competition truly is good for business
MICHAEL Gottlieb (Caterer, 9 July, page 24) may have a point but is, we believe, only half correct in his analysis.
He correctly draws attention to the very real risks of an imminent "crunch", particularly in the overheating London market. However, he is certainly wrong to say that having to pitch yourself is by definition a good thing.
Over eight years of tracking London restaurants, our records show that a disproportionate number of restaurant failures occur in areas which do not have a good number of restaurants.
What tough competition within an area does mean for business is that providing customers with good value for money is ever more essential for survival.
This may be compared with the current situation when the reality (as relayed to us by thousands of restaurant-goers annually) is that many establishments, including many top names, are generating a totally unacceptable level of consumer satisfaction.
You bet such places are vulnerable to changes in fashion!
Danny Meyer of New York's Union Square Café has thrived in that dog-eat-dog city by training his staff to "delight in exceeding their customers' expectations". If that's what Mr Gottlieb had in mind when he talked of the vital nature of "training your sales force (oops, servers)", he's dead right.
RICHARD HARDEN, PETER HARDEN
Harden's London Restaurants,
get your heads out of the sand
I CONTINUE to read with great interest the opinions of our industry's most respected organisations, and of the chief executives and directors of some of our largest hospitality companies.
For years, they have been concerned about the low pay and working conditions of employees. If this is the case, why is it that they fight like cat and dog to stop any initiative to improve the concerns they have about the lack of suitable staff to fill top positions, the decline in graduates coming into our industry, the lack of training, and the long hours and abuse employees must put up with?
As soon as anything comes along that might change all of that, they start to complain about European bureaucratic interference.
It's about time the whole of our industry looked at the way it is organised, and tried to improve the welfare of the workers and not the pockets of the company directors, executives and shareholders.
What is wrong with part-timers having the same compulsory employee consultation rights as full-time employees? Why are senior management people worried about this?
The problem that companies or employers have is not the reasoning behind it, rather it is the added nuisance of administration and the cost of implementing it. Shame on you!
What is wrong with ensuring that staff do not work more than 48 hours a week? Absolutely nothing! All it means is that unscrupulous employers, owners of restaurants and some managers can no longer threaten their employees with the sack if they refuse to work more than the legally allowed limit which this directive intends.
What is wrong with a £4.25p an hour wage? Nothing at all - but some companies, restaurant chains and catering organisations care more about profits.
What about the lower-paid employees who have to struggle with working for a pittance and being forced to work incredibly long hours under a great deal of stress to make ends meet? I was really disappointed that the Labour government is proposing a £3.60 minimum wage.
Shame on the British Hospitality Association for its views on the proposals. Supporting the inclusion of tips is an absolute disgrace.
Good training and changing of attitudes will only help to improve the working conditions of hospitality employees, and improving pay helps with staff retention.
King Edward's School Witley,
the ‘no initiatives' initiative
IT IS interesting, isn't it, that your Opinion (Caterer, 2 July page 21) highlights the fact that hoteliers are constantly addressing the need to find relevant and more innovative ways of attracting or retaining employees?
I feel that you and others are missing the point, however. In my experience, the primary reason (notwithstanding circumstances such as family, relocation, etc) for high employee turnover is down to the leadership of their management.
Hoteliers are past masters at reacting to particular sets of circumstances with all kinds of initiatives, many of which don't last much longer than the employees they were designed to placate.
How many times have employees had to listen to the latest brainwave from the "ivory tower" when all they really want is: a decent, market-led wage that incorporates some kind of recognition when the business is being particularly successful; an employer who is fair-minded and cares enough to listen, without being a soft touch; an employer who is willing to lead from the front; an employer who involves them on a consultative level in the business; and, above all these other things, respect from their management.
The much-discussed hotel cycle is about to head due south, according to many forecasters and analysts. What will we hoteliers do? Answer: Come up with a host of "initiatives" designed to save on labour costs.
Job-share, zero-hour contracts, even flatter and leaner structures, new job titles to get the same job done at half the cost, and a host of as-yet unthought-of initiatives - all without consultation and all enforced.
Is it any wonder that, as an industry, we are often considered untrustworthy and unprofessional by our employees?
Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel,
market has no place for students
I READ with interest the remarks by Chris Thurlow (Caterer, 9 July, page 22) about the lack of "industry" enthusiasm for his project.
All I can say is: wake up and smell the coffee! Can you really be surprised that the industry is reluctant to support a £2m competition in an already crowded market?
I am a firm believer in closer ties between colleges and industry, but I do not believe that cut-price college restaurants should be encouraged on the open market, nor that they are the way forward.
Red Lion Inn,
Taking a longer perspective
THERE are solutions to the problem of motivating staff, if only a longer-term view were taken by more than just the few.
For example, IIP and Total Quality Management are tools designed to rid British industry of the idea that bosses do the thinking while the workers wield the screwdriver - or kitchen knives - in the hospitality industry.
The way forward is for all staff to be motivated and developed over a long period of time. This cannot be done by giving everyone a short training course and then letting staff enthusiasm subside.
Instead, training should be given in a drip-feed manner through quality teamwork over a long period.
Furthermore, endeavouring to buy in skills to solve short-term problems is difficult, expensive and unlikely to work for the medium or long term.
Recently, I was surprised to learn that the Level 1 induction process of the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme has been abandoned by many in the industry. This may be for reasons of cost, in which case we return to the "feeding the cat" analogy in your Opinion (Caterer, 2 July page 21) - weren't fat cats a 1980s phenomenon?
Please continue the theme in your excellent editorials. Who knows, some in the industry may listen when the next recession hits.
use the train for a better air show
AT THE beginning of September, many of us will be providing hospitality to those attending the 1998 Farnborough Air Show.
We could do much ourselves to alleviate the chronic traffic problems associated with this event by informing both staff and guests of the public transport facilities available, specially organised for the show.
To avoid one-hour-plus road jams, go by train. A dedicated bus service between the show and Farnborough Railway Station (South West Trains) runs regularly and the journey time is less than 10 minutes using bus priority routes. A similar service which runs between North Camp (Thames Trains) and Aldershot station is recommended.
The show organisers are available on 01252 519141 between 9am and 5pm should you require further information.
May I appeal to colleagues to support this service and let the train take the strain.
W R HUNTER
Audleys Wood Hotel,
drugs are a fool's way to ruin
I'M SHOCKED at Ian Harris's letter justifying the need to take illegal substances before bedtime after a hard day at work in the kitchen.
If he's that stressed out, why not take up yoga or have a cup of Horlicks? Justifying the need for drugs as "part of the job" is a one-way ticket to the park bench.
By the way, it would be interesting to hear [Reader Diary writer] John Homfray's comments on this contentious issue, and whether he condones it. He is obviously a dedicated professional who lives for cooking.
Incidentally, don't you think John Homfray looks a bit like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars? Maybe he should open a restaurant called the Darth Vader, where a typical dish could consist of confit of Ewok with an Endorian wild forest berry coulis.