Where did all the waiters go?

1915 waiter

As we mark the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War on 4 August 1914, it is worth looking at the impact on the UK hospitality industry.

We still have the early Monthly Reports, from December 1913, of the Incorporated Association of Hotels and Restaurants, the BHA’s name in its formative years. The August 1914 issue reported that Mr D B Hedderwick, the Secretary (and indeed all the association’s staff) had been called up to serve with the 2nd County of London Yeomanry. A later issue noted that he had left for Egypt with his regiment and was being given six months’ leave of absence on full salary- his temporary replacement was hired for £2 a week.The main interest of members in those early war months was in replacing the waiting, cooking and other staff who had either volunteered or, in the case of the many Austrian and German hotel and restaurant staff, particularly in London, had been dismissed and presumably in some cases interned.Volunteers included “Forty Men from Simpson’s” praised in a poem in the press that August for their patriotism in volunteering, while other men ‘played the waiting game.’ But all of this left the industry very short of staff, a point picked up by an article in The Yorkshire Post on 25 August:“There have always been a good many mistaken notions as to the reason why so many London waiters and hotel servants are foreigners. How mistaken they are is now exposed by the plight in which many large hotels find themselves. They are proclaiming their inability to find English cooks and waiters to replace the foreign ones who are gone. …There are now more places going begging than there are competent people to fill them. The truth is that the profession of cook or waiter is not very much of an English profession. For one reason or another our boys do not look on it as a suitable business to take up… If it is to be patriotic to be served at table by an Englishman, we must really prepare Englishmen to be ready and able to serve.”Has anyone seen or heard those sentiments more recently?

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