22 December 2022

'Tis the season to be jolly (and kind to Canberra's hospitality industry)

| Lucy Ridge
Venue in Baddon

The silly season is no excuse for rudeness. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The silly season is well and truly upon us. It seems like every time I visit a bar, pub or restaurant there’s a horde of work colleagues in Santa hats making questionable life choices. My calendar is quickly filling up with invitations to end-of-year drinks, dinners with friends who are ‘just in town for a holiday’, and all manner of seasonal festivities at venues all over Canberra.

It’s not long since I was on the other side of the counter. As a chef, I spent many a December sweating over a hot stove and serving food for rowdy groups exuberantly pulling crackers.

My Christmas wish – and frankly, my wish year round – is for everyone to cut a little slack to hospitality workers.

People in a beer garden

December is a busy time in the hospitality industry. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Speaking with folks in the industry, I hear a consistent message: it’s impossible to get enough staff.

Pre-COVID, when I was still in the kitchen, it was already a serious issue for the industry. In saying this, I have to acknowledge that I am a prime example of the problem: an experienced hospitality worker who was unemployed during the pandemic found other work and didn’t go back. And it’s not so simple to find replacements for all the ‘ex-hospos’ like me.

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Not many people realise that the hospitality industry in Australia relies heavily on international staff to function, and businesses lost a lot of those workers when visa restrictions and a lack of government support in 2020 forced people to return home or find other work. And as a university town, Canberra also loses a big chunk of its casual worker population when interstate or international students go home for the holidays.

And then consider the wave of COVID-19 cases putting holes in rosters all over town. Hospitality workers have a lot of face-to-face contact with people so every shift comes with the possibility of contracting a spicy cough.

All these factors have left many Canberra bars, restaurants and cafes running with an overworked skeleton crew.

Bar in Braddon

Hopscotch in Braddon has hosted plenty of Christmas functions. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

To be clear: I am not suggesting we all stop dining out in the month of December. PLEASE keep visiting your favourite local businesses: they’ve had some crappy years and could really use the support, and we all deserve a drink or two to celebrate the end of the year. But there are definitely a few things everyone can do to be a better customer.

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My first piece of advice is evergreen and extremely simple. If you have a water glass in front of you, finish it before you leave. It’s much easier for waitstaff to stack up a load of empty glasses than to make multiple trips with half-full cups or, worse, have to mop up the consequences of a classic stack’n’spill. It’s a two-second task that actually benefits you – hello, hydration! – and makes life easier for staff.

Staff at The Old Canberra Inn got into the Christmas spirit this week. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

If you make a booking: keep it. And for goodness sake, don’t ghost the venue if you really, truly, honestly can’t get there. Making a quick phone call or jumping on whatever app you used to book is a courtesy that you can well afford. And it allows the venue to give your table to someone who will use it rather than keeping it free for you and turning people away.

Christmas parties and large group gatherings are noisy at best and completely chaotic at worst. If you find yourself at an unruly Christmas do, please rein in the shenanigans and overindulgence just a touch. If you bring presents or decorations, clean up after yourself. Waitstaff have enough to do without the bits of tinsel and torn shreds of wrapping paper from the inter-office secret Santa littering their dining room.

So if your food takes a little longer to arrive, or the opening hours of the bar are reduced, or the staff look a little more frazzled than usual, just be nice.

‘Tis the season to be considerate. Fa la la la la, la la la la …

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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