Our industry can offer young people more than a job, says Ian McKerracher.
At the finals of the Young Chef/Young Waiter competition last October, John Torode, from Smiths of Smithfield, quoted a saying: "If you find a job you enjoy, you will never have to work again." I believe that he struck a chord with most of the audience.
During my 25 years in the industry - as a maître d', journalist, critic, restaurateur and now association head - I've worked in restaurants in Sydney and London and visited hundreds of establishments across Europe. In all that time, in all those places, I have rarely heard anyone complain about long hours and low pay. Everyone has bad days, but the vast majority of people I have met have loved their job and felt passionate about the restaurant business.
We expend a great deal of time and energy trying to persuade youngsters to enter the industry when they finish their education, but we also have a good sales story for older people keen to improve their work-life balance. The HCIMA recently published an excellent document featuring dozens of case studies of employees who have been able to work flexitime, go part-time or job-share.
In the UK, we have the worst record of all our European neighbours for work-related stress, due partly to our over-reliance on the job to provide a sense of self-worth. We are also bottom of the league when it comes to people being satisfied and happy in their jobs.
Business leaders have recognised the importance of enabling their employees to lead fulfilling lives outside the workplace, but in the City and industries other than our own they are struggling to marry the needs of the organisation with those of the individual.
This industry is better geared than most to accommodating alternative working patterns and, adopting the HCIMA's example, we should make much more of it. I know I am not alone in thinking this, and I am sure it will feature in careers events and on other occasions.
Furthermore, I hope we can develop it into a standard response to people who ask us what it's like to work in the hospitality industry.
In this country, we're good at citing the negative before the positive, so "long hours and low pay" has become something of a mantra. I hope that, over time, we can replace it with a more positive statement promoting the fulfilment, fun and flexibility available from this career.
Our message to young people - and those, like myself, who have been around a while - should be extended.
If the answer to "what do you want to do when you grow up?" is "have a life", join the hospitality industry.