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Chronicles from restaurants: how the catering industry DOESN’T change

Work and catering

By Federico Ingemi

"L’estate sta finendo e un anno se ne va...": No more exodus on highways, no air strike to counter, even the terrible "costume test" has been more or less overcome. The problems of the summer become memories, can now go on stage the drama of the return to routine. The curtain also falls on the issue of catering workers: it will be thawed only close to the winter season, and then fall back into oblivion. Press and well-known faces of Italian cuisine underline the shortage of waiters, chefs and bartenders; young people not willing to accept fairy-tale contracts in the name of "Saturday night off". The point of view of entrepreneurs is clear, but what is the point of who works in this sector? We listened to the stories of some boys and girls working in the catering industry.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Il Fatto Quotidiano (@ilfattoquotidianoit)

Marco graduated from a hotel institute; the almost useless curricular internships have put him to the test: do I really want to do this in the future? The first works are not regulated, there was a flat fee of thirty euros per service: that lasted six, eight or ten hours little mattered. Normality in many realities, especially for beginners. Then the first significant experience: a starred offers him to become head pastry chef. One hundred euros monthly for six hours a day; the reality was quite different: times doubled, very tight rhythms and little respect for the latest arrival. He accepted because he was hungry to learn, to live up to the other chefs, but especially because some names are important for CV.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Munchies Italia (@munchies_italia)

After the season, Marco is now trained and specialized, unfortunately the restaurateurs he meets don’t recognize his qualities. Who proposes him roles of responsibility for six hundred euros, who does not pay him: all experiences that shape his character, that teach him to relate to the people in the sector. It lasts a few months, then another turning point: a year in a restaurant where he works day and night, poorly paid. It served him because "if today I work well, it is thanks to this experience": moved by passion, he meets at night with colleagues to try new recipes. If you professionally feel ready to hold the reins of a kitchen, it psychologically is destroyed.

The kitchen is a stressful environment, in which the actual wage-hour ratio worked is far from fair. There are no holidays (even to say, never increased), there is no gratification and human relationships are not always the best. Today Marco is twenty-six years old, for nine months he has worked in an important restaurant in Dubai, where the treatment is completely different. Eight hours a day (there is a badge, a rare animal in the industry), two days off a week, economic and professional satisfaction: another planet. He does not exclude the return to Italy, he has the dream of opening a place of his own.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Munchies Italia (@munchies_italia)

In the catering galaxy there is no shortage of casual workers, those that the voucher system had to protect and that instead exposed them more to illegal work.

Chiara, 24, a student of food technology; she also had to deal with this system in the first jobs of the weekend. She is called to a catering, where for three years she works without a contract: a heavy job that often involves travel, paid one hundred euros per service. The average of hours is almost always around twelve to thirteen. The relationship with colleagues and with the owner is good, until the family management of the company takes over: Chiara gets a contract, but the pay is lower, the surcharges begin to disappear and the interpersonal relationships are broken. He has experienced that friendship with employers can be a double-edged sword: if on the one hand a nice climate is established, on the other hand it becomes difficult to say "no" or emphasize problems.

She decides to accept a new job as a waitress in a farmhouse where, after three months without contract, she is hired on call, which turns out to be a useless piece of paper: in almost a year of employment, in fact, it turns out that she never went to work. In addition, only on paper is free not to accept a call: to the first refusals due to university commitments, the employers are upset. She is not the only one in her situation; like you, other colleagues. Chiara continues in this field only to maintain her studies: it is a job that she believes, in the long term, does not do for anyone.

 
 
 
 
 
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Fortunately, not all enterprises are equal; there are those who, like Giulia, have met correct realities. Twenty-seven years old, she studied educational sciences; she worked in a restaurant as a waitress and bartender: she was hired without experience and immediately with a contract on call, then always respected. The experience, though tiring, has taught her a lot about how to deal with people, especially customers. She would return to work in the catering environment, but not for long: the pace does not bother her, but the little free time she would have.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Munchies Italia (@munchies_italia)

Those of Marco, Chiara and Giulia are just some of the realities that lie behind the bar counters or in the kitchen. The collection of these testimonies does not aim to demonize entrepreneurs: it is clear that there is a problem of job taxation that makes hiring difficult, This in no way justifies the exploitation of workers who often accept absurd conditions out of necessity. Hearing the reasons and problems of the two parties is perhaps the way to improve conditions for all.