Five years ago, we introduced Tom, Sophie and Charles, typical characters working in hospitality, who were drawn from the findings of the 1994 Caterer & Hotelkeeper Lifestyle Survey. Now the survey has been updated, and we check up on how our three friends are getting on. In reality they would be five years older and would perhaps have been promoted, but we have left them where they were in 1994.
Tom, 26, sous chef at a big restaurant in the Midlands, loves his job and is realistic about the hours he works, which totalled 45 last week. He slightly resents the fact that the hours make it difficult for him and his girlfriend to get to parties with their friends.
Sophie, 38, is catering manager at an NHS hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She worked 48 hours last week. She enjoys her contact with the patients, but feels the standards of training for herself and her colleagues could be better. The relatively regular hours take some of the pressure off her relationship with her husband, and she feels her own situation compares favourably with friends who work in hotel management, some of whom have ended up in the divorce courts.
Charles, 48, is owner of a country house hotel in Wales, and he worked 63 hours last week (although he may be underestimating). He may also be underestimating when he tells us he takes between six and 10 units of alcohol in an average week. He would certainly recommend a career in hospitality, but he detests paperwork.
Overwhelmingly, Caterer & Hotelkeeper readers enjoy their jobs, especially those aged 35 or older - although there is a big split between those who answer the question with "yes, definitely" (69%) and "yes, slightly" (23%). Almost four in 10 say they enjoy their work more than they did five years ago and one in four say they enjoy it less. More than 70% expect to be working in the industry in five years' time. All these responses about enjoying the job are almost exactly the same as the replies in 1994.
However, there is a big positive shift on the question of recommending a career in the catering and hospitality industry. Nearly one-third now say they would definitely recommend hospitality as a career, compared with only 17% in 1994. Those answering "yes, possibly" have increased from 40% to 44%.
Learning to love hospitality
Top of the list of reasons for recommending a career in the industry is a comment that looks like a warning as much as a recommendation: people need to love the industry and be committed to it, say 23% of those voting to recommend a career. Good opportunities and prospects get a 15% vote and 10% say the industry is "rewarding".
Only 26% say they would not give a career recommendation, compared with 41% in 1994. Two main reasons are given for this attitude: 54% of the group blame "poor pay", and 50% say the problem is long or unsociable hours and the difficulty of fitting in a social life. A smaller group indicate some resentment lurking in the ranks: 14% say there is a lack of recognition or respect in the workplace.
Once again, the survey confirms that people are attracted to hospitality because of its involvement with people: the aspects of their jobs that readers like most are customer contact (16%), satisfied customers (16%), and meeting different people, including clients (13%). These factors stand out at the top of a long list as the "crown jewels" of job satisfaction.
A smaller but significant group mentions variety of work as being important (7%) and others put a value on training and development (6%).
When asked what aspect of the job they like least, readers vote heavily against long and anti-social hours (18%) and say they dislike administration (13%). Nice customers are among the biggest sources of satisfaction, but dealing with complaints and awkward customers comes high on the list of hates (9%).
The attitude to pay is very positive, however - only 2% cite "poor pay" as the part of the job they like least.
When readers are asked about the one thing they would like to change about their jobs, "shorter hours" gets the biggest vote, from 24% of the sample. "Better pay" or "better pay structure" comes second on this list, from 14% of the group.
These two items are by far the most popular choices of things to change. Then come pleas for less paperwork, more staff and a change of boss.
Caterer's readers seem to be committed to working in hospitality long-term - 69% of respondents say they have worked for 11 years or more in the industry, and one-fifth say they have worked in it for over 25 years.
But movement between jobs has slowed down a little. The people surveyed have had an average of 5.5 jobs, compared with 5.8 in 1994. They have been in their current jobs 4.9 years on average, compared with 4.7 years in 1994.
People working in the catering sector are more likely to have formal qualifications than their colleagues in hotels, restaurants and pubs. For the industry as a whole, 72% of respondents say they have qualifications - the same proportion as for the hotel sector. The catering sector scores 87% here, restaurants 65% and pubs only 62%.
Self-employed people are much less likely to have formal qualifications (53%) than are employees (77%).