March 11, 2019 |
What defines a hero? Definitions in the dictionary would probably include words and phrases such as bravery, courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities. Powerful words that should not be liberally dispensed, but instead reserved for those who really live and breathe these values.
Is it a step too far to suggest that these qualities can be connected with the F&B industry? Last week, this website published an article where a server who had done a good deed was referred to as a hero by his management. Not degrading his commitment to customer service whatsoever, but was the word ‘hero’ overstated in that case?
The industry has gained a somewhat celebrity status over the last decade, spawning a litany of global stars – from chefs who have built restaurant and publishing empires, to TV competition winners who have become social icons. They, along with innovators and investors, have done a lot to push the industry into our collective consciousness. Some amazingly creative and profitable ideas have popped up over the years; some have even passed the test of time and become local institutions.
So are they the heroes of the industry? Should we stand up and applaud them? After all, they have followed a different path than the mainstream and forged their own success. They have not simply fallen into corporate complacency and taken their monthly salary.
Or are the industry heroes all of the servers and back-of-house staff who work tirelessly to serve their customers to the best of their ability? The trio of salmon a la pif paf that you are currently enjoying has been conceptualised, tested, cooked and eventually served by a collective who firmly believe in what they are doing. They have chosen to be in the industry, and hope to progress through the ranks and eventually look back on a career that they have truly loved.
What about our supply chain? Surely the providers deserve credit too as they battle economic, social and climactic odds to increase their output, and ensure that we are eating the freshest and least modified produce possible. Without these farmers, butchers, fisherfolk, and a whole host of support staff, we would still be eating frozen pizzas and Findus pancakes.
I went for lunch to a Thai restaurant in Dubai called Sticky Rice where a lady and one other cooked and served some of the best Thai food I have had outside of Thailand. People with a dream, the ability to cook, and enough understanding to realise that you don’t need a 300sqm rent sucker in DIFC to turn out brilliant food. So are entrepreneurs the real heroes?
It is clear that a lot of people work extremely hard so that their labour can be enjoyed by millions. Some of them are in senior corporate roles and are able to shape the food story of entire nations, while others are just trying to be the best pot washer they can be. There are a lot in the middle too.
But are they heroes? If we go back to our dictionary definition – bravery, courage, achievement and noble qualities – and try to categorise the examples above, we would find it very hard to find a clear hero.
So the real heroes must be those who exemplify those words regardless of position. Someone who has the qualities of our server from last week, who was brave enough to admit he had made a mistake and was willing to own up. Someone like the lady at Sticky Rice who was brave enough to open up a small Thai restaurant in the back of beyond. Someone like Nadiya Hussain, winner of Great British Bakeoff, who entered while being a mother of three children and studying for an Open University degree.
So the real food heroes must be those who portray the characteristics of bravery, have a strong sense of achievement, and possess great ethics while holding the welfare of the industry above their own. An industry that is in the custody of such people is an industry that is in good hands.
As employers, our role is to create more heroes by encouraging people to express themselves, allowing them to take responsibility for their actions without stern penalties, and tasking them with making the industry a better place. If we can do that, we would be heroes too.
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