All Hail the Workers
Back in 1984, at our first restaurant in Putney, we received a dramatic home office swoop, with immigration officers barring the exits and demanding proof of legality of anyone on site at the time. One hapless Brazilian was deported as a result, but interestingly the Spanish contingent were spared. Spain, not yet a member, was however, on the cusp of acceding to the EEC (as it was then called) and the officials took a lenient line.
What a difference three decades make then, when our staff is made up of any number (nine at the last count) of European countries from Lithuania to Latvia, Poland to Portugal, the alliteration opportunities are plentiful, as are the labour markets to draw from.
Such has been the privilege of employers in the restaurant business since the EU (as it is now known) expanded and created the so called ‘single market’, with its access to bright young Europeans, with energy and willingness to serve and stay. Staying being a critical part of any business success, and not always a guaranteed component in this itinerant sector; so all hail the loyal incumbent.
Brexit sentiment suggested that immigration had unsettled local communities and undermined normally tolerant and welcoming Brits, incensed by the idea that local services became overwhelmed and jobs cheapened as a result of uncontrolled immigration. A fair point in some parts of the country.
But a point that us Londoners, the so called urban elite (purleese!), mistook for intolerance and narrow thinking. So used were we, particularly in the trixie hospitality business, to embracing immigrants willing to work in our unpopular sector, that we blinded ourselves to the genuine unease that fellow countrymen and women in other parts of the country were justifiably feeling.
So, having taken the result on the chin – Remainer to the core was I – what now for our dear and valued workforce, mainly made up of EU immigrants, who have served us so well over the years?
Doubtless their allegiance to the UK will be acknowledged in the tortuous exit negotiations, but spare a thought for their feelings of, at best bewilderment and, at worst, insecurity and uncertainty. And please God, any superiority complex Little Englander mentality is snuffed out before it catches light.
Having extolled the virtues of our wonderful European staff, who have served us (and you!) so well over the years, and, at times, bemoaned the indigenous ineptitude, and or reluctance, of closer to home workers, I have surprising news.
Today we have more UK staff working at The Depot than ever before, and hearteningly they have taken to the hospitality scene, like, well, ducks to water. And who would have thought it? Quite honestly not me, I’d almost given up on the notion that we Brits ‘did service’, but boy, am I happy to have my doubts reversed.
The sceptic in me may say that this new cohort is filling in while seeking ‘proper’ jobs (an old and annoying chestnut, if ever there was one) or coming to terms with the fall out of less useful degrees, but far be it for me to question their motives, we’re delighted by their interest and willingness to buck the trend. Welcome you Brits, long may you serve.
But what I really wanted to convey about this topsy turvy labour market, with its inevitable challenges and occasional frustrations, is this: after thirty years (and counting, but who knows for how much longer) at The Depot, we have been blessed with all sorts of various, varied and above all, valued members of staff, who have come and gone, stayed and remained, served and satisfied and, by and large, given their all.
We salute you from wherever you hail, whichever anthem you sing, whenever you served, and thank you most sincerely for being part of our team, our family and community.
Your contribution over three decades is the life blood of our wonderful restaurant and we simply couldn’t have done it without you.
So it’s au revoir from her, adios from him and cheerio from me…