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How sincere are we regarding hospitality apprenticeships?

We recently had reason to research the world of apprenticeships in Europe, and some of our discoveries raised concerns. In the U.K., for example, last month we concluded a week-or-so-long national apprenticeship period. Sadly, it was poorly promoted, and we have yet to meet a party who knew of its existence.

It is not surprising, therefore — if perhaps unfair — that some suspect that apprenticeships are mainly politically motivated and massage the unemployment statistics. Pity, as the initiative is a good one and warrants further attention.

A Google exercise reveals lists of charities and quasi U.K. government bodies that have lots of great digital marketing and few specific opportunities. Those that do deliver tend to be centered around the typical historical skill sets of practical crafts such as joinery and engineering.

In European hospitality there are good kitchen-craft apprentice opportunities that are well supported by several academies and chefs such as Brian Turner. They work tirelessly to support talented youth entering the business.

Where the whole thing seems to fall apart is in marketing the front-of-house opportunities in restaurants — particularly when it comes to the craft of waiting tables. Perhaps this is why in the U.K. we sometimes find staff who do not know a Burgundy from a Bordeaux and many other basics including a lack of confidence and a stilted delivery. We feel that perhaps the apprenticeship approach needs to be changed — especially to be made more attractive to the employer. This may involve finding different ways to deliver the learning piece, including day release, which can be expensive and inconvenient to the establishment. The apprentice may also have to be more flexible.

We have always been impressed with U.S. front-of-house operations and cannot help wondering if there are some lessons to be learned. Several successful restaurants in London seem to benefit from a more U.S.-orientated approach and are not shy of adapting a modern style whilst maintaining the important traditional values that customers across all generations desire.

Rather than just moaning about this, we intend to get involved and support the effort to bring true craftsmanship back into front-of-house restaurant operations across all levels. Education has succeeded in creating perhaps even an oversupply of strong management programs. It is time to deal with the sharp end and help real enthusiasm and talent be developed on the shop floor where real product touches the customer.

Your advice and experience would be most welcome.

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