Today's general managers are already taking many of the responsibilities of running their own businesses, a fact highlighted by Steven Paget of Harry Ramsden's and Liz Haythorne of All Bar One. At 27 and 25 respectively, both already juggle staff rotas, manage budgets and have profit targets.
Says Paget, general manager of Harry Ramsden's in Bournemouth and Southampton: "We're run like a franchise, and one guy owns 50% of the business, while I manage the outlets, so I already get to satisfy a lot of those needs to run my own place."
For Haythorne, there are opportunities to move into different areas. She has ambitions beyond crunching numbers. "I would like to go into brand management - forget about the financial side of things," she says. "I'd do this for about five years then move on to the next step."
While some aspire to flying solo, most realise that it involves a huge financial and personal commitment, and that there is security and job satisfaction in working for someone else. "My establishment encourages and trains you and I feel there are opportunities for me. It is nice to be patted on the back and told you have done a good job," says Jonathan Quick, 23, public areas housekeeping supervisor at the Copthorne Tara Hotel.
Helen O'Neill, 25, a corporate marketing executive with Jarvis Hotels, says: "I like the security of working for someone else. Sometimes it is more of a headache than anything else [to have your own business] and I will stick with what I'm doing for now."
And at least one chef is realistic about the breadth of talent needed to run a restaurant. Twenty-one-year-old Andrew Greaves was apprenticed at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and is now chef de partie at Virgin Hotels. "I need to be further on," he says. "I want to work in as many places as possible - work in London and get different styles and ranges. I want to go abroad to France, or on a cruise ship."
The opportunity to travel as part of the job is not lost on these young people. Already an emigrant from her native New Zealand, 24-year-old Annette Pacey, a team leader at Wagamama, enjoys the portability of her skills. "In this industry," she says, "once you've got it, you've got it. The skills that you have are the same everywhere. If you can sort out the visas and have the balls to do it, you can work anywhere."
Chefs recognise the benefit of getting influences from a global table. "As soon as I finish my apprenticeship, I'm going around the world for a couple of years - to the west coast of Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and India. I tell my mates and they laugh, but I'll be the one laughing," says 17-year-old Daniel Hulme, apprentice chef at Groupe Chez Gérard Restaurants.
Patrick Smith, 21, a management trainee at the Savoy Group, can hardly wait to spread his wings and move away from London. He begins a stint in Nice in July.
But before you inwardly groan and reach for the recruitment directory, at least some believe the UK has opportunities aplenty. "I would like to work abroad for the experience, but there's everything for me here," says Zoe Chinery, a 22-year-old chef de partie with Sutcliffe Catering.
A vocation in the industry
There are many who lament that hospitality's poor image keeps the young away. But some were sure from an early age that it was for them.
"Even when I was eight, I always had a passion to be a chef-pâtissier. My parents were not too sure because I left school early, at 14, and joined catering college. They're proud now," says Christophe Passuello, assistant restaurant manager at City Rhodes in London.
Not all parents are sceptical of the catering profession, however. "Mum and Dad were really pleased, because I hated school and I never studied," says Hulme. "I wanted a job that had a bit of a rush - I love it when it gets busy."
For All Bar One's Haythorne it was a second career, having initially trained as a fashion designer. "As far as my father is concerned, it was the best thing I could have done," she says. "He saw it as more responsible and something I could base a career on. When I started managing my own business, they said, ‘Wow'."
Long working hours and the fast pace mean that some staff find it difficult to switch off at the end of a shift. "Drugs are not the norm, but [in one kitchen] I have seen people higher up, with more pressure, take them to relax," says Greaves.
He has seen people indulge to keep going - to help cope with the pressure, he says. "When I was working in one place, the drug problem was wider," he says. "The days were a lot longer and the main drug was Pro-Plus, to keep you awake."
The fallout from stress doesn't stop at drug-taking, though. Greaves says he has been bullied by senior staff. However, he adds that he has never seen drugs forced on anyone.
Annette Pacey takes a different view. "I've been offered drugs. Not crack, but plenty of weed and tabs. It's nothing to do with pressure. It's fun. It's the workplace and the people you get there. It's transient. Drugs go with the territory."
In some kitchens, though, drugs just don't figure. Chinery is incredulous: "I've never been offered them and you would be sacked if you were caught. They do locker searches."
The minimum wage, at a proposed level of £3.60, was meant to address the perceptions of a poorly paid industry. But if tips are included, which unions fear, it could mean even lighter pay packets.
The problem of low pay is seen to be worse back of house. "I don't think kitchen staff are well paid," says Greaves. As a commis chef two years ago, he was paid £2.50 an hour.
Shifts that drag on can also take their toll on pay. "In one of my jobs [at a top restaurant], I worked out that my 18-hour day was averaging at £1.20 an hour," he says. "I could get £5 an hour for stacking shelves in a supermarket."
There is a difference, it seems, between front of house and the kitchen. "I've worked in London, before going up to Manchester, and I think wages are improving," says Anthony Thwaites, assistant manager for Malmaison Hotels.
For Karen Coghill, a 23-year-old chef de rang at Gleneagles Hotel, a systematic approach to hours, pay and holidays is welcome. "We have annualised hours," she says. "I work 1,801 hours a year, so I know when I am going on holiday and can plan what I am doing." But her desire for a family means it is unlikely she can continue to work unsocial hours. "As a mother," she says, "I would want a nine-to-five job."
A man's world?
Male domination of the industry, not just the desire to control working hours, may be the driving force behind women striking out on their own. From the female perspective, the higher you go in many companies, the fewer women there are.
"It is female-dominated at the lower levels and you find mostly girls working on the floor," says Pacey. "But it is a boys' club. I think it is difficult to break into. You do not get taken seriously and you get called ‘darling'. We work harder for less recognition."
The solution, from the kitchen point of view, is to go it alone. Chinery does not feel put out by the predominantly male atmosphere she works in, but she does recognise that there are few female head chefs within a male hierarchy. "Women come out of the kitchen and go into management," she observes.
Few could name a female head chef, with the exceptions of Prue Leith and Sally Clarke, both of whom have struck out on their own.
"I wouldn't like to be a girl," says Greaves. "There is only one girl in the kitchen I work in right now, and they do get pushed towards the pastry section. For women to be successful, they need to get away and do it themselves. They do not get the opportunities that men do."
Choosing the right aspect of the hospitality industry can be key to whether the hours are a strain. "I'm quite lucky because I work 8am to 5pm, five days a week, and have every other weekend off," says Caroline Moore, 26, cook in charge at East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
Sutcliffe's Chinery agrees, saying: "The pressure is off me, really. I work 7.30am to 3.30pm, so I can keep my social life, and I have my weekends free."
Taking the strain
For those who don't have this luxury, it seems that work and socialising are one and the same. "All my friends are from the industry and I met my wife in it," says Paget. "Socialising ends up being with people in the industry, because of what you have in common, and you lead the same sort of life."
Partners from within the industry can better understand catering workers' commitment to their chosen careers. "My boyfriend and I have different working hours and social life," says Haythorne.
"Sometimes when we see each other, it's ‘hi' and then ‘bye'. We go on like that for a couple of weeks and then we get a few days together. I'm doing 60 hours a week, but this is the industry I have chosen and I don't think he'd want me to jeopardise it."