The best way to eat out to help? Pay a fairer price for your meal | Hotel industry
A few weeks ago, a restaurant in King’s Cross in London emailed their repeat customers with a special offer. This was not the standard arrival promotion: a free glass of sparkling wine or two main courses for the price of one. It was a Â£ 100 voucher for anyone recommending a new hire who then worked for them for at least a month. Around the same time the Manchester Evening News reported that the city reception staff were so rare that pub and restaurant operators were aggressively trying to poach key employees from each other. A recent survey of hundreds of companies by industry body UK Hospitality found that 80% have vacancies both in front and behind the house. The message is clear: emerging from the pandemic, the besieged restaurant industry has a serious staffing problem.
This is partly due to Brexit. Thousands of EU nationals, who were at the heart of so many great restaurants, watched what was going on in Britain and just decided to go home. Who can blame them? But something else is happening too, identified by the Happy Hospitality program launched by Farmyard, an interesting eclectic restaurant in Norwich. As Hannah Springham from Farmyard told me, so many employees are just “tired of crappy working conditions and leaving in droves”. Blockages had many obvious drawbacks. But there were also some positives. Staff on leave were able to spend time with their families, be there for their children’s birthdays, and exercise. They got their life back. Farmyard’s response: âA four-day week plus tailor-made contracts that take into account child care, recreation and mental health. “
Springham recognizes that this comes at a cost. It’s a cost she thinks customers will have to help pay. This is a fair point. The fact is that as we approach the end of the various lockdowns, we need a major overhaul of our relationship with the restaurant industry. For all of the people who are complaining that restaurants are overpriced, and damn how they are, the pandemic has made it clear that hospitality is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Of course, historically, a few operators have invented it. Some places are overpriced. They are in the minority. Most restaurants, weighed down by rents and tariffs, by ingredient costs inflated by the Brexit madness, by saggy dysfunctions in the UK economy, cling to financial sustainability with their fingertips. Too often, it is the underpaid and overworked employees who pay the price.
For the past 16 months we have deplored the closure of the hospitality. We nostalgically talked about the joyful idea of ââsomeone else cooking for us and then doing the dishes. We haven’t talked enough about the burden on people that we expect to do this, or how many of them have had low incomes. You can complain about economic realities if you want to, but you cannot argue with them. If there is a shortage of chefs, applicants may demand higher salaries. It all adds up to the bottom line.
But it is also a question of dignity. I often wonder how much people who complain about restaurant prices earn. I’m sure it’s way more than the people they’d expect when it comes to cooking their dinner. You can point out that it’s fine for a well-paid restaurant reviewer, who gets a lot of their bills reimbursed, to advocate paying more. I recognize the point. But my deep ice of privilege doesn’t change the fact that too many people in the hospitality industry have been taken for granted for too long. If we want to have a wide range of restaurants to eat out, we’ll have to spit. It’s that simple.