Hospitality : Get Rich or Go Broke Dying

Hospitality : Get Rich or Go Broke Dying

By Zak Asgard - Posted 20th February 2023

A manager of mine, on the eve of my parting, once said, ‘All hospitality jobs are the same. They’re all crap. Every place has its problems. You will never, ever, ever find a place that doesn’t have its issues. But I hope you find something good.’

She said this proudly, and with an air of cynicism. She was drunk, and so was I, but something about what she said stuck with me. She was, invariably, trying to suggest that the bar I was leaving was as good as it was going to get. And that’s probably true, but it’s no reason to stay. And I’d wager that my eternal unemployment has something to do with her sentiment.

What, I asked myself in the staff toilet, decimated by the chefs’ continual bowel movements, has happened to hospitality?

It’s simple, really. It’s the easiest thing to get into. In the world of monthly subscriptions, fast fashion, the cost of living, Z-list celebrities’ bath water coming in at £30 a bottle, Onlyfans, Twitter’s paid-for blue tick, and the self-proclaimed entrepreneurs of YouTube charging thousands for their anti-Matrix online schooling, a bit of quick cash is, more than ever, a necessity.

Most hospitality jobs pay minimum wage. Some pay the living wage, but you can be sure they’ll keep the service charge.

So, to keep up with the rest of the world, we’ve become like America, but without the inherent tipping. Hospitality workers are told to walk around with forced smiles. Managers host condescending training sessions where they explain what it is to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Smug WhatsApp messages fill our phones expounding congratulatory sentiments for Sylvia, Lydia, or Mikel who received positive reviews on TripAdvisor last week. ‘Mikel, you get a cocktail on the house!’

That’s great, but does it pay Mikel’s rent?

The last bar I worked at opened at 8am and closed at 2am. They served food from 9am to 1am. And on weekends they did bottomless brunches. I once worked a Friday to bank holiday Monday. Each day was a closing shift. Each day was a double shift (twelve hours) with a paid — I’m so grateful, baby! — forty-five minute break; a sufficient amount of time to eat an undercooked pizza and smoke enough cigarettes to make Camus turn in his grave.

I spent the next three days in bed with tonsillitis. No sick pay. Just a text saying, ‘If you can’t find cover, Zak, you’ll have to come in.’

Some might argue that I have a weak constitution. Is this true? Maybe, but it’s not just me.

During the heatwave, the bar’s air-conditioning broke. It was broken for July and August. One of the owners came in and, when questioned on his staff’s safety, snapped, ‘I’ve spent close to eight thousand pounds trying to get this fixed!’

Three members of staff fainted on the same day, and a fourth had a seizure.

I’m sure he did spend £8000. But he’d also take £20,000 in profit on a Saturday from the bottomless brunch, and that’s just for our venue — there are five more.

When the coffee machine broke, he had it fixed within two hours. Someone from East London drove down in a van that said ‘SLAYER’ on the side. He told me he was being paid £20 an hour by his company and that most of his days were spent watching Netflix in their Shoreditch office.

This might be why the hospitality industry is ‘crying out’ for staff, as the media likes to say. But is that true? Post-pandemic Britain saw a staff shortage in bars, restaurants and pubs, but as the months have gone by, and the cost of living has gone up, the tables are beginning to turn. Another one of my managers told me that she’s back to receiving 200 CVs a week.

God. No. Please.

The last thing we need is a hospitality industry where the employer has even more power.

What other professions require you to give up your sleep, physical health, and mental stability? Nurses? Yes. Carers? Yes. Train drivers? Somewhat.

But they can strike. And so they should. What can the hospitality worker do?

Well, they can go to HR, but as most of us who have worked in that industry know, there is no HR. There might be an illusory HR with an email on a website you’ve never visited before, but you’ll get nowhere near them.

No. The hospitality worker has to quit. And then go somewhere else. And, to reiterate the words of my erstwhile manager, ‘They’re all crap.’

So, what are our options? Well, for those with their sanity intact, as previously mentioned, you can quit, change industry, start again. For those who tell themselves that the hospitality industry affords them more freedom than a 9-5, or, for those who have just been in it far too long, you can become a manager. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

And that’s what so many do. Their crusted eyes, their pale skin, and their increasing neurosis lurk behind their automated phrases, ‘Can you please make sure to put the menus on the right hand side of the candles next time, Gloria.’

I don’t know anyone who works in the industry who is truly, genuinely happy. I’ve not been to a restaurant, pub or bar where the staff haven’t seemed completely nihilistic.

Maybe I’m going to the wrong places, or maybe things are getting that bad.

But I can’t be entirely wrong. In November, The Caterer reported that pubs lost over 10% of their staff between August and September. 10% in a month. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that such rates of resignation are unsustainable.

Marsh Commercial reported that 42% of hospitality staff leave their job within the first 90 days. That’s not a surprise when you consider the YouGov poll that revealed just 3% of people joined the industry for its career prospects.

But I’d like to see the statistic on those that stay in the industry for more than five years and willingly admit to hating their lives. I’d put it somewhere close to 85%. The remaining 15% are managers.

It can’t go on like this.

Hey! What does it matter? Soon we’ll have AI controlled semi-plastic automatons floating around Brixton bars — better for the customers, better for the managers, and much better for business.

Until then, the overused, overworked and underpaid hospitality staff must grit their teeth, smile and say, ‘Was everyone OK for you, sir?’

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