Cork restaurant is thinking outside the box to attract new staff

Paul O’Brien, owner of Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant and The Lodge Bar and Kitchen, Myrtleville, outlines the huge challenges facing the restaurant industry in finding staff, as we continue our series on the issue
Cork restaurant is thinking outside the box to attract new staff

Paul O’Brien, owner of Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant and The Lodge Bar and Kitchen, Myrtleville.

SINCE 1976, the O’Brien family has run Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant and The Lodge Bar & Kitchen in the scenic coastal village of Myrteville.

In 46 years of hospitality, we have seen so many changes. Back in the early days we had part-time workers both in the kitchen and front of house (approx. 15-20) As our business grew over the years, so did our employee numbers. In 2019 we employed approximately 80 people, both full time and part time on both premises.

As of today we employ only 30 people. To be honest, recruiting good quality chefs has always been a challenge. I must mention we have been lucky and worked with fantastic and loyal employees over the years, far too many to mention. Some of our team have been with us for many years and many great memories and friends have been made.

Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant, Myrtleville, County Cork, who are seeking staff.
Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant, Myrtleville, County Cork, who are seeking staff.

The challenges

In early 2020 we were gearing up to recruit new staff for another busy season. At this time, the world was keeping a close eye on Italy which was struggling to deal with a new virus - Covid 19.

Surely, this virus won’t come to Ireland we thought. We closed our doors to our customers on March 14, 2020, thinking this would only be for a few weeks. Little did we know! By mid-March the country had come to a standstill. In fairness the Government stepped in with PUP payment and all our staff were offered this. Most availed of this payment, others decided to find work in local supermarkets etc. The world was turned on it’s head with job losses globally mostly in the services industries. As weeks turned into months, I genuinely thought that once we were told we could we reopen, finding staff would not a problem. How wrong could I be!

We opened our doors again in July 2020 with the appropriate restrictions in place.

Most of our staff returned to work and the summer season traded well and smoothly. Our customers were happy to be out and about meeting friends and family.

Once October came, Covid 19 numbers were rising again and operating the business became very challenging for so many reasons. At this stage many staff members had decided to leave for a variety of reasons. Once again, we posted adverts on all social media platforms and contacted job agencies for chefs of all grades. There was little of no response in our efforts to recruit.

An inside view of Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant in Myrtleville, County Cork.
An inside view of Bunnyconnellan Coastal Restaurant in Myrtleville, County Cork.

By December 2020 we were again forced to close and thankfully opened again in July 2021. During this time many changes had occurred in hospitality. After having almost six months off and having spent more time with family and friends, the world had had a serious rethink about their work /life balance.

Prior to reopening in July 2021 all our staff were asked to return to work. For many reasons half decided not to return, we were shocked that so few wanted to come back to work. We appreciated all those that did return, thank you. We understand that some of those who didn’t return instead chose to remain on the government PUP payment. In reality, those that did return to work had an extremely hard time. 

People’s mindset had changed. Some customers were now not as understanding as before. They became impatient and far more demanding. 

As a result, it became a difficult time for our team, both front of house and kitchen. A year plus of Covid 19 restrictions and lockdowns had taken its toll on everyone.

Even with reduced opening hours in both premises, we still found it difficult to recruit enough experienced staff. There was no shortage of young, inexperienced young people who did their best in difficult circumstances. By late August 2021 over half of our small kitchen team had left. 

We took a very tough decision to close Bunny’s as we couldn’t deliver the service that our customers have come to expect. 

Thankfully, The Lodge Bar remains open and trading well with great customer feedback. We would like to take the opportunity to thank all our loyal team and customers.

The Lodge Bar and Kitchen, Myrtleville, which remains open for business.
The Lodge Bar and Kitchen, Myrtleville, which remains open for business.

The way forward

As of today, we still need to recruit six chefs for Bunnyconnellan and the Lodge Bar Kitchen. Our daily efforts to recruit staff have yet to be successful.

So, it is time to press the reset button and think of new and innovative ways to attract the right people to come and work for us. We have taken the unusual step of travelling abroad to interview chefs and front of house staff, which is already bearing fruit. More recently we have employed the services of marketing guru Stephen Ryan from Narration.ie. Dave Marshall and Anthony Madden from Isla Media are also helping us to promote Myrtleville as a location to live and work by producing a promotional video and creating a new web site ‘Experience Myrtleville’ which will be launched shortly.

We are offering the opportunity to work and live in a scenic coastal village. New staff will be helped to find affordable local accommodation. We are also exploring the possibility of our chefs working a 4-day week to provide a better work/ life balance.

The hospitality industry needs to embrace change; It’s time to create a more enjoyable and less stressful workplace for employees. This will take courage, investment, and commitment on the part of employers to create attractive working conditions for employees to benefit from, enjoy and thrive. 

We are proud to be championing a new approach to attracting and retaining hospitality staff.

At the end of the day our people matter, without them we don’t have a business, so looking after them must be our priority.

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