From one George to another, 45 years later

In the summer of 1972, as I slipped on my first set of chef’s whites – which my dear mother had starched to the point where my jacket felt like it was made from plywood – I felt proud, excited and a little nervous at the prospect of at last being able to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a chef (and never being hungry again). I was prepared to enter the legendary kitchens of one of Edinburgh’s most iconic and expensive hotels, which interestingly enough was also called The George, located in the very elegant and very expensive George Street.  

Fast forward 45 years, and I am still wearing white, but this time it’s a mildly starched white shirt, and believe it or not, I am still at The George, but this time it’s The George Lagos, where I often reminisce and contemplate the many changes in our industry since I became an apprentice of the culinary arts. It’s also where I often think about the hotel pricing and salary changes that have taken place since then, many of which have been astronomical, and hopefully of some interest to other “well-seasoned” readers of this blog.

For example, a one-night stay in a small standard room at The George Edinburgh in 1972 was 10 Scottish pounds, or US$13, while here at The George Lagos, our smallest classic room currently sells for 300 pounds, or US$395.

The set menu lunch at The George Edinburgh in 1972, featuring appetizer (Scotch egg or Scotch broth) fish course (Sole Bonne Femme or Scallops Mornay), main course (Roast Angus beef, or Roast Scottish Lamb, or Haggis, neeps and tatties) and pudding (rhubarb tart with custard, or Scottish cheeses with oatcakes), was priced at 2 Scottish pounds, (very expensive at that time). Here at the George Lagos, our Sunday lunch buffet is currently priced at US$60, or 45 Scottish pounds.

The most popular drinks at The George Edinburgh’s famous long bar in 1972 were single malt whiskies for the locals, and Gordon’s gin and tonics for the English visitors, both priced at 20 pence, or 30 cents, or thereabouts, while those very same drinks here at the George Lagos currently sell for US$15, including cashew nuts, plantain chips and spicy salsa.    

But perhaps the most interesting comparison between 1972 and 2017 is the fact that my first weekly pay packet at the George Edinburgh was 8 Scottish pounds, while a new generation of young chefs are now being offered 8 pounds an hour, as you can see from the advertisement sent to me recently by the Celtic Manor’s Culinary Director Peter Fuchs, a former (executive chef) colleague and good friend from my time managing the operations of Rosewood’s Al Faisaliah Riyadh in 2006. 

What this means is that while I toiled and boiled in a poorly ventilated Edinburgh kitchen back in 1972 for 8 pounds a week, new culinary recruits are being offered 320 pounds a week in 2017 to learn their craft in cool and comfortable modern Welsh kitchens.

I shared this comparison with my son John, who will be enrolling next year in a hotel school in Bangkok, and thereafter quite likely to be toiling and boiling himself in a hot and steaming hotel kitchen for his first internship, and I must say, he found it all quite amusing.

He then asked me what he might have to pay a commis chef 40 years from now using the same pace of growth. Well, who knows, but if you use the same formula, then the commis chefs of 2062 can probably expect to earn… John, you work it out, you always were pretty good at math, but it’s probably going to be several thousand pounds a week.

And the price of a room at the George Edinburgh, or the George Lagos in 2062? Your guess is as good as mine, but who cares? Most of us will have checked out and checked into Hotel Paradiso by then.