Too many cooks spoil the service

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THEY pull in the viewers and make celebrities out of their chefs. But one of Scotland's leading restaurant owners last night claimed television cookery programmes have damaged the other vital ingredient in top eateries - the service.

• Shirley Spear in her kitchen at The Three Chimneys. She wants TV to inspire young people to become front of house staff, a vital role in restaurants. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Shirley Spear, who runs the five-star The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye, said not enough young people are going into the hospitality sector willing to provide the link between customers and chefs, threatening potential growth in the industry.

She said high-profile "personality" chefs such as Gordon Ramsay were not the reality in mostly team-orientated Scots restaurants, and that competing purely for Michelin stars neglected those who actually put the plates on the table.

Now she has called for new TV programmes to inspire the next generation of Scots willing to be waiting staff and deliver the top service necessary to keep tourists coming back for more.

"All the emphasis on eating out has been put on chefs rather than the whole experience," she said. "Ambiance, staff and good old maitre d's - it used to be about the whole experience.

"There are the Gordon Ramsay programmes and some of the other ones with very ruthless chefs making names for themselves, and the Michelin-star system is all about the chef.

"These are led by the chef, not the whole team. It's a mistake of chefs to work in isolation and to think of themselves as the kingpin.

"Maybe the chef is the leader of the kitchen for the day and the most important person, but he can't do that without others.

"I think it's contributing to people not wanting to be front of house staff. There's an upturn in young guys who want to be chefs and work at the top end of the market, but they can't all be Michelin stars or run their own restaurant.

"Most aspiring young chefs' main aim in life is to get a Michelin star immediately but they can't do that without the whole team."

She added: "So much importance is put on chefs having personality, but front of house is such a vital connection."

Last week, The Three Chimney's, at Colbost, near Dunvegan, was named by renowned food critic Frank Bruni as one of the five best restaurants in the world on top of more than 30 other accolades.

Spear said most European countries and Canada and the US put more emphasis on front-of-house service, but not in Scotland. She said there would be easily enough material to make a six-part pilot TV programme focusing on the waiting and service side of restaurants in Scotland and promoting it as a career option for young people.

"Most good chefs want to come across as caring and passionate about their work," she said.

"The old school of yelling at people just doesn't happen anymore.

"TV programmes have contributed to the impression of the chef as being the major emphasis within a restaurant.

"But he cannot operate on his own. There's never been any emphasis on placing a sense of importance or pride in the front-of-house side. It's all put on the kitchen side. But both go hand-in-hand."

David Cochrane, chief executive of Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland, said that thousands of people would be needed in the sector in the run up to the Olympics in 2012 and Commonwealth Games and Homecoming in 2014. "The people you see on TV are at the upper end of the market. You don't see all the work that goes into it.

"No chef is going to be well received without the whole other operation of hospitality.

"Scottish hospitality is world renowned - we need to celebrate that internally. In some places in Scotland, there's a slight cultural aspect that young people don't like serving other young people. They find it quite a difficult position to be in."

According to a report earlier this year, the hospitality and tourism sector in Scotland employs about 184,000, or roughly 7 per cent of all jobs in the country.z