Service industry workers, Unskilled or Unsung heroes? You decide. (A quick read)

I am sure many of you have sat back in your seat after a wonderful meal and said “right at this moment life doesn’t get better than this.”, without a second thought to the kitchen porters, cleaners, commis and waiters that made it happen.

Perhaps having had to endure the morning commute on your clean train, that first cup of coffee has been your saviour, yet you cannot recall the name of the always positive person who served it to you.

As you sit down at your clean desk having got to your floor because the lights and the lifts worked, you don’t even notice the bin has been emptied. You visit the pristine bathrooms but have probably never acknowledged the housekeeping teams that arrived an hour before you, and will leave hours after you, to ensure your workplace is a pleasurable environment conducive to you and your company achieving results.

Our service teams help the business do business and our people thrive

The legion of hardworking, committed, often lower paid employees are the army of workers who help business do business and people have fun. From facilities and service contractors, hospitality to infrastructure these teams are often overlooked and undervalued because they are not “fee earners” or the “glory boys & girls” as I like to call them.

Kitchen porters are the real rock stars of the kitchen

Priti Patel have you ever spent 8 hours in a hot kitchen wash up area in a basement … I thought not, because if you had, you would not label our KP’s as “unskilled”. Ask the brilliant Jay Rayner; he decided to take on the role for his article in 2015  and concluded that our kitchen porters are rockstars.

Michel Roux explains all meals start and end with the kitchen porter, no matter how well the food is cooked or how many Michelin stars the chef has. If the plate is dirty, it gets sent back.

Do not believe this legion of saviours are uneducated, often it is simply that they use the position to gain their first role while they learn English and then move up the ladder, or because it is flexible enough to work around their studies.

Escoffier, widely proclaimed as the god of chefs, revered his KP’s, often seeing and nurturing their talent. With his most famous kitchen porter, who he later promoted to pastry chef at The Carlton hotel, being Ho chi Minh who sadly had to leave in order to pursue his political ambitions and honour his country. Unskilled…uneducated..? I don’t think so.

The Rock is one of the most popular actors of our time, he also did a stint as a kitchen porter, saying it built character and is probably why he treats people so well today.

Ester Mcvey why aren’t you shouting about the value and worth of waitresses? I seem to remember you were a pretty good one once when I worked with you at Tuttons in Covent Garden.

As a nation we need to start valuing our service teams not taking them for-granted.

The reality is that in this country we do not value our service teams, acknowledge their worth and most importantly their contribution to our economy and overall well-being. Consequently people do not want to join service industries or do these roles, whatever the wage, believing the roles are beneath them. If the government believes the economically inactive within the population should undertake these jobs, perhaps they should start by valuing and singing the praises of these unsung heroes themselves.

Luckily other nations do not have the same negative bias, they view the service industry as an honourable profession, as we all should, that takes a unique skill set to master. It is these groups that have helped our service industries survive, taking on the roles that our home grown teams don’t want to do.

I have loved and continue to love my career in hospitality despite being discouraged to enter it at school.

From a young age I decided hospitality was the career for me despite being discouraged at school, which still happens all too often today. I started waitressing on Brighton seafront age 15, and having worked in hotels, bars, restaurants and Clubs for several decades, I may have worked damn hard but I have also had, and continue to have, a lot of fun. I have learnt valuable life skills, built my confidence, worked my way up to MD and am now the owner of my own business. I travel the globe and meet amazing people who inspire me, many of whom are kitchen porters, cleaners, waiters, receptionists, security teams and chefs. Yet we are not shouting enough about the benefits of our service industries.

How much are you prepared to pay for your meal or coffee?

The government tells us to pay these “unskilled” workers more and reduce hours. We are doing that; wages within hospitality and facilities have increased by an average 4-10% year on year since 2000, with kitchen increases being on average 14.8% year on year. According to some reports, 38% increase in bar wages, reduced hours and four day weeks have become the norm in kitchens on most hospitality rotas and split shifts are dying out increasing wage costs still further along with food costs, rent, rates and insurance, yet the cost of dining out has not increased at the same rate. The maths do not stack up, these steadily increasing costs across the board mean businesses simply cannot afford to stay afloat.

How much are you prepared to pay for your meal or coffee? How many of you use vouchers and discount codes to offset the cost of a meal or stay?

We have 800,000 vacancies across our industry if you fancy a career change Priti Patel.

Do you honestly think by stopping the the flow of overseas workers and their ability to take on “unskilled” roles it will suddenly mean the UK’s unemployed will be queuing at hospitality’s door? Of course not. It will take years for our nation to understand the value and benefits of working in the service industry and what joy can be gained from “making someone’s day”.

In the meantime Priti Patel, we have a few vacancies, about 800,000, if you’ve ever thought of a career change…. but do you have the right skillset? Empathy, tact, commitment, organisation, patience & people skills just to name a few ……we don’t just hire anybody!

Don’t leave it too late before you start to value our unsung heroes.

Only when you can no longer eat out or get your morning coffee because your favourite eaterie or local coffee shop has closed down due to rising costs or lack of employees, or you have to clean your own desk and empty your own bins at work…. will you then start to realise you underestimated the positive contribution these teams make to your day to day well-being and their contribution to the economy. If you do, great, but by then it will be too late.


Mary Jane Flanagan MBPsS Fitol

CEO mjinspire ltd

Hospitality & Facilities champion


Reader Interactions


  1. Don Brook says

    MJ, excellent piece and absolutely spot on. We should understand and indeed acknowledge that the ‘rock stars’ in the service industry go far beyond the celebrity chef. I would hope that more from the UK would take up these sorts of roles but until we, the wider society in the UK, value their service (as they do elsewhere in the world) it is an impossible challenge. Keep these great blogs coming. Kindest Regards, Don

  2. Emma Jayne says

    I absolutely love this article….it perfectly describes the impact of the amazing people of our fabulous industry of which we are all so proud!

  3. Ben McEwen says

    Great piece MJ and completely agree – the hospitality industry offers fabulous opportunities and is accessible to all. A big challenge is going to be shifting away from the negative bias and connotations of servitude in the UK, both deeply rooted in society. I fear we still have alot of work to do!

  4. Hani El Sharkawi says

    Great article MJ! The hard work our colleagues in the hospitality industry perform on a daily basis, in morning, evening and night shifts, on weekdays and weekends often goes unnoticed . We need to change the negative image our industry sometimes still has, show appreciation towards our outstanding employees who delight our guests on a daily basis and tell the world how much fun working in the hospitality industry actually is. I have worked damn hard, but I have lived in different countries, met many interesting people, learned to be flexible, innovative and organised. I have had the opportunity to perform so many different roles and I am still having fun working in one of the most wonderful industries in the world, the hospitality industry!

  5. Rajesj says

    At last someone has put it on paper.
    Beautifully articulated and wish everyone understands.i always called them heart of the house team and mean a lot to us. Be it kp”s, house keeping attendants or fnb associates deserve much more…..

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