A reply to Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham — Frankly gentlemen, pull your damn pants up.

Original article published in SHM: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-hospitality-gurus-unload-on-whining-self-entitled-young-workers-20201119-p56fyo.html

The line ‘the new generation are entitled and lazy’ has been a common cry throughout history. Seeing this narrative perpetrated in the media by two of hospitality’s biggest leaders during a genuine time of crisis in the industry has got me furious.

When I first read the article, I found myself agreeing with Jake and Kenny. I was nodding my head right alongside each quote, ready to put down the ‘lazy youth’ alongside them. Then I took a long hard look at myself — and the environment in which I’d learned this attitude.

Jake and Kenny talk of a movement away from the ‘hospitality of old’ — the same hospitality environment I started out in. It’s one oft described as having angry yelling head chefs and managers who pushed their staff to the limits. Unfortunately, Jake and Kenny’s words only carry the echoes of the very culture they claim to want to move away from.

I’ve been there, I’ve worked in those environments, and I’m sorry to tell you thatit still perpetrates today — albeit on a lesser scale. Comments such as: “Exercise and hard work and diet change really does a lot for mental health. Co-opting blame doesn’t” and “in my experience, the harder you work the better you feel” are only a step backwards if we’re going to correct the nature of the industry.

Let’s not mince around — the hospitality industry is not exactly having a ball right now. With COVID restrictions limiting patron numbers and the added stress on waiters having to check everyone in and ensure there are no breaches the pressures on an already notoriously tight business model are mounting. Let’s not even begin to talk about the lack of staff to go around now that the borders have closed in an industry that has traditionally relied on backpackers and international chefs to fill its roster.

It’s not a pretty equation. Turnover is down, staff costs are up, and to top it off? Finding staff — any staff, let alone experienced staff — is tough.

I’ve started multiple hospitality jobs with the promise of a work life balance, and to be fair, every manager I’ve had has worked hard to keep that promise for all of their staff. There are bad eggs, and always will be, but the majority of managers and owners in this business always mean the best.

But when the figures get tight, it so often all screeches to a halt.

It starts small. From a few extra hours here or there, to extra shifts. All this is fine — if you’re just in hospitality for the money. Even better if you were like me (or Jake or Kenny I’d hazard a guess) and you wanted to move up the food chain. Great! A chance to prove yourself to management. But for the majority of casual staff — those who use hospitality as a means to an end to get enough cash to get through school, or just as a part time job while they pursue other interests or even to support themselves while they care for another — this is untenable. Work-life balance is unachievable.

When a business is under stress, especially in hospitality, a ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality persists. This is usually fine — there is something undeniably beautiful about a close-knit venue, where staff feel like family. It is not fine when staff are made to feel guilty for putting in enough hours or asking for time off. It is not up to managers, or indeed owners as I’ve seen many a manager pushed to breaking point for these same reasons, to determine what staff do when they are not in the venue.

Lazy people pop up in every industry, it’s just a fact of life. However, let’s not paint an entire generation for the actions of a few.

So what’s the solution here? I’m no economic genius and I don’t have the answer, but I do know it’s certainly not dunking down on those you’re meant to set an example for.

Quite frankly gentlemen, screw your heads back on. You’re in a position where you can make a difference in the industry, so stop whining about it and get to changing.



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SJ Wood

SJ Wood

Hospitality professional who likes to tinker with words. Ex Manager @ The Soda Factory, Rosie Campbell's, The Rook, and Jamie's Italian Australia.