I’m eavesdropping on the pre-service line-up at Davies and Brook in Claridge’s, a huddle of 20 or so staff led by general manager Anneka Brooks. Usually, line-ups are a chance to catch up on new dishes or prep for VIP guests. This one is a little different. Alongside menu updates and points of service, the team is sharing thoughts and fears and making affirmations in ways you’d expect at group therapy.
First point of order (denoted by “Caught Smashing It” on the agenda) is a round of applause for two servers who performed exceptionally the night before. On the theme of “Friendship At Work”, a waiter talks about how a colleague lent him a philosophy book “about life, love and tackling emotions” and another swapped holidays with him “at a time I really needed it”. “It’s really important to have that connection,” someone else says. “You should be super-proud of yourselves,” concludes Brooks, before everyone whoops and disperses. As Brooks tells me, supporting and uplifting her team is an essential part of her job.
Over the past 18 months, restaurants have been reckoning with how they attract, retain and treat their staff. Labour shortages are rife, particularly in the UK post-Brexit. Morale and welfare have become key concerns. For teams returning from furlough, restaurants have been throwing parties as a means of rebuilding community and letting off steam. Among them was HonestFest, staged in a field in Reading for Honest Burgers’ 600-plus staff: it featured live music, street food, CBD cocktails, dodgems, a dunk tank, a “Total Wipeout” obstacle course, even a tattooist. “I don’t know if anyone got a burger tattoo,” co-founder Philip Eeles reports. “I kind of hope they didn’t.”