Everything that is wrong with catering !!!!!

I was saddened to learn to day of the death of Nathan Laity, not a name that will instantly spring to mind when talking about chefs. But Nathan unfortunately passed away in his sleep after doing on average 14hours a day for 27 straight days. That’s 100hours per week.

Unfortunately this ‘letting the team down’ attitude is so ingrained in catering even Nathans death, sad as it is, will probably change little. The work time directive was meant to prevent this from happening, but as those of you reading this will probably know catering rides rough shot over employment law & European directives. The amount of times I have heard about staff not having contracts of employment or un-wittingly signing out of the work time directive because it was (illegally) incorporated into a contract of employment, just reinforces my belief.

Being a service industry, it is very much at the whim of supply & demand, needless to say practices like lieu days need to be outlawed. The whole practice is fundamentally flawed, the industry demand that their staff work extra days (or public holidays) on the demand of the business. In return the staff get a lieu day, which, from general experience can only take when the business will allow. If this practice was applied to a office environment there would be uproar and the unions would probably get involved.

Why does catering think it is above the law or common decency?

Through my personal experience, management in the catering industry view margins & targets must be achieved at all costs. It is ingrained into staff (particularly in the kitchen) that going sick or taking holidays,  is letting the team down. If senior staff actually took a more responsible view to some of these practices, maybe the likes of Nathan would have been spared. There are a plethora of agencies of there which will supply temporary staff, so why pressurise the staff to cover an absent colleague?

The general train of thought seems to be that you can’t do quality unless you do the hours. Yet in France, the home of Michelin, the work time directive is enforced with great effect. So why doesn’t it work in the UK?

Could the BHA & chef bodies such as Academy of Culinary Arts, The British Culinary Federation and the Craft Guild of Chefs, be more responsible in their education or are they as bad?

Quite frankly it appears that all of the above bodies just aren’t in touch the general mass of grassroots chefs who don’t want to compete in competitions and the like. They will, I’m sure say that they are involved with colleges and the nurturing of new chefs, but the truth is only those which want to compete in Salon Culinaires.

So the current legislation seems inadequate, industry bodies are gutless, so what is left? Unions?

I would like to think that the industry would take a long hard look at itself and realise this can’t continue. Maybe it will take a bold step from a high profile chef / restaurant / hotel to introduce a breath of fresh air & kick this down side to the industry well into touch.

I await with baited breath to see if the likes of MPW, Ramsey, Aikens, Roux & Blanc will make this bold step.

Chef Hermes would like to offer his deepest sympathy to Nathan Laity’s family, and would like to think that something positive could come from his dedication to the catering industry.

7 Responses to “Everything that is wrong with catering !!!!!”
  1. Richard says:

    This is a disgrace, but unfortunately probably not so uncommon. My own son was for a period, working an average 96 hour week in a Michelin starred restaurant. Getting the job was conditional on signing the working time directive opt-out (not that the law was of any interest to the proprietor / head chef). Not only were the shifts too long, but inevitably there was insufficient break (supposed to be 11 hours) between each day’s work; in fact, most days started (at 8.00am) on the same day the last one finished (01.30am typically). In addition to the hours of work, the head chef would bully and verbally abuse kitchen staff throughout the working day, and would even refuse to allow staff to visit the toilet! Effects of this regime included extreme fatigue (of course), malnutrition, dehydration (many hours in working temperatures of 35 degrees plus); skin rashes, dermatitis, foot problems, feinting, and depression. He worked under this regime for two years, but left, finally, after being physically assaulted by the head chef. Readers may wonder why he would endure such conditions, unfortunately this is seen by many as the norm, and maybe a right of passage into the upper end of the industry.

    Something has got to change; if employers run businesses that are dependent upon such exploitation to balance the books, well, they just aren’t financially viable.

    I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to Nathan’s family. The industry must get its house in order!

  2. Peter says:

    I have worked in the restaurant/hotel industry for nearly 30 years.Now I own a restaurant listed in
    the guide books.The main problem is : that in the highend of the market the restaurants arent charging enough for the product.Many of you reading this will think “your having laugh”,but its a fact.The wage bill in relation to turn over is very high,probable second only football clubs.Fixed overheads are also very high.I have a number of friends in business, a Jeweller,cookery shop,property developer & motor industry, all of whom have lower overheads & wage bills than me. So they can pay more.

    I had my boiler repaired last week.I had to pay £215 in advance,time on site 25mins,plus a plastic valve. One man, a van,tools – need I say more !!!!

    I have lost a number of good staff to high profile restaurants, because they are blinded by the name. all of them have fallen foul of them.Promised the earth & delivered nothing.

    I don’t think it will ever change because don’t want to pay the right price.


    • Thanks for your comment Peter.

      I have to say that I’m in partial agreement with you. The wages in catering, with the exception of the minimum wage, haven’t really changed in catering for 30 years. Anybody leaving school or college think that they are ‘going to make it rich’ as a chef are just deluding themselves. Yes there are exceptions, but they are exceptional because of talent & everything else follows, the books, TV etc.

      While you say that you have lost staff to high profile restaurants because they are blinded by the name, could it because that these profile restaurants are a brand (as maybe Gordon Ramsay or Heston Blumenthal are brands not necessarily the ASK or Costa brands)? Which will enhance a CV & thus help with future job prospects, promotions & training.

      I have every sympathy for for your situation with the boiler, but until this country turns to communism that is the price the market demands. Bear in mind that people will probably compare your restaurant to say a fast food outlet or compare the prices of the raw ingredients at a supermarket. Yes it’s unfair because it’s not like for like and this is my gripe with newspapers when they talk about the restaurant industry having 100’s of percent mark ups on wines. We all know it’s not true & to stay in business in catering isn’t easy.

      I have since spoken & worked with Nathan Laity’s former head chef. Whilst not wanting to point score out of such a tragic incident, he hasn’t learnt any of the lessons. I regularly worked in excess of 15hours a day whilst he would be having nights off etc.

      Since writing this post I believe that there are some changes afoot. For example Nathan Outlaw has implemented in his brasserie operation a 4days on, 3days off structure. But this is very much in the minority, the same old Dickensian beliefs & practices of ‘I did it & it didn’t do me any harm’ still prevail.

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