AAt a certain point, anecdotes – rightly or wrongly – seem like hard data. A friend told me that a chef patron near where he lives reduced his ceiling by half to keep going. A colleague says something about a restaurant group that he heard recently had as many as 24 chefs across four locations. Booking a table at a favorite spot the other morning, I found out from their website that they will be closed two extra days a week for most of July. That evening, when a waiter hands me an affogato (just a tiny one), I gently quiz him about it. Yes, he says, shaking his head: lack of staff. The restaurant contacts up to 70 potential new chefs every day, and they still don’t have the people they need. Seventy? Did I hear you right? He laughs. Yes, he says. In fact, it can be even more.
Not to sound like the editor of The caterer Magazine, but what on earth are you going to do about the hospitality staffing issues, the seriousness of which is now clear to anyone with a sight to see?
According to my whistleblower, it’s carnage out there thanks to Brexit and the pandemic, chefs walking off mid-shift because they got a better deal elsewhere, students at catering colleges snapped before they graduate. Kitchen porters, waiters and bar staff are also hard to come by, he says, although I’ve noticed that; At the theater last month, only one waitress worked her way through the line for intermission drinks. She was fast, but it was clear she wasn’t going to make much serious progress before the bell rang. If this situation repeats itself every night – and why not? – It’s not hard to imagine the implications for much-needed art revenue.
There must be much the government could do if it had the will or even the slightest competence. I also know that from the point of view of the industry there is a need to avoid bureaucracy; Even if staff showed up overnight, there would still be training, paperwork, health and safety, all that. But even so, lately I’ve been fantasizing about going back to being a waitress. We ‘ate out to help’. Maybe now we need help to, uh, help. Couldn’t the massed ranks of middle-aged people who long ago paid their way through school and college working in bars and restaurants make a shift or two? If we were amateur alongside the pros, we would also be sensible, hardworking and happy to hang out with nice, funky young people. We could do this in exchange for a free dinner, say once a month – although staff dinners are what they are these days, I’d be pretty happy with one of those. Not long ago, Jackson Boxer, the chef and patron of Orasay and Brunswick House, posted a photo of the day’s staff tea on social media. It was battered sausage with sriracha mayonnaise and curry sauce and, to be honest, it looked heavenly. (“No mess,” as he put it.)
I know from experience that working in hospitality is often tough, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, as a lovely waitress at Joe Allen in Covent Garden told me in a long and heartfelt speech the other day. The industry has also improved beyond recognition since my time – and maybe I’m better suited for it now. Middle age brings serenity and, in women, a new hardness that can be useful when dealing with the public.
When I was working in a pub restaurant in Sheffield, my least favorite thing was driving home late at night; Walking through the parking lot after my shift used to really scare me. But those days are over for me. I’m rarely scared of anything, or not in that physical, visceral way. I’m not sure how good I’d look in 2022 in a black turtleneck, long white apron and hoop earrings – my fantasy waitress wardrobe – but I’m a master at juggling multiple plates and handling the kind of crosspatch- Man, he’d rather not admit that he doesn’t really know his way around a wine list.