Now, Gentle Reader, I have a little story for you. I have a friend who is a cook at one of Derby’s’ oldest and most popular watering holes. She’s very good at her job, working long hours in an industry not renowned for its generosity to staff. A party of 20 diners was booked in that night; they duly arrived, ate and drank heartily, and were cooked for and served exceptionally well by my friend and her front-of-house colleagues. So, after their departure, the job was done – everyone was happy.
Or were they?
Their final bill was a considerable amount, and they tipped. Oh, yes they tipped, and theoretically, you would think that they showed their generosity to the people that made their visit an enjoyable one accordingly. Wrong. With the tip being split equally between kitchen and front-of-house, all parties ended up with the paltry sum of £2.50 each for their time and effort. And this lousy situation has always been so.
The majority of restaurants are still allowed to pay their staff a basic salary that is below the minimum wage; the rest being made up in tips or a service charge. This doesn’t always happen – the tip, therefore, being neither technically nor morally a gift to the staff ending up as just more cash for the proprietor, to distribute as they decide, in the business of keeping themselves just the right side of the law. In this case, it would solve the problem in great part if restaurants simply announced on the menu what their policy on tipping was. If they were pocketing it, or using it to top up paltry salaries, the shame would be enough to nudge them into more equitable practices.
I have been to restaurants, and indeed, part of the pleasure of eating out is not only the food or the drink, but the event, the salacious pleasure of enjoying yourself. You don’t get anything like this in a gym or a posh spa, and those are places where at least some of the time you’re actually naked. So eating, I can only conclude, is more intimate than taking your clothes off. And if that’s the case, the staff helping you in this escapade should be getting a whole lot more than the minimum wage, for having to watch. A lot more if it’s me, butt nekkid as my babysitter in Texas, Aunt Lou (God rest her soul) used to say.
The hospitality sector is amongst Britain’s lowest paid areas of employment; made worse by the advent of “zero-hours” contracts. After reading an article from The Good Food Guide where it said “we were in a golden age of restaurants”, I think not. For the people on the ground floor, working long hours, in sometimes bad or hazardous conditions under harsh treatment (but not always) by managers/proprietors, it’s not going so well. Welcome to their world. Doing such work for a living is commonly undervalued and underpaid, resulting in customers throughout the country receiving terrible service from angry people employed by avaricious and exploitative owners.
However, there are some people who, despite this, truly appreciate the importance of their staff; one notable example of this being Michel Roux Jr., who dares to suggest that service, may be more important than food. He points out that “if you go to a restaurant and the food’s great but the service is terrible, you won’t go back” but “if the food is mediocre and the service is fantastic, you’ll return again and again”. Common sense, thankfully, is prevailing in this crazy world of ours.
It would be so much simpler, for all concerned if staff were paid decently, given proper training and good prospects of promotion, in a fun environment. Free booze after a hard shift wouldn’t go amiss either. The pleasure of working there would be returned to the customer and, in this most transient of industries, the high level of staff turnover would be dramatically reduced. So it makes all sorts of business sense for smarter bar owners/restaurateurs who, in treating and motivating their staff well, would increase staff retention as they view the work as a viable career rather than a stopgap. One day, there might even be pensions and salaries, hell, there might even be holiday and sick pay. It’s never going to be for everyone but the trade’s on the up. You heard it here first. But really, what the hell do I know? I’m just a stupid blogger, right?