Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wake Up and Shake Up UK Hospitality

In recent months a lot has been written about the staffing crisis within the UK hospitality industry, as well as within other countries.  As it turns out the lack of employees has also hit other industries, including transport of freight by lorry.  It is estimated that the UK is lacking anything up to 100,000 lorry drivers! 

An astronomical figure that has led the government to take some drastic action including giving short-term work visas to overseas drivers.  The lorry driver situation is two-fold.  Firstly, around 14,000 European drivers left the UK either because of Brexit or Covid and only a handful have returned.  Secondly, nearly 30,000 driving tests for HGV drivers were cancelled during the pandemic.

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Image by Antony Trivet from Pixabay

The hospitality industry has similar issues, certainly with regard to European workers leaving due to Brexit and Covid.  But, unlike lorry driving, which is a highly skilled job taking many months to qualify, the hospitality industry has other more deep seated issues.  It has always been accepted that catering is a low-paid, hard job. 

Long hours, split shifts, late nights and, sometimes, not very nice customers but there has always been opportunity for career advancement and the prospect of working anywhere around the World.  There is currently quite a lot of blame being thrown around but I firmly believe that the industry needs to look closer to home.

I have recently sold my restaurant in France and have been looking at getting some work this side of Christmas before starting my new project next year.  As I have family that live in Britain I thought it would be nice to spend some time over there and keep my hand in on the cheffing side and, maybe, learn à thing or two.

My wife is also hoping to get a front of house job. So over the last week we have trawled through job adverts for our chosen area.  It turns out there are literally hundreds of cheffing jobs that I could apply for and quite a few front of house jobs.  Many adverts are stating “Urgently Required”.  Suits us, we will be there early October and want to walk straight into work.

We started out by contacting directly à couple of restaurants that we knew, to be told that, yes, they are recruiting, especially in the kitchen.  But they needed to pass our details onto a director or senior manager who would be happy to contact us.  One week later we are still waiting for the callback.  We have applied to several places that are advertising online – CVs sent, nice cover letter written – still waiting for a response. 

If, as an employer, you cannot be responsive at this stage when you are actively recruiting I am not certain I want to work for you.  On a positive note I also contacted an agency that places hospitality staff on short-term contracts.  They have been extremely responsive and within four days of our initial conversation I have filled their application, discussed payment requirements and been offered work at the pay I want for when we arrive in the UK.

The other major factor affecting UK hospitality is the level of wages.  There is an old saying about paying peanuts and getting monkeys, never has this been more accurate.  There seems to be a belief that it doesn’t matter who is running the front of house as long as they can carry plates or a tray.  Wrong!  To be a good waiter/ress or bartender takes a level of skill and education.  Think about it – these staff are your sales team.  They alone have to communicate with the customer, possibly customers from all walks of life, sometimes angry customers, sometimes overly-friendly customers, drunk customers but customers who are in your establishment with a certain amount of money to spend. 

Surely it is your duty, and the duty of your staff, to ensure that those customers leave happy having spent everything they came out to spend!  Employing giggly little teenagers because you don’t have to pay them much just doesn’t work.  Still employ those teenagers but develop them with training and give them a sense of worth.  Whilst trawling through job adverts recently I have discovered the appalling level of wages on offer from our industry.

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Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

The National Living Wage in the UK is £8.91.  The minimum wage is lower, particularly for 16 and 17 years old.  I have seen adverts offering as little as £5 per hour for waiting staff.  Even some chef jobs are only paying £8.91 per hour.  And we wonder why nobody wants a job in a restaurant and would rather stack shelves in a supermarket.  Just for comparison here are some other wages on offer – “replenishment assistant” (shelf stacker to you and me!) £11.73, Royal Mail sorting office £19 per hour, Amazon warehouse £17 per hour.

The hospitality industry needs to shake itself up and invest in its staff with decent pay and training.  Tips should never be included as part of the remuneration package, the tip is something that has been left by the customer as à reward to the staff, the employer is responsible for the wages.  In some countries working in à restaurant is respected and considered to be à good career, there is a professional attitude both from staff and employers.  Some of those restaurants I applied to are having to close two days per week because of a lack of staff. 

Surely if the industry was better perceived it would attract quality employees. But the only way that is going to happen is from within the industry itself and not with fancy job titles – I recently came across an advert for a “sandwich artist”!  Unfortunately, I have seen these “artists” in action and there really is no artistry and very little training.  So, as much as possible we need to give our employees decent working conditions, straight shifts, time off, a sense of professionalism and proper pay and rewards.

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Dave Winteridge
I am a restaurateur in the South of France but originally from Great Britain. I have spent around 30 years in the hospitality industry and over the past 12 years I have opened restaurants in Spain and France. I am a keen skier, living in the Pyrenees, and ideally for the future I would like to spend less time at the stove and more time at the keyboard.

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