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Viewpoint: The value of waiters and waitresses

24 March 2016
Viewpoint: The value of waiters and waitresses

A career as a waiter should be an ambition, not something to settle for as a last resort. Pride of Britain chief executive Peter Hancock explains why parents should be urging their children into the profession

This article is not about training or the minimum wage or anything remotely to do with lobbying the government, so I trust you will read this with fresh eyes and an open mind. More importantly, I hope any parents or teachers who happen to see and read The Caterer will pause to consider my argument.

Being a waiter is a perfectly respectable position in life and should be regarded not as a last resort, but as a sensible career choice. I fear the message still hasn't got through to many people in academia, where the Holy Grail remains getting a degree in something before, likely as not, spending months or even years trying to get a job in one's chosen profession. Do they really believe that unemployment is preferable to earning a regular income doing something useful that may lead to an interesting life working around the world?

A good waiter or waitress will always be in demand, no matter what the economic climate, and their skills are extremely portable. In the right environment the job can be hugely enjoyable and rewarding, although nobody would pretend it is easy. Well managed hotels and restaurants tend to create happy teams and, as we all know, if you are good at looking after people, promotion to more senior roles happens faster in hospitality than in almost any other trade.

When I worked as a waiter, I used to envy dentists and solicitors because of their relative wealth, status and Saturday nights off.

There were even times when I considered changing jobs just to be able to sit down more. But this was years ago, when weekly hours weren't counted properly and, despite everything, I always felt an addictive form of pre-match nerves at the start of each session, exactly as I would later experience as an amateur actor in our village hall before the curtain went up.

Waiters are, after all, performers and their customers an audience. The more convincingly they pretend to enjoy their work, the more they are appreciated. The profuse thanks accorded to decent front-of-house ‘performers', which I have heard on countless occasions, is akin to a round of applause at the theatre. Where else can you get that on a daily basis?

As I have learned from talking with leading figures in catering whose careers started in this way, such as Diego Masciaga, Silvano Giraldin, Fred Sirieix and Philip Newman-Hall, who was honoured with the Outstanding Contribution award at the Hotel Cateys in 2015, it is clear that for waiters with the right attitude the sky really is the limit to their ambitions.

As a university lecturer might say: please discuss.

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