Beyond Eat Out to Help Out – what next for restaurants?
The Government scheme undoubtedly put bums on seats in August, but it has also encouraged an unwelcome return to discounting. So where does this leave the sector now?
From time to time in catering, something comes along that revolutionises the way we work. You can think of things like Maltodextrin or even Rational Ovens, but something much more important is about to change the way we work in this industry forever.
“One Sided Flexibility” is soon to become outlawed in catering and heralds a change in the relationship between Employer and Employee of seismic proportions, but what exactly is One Sided Flexibility?
In short, it’s a working relationship that sees the benefit mainly for the Employer, one sided. The obvious example in our profession would be Split Shifts. This Victorian practice of work where your entire day is spent on work, but you are only paid for the hours you do, or even worse still the abhorrent practise of AFD shifts of 12hrs plus, these practices save the employer money but abuse our social and mental welfare.
Soon both of these practises will cease, and Employers will be forced to realise that shifts MUST benefit both sides in order to create a good working relationship. There will also be adjustments to Zero Hours working and Employers will soon have to adjust their contracts to ensure that you have a balanced work schedule with a minimum set day/hour rota pattern for both parties to adhere to.
The vile practice of cutting shifts without notice or even worse in the middle of a shift when things become slow will also be abolished as the government have recognised the importance of workers being able to sustain rent and a mortgage and so must be able to rely on a dependable work structure.
There will also be a national system of whistleblowing and reporting so that employees will, for the first time ever, be able to deal with issues directly and in confidence.
Employers must stop exploiting chefs in the way they have for many decades. The Government’s vision of a fairer way of working in partnership with Employees must now be embraced by all and The National Chefs Union will be playing a big part in shaping that future.
The Pandemic has made everyone realise that the system of work in Catering is broken and that if we are to attract a better, fitter workforce then we need to attack the core issues of exploitation within our profession.
In the very near future we need to offer our young chefs, a brighter, safer, and more rewarding career than at present. A career free from intimidation and exploitation, a career that shows the best of what we can do, with time to spend with our friends and family, a career that is caring of its workforce and a career that is secure and forward thinking.
All of this is possible and within our reach. The Good Work Plan will ensure a fairer, decent way of working for all of us in the very near future.
Many have heard of terms such as subconscious sexism, racism, and ageism. Those inner most thoughts that we rarely see come to the surface but are often in the backs of people’s minds.
Indeed, our actions, even with the best of intentions are now considered as our true feelings. The theory behind this being that if we say or do something that is now socially unacceptable even though we adamantly deny such thoughts then it is our subconscious feelings coming forward, in fact our “true selves”
This theory is then echoed into the handbooks of many employers, governed by overzealous HR consultants who in fear of litigation cover their employers by submitting to this theory.
So then, that must surely give way to the actions of employers also?
Is how they behave and act towards their employees often an indication of subconscious behaviour and is the practice of inhuman and socially unacceptable work pattens just subconscious exploitation?
Isn’t it time that acts such as 12-14-hour shifts, constant weekend working, all day long shifts and unpaid tasks can now be seen as exploitation even though we have accepted such conditions for many years.
Perhaps now is the moment to wake up and realise that when we are asked to give more than we are paid for on the grounds of “duty” or “teamwork” then this is simply the subconscious action of an exploitative employer or manager.
Should we all now be aware that going that extra mile or doing that extra shift, is just guilt tripping us into free labour and that we should now stand firm on the exploitation that is systemic is catering, and in reality hasn't it always been that way since our very first day in catering and isn't Contracted Hours simply the epitome of exploitation?
If the Pandemic has taught us one thing it is surely that all employees are disposable, we are asked to “take one for the team” but has the team ever taken one for us?
As head of Unichef and a working chef, there are few things that annoy me more than the subject of pay errors.
When someone has worked hard all month and is looking forward to their pay, is it not too much to ask that it be correct? We are expected to perform to the best of our ability so why not the payroll clerks?
Whilst we suffer the wrath of Head chefs and mangers for making mistakes in our daily work, is anyone ever actually reprimanded for making mistakes in our payroll?
I think you will find that the answer is no.
HR and payroll are virtually a law unto themselves in many companies and rarely come under fire for their poor performance and mistakes, it is little wonder so many chefs mistrust a system that should be there to protect them but is often seen as being biased in what they do and say.
Most annoyingly of all is the undoubted fact that anyone they deem of being “important” such as the MD ,Senior Managers and even themselves will be getting priority treatment over their payments, somehow I doubt that there is ever a pay mistake made in the Managing Directors wages at Compass Catering do you ?
Yet chefs, and kitchen staff are the ones most often effected by the mediocre performance of HR departments. I know in some kitchens it's such a regular event that even bets are placed as to who’s turn it is for a pay error?
This appalling practice needs to be called out, We deserve better and should be demanding better from those who are paid to support us, paid to be correct and paid to make sure we get what we’ve worked so hard for all month. They seem oblivious to the real harm they do in their costly mistakes, constantly blame the computer and vow to put it right next month!
Next month? how about today? How about right now?
So, what’s NOT on the menu?
Imagine if you can, that you are a female chef and you wear your button or your t-shirt with pride, the slogan saying #Notonthemenu.
The answer is simple, so simple that it stops people right in their tracks and will forever change their view of how they treat you.
That answer is me. I’m not on the menu! nor is my body, my gender, or my sexuality!
“Yeah, right. That’s cool” comes the reply. It will only happen once, when they finally get the idea that you ARE an equal, you are a colleague, and yes you are a chef.
The idea started in America, and comes from years of female oppression in kitchens, and a final realisation that there must and will be changes; 2021 will become the focus of a concerted campaign by Unichef, The National Chefs Union to finally rid our own kitchens of this vile and systemic abuse of our female colleagues.
#Notonthemenu looks at the history and the reverence of women in British Cookery, their contribution, and the exciting and often inspirational contributions that they have made and will continue to make in kitchens across our country.
Our aim is to educate all chefs into a new and fresh culture that accepts people as they are, as professionals doing a professional job, and to help everyone understand that our kitchens are NOT bastions of a male preserve but are in fact “our office” our place of work, where we should all feel safe, secure and protected and where our genders should never come into question.
“Our office” should be just like any other modern working environment, we should work by modern recognisable standards towards our colleagues.
Banter and fun, being the butt of sexual talk and jokes, hugging and “love in the kitchen” is all eighties tolerability that no longer belongs in the 21st Century.
As chefs we beg for the latest equipment, the best of facilities and stress to our bosses to get with it and use modern techniques, yet so many of our chefs are still in the last century when it comes to recognising the equal right of women in kitchens and yet no one would ever treat their wives, girlfriends or mothers in that way.
We can’t only blame chefs either. Our industry is plagued with male dominated companies and a hugely male oriented media obsessed with the latest “Cool Chef” when there has not been any since Gary Rhodes. And yet TV cooking shows are STILL dominated by men! Is it any wonder then that our young chefs still grow up believing that men are the better chefs, if only through numbers?
The time for change is now, the time to look at how we really treat women in our kitchens and ask ourselves “can we do better”? Can we bring respect and equality back into our kitchen, not only for their sake but for ours too, as treating all people with respect makes us all better chefs.
For too many years now our Industry has been plagued by the crazy notion that some sort of recreational drug or liquid crutch will get chefs “through the day” and that they “need” those items in place to be the chef that they are or want to become ??
Yet repeatedly our Union sees the massive result in the scrapheap of chefs who thought that drugs, alcohol and even Caffeine drinks were the answer to their pressures and workload.
There are so many that contact us who “used” to be a chef, with the same story. We even encounter Ex-offenders who once again tell us how the pressures of the job, drove them to substance abuse and then into crime, one-minute working on their dream, the next involved in a nightmare.
All aspire to be great chefs, all look to their hero’s, the classic legends who crafted our profession, Escoffier, Bocuse, Mossiman, Blanc etc, we all have our favourites. But few chefs stop to question just HOW these great chefs got through their days of stress, without a joint to calm them down or twenty cans of Red Bull for them to do their job??
Maybe they can’t understand that the greatest of chefs just don’t need stimulants, that the love of their craft, their own drive and commitment and the “natural high” they get from being in one of the greatest professions in the world is all they need to get them “through the day “?
It’s all so easy to criticise, I know that, but as a chef who has worked for the last 46 years and still puts in 70 hours with more pressures and stress then you can ever imagine, without anything thing more than uplifting than a cup of tea of tea, I often wonder just why such chefs need to be in our industry at all ?
If they really need such artificial props to survive the rigours of the day, are they really the chefs we need in this industry, shouldn’t they just get out of it??
Easy to say addictions and abuse are now so rife that they must now be considered a serious threat to safety and a massive disincentive to many youngers wanting a career as a chef.
The foolish belief that you need drugs to be a good chef, or that you need drugs in your kitchen to make it “groove” is just the biggest load of hype this industry has ever seen and time we all “called out” drug taking in kitchens, those that use them, those that sell them and also those that turn a blind eye.
Of course, as an industry we need to support those who truly need it, but the recreational mass acceptance that drug taking is "normal" needs to change. If someone was drunk on duty, its gross misconduct, and an instant dismissal, but someone having a joint or a line at work is somehow cool???
In Post Pandemic Britain, Drug Free Kitchens must now be the norm. Drug testing must become mandatory in UK kitchens and Unichef will support any Employer in this aim. This is our chance to rid kitchens of substance abuse and return our kitchens into a safe and healthy workplace environment.
During a lecture for my degree in addictions therapy the tutor said that there were certain professions that have a higher rate of addiction than others, chefs were mentioned as one of those.
No surprise then that in a class of twelve students, two of us had been chefs for over 20 years and had our own past substance misuse issues. Following that, during my experience working in residential rehabs I noticed quite a few clients were or had been chefs in the past. This got me thinking, I knew why I used to drink when I was a private chef, the pressure, the control, performance anxiety and need for perfection were all factors, but I wondered why it was that chefs as a group had higher instances than the general population of potentially harmful alcohol and drug use.
It seems the idea that chefs and substances are a perfect pairing has always been there, there were the drunken chef stereotypes even before television brought the early celebrity chefs to our living rooms, with a glass in one hand and a spatula in the other. Then, twenty years ago Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” brought the industry’s dirty little secrets to the public eye, the exposure of the drug and drink fuelled kitchen culture didn’t do anything to stigmatise it, to the contrary, it seemed to glorify and normalise it and attracted a small army of celebrity hopefuls happy to be part of the macho anything goes kitchen culture. “it’s wrong, but “look at what I can do and what I can handle when I just have a few drinks / bump/ speed etc to get through service, then just have a splif to wind down and get some sleep so I can do it all again next shift.”
Once again, the vile topic of Sexual Harassment is raising its ugly head.
As if we did not have enough to contend with as chefs, we still hear of disturbing reports and complaints of sexual bullying and even sexual assault.
Sadly, few realise the real harm this can cause and the extreme penalties that are involved for those that perpetrate and those managers and Head Chefs who turn a blind eye to the tribal goings on in their kitchens.
In an industry that has been completely turned on its head with COVID and is now beginning to realise the enormity of the changes in store, isn’t also time that we evaluated the very values and morals that we need in today's modern kitchens.
Unichef has constantly strived for a Zero tolerance of abuse in all kitchens, it is the number one core principal set out in our constitution, but it still continues to be a difficult battle.
The endemic attitude of many male chefs and the lack of strong female and gay chefs who are prepared to make a stand no matter what the cost is at times frustrating and often heart breaking.
Tribal kitchens still thrive and feral chefs who still exhume vile and hurtful statements, behaving as jungle animals looking for their next victim, caring not that they could well be on the way to prosecution, dismissal and the prospect of never being employed in any food establishment ever again are sadly still present in our profession.
As we now turn our thoughts towards a new horizon in the Industry, chefs are beginning to contact us for advice on Agency working.As a Freelance Chef for more than 30 years I am more than suitable to offer you a comprehensive and balanced view of the Recruitment Industry.
If you’ve ever wondered just how someone manages to start a national movement from scratch, then here you are, our entire story, warts and all? We really kicked off in about 2013, just a few chefs who had been saying for many years that we needed a “Union” for chefs as all of the big Unions were simply not interested in us as a profession and that small kitchens in the middle of nowhere just couldn’t get any sort of representation.
Why it matters?
And then we realised that we also knew many of these chefs, and we had been working alongside of them for many years without realising the often huge sacrifices they have to make just to earn a living in the job they love.
From that day on we knew that if Unichef was to help chefs then we needed to embrace MHI and work to learn more about those issues and those that have them. We started from scratch, we listened, and we learned, we talked, and we communicated with new friends and associates. We joined the Time to Change project in early years and more recently became very close to MIND in working together to end Mental Health discrimination in our industry.
Today Unichef stands proud in the fact that we have done more to raise awareness of MHI in catering than any other Union, and when we became a CIC we took the inspirational step of enshrining MHI into our constitution, the first Union ever to do so.
We constantly work to make all chefs and employers “aware” that the chefs your working with may have an illness that they often don’t want to talk about, but that they have every day of their lives, they don’t want pity or your money, they just need you to understand.
Taking time to understand that having MHI is a daily strain in what is a hugely difficult job, taking time to check on your colleague, taking time to realise that their life might not be the same as yours, taking time to care, and taking time to support.
So, awareness matters, not just this week but as a constant theme in our everyday lives. Being aware that we have a 1 in 4 chance of working with someone that needs our understanding and a 1 in 4 chance that their bad days are 10 times worse than ours.
Be aware of Mental Health Issues, not just today, but forever.
The Good work Plan 2020
A revolution in working practise is about to impact on our industry and change the way employers engage with their workforce is about to happen, starting in April 2020.
In 2018 the Government commissioned an independent report by Mathew Taylor on how to modernise and inspire the British workforce and its findings and recommendations have sent shock-waves through the Catering Industry.
The principals are to create a British workforce fit for the 21st Century, a workforce that is inspired to do better and to produce more through Employer engagement, improved working conditions and care in the workplace as well as improved regulation and a new Regularly body to police these laws.
Each Industry has its own unique issues and the Catering Sector is no different.
Chefs have suffered for many years from inequality and discrimination, especially in multi departmental establishments, such as Hotels where, clerical staff, reception and HR are all treated differently in terms of facilities and contracts. This will all soon come to an end.
With so much discussion about the future of chefs and what may happen if and when we return to work, many of us have forgotten the other side to the story.Its easy to think only of ourselves but what about the employers and in particular pub and Restaurant owners who have sunk their money and much of their lives into their dream.What is to become of their livelihood and what kind of a future do they see?
We talk to Catherine Spence, the owner of a hugely popular and successful Restaurant in North Yorkshire to see how she feels about the future of her dream?
Q. Hi Catherine,good to talk to you.What changes do you think would be good in the future after re-opening?
A. What I think would be a good idea for you to advocate Brian, would be making the general public realise they need to pay more for meals and stop looking for offers , discounts and money off,then independents could pay higher wages
Q. I agree totally, we have been opposed to 2-4-1 offers for many years and have said that there is simply too many bad Restaurants and too many Branded Chains?
A. Exactly, the chains have ruined the industry, with ready made , vacuum packed food and offers.I’m up against this all the time , we have 2 chains near us and customers always complain that we are too slow, they just don’t get we are actually cooking the food and not putting it in a microwave
Q. I believe that we are about to see a transition to the way we used to be where staff and clients were more highly thought of and that service was a skill and a pleasure.Can you see a future for quality establishments?
A.Yes I can and my plan is to up our game , as there will be fewer diners , go for quality rather than quantity will be the way forward for us now.
Q. With so many restrictions to running a Restaurant,do you see the future as a challenge?
A.The system is against us , to be honest,VAT,business rates ( we pay £9000 a month ) Regulations,Health and Safety etc etc
Q. Are you actively planning re-opening or are you waiting to see what instructions the government have in store ?
A. I’m definitely reopening, we own the property, so need to open,but waiting to see the government guidelines then decide how to move forward
Q. Do you think it is possible to obey the restrictions and still keep your staff and customers safe and maintain the unique and special atmosphere that your famous for?
A. We could maintain the social distancing , but the atmosphere will not be the same , Italian restaurant are usually buzzing, busy and noisy , that will not be the case. It will probably now be a restaurant where people visit as a couple or family. But not in groups or parties for a long time.
Q. Finally Catherine,do you envisage having difficulty recruiting for chefs when you re-open and in the future?
A. No , I think now chefs will not leave their jobs and stay put.
Thank you Catherine
Dear Chefs , friends and colleagues
I, like many of you out there, have spent and dedicated a life to the food and hospitality sectors, and as if our jobs as chefs wasn’t challenging enough, we now stir directly into the face of even greater adversity.
As culinary creatives, artists, scientists, blended with a heavy dollop of hard labour and commonly referred to as chefs, we like to share our skills, offer experiences, excitement and make memories for our guests, more often than not, these are performed in challenging stressful working environments, short staffed, working long hours and not forgetting the low levels of compensation!, but we do it all too often because we love it!
We embrace the service, demands, challenges, excitement and thrills that this industry can offer, whilst also having an eye on even greater opportunities, expansion, projects and goals.
We work in an incredible diverse industry that has the ability to proudly place regions and towns on the British and even global culinary maps, an industry that allows new doors to open in new locations and even countries!. We work within one of the few industries that allows us to cross pollinate our skills in new regions and destinations, meet new people, increase our knowledge, embrace new cultures and culinary diversity in the process.
All of the aforementioned has been pulled from under our feet, our doors closed , our restaurants and kitchens silenced , our lives as we know it cancelled until further notice.
We are however humans and we have an incredible resilience , we do need to make a few adjustments and breath deeper than ever before, but we are also a very large community of special people, thousands of us in the same job, in the same position, with the same frustrations and there is no time like the present to join forces and to help each other when in need.
Together we will all get through this and bounce back with new hope, vigour and determination, we may even appreciate all those things around us a little more of which we once took for granted, we may now understand the fragility of the earth and even those that we share it with!.
We do however need to pull together to help those not covered in the governments furlough scheme, help those that may be looking for new jobs and positions later on or just help break the silence of the day with a friendly e-mail a shared joke or meaningless banter!.
Take advantage of this period of rest and prepare to take to the stage as the performance of our lives is around the corner !.
Stay well , stay safe and look forward to seeing you on the other side.
Alan Coxon, TV Chef / Presenter, Author, Speaker, Culinary Consultant
Multi award winning TV Chef /Presenter, Author, Speaker, Culinary Consultant, Innovator, International Judge and British Ambassador for Food.
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