Heres an answer to the restaurant staffing crisis: pick up the odd waiting shift to eat out


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THE GUARDIAN

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At a certain point, anecdotes start to seem – rightly or wrongly – like hard data. A friend tells me that a chef-patron near where he lives has reduced his covers by half in order to keep going. A colleague says something about one restaurant group he’s heard of that recently ran short of no fewer than 24 chefs across four sites. Booking a table at a favourite place the other morning, I learn from its website that it will be closed two extra days a week for most of July. That night, as a waiter hands me an affogato (just a tiny one), I gently quiz him about this. Yes, he says, shaking his head: staff shortages. The restaurant contacts up to 70 potential new cooks a day, and still they don’t have the people they need. Seventy? Did I hear right? He laughs. Yes, he says. In fact, it may even be more than that.

Not to sound like the editor of The Caterer magazine, but what on earth is to be done about the staffing problems in hospitality, the seriousness of which is now obvious to anyone with eyes in their head to see?

According to my informant, thanks both to Brexit and the pandemic, it is carnage out there, chefs walking out mid-shift because they’ve received a better offer elsewhere, students at catering colleges snapped up before they’ve even graduated. Kitchen porters, waiters and bar staff are, he says, also hard to come by, though I’d already noticed this myself; at the theatre last month, just one server was working her way through the snaking queue for interval drinks. She was quick, but it was clear she wasn’t going to be able to make much serious headway before the bell rang. If this situation is repeated every night – and why wouldn’t it be? – it’s not hard to imagine the consequences for much-needed arts revenues.

There must be plenty the government could do, if only it had the will or the merest sliver of competence. I also know, from the industry’s point of view, there is red tape to be got around; even if staff appeared overnight, there would still be training, paperwork, health and safety, all that. But even so, I’ve found myself fantasising more than once just lately about returning to waitressing. We’ve had “eat out to help out”. Maybe now we need help out to, er, help out. Couldn’t the massed ranks of the middle aged, who long ago paid their way through school and college by working in pubs and restaurants, do the odd shift? If we would be amateurish next to the professionals, we would also be sensible, hard working and completely delighted to be hanging out with lovely, groovy younger people. We could do this in exchange for a free dinner, say, once a month – though staff meals being what they are nowadays, I would be quite happy with one of those. Not so long ago, Jackson Boxer, the chef-patron of Orasay and Brunswick House, posted a photograph of that day’s staff tea on social media. It was battered sausage with sriracha mayo and curry sauce and, to be frank, it looked to die for. (“No messing,” as he put it.)

I know from experience that working in hospitality is often tough, but it can also be amazingly rewarding, as a lovely waitress at Joe Allen in Covent Garden told me in a long and heartfelt sp…

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