Hospitality’s reputation as a fit and decent place to work was dealt a hammer blow on Saturday when The Times and many other mainstream media reported on accusations laid at the table of restaurateur and chef Tom Kitchin.
Twelve former employees of the Kitchin Group in communication with The Times journalist Gabriella Bennett told her how they experienced sexual harassment, being abused physically and mentally, denied food, water, lavatory breaks or proper rest during shifts of up to 18 hours.
The Michelin starred chef and restaurateur has made no official comment since the charges were made but The Guardian reports that Peter Southcott, managing director of the Kitchin Group, in a statement on Friday said: “Following allegations of unacceptable behaviour, two senior members of staff have been suspended while these claims are fully and independently investigated. We will not hesitate to take whatever action may be necessary.”
The law states that people are innocent until proven guilty so, we await the outcome and a statement from the Kitchin Group into the validity of the allegations. The claims first arose on social media and continue to be made by individuals backing up the reports in The Guardian and other media including the BBC.
The news breaking follows similar charges being made to the founders and senior management team at brewer and bar operator Brewdog. Brewdog held their hands up straight away not denying anything, but at the same time not acknowledging the claims. A return path to their former ‘punk personified’ culture will be a difficult journey to navigate.
The timing of recent accusations could not come at a worse time for hospitality as there are already acute people and skills shortages and toxic culture headlines in mainstream media will only fuel the reluctance of many to work in hospitality. We spoke with two industry people that face the people and skills dilemma directly and indirectly.
Robert Richardson, CEO, Institute of Hospitality who reflecting on the weekend’s news told us: “The culture of aggressively led working environments has never been acceptable in our, or any other, industry. The recent allegations of toxic working environments in several high profile businesses, and outpouring of support for those affected, should be taken as a warning to operations that engender aggressive-defensive cultures such as these will not be tolerated. Our sector currently suffers from a talent and people shortage, and our people have greater choice on who to work for, and employers that fail to recognise that their people are their biggest asset will soon find themselves at the back of the queue.”
Chef and restaurateur Asma Khan set her stall out clearly on the matter: “I don’t want this to sound like a witch hunt, but it seems there is no last straw when it comes to allegations of abuse in restaurant kitchens. It is almost always a kitchen run in the name of a much celebrated male chef. If you have your name on it- the buck stops with you. Kitchin joins a long list of chefs who will get away with it by hanging out to dry someone lower down in the pecking order.”
Monitoring social media hoteliers were also critical, on twitter Harry Murray MBE, Chairman, Lucknam Park was forthright tweeting: “Bullying, intimidation should not be tolerated. Owners & leaders are responsible for creating environment, culture & values to protect their staff.” Similarly, Andrew Grahame, CEO of the Farncombe Estate tweeted: “Sadly this is a cultural issue that is 100% influenced by the business leader. Every team member, regardless of ability, is precious and bullying has no place in our great industry!” Well said Harry and Andrew.
Hospitality has endured much throughout the pandemic and now faces the largest people and skills crisis in its history.
The shortages have seen many try to form new collaborative groups, countless zoom and teams meetings have seen the many different sectors in hospitality come together to look for remedies, but none have been identified to date.
The problems can be split into two broad categories, historical and pandemic. The pandemic saw historic problems hibernate, but when reopening began on 12 April they awoke. Young UK nationals had tried working in other industries and were staying there. Non UK nationals had been forced to leave the UK post Brexit. With full reopening expected on 19 July there are circa 188,000 job vacancies in hospitality.
With reputation, deserved or undeserved, topping the list of barriers to entry, reports such as the Kitchin Group being accused of long term cultural abuse of people working with them only fuels the problem. How long can hospitality afford to tolerate such behaviour?
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Hospitality & Catering News: Hospitality’s reputation dealt another hammer blow by the Kitchin Group. – 4 July 2021 – Hospitality’s reputation dealt another hammer blow by the Kitchin Group.
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