Play it again, Sam 13 December 2019 Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
In this week's issue... Play it again, Sam Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
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Share the spoils and hold on to your employees

01 January 2000
Share the spoils and hold on to your employees

The tragedy of this age is not that men and women are poor - most of us know something of poverty - nor is it that men and women are particularly wicked. Who, after all, is always good?

No, the tragedy of the age we are living in is that men and women know so little of their fellow men and women. In a neat, circular kind of way this is why, I believe, many of the problems faced by the catering business in the UK today (particularly in London) are of the making of the very people who run the catering business itself - they simply do not understand the people they employ.

And in a peculiar example of what psychologists call "denial" they appear unaware that this is a core reason why they cannot find the staff to fill their vacancies.

Eating-out boom

These proprietors seem to think so little of the people who make it work for them. As a result, I fear, the captains of this particular industry could soon find it collapsing back into the moribund state it was in for so many years before the media discovered the value of writing about what they call Britain's "culinary revolution", leading directly to the eating-out boom we benefit from today.

However, before the restaurateurs of this country sit back on their laurels and smile about the idea of "cool Britannia", polishing their fingernails on their lapels in that self-satisfied way of people who believe they are here to stay, they should ask themselves a number of questions.

For instance: why is it, for example, that there are tens of places in Paris where you can eat great seafood, whereas in London there are only a few? Why is it that finding a memorable restaurant where the standards of imagination, execution and service are special is so rare in this country, and yet abroad - particularly in Europe and the USA - these are watchwords that are palpably well listened to? Is there really anything that any of us can be smug about?

Communal good

Surely it stands to reason that as the best athlete wants his opponent at his best, and the best general seeks to enter the mind of his enemy, so the best businessman should seek to serve the communal good, and the best leader will follow the will of the people he leads.

Unfortunately, in the experience of my wife and I, too many people at middle-management level and below are treated with utter disdain and lack of respect by their employers.

How would you feel if you were required to manage a restaurant, for example, that was making a profit of more than £3,000 a day, for the measly take-home pay of around £200 or even £300 per week?

How would you feel if, in order to manage this restaurant, you had to wake up each working morning at 8am to start by 11am, with no prospect of leaving to come home until a full 13 hours later? How would you feel if, in this time, you were allowed only one half-hour break?

Even the most laid-back manager would not be able to go straight to sleep after that sort of exertion, and would probably not be able to shut their eyes until about 3am, only to have to wake up five hours later to do it all over again.

We know of a number of people - particularly women - who are being exploited in this cruel way.

I moot that it doesn't take too much common sense to realise that there is everything here to demotivate staff and nothing to encourage them. On this scale - which is far too prevalent in the restaurant business - it would take the person doing the most responsible job - looking after cashing up, health and hygiene, personnel, customer relations, marketing, brand communication, etc - more than two years to make what the owner takes in just a week. This is frankly absurd.

My argument is that if the movers and shakers of this trade thought more about how they treat the people they employ then it would not be so rare to find anyone of quality who wants to stay in the business. Also, if this were the case, catering would become increasingly attractive to a lot more people of substance who would start to see it as a vocation and not just as a way of keeping financially afloat when times are hard.

Fewer complaints

The better atmosphere created would be felt all around. There would be fewer complaints from customers. There might even be fewer "no shows" if these irritating people were given the lead to respect the places they currently let down by owners encouraging the people who work within them to respect themselves - by giving them a bigger share in the profits.

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