'All the people in our industry that are made to look like fucking shining Joan of Arcs were the quickest bastards to fire every member of their team'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th May 2020

The days when sustainability being top of chefs and restaurateurs' priority lists may seem like a distant and blissful memory.

But the coronavirus outbreak will instigate change within the industry, whether we like it or not - and some of it could even be for the better. 

A panel discussion hosted by RA Group Culinary Director David Simms, with award-winning chefs Richard CorriganJeff Galvin and Bryn Williams sought to answer some of the questions on the matter. 

Will the future bring more or less sustainability in the hospitality industry?

Some headway will be lost to safety measures - having to replace linen with paper tablecloths and napkins, like Richard Corrigan will at his Mayfair restaurant - and the financial strains ensuing from ever higher costs and significantly reduced footfall. 

However, for Bryn Williams, even more practise of the nose-to-tail ethos might be necessary to save on produce and labour costs. by maximising chefs' technical skills.

"We're going to have to use absolutely every bit of ingredient."

What's more, using fewer premium ingredients - which tend to be sourced from afar - may become a necessity. 

Jeff Galvin said: "It's one of the things top chefs have in their armery, it's that you can make the most modest ingredients a memorable ingredient."

Remembering times when being thrifty and resourceful was the key to survival, Richard Corrigan believes older chefs - as opposed to younger chefs - have "the wisdom to get through bad times - but have we enough in our armery to survive six months?"

"Closing was one thing but opening is going to be an absolutely different ball game altogether."

"Remember, good food costs money. If I've learned anything over the past two months, go and look at the takeaway shops from all of the top restaurants and how much is it to get a takeaway to your home. It makes our restaurants look cheap, frankly.

"The fact of the matter is, if you want two fucking pizzas in your house now it's forty quid. And they're shit, basically.

"There's nothing cheap going forward. People have to pay for the privilege of dining in a restaurant if they want to.

Sustainability and Mental Health 

The sustainability of restaurants is increasingly linked to the improvement of mental health among its workforce, as the future of the industry largely depends on staff being contented, with working conditions condusive to low stress levels. 

But as the industry is set to make mass redundancies, difficult times lie ahead in this regard. 

Richard Corrigan said: "I think we have to be upfront and very honest. We can't behave like some shady operators.

"What's fascinated me about all these conversations gentlemen - and you know I'm a straight talker - is all the people in our industry that are made to look like fucking shining fucking Joan of Arcs were the quickest bastards to fire every member of their team the minute this happened - which pisses me off 100 percent. 

"The news isn't good but the way we deliver it is very important to the future of our industry. Not like disposable people. No-one is disposable. We must do the right thing.

Bryn Williams agreed, and said: "As owners, we need the help to make sure we can look after our staff. 

Logically, going back into it in a situation of stress himself, "that's going to trickle down to our staff. The government really needs to step in and go: 'if we can look after the director of this company and put him or her on a level playing field before we open, we can prevent a lot of mental health issues with our staff later on."

"It's a short term that leads to the long term. I think the Prime Minister - yes he's put everybody on furlough because that benefits them with the tax and everything else but I think they've forgotten about the owners and what we need to deal with when we go back." 

The question of mental wellbeing among owners, managers and restaurateurs will be crucial, too. 

Richard said: "First of all, the amount of man hours we're going to have to put into our business to save it is phenomenal. The fatigue that's going to come with that, the mental anguish that's going to come with that is going to be phenomenal. 

"We need to be careful not to try to open our restaurants six or seven days, that's for sure. I think we should do it five days, I thing we should keep it as short as possible and we should try to have some good rest on the way too. 

"Otherwise, we're going to come out of this absolutely shrivelled mentally.

Positives

One positive that may come out of the crisis is a newfound love and appreciation for the industry - not just from a customer standpoint, but from those who work in it, too.

Bryn Williams said that having heard from staff eager to return to work, "that's music to my ears.

"To have the staff say 'I can't wait to get back to work - because of what you get out of it, the joy, the pleasure of working with ingredients, the team environments that you create. I think if you already had that before these weird times, you'll still have that."

For chef Jeff Galvin, the industry's endurant nature will be its strength in the coming months. 

"We've all been through hard times, obviously nothing like this but I think that survival mode which we're pretty much in most of the time as restaurateurs, will come to the fore."

Richard Corrigan agreed.

He said: "Until this fizzles and calms down we have a real job on our hands, we are the captains of our restaurants and we have to make sure these choppy waters can been seen through." 

"Don't look that it's the end, it's the beginning. It's a new beginning. It's not a reopening, it's a new opening for all of us." 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th May 2020

'All the people in our industry that are made to look like fucking shining Joan of Arcs were the quickest bastards to fire every member of their team'