Front-of-house has long remained the poor brother to a sexier chef’s career, with Britain’s overall service standards suffering as a result.
But the phenomenal success of Michel Roux’s recent Service series, which followed the transition of eight young people as they began front-of-house careers, has demonstrated that all it takes is the right kind of communication to raise awareness and interest in the sector.
So how can the industry itself become involved to help encourage new blood into the sector and a much-needed stream of trained youngsters?
Sophie Roberts-Brown, executive director at the Academy of Food & Wine Service (AFWS), which worked closely on Michel Roux’s Service, points to three main areas:
- Help get people into the industry;
- Once in, train them to the best of your ability to ensure retention and satisfaction;
- Make sure you recognise those that get it right by entering staff into relevant awards – e.g. UK sommelier of the year, UK restaurant manager of the year, as well as awards from Arena, Olive Barnett, AFWS.
Getting people into the industry is perhaps the most challenging of the three due to a general lack of awareness that still prevails.
So a first step to attracting people to the industry is to help raise the awareness of front-of-house as a viable career.
- Promote apprenticeships. Hospitality businesses can use apprenticeships to both meet their staff needs and improve the sector’s long-term performance. People 1st, which promotes careers in the hospitality sector, has launched a strategy to help the industry use apprenticeships to drive their business.
- Offer work placements. Talk to local collegesabout taking interns and work experience placements. The more hands-on experience students can have, the more likely they are to gain a vision of the career pathways ahead of them. Springboard’s Into Work programme is a good place to start.
- Careers advice in schools, colleges and job centres. Most youngsters are simply not aware of the possibility of a front-of-house career so spreading the word will go a long way. Extend these efforts to job centres, as there are plenty of youngsters at a loss for a career path that can be reached.
Getting into schools or careers fairs and talking to pupils is all the more important because of the general lack of understanding and awareness that careers advisors have for the sector, says Geoff Booth, director of the School of Hospitality at Westminster Kingsway College.
“There tends to be a view within careers offices that you go into hospitality if you’re not very good academically. None of them are really recognising the opportunities that lie in front of house service,” he says.
Janel Hussein, a third year student at Westminster Kingsway who has decided to specialise in front-of-house, agrees that more career advice is needed. “I was never told about this at school. They always stick to the main subject, so I didn’t even know I could study foodservice until a friend told me about it,” she said.
Her peer William Yarney says his work placement at the Berkeley hotel is what opened his eyes to the career opportunities offered in the sector.
“The hospitality industry has been given a bad image. People think front-of-house is just about being a waiter and working long hours. But it doesn’t stop at just being a waiter. There are so many different things you can go into. This industry is so big and so broad, you can just take it and run,” says Yarney, who plans to become a restaurant manager or open his own venue.
Spread the word
Niki Bedson, one of the participants in Michel Roux’s Service, says there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the UK views a service career.
“England has too many stereotypes and generalisations. Being a waiter is seen as something to do in-between careers. The English don’t see it as good enough. But it’s all about attitude,” she said.
“I did a placement at the Greenhouse in Mayfair. Most of boys there are French. They explained that in France it’s a respected career and people work up from comis to maitre d’. For a whole country it’s a proud career, and they come to the UK to get experience because no one wants to do it here.”
Booth says the industry as a whole needs to help build on the success of the Michel Roux Service programme in order to address this lack of understanding.
“People get the idea of being a chef, they’ve seen it often enough on TV for a number of years and it’s now been driven into the culture. We need to do the same thing for general service, because the career roots out of that initial service job are tremendous.”