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Business / Tearoom owner’s ‘heart wrenching’ decision to cut back service due to staff shortages

The East Burrafirth cafe is suffering from the wider problem of recruitment and retention in hospitality

“CHRONIC” staff shortages in the hospitality sector in Shetland and across the country has resulted in a Westside tearoom staying shut to sit-in customers this season.

Instead the tearoom at East Burrafirth will provide takeaways, with an outside picnic area on offer too.

Owner Lynn Johnson said it was a “heart wrenching decision” to make – adding that she hopes things can “return to some semblance of normality in 2023”.

The hospitality sector’s problems with recruiting staff has been brought into sharp focus during the Covid pandemic, which has been especially turbulent for the industry.

It resulted in some Shetland hotels temporarily cutting back food service last year.

And the owner of three Lerwick hotels said last month that the industry’s ability to cope with a busy 2022 tourist season will be “severely hampered” by a shortage of staff.

Alongside the takeaways at East Burrafirth, and the popular 24/7 honesty cake fridge, a new ‘peerie farm and gift shop’ will open, offering a range of produce, crafts and gifts from Shetland and other Scottish islands.

Johnson said she tried to recruit to four positions, one of which was permanent.

Lynn Johnson at her cake fridge last year. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
Lynn Johnson. Photo: Shetland News

She added that hospitality is facing a time where it is both hard to obtain and retain staff.

“Both situations could amongst other factors be attributed to the desperate/negative publicity for all hospitality…the potential looming threat of losing your job in a precarious industry,” Johnson told Shetland News.

Reflecting on the decision to close the tearoom to sit-in customers, the business owner said: “I have worked much harder than most to achieve what I have and I have always been staunch in maintaining my core values and business ethos.

“In the face of a staffing crisis I was left with two choices really, based on the staff pool I had available – operate the cake fridges only or cakes fridges and use the tearoom space for a complementing offering that required minimal staffing.

“As a business held in such high regard, one that is often referred to as being exemplary in terms of product and service provision…one thing I absolutely was not going to give into was offering our tearoom services with inadequate staffing, as that would have predictably meant customers receiving a mediocre experience.

“You can see examples where this has already been happening in other establishments striving to maintain what they did previously with less staff. It is not conducive to maintaining a good customer experience.”

Johnson said she has been “humbled by how folk have maintained their loyalty and their love of cakes” through the last two years.

“New threats in light of rapidly rising fuel and energy costs is making yet another period of uncertainty for all, and the viability of most businesses will be under assessment yet again,” she added.

The takeaway and farm/gift shop will open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 3pm.