There is a saying in German that roughly translates as ‘if you can’t do anything else, go into hospitality’. It is said to date back to the Middle Ages when innkeeping was one of the few trades that did not belong to the established guilds. The saying may have persisted because in German it is a clever play on words, but it certainly has no substance today. ‘To be a successful restaurateur, you need a wide range of industry-specific and general business skills and expertise, and you need to be extremely good at dealing with people’, says Hans Schneider. He manages the Landgasthof Riesengebirge in Neuhof an der Zenn near Nuremberg and is the chairman of the Federal Committee for Vocational Education and Training at DEHOGA, the German hotel and restaurant association.
Not a 9-to-5 job
Schneider counters common preconceptions with a nuanced approach: ‘Every industry sector and every job have good sides and bad sides. Newcomers to the profession must decide for themselves what is most important to them.’ He cites working hours as an example for the hospitality industry: ‘You have to accept that it’s not a 9-to-5 job.’ But working when other people are off and having free time while most people are at work does have its advantages, such as being able to attend doctor appointments without having to take a day off, and running errands or doing fun things without having to stand in long queues. Long-term rotas also make it possible to combine a job in the hospitality industry with family life, especially for single parents.
Alexander Aisenbrey, CEO of the Öschberghof resort in Donaueschingen, sees having to work weekends as a necessary evil. ‘If you call a restaurant and book a table to celebrate an important birthday, the restaurateur doesn’t say, “Yes, of course. We can fit you in at 9am on Monday morning; that’s when my employees like working most”. You’d think he was mad, because you want to celebrate on Saturday night.’ One change that policymakers could introduce to provide an important incentive would be allowing employers to pay higher tax-free bonuses for evening and weekend shifts. But Aisenbrey also points to the social value of work in the hospitality industry and wonders why this is not more widely recognised. ‘Why do we say working hours are “bad” when someone works so that others can enjoy themselves?’
Staff management and pay
‘Hospitality is often reduced to poor working hours, poor pay and poor management. There is a lack of appreciation for our profession and for service in general. But pay is changing, compared to retail or healthcare,’ says Aisenbrey. ‘And there is a whole package of additional benefits that tends to get overlooked. Food, drink, work clothing, often opportunities for sports activities, and of course tips.’ On the subject of staff management in the hospitality industry, he admits that an abrasive tone was completely normal in the past. ‘I have experienced it myself and I don’t understand it at all. Why should I have to work with people yelling at me?’ But the work climate has changed a lot in recent years. ‘The leadership mentality has changed. It is up to our industry to make sure we continue in this direction.’ Heiner Raschhofer, the brains behind the Austrian Soulkitchen Group, agrees. Given the shortage of skilled workers, no one can afford to use this tone in the kitchen anymore. ‘I believe it is definitely dying out.’
Raschhofer adds: ‘When performed with passion, service is an art. Anyone keeping 40 or 50 people happy is carrying more than just plates – they have a great deal of responsibility resting on their shoulders.’
Alexander Aisenbrey says it is important to show appreciation for colleagues by giving them appropriate job titles. He prefers ‘host’ over ‘waiter’ or ‘service staff’. He explains: ‘An employee just does his job. A host, on the other hand, feels personally responsible for the guests. You need product knowledge; you can help with the wine selection. You can have fun in a great team and with happy guests. This is what matters: this spirit.’
Opportunities for career advancement
‘One fairly unique aspect of our industry sector is that the majority of business owners and managers began as apprentices and worked their way up’, says restaurateur and Chairman of the Federal Committee for Vocational Education and Training at DEHOGA, Hans Schneider. ‘This is even true of general managers in major hotels or hotel groups.’ Heiner Raschhofer agrees: ‘Hospitality is the perfect industry for someone who wants to make it big. No other sector offers better opportunities for rising quickly through the ranks, all the way up to running your own business.’ Restaurateurs should therefore offer their skilled staff attractive career plans.
So, is hospitality really the career for those who can’t do anything else? Not according to Raschhofer. To be successful in hospitality you need a good head for business, be good at marketing, have strong communication skills, be good at people management, and be well versed in law in general and employment law in particular. ‘I could go on. It is a very complex business, and this old prejudice is completely misplaced.’
Hans Schneider has some advice for anyone considering a career in the industry: ‘Take a very close look at the prospective training company. Look at social media and whether it has been certified as a ‘TOP training company. Ideally, do an internship or a trial period there first. Then you can see the reality for yourself and ignore the negative preconceptions.’