chefs around in the kitchen. Some of our chefs that have been with us for ages have been moved to different sections in the kitchen to keep them interested and to challenge them.”

Tom Booton, Head Chef, Alyn Williams at the Westbury Mayfair

“Centre for London has identified a massive opportunity for the restaurant industry to enhance and reshape culinary education as well as bring working conditions and pay into the 21stcentury.

“London’s restaurants lead the world in many ways, but to maintain this lofty spot the city must act now to address the growing hole in chef numbers. Only by grasping these two major issues will the sector dish up a genuinely fair deal for chefs, and create a truly sustainable future for itself.”

Juliane Caillouette-Noble, Development Director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association

“In my experience, the industry is still reluctant to try new talent and stick to the well –known chefs and presenters. Especially women are vastly underrepresented in the food industry. Loads of chefs are burnt out due to long hours and less pay.

“Creating a plate of food is more than looking good as consumers are become more aware of the ethical side of things such as food waste, sustainability, environmental impact and definitely more training needs to be given.”

Anita Kerai, TV Presenter

Read the report

Notes to Editors

  • Centre for London is the capital’s dedicated think tank. Our mission is to develop new solutions to London’s critical challenges and advocate for a fair and prosperous global city.
  • Kitchen Talent: Training and retaining chefs of the future is supported by the Greater London Authority, Mark Leonard Trust, Savoy Educational Trust and The Stanley Foundation.

Data Sources

  • Office for National Statistics: Numbers of chefs, pay, paid overtime, workforce nationality, apprenticeship numbers, proportion of women chefs and cooks
  • People 1st: Estimates for chef leavers