No one should be ashamed to be a waiter by Emma Underwood

The Staff Canteen

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood on why everyone that works front of house should be proud.

Last month Galway hosted the yearly symposium, Food on the Edge, a two-day event discussing the future of food. Normally all the speakers are chefs, but this year saw restaurant manager Didier Fertilati talk about the importance of front of house. The main focus of the discussion was about how ‘nobody should be ashamed to be a waiter’, the first time such a topic has been highlighted at the event. While it is great to finally see front of house the platform it deserves, it is a shame it’s been such a long time in the making.

quote 2The message Fertilati has portrayed is vital, everyone that works front of house should be proud. The job is difficult, it requires quick-thinking and multi-tasking all while dealing with one of the most unpredictable elements in any workplace: people. It can, however, be one of the most rewarding careers possible.

With immediate gratification and endless scope for progression and learning, for the right person working front of house is an amazing occupation. One of the most satisfying aspects of my career is helping the junior waiters within the team properly fall in love with their jobs.

This all raises the question however, why do so few people regard working front of house as a viable career choice? The two issues that are usually the main obstacles are working hours, and the fact that many in this country view being a waiter as a servile occupation.

The former is now, in many cases, no longer relevant. All of the front of house at Stem work no more than 48-hours a week, and this is the standard for many restaurants. While those hours are often deemed as being ‘unsociable’, typically demanding evening and weekend shifts, for the majority of us the opposite is actually true.

Many of my friends also work in this industry, and we know well the joy of socialising while others are working with long Wednesday lunches and easy to get Tuesday evening reservations at sought after restaurants that would be impossible at the weekend. Working in restaurants can actually give flexible working hours, as shift patterns can be as regular or irregular as necessary within the right environment.

emma quoteThe ‘servile’ view of waiters, however, is one that is a little more difficult to address. Last week I spent the day at Oxford Brookes University as a mentor for their Hospitality department. It was an event in which all the mentors and mentees for the 2018/19 academic year met with one another, and it was incredible to see so many students passionate about this industry.

They all knew well the rewards and benefits that their awaiting careers in hospitality will bring to them, but the vast majority of them were from overseas. It seems that it is mainly this country that is so slow to recognise front of house as a valuable occupation.

With Brexit looming inevitably bringing about a shortage of international workers, it is now more vital than ever that this issue is addressed. The obvious solution is an increase in hospitality education in high schools, but with the staffing crisis deepening we can only hope that this happens imminently.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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Editor 14th November 2018

No one should be ashamed to be a waiter by Emma Underwood