SAT Bains is one of Britain’s top chefs. His modern British cooking has earned him two Michelin stars and a devoted following in the foodie world. As such, he was a natural choice to cook at the AA Hospitality Awards in London last week.
When I say cook, what I mean is, Sat created the menu. That’s what they do at these big, swanky events. A famous name comes up with a plan to feed the masses and then some nameless banqueting chefs have the job of producing it for a thousand people.
Given that, they do a remarkable job. Sat’s menu was exciting and the food was delicious. What we ate would have been at home on any Michelin menu. How it got to us was another story.
At nearly £200 a ticket, the organisers always feel obliged to make the meal extra-special to justify the price. What they forget is that the food doesn’t come with Michelin service. Instead, it is brought from the kitchen by the army of banqueting staff earning minimum wage to supplement another job.
For us, that meant dropped plates and spilled drinks, but it’s not their fault. I know because I’ve seen it from their side.
As a student, I worked as a waiter in restaurants and occasionally helped out at banqueting events. It was always a nightmare for the staff and potentially for the guests as well.
Back then, training merely consisted on checking you weren’t drunk and didn’t eat from the plate as you took it to the table. Thankfully, things have moved on since then, but the fact remains that front-of-house service is often the poor relation when compared to kitchen skills.
Travel abroad to France and Italy and you will find restaurant service admired as a good career choice. People take pride in the knowledge and ability they bring to the job. Too often here, waiting tables is just seen as a stop-gap until something better comes along. We need to change that attitude.
Wages aren’t the issue. A popular waiter or waitress in a restaurant generating decent tips can make good money. What’s needed is an acknowledgment from the rest of us that it’s a decent job to encourage people to make it a career choice.
If you are in any doubt, try serving dinner tonight by silver service. I never mastered the art of lifting vegetables from dish to plate with only a fork and spoon for assistance, but done well, it is poetry in motion. Done badly, it is peas in your lap and nobody wants that.
Improving service should be important at any time but at this moment in Scotland, it is vital. Given the huge number of visitors expected here for the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming, we must make sure great Scottish food is on the menu at the big events next year.
But ensuring it comes with great Scottish service will help shape how the world remembers Scotland 2014.