Monday, 2 May 2011

FOH dilemmas

Chefs are renowned for moving round from kitchen to kitchen, working at so many different venues it becomes impossible to keep track of them. In days gone by, my job was to sign, or arrange transfers, off all apprentice’s apprenticeships, in order that at the end of their 4 years of working/training in the trade, combined with regular stints at TAFE, they were legally entitled to call themselves a qualified cook/chef.

Keeping track of all those boys, and some girls, was a full time job then, especially with the inordinate amount of paperwork required to create the paper trail to keep track of them, but it also fostered my mother-like pride in seeing some of them having progressed from that cocky little skateboarding 17 year old that I signed up on Day 1 of his new Apprentice Chef job at, let’s say, Moorilla, many years ago, graduating to seeing them being mentioned in dispatches from well-known Melbourne restaurants as producing fabulous food (yes, I’m talking about Klaa!).

But – what about the FOH staff who do exactly the same?

It gets quite confusing, especially as I age and my memory is starting to dissolve into that jelly-like state of uncertainty, when I enter a new restaurant or café, see a familiar face serving there, greet it, then think back to myself, “Hey, isn’t that the waitress from Raincheck?”. It happened to me the first time I went to Pigeon Hole. Thought to myself, “Geez I know that guy so well….where from?”

So what is it that prompts FOH staff to move around so often?

I know with certainty that the following probably sums up the main reason (but am happy to have other reasons added)… conditions.

Remember we’re talking FOH here. Not employer. I’m sure all employers can tell you at least ONE story of a FOH employee who didn’t adhere to the ideal, but that’s a different post for the blog.

Working at different levels, and establishments, provides a FOH worker with either the worst job they have ever had in their lives, or the cushiest. With the same, or similar, job description, you could be serving food in a fast, sleek café (like Oomph); a garden centre (like New Town Station Nursery); an old-style, traditional restaurant (like Lenna); a silver-service, sedately-paced restaurant (like Wrest Point Revolving afternoon tea); a hotel or motel restaurant (like Hobart Midcity, or Mercure); a casual restaurant or café (like Piccolo or Taste Café); an ethic restaurant (Italian, Chinese, Thai, whatever); a private hospital; or a tourism outlet (like Tahune Airwalk or Anvers).

Working in the city brings out the ‘meanness’ in people, I reckon. If they’re going to be shitty, or complain, that’s where you cop most of the flak from. Ideally, you’d want to work somewhere that attracts customers who are relaxed. Where they don’t have to be back at work at 2 pm, or home by 11 pm. Where they’ve made the choice to amble there, under their own steam, with their own agenda and timetable, and voluntarily choose to stop at YOUR venue to eat. It’s probably their holiday. They’re in chill-out mode. Somewhere like cobber Steve’s Red Velvet Lounge.

My son claims working FOH at Ebb Restaurant at Swansea (before they closed down) was a pleasure, and much more like being on holiday yourself. He says by the time people had driven 2 hours from Hobart to Swansea, they had managed to unwind enough to arrive at Ebb and sit down with relief, appreciating the fabulous water views and bush landscape while sipping on a beautiful bottle of wine and relaxing with Darren’s top food. Being one of those people, I heartily concur!

What do YOU think?


Anonymous said...

Most FOH staff are lazy and low achievers. They move around to find either the easiest job with the best pay for least amount of effort required by them. Or they want to work in the trendiest or newest place so they can act all uppity towards us the customers.

Anonymous said...

I worked in hospitality for four years through uni and i worked in two different establishments for that time, each roughly for the same amount of time.

The first two years of my hospitality career was absolutely nightmare ish and i have no idea why i stayed there so long (two years). Perhaps because I didn't have anything else to compare it to. Management was a disgrace and the owners son in particularly was so difficult to work with and such a bad communicator that staff turn around was very high. It was also the type of place that thought nothing of putting people on call and sending them home after two hours if business was slow. I worked mainly bar and the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. In its place is the James Squire bar...

My second place of employment was by no means perfect in comparison but the experiences with management couldn’t have been more different. Staff had a good time at work (some nights maybe even too good a time!) and camaraderie was top notch!!! This place was just down the road from the first place i worked.

Anyway, there are many reasons why people move around in Hospitality and i think commenter one needs to open their mind a bit.

reb said...

How many venues are there in Tasmania that can actually provide a professionally qualified FOH person with a genuine career?

I'd suggest you could count them on one hand.

The reality is that most restaurants in Tassie are only busy on a Friday or Saturday night (or special functions like weddings).

This means the hours are sporadic and unpredictable.

So given that most venues are only busy on Friday/Saturday, how many of these employers can afford to pay a professional FOH individual $40K - $70K per annum?

I would say SFA.

The reality is, that there is no career path potential nor incentive for anyone to choose it as a career path in Tasmania.

So it just amuses me no end, when I read so called "reviewers" and "critics" blab on about how the food was good but the service was shit at Tasmanian restaurants.

Of course, they often predictably cite that Tasmania is somehow "competing with mainland restaurants now".

I mean, is it really?

WTF would think, oh I feel like some foi gras tonight. Should I fly to Melbourne or take my chances in Hobart somewhere?

These reviewers really need to wake up to themselves and realise that "it is only Hobart."

And to be honest, if the food is good, I really couldn't give a rat's arse about whether my entree was served within 10 mins, or whether the FOH staff took my drink order within 2 minutes of arrival or whatever.

In fact, that's one of the qualities I like about mid-range Tassie restaurants - the friendly casuality of the FOH staff - like at RVL.

It's still good service, not some poncey wanky experience you might find at Testuya.

But to be honest, do we really want that?

Anonymous said...

Here’s some food for thought….

During the past few years I’ve waited a lot of tables. I’ve made life long friendships, as well as meeting people briefly, and never seeing them ever again.

I’ve experienced a lot of knock off drink sessions, staff Christmas parties, weddings, wakes, piss ups and other assorted functions. Alcohol and drugs are the best known bonding agents to man.

I’ve also eaten a lot of decent food. Drank a lot of expensive champagne, a lot of top shelf spirits and smoked a lot of cigarettes.

And slept with a load of hot waitresses and chefs. Both at work, and out of work.

The above reasons illustrate exactly why I am in industry. It’s not a career, the wage is never good, business owners are always claiming they make nothing, the restaurant is empty half the time…. Some of the customers are total wankers, suppliers are shit, landlords can be dickheads etc. Business owners cash flow problems quickly become employee cash flow problems when you don’t get paid. When you don’t get your leave, superannuation or overtime entitlements. Yep, you can call the ombudsman. But it’s not really worth losing your job over… especially not in this financial climate.

I’ve also been un employed due to employer bankruptcy, and a landlord refusing to re new a building lease.

Which restaurants and cafes in Hobart actually break even or better? Very few is my guess.

Anonymous said...

good points all.

Its harder than ever these days to make a quid in rest/cafes.

Main reason the new Fair Work awards. Heres an example.
If a business needs a casual for three hours a day on a regular basis, that employee becomes a perm/part timer. This means you MUST aways offer those agreed hours even if the place is dead.
If you decide to make them casual, they cannot appear on the roster and if they do the same 3 hour shift every week-then they are not casual, they are perm/part time.
Trouble is, despite the employee being satisfied with the arrangement that you may not need them because of downturn in trade, you must still pay them even if you send them home.
Bolting a Mon to Frid wage structure onto a seven day a week business does not recognise peak trading times, if fact it penalises operators because of it.
As to the possibility of earning big as a FOH well those jobs are limited to a few high end businesses.
It seems curious to me when the discussion turns to wages and conditions of staff that their is a general reluctance to acknowledge that this locically will have a knock on effect to the price of the goods and services of an establishment.
There is not much left in a $20 bowl of handmade food for the operator after wages, food cost, operating costs etc.
Perhaps its time to make that bowl 25 or 30 dollars?
'But thats too much' I hear you say.
Well food costs money and good food cost more.
OK less people will go out because of this, fine.
Lesser businesses, the ones that regularly raise the ire of commenters on this and other sites will wither on the vine. So be it.
What remains will be businesses that we can all enjoy, be proud of, where staff are paid well, rewarded for excellence and make a living good enough for the opertors to take on the risk and responsibiity of such a venture.

Hazel said...

I don't envy their job at all. But some waiting staff are lovely- even in town. I guess we always notice friendly behaviour in waitresses, FOH. Snooty or uppity FOH behaviour- now that makes me angry- but then I don't think I've ever been rude to them or let them know their behaviour was inappropirate or rude - just didn't leave a tip.

Anonymous said...

When FOH staff are rude to me, I simply look at it as a personal challenge - who can be more rude?

Wages are crap. Most small businesses don't even need the staffing levels they have. The owners just need to work harder, and longer if they want a wage.

Staff cost money - and I don't just mean wages.
- Payroll Tax

- Superannuation Contributions
- Workers Compensation and rehabilitiation insurance

When your in CBD cafe don't expect your server (who is probably on $8 an hour or something stupid) to be OTT friendly and great at their job.

How many FOH professionals are there in tasmania, earning a decent wage and working a 38 hour week? Any? People I know work 50-60 hours a week with hardly any tips and a crap, low, flat rate hourly rate.

Most of your customers are CEO's who earn 100k per year but are unhappy to pay more than $6 for a glass of wine, and if your handmade pasta only uses 80c worth of ingredients, GUESS WHAT they think the price should be 80c.

Anonymous said...

'owners need to work harder'........tosser.

sir grumpy said...

I agree with Reb on many points but reasonable pacing between courses is a decent art.
No one likes long waits!
I think, like small supermarkets and takeaways, small cafes and restaurants need to be increasinly run by one family.
The kids work for the business they hope to inherit and the money stays within the wider family group. Gran and grandad give a helping hand....cousins etc. Teens after school or college muck in, even if it is sweeping up or baling cardboard (I've been there).
It's a policy that has done many a lovely Greek, Italian and Asian place well over the years.

lemon curd said...

Back into the swing of things Rita - I like it :) What a doozy to get your teeth into too...

I think good FOH staff move around because they want to be happy with their job, and try new things (or get bored too easily - my case!). A lot of this movement though is fairly amicable, and so much of it is done using existing contacts/friendships - I can't remember the last time I sat through a job interview.

I respectfully disagree with your point regarding working somewhere that attracts customers who are relaxed. I know you can make even the most stressed mega bitch chill out, just by listening to what they want, and making them feel comfortable (not making sure they have a cushion, but making sure they have what they need around them to feel chilled out ie a coffee made exactly how they wanted it, not how you think they should order it etc). This challenge is so much more rewarding (for me at any rate) than working somewhere where it is cruisy etc. I did it once, thought I just want to work somewhere chilled - I got bored to quickly :) Talk about going from one extreme to the other...

Could do with a stint overlooking Great Oyster Bay in Swansea though, don't get me wrong...

Glad to see you are feeling better?

TG said...

I worked in hospitality for a few years while I was at uni in Adelaide. This was about 20 years ago. I did everything from cappuccinos and iced coffees to silver service. I moved around a lot, and generally the reason I left a restaurant was either because the work dried up (e.g. at the end of summer, or business was poor) or management was too difficult to endure for very long.

In their defence, they were always putting in killer hours in a high pressure environment where it was tough to break even, let alone turn a profit. That's something I was definitely too young to appreciate at the time. It didn't help that the recession we had to have was brewing around then, too.

The toughest place I worked was a city restaurant with a menu heavily slanted toward grilled meats. For some reason that place attracted some very aggressive diners, and the number of disgruntled people who railed at length about the quality of their evening (until they were placated with free desserts/port/wine or all of the above) is something I never came close to experiencing anywhere else.

The easiest place I worked at was an upper crust lunch establishment catering to business people and powerbrokers, who all served themselves from a fancy buffet. There was virtually no a la carte service. I always got to eat whatever I wanted from the buffet myself (after the clientele had finished, naturally) and my work day ran from 10am to around 3-4pm, Monday to Saturday. And I never encountered a less demanding crowd, most of whom were there lunching at least once a week. Not surprisingly, I worked there considerably longer than anywhere else.

sir grumpy said...

After reading a few of these I'm a bit depressed. No one seems to be making money!
Maybe eateries are doomed. Maybe it will be BYO food AND drink.
Only the mass producers will be left, you know the usual fast-food franchise johnnies we all know and don't really love.
Or scaled-back menus...Noodles plus...or rice plus...or spuds plus...with one or two choices and spartan facilities.
Ah, well, there's always cooking and eating at home...always profitable.

Anonymous said...

As the owner/operator of a small food business, I can hapily report that I've had the same team working with me for years. Make your work environment fun, interesting and appropriately challenging and people will want to come to work. We're in an area where the trade is very seasonal. If you communicate with your team and involve them in the business - they will understand and plan for any downturn in hours. We try and be flexible in meeting requirements for days off etc and have been rewarded with loyalty from our staff that still surprises me.
The environment we all operate in isn't easy (just got my 3 monthly Aurora bill - about twice what I thought it would be)and hours are long - but like me, I'm sure many business owners are in this game for reasons other than making stackloads of money - because that isn't going to happen.

cartouche said...

Just thought I would pose a point>.There has been much said about cooking and dining at home.

Suppose you look at it this way. cost of your ingrdients for a decent meal for two would be say $20. Most of you would earn a decent salary of (when you include entitlements etc) of $28 an hour or more. So it takes you an hour to prepare a meal by the time you have washed, peeled, trimmed seasoned and cooked the meal and half an hour to clean up. Add $10 for fuel and electricity (you have to average it out).
Your meal cost $72.
Dine out and people would balk at two mains costing more than $60, and service at top notch.
maybe when you ask what would I work for then you may see the appaling disparity in what a restaurant or cafe charges and what you pay. Its always been a tough game, trick is in knowing how to play it.

Anonymous said...

Cartouche you miss the point its about helping the kids with home work, catching up with work gossip with the husband and ringing the girl friends - all over a glass of wine while cooking.
It is not a chore !
And its way cheaper to cook at home even when using the best & freshest ingredients.


cartouche said...

so your time is free then? fuel, house, phone bill, and your mates all freeload, husband has you do all the domesticities for free. hey when can I move in.
We all do those things for love. But if you put a dollar value on your work, then ask yourself would you work for others for less.

Anonymous said...

Its a very good point cartouche makes about 'doing it for love' and that in most cases people just put a monetary value on their time and effort-its for family so sho does right?
However too often, this sentiment is often used by unscrupulous employers who cite it when an underpaid staff member comes forth questioning their payment for the hours they've worked.
So many people leave this industry because of salaries and the apparently limitless number of hours you are supposed to work for it.
People are often told they'll 'get time off in liew' or when it gets quiet in winter, you can cut back your hours.
Believe me, these things never eventuate. I dont know of a single business that can afford a key staff memeber to be away for too long. When the quiet season does arrive is also the time when most businesses contract their staffing requiremnst so, you guessed it, the salaried people work longer than ever.
Salary in hospitality equates to doing many more hours than you are owed but apparently you do it 'for the love of it'.
But to explain the employer's situation for a moment. In most instances the busy periods of services require enough staff to facilitate the delivery of service. This obviously costs in wages. What most businesses dont do though is pass that cost on to the customer for fear of pricing themselves out of the game. Instead they absorb the cost in in some way, make the staff absorb this cost also by keeping them on a salary.

Anonymous said...

Beware the Mothers Day luncheon!
A chance for venues to overcharge for a set course lunch of dishes with the highest profit margins, oh and a glass of 9th Island

Anonymous said...

This whole website consistently points to the fact that people need to accept they should have to pay more their food experience . Food and wages are expensive but the cost of eating out is not in proportion. Staff get paid fuck all and owners in most cases even less. Google restaurants and profit margins and the statistics are awful.
If you find somewhere that's good support them with your dollar. If it's shit don't go back but they're probably doing it tough anyway so don't make they're life worse by slagging them off. If they're as bad as you think they'll fail. They may be doing their best. Concentrate on the positive and let the market place sort out the rest.
Be nice and just like your mum said if you don't have anything nice to say........

Anonymous said...

Having run a small hospitality business i am So sick of people with no business or hospitality experience complaining about the price of meals. (I don't comment on their income!)

Why aren't there more people sitting around complaining about the $80 they forked out for a crap pair of shoes!

I'd spend my money on a good night out over expensive clothes and shoes any day!

There are enough decent places to eat in Hobart, I just pick a couple and go back there! It takes a while to work my way through the menu anyway!

Anonymous said...

I come from a hospitality background, my family owns restaurants in the north of the state. What I learnt growing up is that if you treat your staff well they will reward you - they will stick around, work hard and ultimately you can have a restaurant that is a success. It all comes hand in hand.

I have worked in many restaurants down south, both fine dining and casual, and I quickly learnt that if treat staff badly and you will have a high turnaround. There is no excuse for bosses to yell at their staff, intimidate them and treat them less then equals. FOH of house staff aren't lazy, but who wants to work hard for bosses that basically treat them disgracefully. Unfortunately it can be hard to find more work and they dont have the freedom of leaving, yet how they are treated can be evident in how they act towards customers.

If you have staff that you treat well, then they will stick around. You then have less stress and do not have the added costs of continuously training new staff. This means if you offer flexible work arrangements, support them in their studies, allow them to keep their tips, offer incentives for reaching targets then they will stay. And if you have a busy restaurant then you can then offer your staff a career, security, which means they will want to stay.

I am sick of people saying there is no money to be made in hospitality. Even in today's financial climate and with the Fair Work Act that is utter bull.

I appreciate good food and good service. And I believe that Hobart has an abundance of restaurants that charge too much. That is why restaurants struggle. There are too many restaurants targeting about 10% of the population that can afford it. That is why their restaurants are half full, they cant afford to keep staff on and they dont achieve any economies of scale. Branch out people - there is nothing wrong with offering a casual dining experience (that is still quality). In fact, you will probably be rewarded by having a restaurant that is successful.

And that doesn't mean when you go to a restaurant that isn't at the top end that you shouldnt expect good service, but the service can be different. It doesn't have to be fine dining, but it can still be good service.

sir grumpy said...

On the other topic, Rita, how are you keeping?
Lady Fair asked me to send you her regards and best wishes for your good health, to add to my own.

Stu of Hobart said...

Very good rest and cafes Hobart
Sweet envy
Pigeon hole
Me Wah
OK rest & cafes Hobart
Raincheck Lounge
Henry Jones
The Source
Not up to it rest & cafes Hobart
Fish 349
Cupping room
Ball n chain
Battery point steakhouse
Very good rest & cafes beyond Hobart
Red velvet Lounge
Lotus eaters
OK rest & cafes Hobart
Peppermint Bay
Not up to it rest & cafes Hobart
Home Hill
Barilla Bay
Just my 2 cents worth

Anonymous said...

People winge about the cost of food in restaurants. My lawyer charges 450 an hour. I bet he is the prick that complains his main course is 40 dollars

Anonymous said...

Oh My God! People feel the need to complain about everything, as a Hospitality worker (for 2 yrs) iam loving the industry that most of you have now stated to be shit. and i intend to make a career out of it. Tasmania may not be the place to become the best waiter you can be, but its a start and shitty customers dont help.. JUST REMEMBER THE CUSTOMER IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!!! sometimes your food is supposed to be like that, you may have to wait 5 minutes for someone to take your order or get your drink... but u wont die waiting.. GEEEZ ppl.. oh and by the way... the wages and tips are great if only all u tasmanians werent such TIGHT ARSES!!

Anonymous said...

OMG last anon, where do you work, let me know and I'll avoid it if your attitude is any indication of the type of service I'm likely to get, maybe you've chosen the wrong career?