Tim Zwart (37) is having dinner with his children as NRC calls him. When he still worked as a cook, that was an exception. “In busy weeks I sometimes worked fifty hours in four days and the next day I was off.” He had known for a few years that he didn’t want to continue this until his retirement. When a packaging company offered him a job as a planner, he resigned as head chef at restaurant Aloha in Rotterdam after twenty years of hospitality work. “I could do fun things there, I earned quite well, but in my new job I can still grow, also financially.” And most importantly: “Finally more time for my family.”
Since September, six of Aloha’s ten permanent full-timers have resigned. Owner Femke Snijders (38) understands. “A job in the hospitality industry is not future-proof,” she says. Snijders has owned the ‘low waste food bar’ in the former swimming paradise Tropicana in Rotterdam since 2013. She works with seasonal products that often come directly from Dutch farmers. Not only meat and fish are processed ‘from head to tail’, almost nothing of the vegetables also ends up in the waste. Everything to work more sustainably in a profitable way. As far as she is concerned, work in the catering industry must also become more sustainable.
People who think about children should not see work in the hospitality industry as an obstacle
It starts with the appreciation of professionals in our economy, she says. “Find a carpenter or an apprentice butcher. The quality of crafts, the pay, the status are a problem everywhere.” In the hospitality industry, the demand for professionals has increased, but they are scarce and many people over thirty are leaving.
Koninklijke Horeca Nederland tried to recruit people last summer with the slogan ‘Working in the catering industry, a party every day’. According to Snijders, this appeals to everything that is wrong in the catering industry. “Hospitality is seen as: fun for a certain phase in your life. Long days of hard work and then drinking and partying.” It is also a destructive phase. “The profession is based on unhealthy values.” Horeca breaks you down, if you want to build something you leave the profession. “People who think about children should not see work in the hospitality industry as an obstacle.”
Cao stops at 4,352.35 euros
Money plays a role in this. The collective labor agreement ends at 4,352.35 euros gross. “I see people in their thirties who still live with roommates. You don’t want that anymore at that age. We are increasing the rewards for good people a bit, but it remains nonsense in the margins. If you don’t start for yourself, you hardly get any further. People want a job in which they have more development prospects, can earn more and do not come home in the middle of the night.”
Top restaurants often don’t offer that perspective either. She tells about a chef who worked at a high gastronomic level in London for a while. Start at nine o’clock in the morning, continue until the last plate is served and then work on developing new dishes, at a salary that you can’t live on in such a city. In New York there is now a counter movement of restaurants where guests do not pay tips, but better salaries are passed on in the prices.
During the lockdowns people started thinking about their future and now they are giving up one by one
But is it enough? Snijders: “We are looking for a good work-life balance, but Aloha often turns out to be a final destination for people in the last phase of their catering life. During the lockdowns, people started thinking about their future and now they are giving up one by one.”
This makes it difficult for restaurants to maintain quality. “It’s all about experience. If people in their thirties leave the catering industry, who will hand over the profession? And what example do young people get who see everyone leaving in their late forties?” Older staff are even scarcer in the ministry. “In Spain, a 50-year-old waiter is normal. But here you really stand out. That shows that it is not seen as a profession.”
More ‘ready mades’ without chefs
Guests in a restaurant may not notice that other parts of the business are being adapted to compensate for the lack of (professional) people. Less variation and creativity on the menu, cheaper ingredients, ordering with a QR code so that no staff has to come to the table. More ‘cheap carbohydrate concepts’, as Snijders calls them, with pizza, pasta or ‘ready mades’ that hardly require any chefs. And in the slightly higher segment: several comparable restaurants within one company, making it easier to shift staff who can perform the same actions everywhere. “The experience for the guest is fine, but the rear has been designed so efficiently that as a cook you copy more than you create. If you only add the cream, you are a factory worker, not a cook,” says Snijders. “I have no value judgment on entrepreneurs who choose this, but it does not make the sector resilient.”
Although guests at more expensive establishments have become more critical of the origin of ingredients, there is hardly any awareness of this among employees. “They often find it too expensive now. I am caught between the well-being of my employees and the unwillingness of guests to pay for it. The entire industry should pass on better rewards in the price of food. And the culture of not paying overtime has to stop.”
Snijders puts his hand into his own bosom. In the first years she was mainly busy getting her business up and running. The website has been showing for a while how local, green and creative the menu is. But it was only recently that a call for new staff stated: ‘More prosperity, well-being and status for all employees in the catering industry! Sustainability and long-term growth are key.’
The plan is there. Including higher salaries, “a loyalty bonus and APKs” to keep people physically and mentally healthy. Pupils can start at the ‘Aloha Academy’, where they learn to cook future-proof and ‘low waste’ in two years. More growth from below should also provide more time for experienced workers to deepen their knowledge. So far, the call has yielded five serious applicants.
In the meantime, Tim Zwart has not regretted his career switch. “It was a great time. But all Christmas at home with the kids – I can get used to it.”
Where are the hands for the hospitality industry?