Time to change the game plan
Bob Cotton has every right to be angry about the name change of the former Department of National Heritage (Caterer, 14 August, p22). He expresses the same disappointment voiced - direct to the Secretary of State at the time of the announcement - by leading figures in the tourism and hospitality industries.
Nevertheless, a change of sponsoring department is not necessarily the solution for our rightful demand that better recognition be given to the sector's capability to deliver this Government's economic and employment growth objectives.
The members of a Tourism Forum working group and the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress believe that responsibilities should remain where they are at present, providing that they are given a high profile and the constant commitment of the secretary of state and minister of state.
However, a more integrated approach is required across Whitehall to develop a coherent strategy for tourism and hospitality. We believe that the Prime Minster and the Deputy Prime Minister, too, must be made fully aware and become committed to our potential.
And there lies the very essence of our challenge to the new ministerial team. We have heard that we are at the "very heart of the new creative industries which produce £50m for Britain". By every reckoning, tourism and hospitality produce nearly all of this and could generate much more with wholehearted support.
This Government needs a flourishing tourism and hospitality industry if it is to achieve its economic and employment growth targets. We need to impress upon it that it is not the change-of-name plan that concerns us, but a change of game plan which will recognise our contribution and facilitate our and the Government's successes.
We hope the secretary of state understands the resentment which has been caused and will, as a result, be more prepared to work with us to ensure our needs are met.
Chairman, Joint Hospitality Industry Congress,
c/o The British Hospitality Association, London WC2.
Training is the only answer…
Themed restaurants do not offer amateurish service - yet. That was the point we made in our report Themed Restaurants Market (Caterer, 21 August, p10).
I readily acknowledge the professionalism of existing operations, but our report points out the dangers of letting standards slip as numbers of outlets increase while the pool of suitably qualified staff falls.
This is a problem affecting the whole catering industry, and can be solved only by suitable staff training.
Marketpower, London W13.
.. but we must get pay levels right…
There will be no end to the problem of recruiting chefs (Caterer, 21 August, p22) until the industry addresses two things.
The first is the basics of training. Employers should not take on anyone who doesn't know how to make a good stock, or knows nothing of flavouring or which foods to serve together, unless they are prepared to train them. We are fast becoming a nation of people who forget to taste the food - as long as it looks good and is quick, it will do.
The second is pay. When a commis chef is paid a salary of £8,000, for example, what can you expect? How can anyone achieve a reasonable quality of life on that?
My company has set out a pay structure above the industry average. We want exceptionally high standards but are willing to pay for them. Every member of our team is targeted to perform.
All too often these days college leavers are not prepared for the hard work and antisocial hours required. They must be taught from day one that they will be expected to achieve results, both in the quality of the food and management of the kitchen - and, in return, employers must reward that with decent pay and conditions.
Sales & operations director,
Hayley Conference Centres,
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
… inspire by our own example…
I have never advertised for a chef since the first one we had left 10 years ago. We have always trained, jointly with Chippenham and Cheltenham colleges, youngsters taken on initially as part-time junior staff. Often we find work-experience youngsters show a keen interest in continuing the skills, and we can train them to our requirements.
The point is that schools are a good place to target for recruitment, providing we are prepared to put the time in to teach the youngsters and nurture their interests by giving them variations in their work, transferring our skills, and allowing them time to follow up their work with college qualifications which boost their confidence.
Many of the youngsters we have taken on enjoy their work and want to continue in full-time employment, or they didn't know what they wanted to do and find this line of work to their liking, or they introduce friends.
I have also been involved with schools in the past, and take every opportunity to encourage an interest in the profession, especially at junior and even at primary level. Kids love cooking! They're not often given the opportunity at school these days and, sadly, the days when mum cooked at home and the kids helped (and licked the bowl afterwards) are diminishing also.
Never mind what the staff can do for you - what can you do to encourage your staff?
The Octagon Restaurant,
… and realise our potential
Having operated a Caribbean take-away for three years and currently being in the process of establishing a Caribbean restaurant, I have experienced no end of problems in the search for skilled staff.
A gap exists between those who have knowledge of Caribbean cuisine but lack the ability to produce it in a professional capacity and those who have the relevant qualifications but have limited knowledge of authentic Caribbean cuisine.
Research (by Mintel and Keynote reports, for example) has demonstrated that Caribbean food, among others, is earmarked for dynamic growth. In my opinion this growth will not take off unless the appropriate training is addressed as a key priority.
Players in the themed/ethnic market need to be aware of these factors, and colleges and other training institutions need to make themselves accessible to the needs of this sector, thus enabling the predicted growth and development to occur.
Jamaica Inn, Birmingham.
Plastic corks may fit too tight
Tim Atkin in his stimulating piece ("New cork times", Caterer, 14 August) skips very lightly over the crucial question concerning synthetic corks: how do they affect a wine's ability to age?
These inert pieces of plastic could very well be too effective a closure, in the sense that they exclude all air and, as a result, could make finer wines taste "reductive", with shut-in aromas and flavours. By contrast, traditional corks, being natural products, might allow wines to breathe fractionally during their bottle ageing, adding complexity to the finished flavours. We simply cannot be categoric one way or the other - yet.
The overworked trade show visitor congratulations to Stuart Harrison on his recent Viewpoint on exhibitions (Caterer, 21 August, p24).
For some years, Fretwell-Downing Data Systems has been persuaded to attend national trade shows and spend a significant percentage of its marketing budget "in the hope that some interesting leads will materialise".
Unfortunately, the market has reached saturation point, and the exhibition visitor is now a very tired and overworked individual. In future, I anticipate Fretwell-Downing Data Systems will attend only Hotelympia, as the major showcase for the hospitality industry. But even this is unlikely to generate significant new sales opportunities.
Fretwell-Downing Data Systems, Sheffield.
Take heed before we fly the flag
Like David White (Caterer, 28 August, p14) I am a patriot and the Union Jack means a lot to me - one flies every day at my hotel.
As a marketing man turned hotelier, however, I can fully understand the British Tourist Authority (BTA) dropping the flag if research says potential overseas visitors do not relate to it as we do.
If the BTA can generate more overseas tourists with more effective promotion they have my support. So let's see what the marketing whizzos come up with and hear the rationale before passing judgement.
The Cottage in the Wood,
Malvern Wells, Worcestershire.