Opinion: The barrier between guests and staff has got too big. Let’s break it down

Things are not getting any easier for pubs, cafés and restaurants. Good chefs and kitchen staff are increasingly hard to find and cook under intense pressure. Front-of-housers and bartenders work long hours for small financial rewards, while their career choices are seen as second-class options by much of the public.

Meanwhile, customers’ expectations are sky high. Over the years we have been encouraged to think of ourselves as all-knowing critics, sharing our harsh judgements on TripAdvisor and social media. Sometimes these comments are justified but in many cases they are not. Rather than being constructive, they are designed to wound.

At the same time, business rates bite hard, rents remain challenging and no-shows are on the rise.

The media has not helped. First Gordon Ramsay turned it into a sport to treat people in hospitality abusively. Then MasterChef transformed us all into “experts” who stand in judgement over the wannabes who must please us. Diners are the masters; cooks and waiters are the slaves. This narrative has fed into the way restaurants and pubs present themselves day to day. A constant gloss is applied to live up to the image – which pushes diners’ expectations up yet further.

We need to break the cycle. Pubs and restaurants must communicate more honestly with customers, showing them the reality behind the gloss rather than covering up whenever there’s a problem. Guests would then better understand why the occasional less-than-perfect experience is inevitable. They would also get a better grasp of the realities – financial and practical – of running a pub, café or restaurant.

“Sorry, the head chef is off sick tonight.”

“We’re under a bit of pressure in the kitchen tonight.”

“The sous chef has burnt his hand – bear with us.”

Restaurants should say things like this to customers more. Communicate with candour. Let’s break down the barrier between guests and staff by all being honest with each other, while also being as supportive as possible.

The author:

Matt lives in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He is passionate about the independent food & drink sector and founded Great Food Club in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town.