KnifeofBrian on the future of the hospitality industry

The  Staff Canteen

Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering owner, Brian Powlett contemplates the future of the hospitality industry

"Are we future-proof?",  Brian Powlett talks about automation, robots and how the future of the hospitality industry might be affected. 

Do they need you? Are we future-proof? That’s the question I was asked in a recent conversation, regarding news and features, which had been reporting on how staff from supermarkets were being made redundant. Staff in high street banks were being laid off and in both incidences, being replaced by automated, self-service counters.

I initially felt sorry for these sectors. Then, on reflection, I thought about how these employees have been pushing me towards these self-service points every time I visited their place of employment. And here we are now. Expecting to dish out sympathy, because they have been replaced by artificial intelligence.

Okay, I’m not that heartless. I do care. As a father of three teenagers, all at various points of secondary and further education. They are trying to work out where they will fit into the employment world. Which profession should they choose? There was a time when manufacturing was a safe “Job for life”. Not anymore.

How secure is any industry now? Retail? It’s only a matter of time before sales assistants are a thing of the past. I see that Amazon has opened an unstaffed grocery store in the USA. With cameras on the ceiling, reading bar-codes as you put your groceries into your bag, scanned on your way out. Payment sent digitally. I’m sure we’re only years away from a staff-less Department store experience. Jeans, perfume and fancy underwear, all straight into your bag. No need to queue in Debenhams or John Lewis behind someone who is returning all their Christmas gifts.

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So, as hospitality employees, are we safe? I recently stayed at a Premier Inn in Stratford, London. My wife had booked our room online. There was no hotel reception so-to-speak. But there was a touchscreen monitor, which after a brief tap, tap, tap, it dispensed our room key cards. Are you getting my point? So far, zero human interaction. In actual fact, the first hotel employee we met was the barman, that evening. 

How long will it be until hotels like this will do away with bar staff to bring the costs down even more? I have seen that there are some self-service pubs and bars already appearing in cities around the world. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes the norm. Contactless payment on the beer pump. Wine dispensers mounted on the pub walls. I’m not sure if the cocktail maker Jukebox is a thing yet, but I’m in!

As for chef and waiters. Who knows? Service staff can be replaced up to a certain point. Many fast-food restaurants are opting for iPad/tablet ordering, whereby, the customer is responsible for their own order. Are there any Michelin rated restaurants who have adopted this? In the kitchen. I will stand here now, in 2018, and say that no robot can do what we do! Being a chef is an art. Yes, I know that there are factories pumping out batches of lasagne and turkey burgers, but I’m talking about being a chef in its traditional meaning.

There are issues with the lack of school leavers coming into this industry. Catering colleges are seeing numbers decline. And although people are enjoying cooking more as a hobby, their interest in turning this into an actual job or career seems to fade.

Why should they choose a career catering & hospitality? The pay isn’t great, the hours are mostly terrible and it’s not got the best reputation in the media, with cliché angry chefs dominating the TV shows. We, as chefs need to encourage and promote our trade.

Highlight the positive aspects. I’ve said before that a good chef will always have a job. It’s a skill which travels globally and you can have a career as thrilling and as diverse as you want it to be. “People will always need food!” That’s what my mother told me. So whether they want to be a city centre pizza chef, an award-winning mega chef, a school canteen cook or a travelling chef with a pro cycling team (That’s my dream job). The world is their oyster.

So until we get to the stage where everyone is popping meal replacement pills, I do believe chefs are safe….But I am looking over my shoulder every week. The robots are coming.

Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian
Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian

Knife of Brian is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his websitewww.knifeofbrian.co.uk

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th February 2018

KnifeofBrian on the future of the hospitality industry