Why does front of house never seem to be on anyone’s agenda?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2018

Ahead of National Waiters Day (May 16), The Staff Canteen spoke to Fred Sirieix and other industry experts about what they would like to see done to recruit, retain and encourage young people into a career working in front of house.

In December last year, there was yet another tweet about the chef shortage. It came from People1st and said: “If we don't evolve to adapt to the people that are coming through the industry now, then you're never going to motivate and you're never going to retain." How can we address the #chefshortage?”

It was linked to a report detailing the extent of the chef shortage, the causes, the impact and what needs to be done to address it. All great points for those looking to recruit chefs.

But in response to this Fred Sirieix, General manager at Galvin at Windows who also features on Channel Four’s First Dates and is set to launch Million Pound Menu, tweeted: “I still don’t understand why front of house never seem to be on anyone’s agenda ???? Why is that?”

A great question and one which caught our attention and the attention of those on social media.

“A restaurant is like a cake,” explained Fred. “Imagine it’s in slices – food is only one slice. You also have marketing and PR and the outer layer, the icing, this is the service part. Because this is what binds the whole cake together! Without this layer it doesn’t exist.”

Fred Siriex
Fred Siriex

He added: “The survey and research by People 1st about the staff shortage is very interesting but where is the survey about staff in front of house? Is there one? Doesn’t it matter?

“There are over 250 catering colleges in the country and if you look at how many hours are allocated to teaching front of house, how many colleges actually have a restaurant or how many are actually teaching and training people about front of house skills – there is no focus on it.”

What support from the industry do college lecturers need?

Nick Clarke is a Restaurant Lecturer at Loughborough College alongside Chef Lecturer Darren Creed and the pair say only 5 per cent of catering students are focused on front of house, the rest all want to be chefs.

Darren explained: “The way we do it here is we make all the students do front of house as well as the kitchen – one can’t operate without the other so they are both equally important. We instil that message into the students from the very first day.

“But we have to cater for our audience and our audience or students want to be chefs. So predominantly yes we advertise chef courses and I think colleges probably could do more to raise the profile of front of house courses.”

foh tweet 3

Nick, who has been in hospitality since he was 12, is on the front line teaching the next generation of front of house staff and he believes people’s perception of the service industry is quite low.

“People tend to see it as a part time job and not a career choice,” he said. “People now don’t have the skill set as it’s something they tend to fall into and it’s often a stop gap while they are looking for something else.

darren creed
Darren Creed

“There is a lack of pride here in the UK in comparison to other countries. I’ve noticed a real lack of interpersonal skills coming through and it’s going to impact the industry greatly.”

He doesn’t think the industry is doing enough so what support as a lecturer does he need?

“Offers of placements from restaurants of all levels would be very beneficial as a lot of the students coming through have never dined out and experienced fantastic service and the lasting effect that has on your whole dining out experience. They need to experience how special you feel when you are well looked after and somebody goes that extra mile for you.”

The role of waiting staff is not treated with the regard it once was

The role of waiting staff is not treated with the regarded it once was, people still think being a waiter or waitress is about carrying plates and anyone can do it. Yet, people then complain when it’s bad service, people don’t have any manners or they don’t know what they are doing.

Fred said: “They don’t think twice about putting someone on the floor who is not trained and has no idea what they are doing. You wouldn’t let a pilot fly a plane with zero hours training!”

He added: “It does start with education but you need to have money and a budget allocated to professional education. And you need to have a vision – the colleges should want these students to be the best talent so that everyone wants to employ them.

“I think we should have a sector skills council looking at all of what I have mentioned, focusing on the whole industry as opposed to just on chefs.”

foh tweet 2

Why do young people not seem to want to enter the hospitality industry?

The AA’s Giovanna Grossi who is Chief Advisor on Awards and Quality Standards, spends a huge amount of time training and developing front of house teams. She says to find a resolution we need to find the root of the problem; why do young people not seem to want to enter the hospitality industry?

“We need to ensure this industry is a rewarding,” she explained. “A happy place for young people to work. We need to invest in them, train them and develop them but first we need to encourage them to choose hospitality as a career. Many young people and indeed their parents who will have a hand in influencing them on career choices, see hospitality as a job that requires no skills and consider it a stop gap when there are no other options. For those of us who are passionate about the industry we know this couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Giovanna Grossi
Giovanna Grossi

All of the contributors to this piece agree the change in attitude needs to start with education but the industry needs to support the colleges and schools for this to be effective. In an industry where everybody is connected, nurturing and encouraging young and potential hospitality staff, it surely needs to be a group effort?

Giovanna said: “There’s so much to do. We need some great front of house ambassadors, and some of the new generation, such as the Gold Service Scholarship finalists, or some of the great Acorn Award winners from that sector, to spread the word through schools, colleges and the media.

“In terms of retention, training and development is key. Developing a great working environment, imparting knowledge, empowering these individuals and inspiring them.”

The industry according to Fred ‘obviously has to get behind all of this’, he said: “We need to look at pay, working conditions but at the same time we have to educate people. Even though we are in 2018 this profession is one of a kind – yes people do work late, they do work weekends and they do work Christmas and New Year’s Eve - it’s just part of the job and you need to accept that. But it’s in no way as unsociable as what I was doing at 20 years old.

“The situation we are in now is going to take 20 to 30 years to sort out at best. I don’t think we will see any improvement before that as we need drastic and radical changes.”

National Waiters Day

Then there is Brexit, are people going to stay in the country or not? At the moment Fred says, ‘we are not equipped to employ local talent because we can’t find them’.

He said: “I’m French, I’ve been here 25 years and I started National Waiters Day in 2012 to communicate the opportunities that there are in this industry and how people can get involved and engaged with them. I started the day to employ local talent, I’m not saying I want to get rid of those who want to work from other countries, but I am saying we can’t find English or foreign workers locally.

foh tweet 1

“The only reason we survive here (Galvin at Windows) is we have a very strong senior team and we have been together for ten years. You have to have that strong level of management and you can’t maintain standards if you keep changing the staff all the time.”

This is a career that needs to be treated with respect

Giovanna was just seven when she began working in hospitality, and she says the important thing is to make sure that young people who choose front of house as a career, are happy, hospitable, passionate people.

She concluded: “This is a career that needs to be treated with respect and needs to be chosen for all the right reasons and not because it appears to be the only option.”

Fred says he is ‘a realist’ and if we carry on the way we are going nothing will change in the next five years.

I’ve got nothing against chefs, I just think it’s important that everyone understands how a restaurant or hotel works. It’s a team and that is what is important.

 “If you want to give good service you need to have enough staff – it’s no secret!”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2018

Why does front of house never seem to be on anyone’s agenda?