Veteran restaurateur and chair of the School Food Trust, Prue Leith OBE, has urged the industry to do more to nurture their staff by providing better working environments.
In her key note speech, Leith told the 200-strong delegates at the 25th Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference, held at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower on Monday, that while the industry was very good at making sure that front-of-house was attractive and the product on the plate was good, operators were not universally applying the same consideration to their workforce.
She questioned the lack of thought some head chefs gave to the design and cleanliness of staff toilets and the atmosphere in the kitchen. "Are they friendly and encouraging or are they frightening places?" she asked. "How often do we sit down and eat with our staff or expect chefs to eat on the back stairs by the dustbins?"
She said that the industry still got by "on a wing and a prayer" and paid miserable wages. Not many top hotels would like to show customers the back stairs passage and yet they are quite prepared to let their staff eat there, she continued.
Leith went on to query the management style of some British kitchens and said they were not conducive to learning. "Teachers know that children can't learn if they are stressed and of course in service orders need to be given, but ritual humiliation and bouts of swearing should just not go on. In any other business we would end up in court."
• For more details on the 2007 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference, sponsored by Premier Foods, Naturally Best and First Choice Coffee, see this week's Caterer (17 May).
By Janet Harmer and Amanda Afiya
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