It has crossed the mind of many a barman, waitress or manager at some point that it might be cathartic to write a blog about front-of-house experiences. ‘Foodie’ culture has taken the western world by storm, and its influence can be measured by the popularity of prime-time cookery shows such as MasterChef and the godlike status of celebrity chefs such as Nigella, Gordon and Jamie. Hand-in-hand with this has been the explosive proliferation of food blogs, which do vary in quality, but the best of which are up there with any professional journalistic coverage of the subject matter. The majority of these blogs are by non-professionals; by people who are not chefs but have a passion for food which compels them to spend their free time writing, cooking, experimenting, popping up, and above all, eating, eating, eating. There are, by comparison, relatively few high-profile food blogs by industry professionals, with the exception of those freelance chefs for whom blogging and social media are invaluable methods of advertising.
Even harder to come by are blogs by workers in the ‘other’ front line of the food industry – the front-of-house staff. This is something which has been puzzling me greatly recently. Considering the number of times I’ve heard a world-weary colleague relate a hilarious anecdote about something a particular table said or did that service and then state ‘I should stick all this on a website someday, it’d be comedy genius’, I’d have thought that more front-of-house blogs would exist by now. Some of the incidents you hear about or even experience yourself are so jaw-dropping or side-splitting that on the surface of it, it’s really quite surprising that more staff don’t write them down and publish them.
I started to wonder why this might be. At first I imagined that perhaps the prospective readership would be too exclusive. Surely only other waiters would want to read what a waiter had written about their humdrum daily experiences? But that doesn’t necessarily follow. People are not so narrow-minded as to only want to read about things which come within their range of personal experience – that would invalidate pretty much all novels ever written, for one thing. As long as something is well-written, informative and entertaining, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t reach the widest possible audience.
It’s not there aren’t any brilliant front-of-house bloggers and writers, either. Just look at Nick Gibson of the Drapers Arms in Islington (http://thedrapersarms.tumblr.com/), Fred Sirieix from Galvin at Windows (www.theartofservice.co.uk), or the giggle-inducing Northern Snippet (http://thepublandlady.blogspot.co.uk/). It’s simply that there aren’t enough of them. I just can’t help wondering why this might be. Northern Snippet’s author runs a pub in Northumbria with her head chef husband and regales us with tales of both the joys and the horrors of dealing with the general public in a culture where the customer must always be right. Crucially, she guards her anonymity (and that of her business) as closely as restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin, and this brings us to the next point.
It would be all well and good to write a hilarious, acerbic front-of-house blog with a wide readership, but without anonymity you could end up landing yourself and your restaurant in very hot water. Who wants to go for dinner knowing that their every move might be scrutinised for humorous value, and that if they put a toe out of line they could end up vilified and ridiculed on a popular website? This is why, similarly, a front-of-house blog could quickly skew off course in the wrong hands. You might start writing with the best intentions to convey an impression of your daily life and to provide amusement, but it would be easy to descend into an exercise in customer derision if you allowed yourself to simply rant about who and what had annoyed you that day. Above all you must maintain respect for the customers you are serving, as they are the reason why we are working in this industry in the first place. My colleagues have all witnessed me bashing my head against the wall whilst on the phone to a particularly difficult customer, or heard me squawking with indignation as I put down the receiver and vent at length their bizarre and complicated request or complaint. But these customers, while often exasperating, are fortunately few and far between. If you really can’t stand the majority of the people you are employed to look after, perhaps you should consider a swift career change. Yet surely this is why many front-of-house are put off writing about their experiences – they are afraid of putting their business in a bad light.
It’s a shame that more front-of-house don’t get their angle on the food industry represented more often. Everyone who’s worked behind a bar or in a restaurant has at least one cracking story to tell – when you’re working around copious alcohol but (hopefully) sober yourself, that alone can result in bizarre and amusing situations. Sharing these stories in a wider forum is to be encouraged, as far as I’m concerned, even if it has to be anonymously.