No-shows, verbal abuse and customers refusing to follow Covid rules are just some of the stressful things hospitality staff have had to deal with at work during the pandemic.
Horror stories shared with The Big Issue by frontline workers include a front-of-house manager being called a “plate donkey”, a waiter being grabbed by the scruff of the neck “because the toilets were too far away” and punters defecating in the urinals.
Further relaxation of restrictions means yet more changes for hospitality, one of the industries worst hit during the pandemic. In the past 16 months, businesses have had to navigate closures and constantly changing rules, while there’s also a “crippling” staff shortage as workers have departed the industry.
As rules ease, it’s more important than ever to be considerate, patient and respectful to hospitality staff, according to Graham Chalmers, the man behind a campaign called ‘Be Kind To Hospitality’.
Graham, curator of Radisson RED hotel in Glasgow, says: “In hospitality we all want you to have the most amazing time and forget how difficult things have been. Please just remember we are all doing our best. Treat people as you would like to be treated.”
The British Association for Restaurants, Bars and Independents (BARBI) has some straightforward advice for customers as the rules change again.
“Our statement is don’t be a dick,” Adam Brittain, operations director at the organisation which supports around 10,000 hospitality workers and 400 hospitality venues in Bristol and the surrounding areas, tells The Big Issue.
“With everything that’s going to go ahead, some venues are going to want to keep restrictions so it’s just having patience with people.”
We asked hospitality staff what customers can do to treat them with respect. Here’s what they said.
With more booking systems brought in to navigate restrictions, many businesses have seen a steep upturn in no-shows.
Gordon McIntyre, founder of mental health charity Hospitality Health, says this is causing “a great deal of stress and worry for owners and managers” as well as a loss of income.
Polly*, 35, a front-of-house manager, told The Big Issue some customers have booked tables at different venues on the same day then phoned up to ask which one they should choose before cancelling the ones they don’t want. Her restaurant is small and independent so has been unable to manage a booking system that takes deposits. They have lost out financially as a result.
It is “simply unforgivable” to book tables and not turn up, says Graham: “You could genuinely be helping to shut your favourite bar or restaurant permanently.”
‘Treat us with respect’
David Brady, general manager of the Black Parrot bar in central London, urges customers to remember that, like them, staff have just endured a global pandemic.
The 43-year-old, who has worked in the industry for 25 years, tells The Big Issue: “We’ve lost loved ones, we’ve seen colleagues leave the industry and never to come back. Our whole industry is geared to making you feel better and provide a great time and great service so that deserves at least a modicum of respect and good grace.”
Kathy*, 32, who has spent the past six years working in hospitality all over the UK, urges customers to be polite. She says: “Don’t click your fingers. Say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ when you ask for things.”
Simone*, 49, from London, who has worked in hospitality for 30 years, adds: “Treat your servers as equals doing a decent job. Most of our customers do this and we genuinely take pride in providing a great experience.”
It’s worth remembering some people haven’t been able to work because of the pandemic and it may take them some time to get back to speed.
Sam Espensen, co-founder of Espensen Spirit who runs a bar in Bristol, says some workers are feeling “rusty”, while others are struggling with burnout from being overworked. She says: “Keep in mind that we’re on that same rollercoaster that you are. A lot of hospitality staff are neurodivergent, have chronic illnesses or are nervous about restrictions being eased – please remember to give them space and consideration.”
Kathy says it’s good to be mindful of how busy the restaurant is and staffing levels: “Reflect on this before you treat staff as if they are being lazy.”
Ella*, 39, from York, who has been working in hospitality for 14 years, says consider who is serving you: “If this is their first job, bear with them. Everyone starts out somewhere, allow them to grow and be patient.”
If your food doesn’t come out within a few minutes “remember we’re not a fast food chain”, says Polly. “Bear with us, we’re trying our best.”
“People need to realise we are real people with real feelings,” says Ella. “If you shout the chances are that person will be taken off the floor to go and have a cry affecting the rest of the service.”
It’s important to consider that hospitality workers could be struggling with their mental health, says Adam. “There’s a lot of pressure on these people at the moment. They just need a bit of TLC.”
It’s also been really hard for staff to give “service with a smile” when they’re wearing a mask. Polly says: “It hinders all your senses. It’s hard to communicate and people can’t see me smiling – it’s been horrible.”
It’s important to celebrate “when things go well in these difficult times”, according to Graham Suttle, who runs Porter & Rye, The Finnieston and Lebowskis in Glasgow. He recommends tipping and letting the staff know that you’re happy.
Kathy advises to make sure the staff get the tip if you’re paying on card. She says: “Quite often they don’t or the house takes a cut. Bring cash to tip properly.”
Adam also urges anyone who is able to tip to do so. He says: “It goes a long way when these guys are working really long hours.”
You should tip “no matter how basic the service is”, according to David. “These people just lost all their income.”
‘If you have feedback, be constructive’
Shaz*, 44, a London bar owner, who has worked in hospitality for eight years, urges people to try to resolve issues privately before posting a review online.
She says: “Please don’t give a less than favourable review. What takes you virtually no time or responsibility tapping into Google reviews can have such a devastating impact on hospitality owners and their teams; both on morale and for business. It feels like a passive aggressive kick in the guts, particularly now after all the blood sweat and tears to keep things afloat.
“If you have a legitimate issue that you feel you need to air, take it directly to an owner or manager and at least give them a chance to work it out with you.”
Ella recommends speaking to a manager “if it’s truly been terrible”. It’s best to email in and offer constructive advice “not just shout and swear in front of other customers and staff,” she says.
There’s nothing wrong with giving feedback about a negative experience, according to Adam, “but try to be constructive.”
‘Respect the restrictions’
Many workers say some diners have refused to wear masks or have overstayed their booked reservation.
Ella says: “If you have booked your table for two hours. Leave and don’t overstay. Chances are it is booked again afterwards.”
Shaz says: “Don’t be dogmatic pro- or anti-masker or lockdown rules. It’s not our fault the government is confusing.”
Adam advises people to go to places where their values are aligned. He says: “If a venue asks you to wear your mask, please wear your mask or just don’t go there. On the flipside of that, if you’re a customer that is anxious and wants to wear your mask and you’re going to a venue that has decided to lift the restrictions, also be kind to them because they’re just trying to reclaim the business they have lost over the last 18 months.”
*names have been changed
Get career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.