Working long front of house hours at Christmas is tough but would staff change it?

The Staff Canteen

Christmas time is here and it's busy and bustling, but what is it like for those in the service industry, who have to work Christmas and New Year? The Staff Canteen spoke to some front of house staff to find out what Christmas is like at their restaurants.

Andrew Fairlie: Restaurant Manager: Dale Dewsbury 3Here at The Staff Canteen we’ve taken a good look at chefs hours over the past few months. We’ve debated if they are overworked and underpaid, and what can be put in place to deal with dreaded split shifts. But what about those who work front of house?

They too work unsociable hours, long hours and I’m sure many would be happy to see their pay increase. So as it’s Christmas lets take a moment to hear their side of the hospitality story. Dale Dewsbury, restaurant manager at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie in Gleneagles Hotel, has worked 27 out of the last 30 New Years and enjoyed all of them.

He said: “We work in a people business, and what better time of year to be doing what we do, particularly in Scotland where Hogmanay is so important.” The restaurant is busy all year round, so Dale expects to be full each service, as they have been in previous years. However the team always take care to celebrate the New Year.

Dale added: “We always make sure we get a few minutes after the bells to wish each other Happy New Year with a little glass of Champagne.

“I love the pipes and drums, and the build up to the bells is always fantastic around Gleneagles, it is hugely atmospheric. “I love the fact that we get to spend Christmas with our families though. It was something Andrew was keen to introduce when he opened the restaurant, and we all appreciate it.

"We close for two days over Christmas, for the last few years it has been Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but this year we are closing Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We are then open through Hogmanay, Ne’er Day, January 2 and 3, before closing for three weeks holiday. The January break is a great chance to recharge the batteries after a busy year. “

Diego Masciaga, director and restaurant manager of The Waterside Inn for the last 30 years, and subject of the new book The Diego Masciaga Way: Lessons from the Master of Customer Service, has undoubtedly got a few stories to tell when it comes to the festive period. But to him as long as the guests are happy then they are doing their jobs right at the Waterside Inn.Waterside Inn Diego Masciaga low res

He said: “For me Christmas is Christmas, in a pub, at home, in a three Michelin star, it is still Christmas. So we try to make sure that around Christmas and especially on Christmas day that we have got that festive feeling.”

He added: “Working Christmas is enjoyable because it is a happy, relaxing atmosphere, as on Christmas day no one is there to criticise, they are there to have a nice time. “I think I am maybe the oldest still in this job, and what I would like to say to my colleagues working on Christmas day is to take it very positively and try to enjoy what you do, even on Christmas day.

“If you go to work and think 'I have to work on Christmas day' then you will have a bad day, but if you go to work thinking “okay, it’s Christmas day, I’m going to work”, and are happy pleasing the guests, then at the end of the day you will be in a good mood.”

The Waterside Inn is open on Christmas day for lunch, and it is then closed from the December 26 until the January 29 for their annual holiday. Diego said: “People go out on Christmas day for the food and the company. So I make sure the atmosphere is very relaxed and open, like at home, so the guests feel that they are not at a restaurant but at a home.

“We are actually fully booked for Christmas a year ahead, the same people come back every year, I know some people who have been coming for Christmas lunch for the last 30 years.

Steph little“We have Christmas hats on the table, Christmas crackers, chocolate coins, the lucky coin in the Christmas pudding, Christmas trees all over, so it is more like being in a big family. I make sure my service is a bit more relaxed, but still very efficient. Christmas day should not be a rush.”

The restaurant gets very busy over the festive period, with lots of Christmas parties and meals being booked from November onwards. Diego said: “The last three weeks before Christmas the volume will go up about 20/25%. We use our private dining rooms and the restaurant is fully booked every day, as is the hotel. The team obviously are very relaxed as they have been here on average four to eight years, so they know what to do and how to do it well.”

However not all restaurants are at their busiest at this time of the year. The restaurant manager at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Stephanie Little, explains that the Christmas period doesn’t really affect business at the restaurant, and that Restaurant Nathan Outlaw’s annual leave is December 20 to January 30, so they miss the Christmas rush.

She said: “In our little restaurant we don’t really have any Christmas parties, as the tables only sit a maximum of six, so even in winter it is more birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.

“We may be able to extend next year and offer little parties because we are relocating to Port Isaac, Cornwall.”Paulo De Tarso 2 low res Bar Boulud though is open for both Christmas and New Year, with staff being given a choice over which day to work.

Paulo de Tarso Chanes, the senior Maître D’ at Bar Boulud, said: “The hours we work don't really change but the restaurant is busier and nonstop since we are open all day. We all enjoy the pace, it's a good energy.” Bar Boulud is keen to celebrate the holiday spirit, with the toasts, hugs and kisses tradition being carried out on New Year’s Eve.

Paulo said: “We love our team and without them we are nothing. The Christmas spirit is something that brings everyone together, and hard work and team effort pays off.”

By Samantha Wright

>>> Read more front of house features in our Are You Being Served series here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th December 2014

Working long front of house hours at Christmas is tough but would staff change it?