Bad Blood: Small City Rivalries & Staff Training


One evening last week, just before midnight, I received a most puzzling email. It concerned a person whom I have never met, from an individual I do not know. It regaled me of the terrible tale of person X, who had been employed by company Y, but had branched out on their own.

It went a little something like this

‘I thought the following information might be useful for you’ (yes very, thank you!)

‘…whilst working at Y this person built up their own social media followers, they worked on their business secretly whilst getting paid by Y, they never tagged Y in their own posts, going against Y’s company social media policy. X stole contacts and information from Y, and has collaborated with people introduced by Y to X. Some of X’s colleagues decided to join X to collaborate on a new venture, rather than to stay.’

 X didn’t know a thing until Y taught them. They invested in X. Y sent X on courses.

The person writing the email ‘feels X should not be supported by anyone’ and that ‘everyone should know the truth’.

Those of us who have built up businesses, and trained and invested in staff would empathise with this predicament. But personally, I have no sympathy whatsoever with the sentiment. It’s a tough old game, hospitality, and there are some things we business owners generally recognise about the staff who come through our doors;

  1.  We can’t afford to pay new recruits terribly well. Consumers want an affordable product, so we have to keep wages relatively low. We know that people may want to move onwards, upwards, or sideways in their career paths.

  2.  Many of our staff are seasonal, or short term, and we are only part of their career journey. We are still hugely grateful to them because it’s bloody tough to find great staff, and we return their dedication in equal measure with training so they can do their jobs well whilst they are here.

  3.  Sometimes people come to us who truly ‘get it’. They want to learn, to be part of the big picture. They want to stay in the industry. My god do we love these people. In kitchens, the chefs we train will create their own dishes in years to come, hugely influenced by the cooking they were taught in their formative years. Some of their dishes might even be similar. Nothing that we learn in hospitality is left behind when we leave.

Investing in staff isn’t a favor we do for them. Our business will thrive upon their learning; we need them to be good at their jobs because, for the time they are with us, they are our business. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read that email I did rather think, ‘that sounds like something I would do.’ The only way we can personally and professionally develop is to work in the field. I’m not condoning the stealing of confidential information. However, from the moment I started my career as a commis waitress, I copied my colleagues relentlessly until I found a better way of doing things. I soaked up information. When I was promoted to a trainee-management position in Bristol, the staff training documents, rota-writing systems, stock rotation sheets and more would all form the basis of my future (new-improved) versions. I knew I would not be working for other people forever. 

 One of my particular gripes with the Cambridge food scene as I’ve watched it develop over the last decade, is the often insular attitudes of local businesses. Too often we forget that competition is a good thing. Concerned that another coffee shop has opened up around the corner? Is it independent? Wonderful! Better up your game. Are you rather miffed that someone’s idea is similar to yours? Is your product the best that it can be? In the end the cream rises to the top. 

Ah, the tyranny of choice. We should all share the goal of strengthening the food, dining and café culture in our little town because we all want better coffee, restaurant options and evening events.  Small city rivalries are born out of resentment and aren’t going help us push on…

 Cities like Melbourne, where dining culture thrives and staff skills are nurtured show us a better way. When consumers refuse to accept mediocre offerings, hospitality employees have a better quality of life: high standards of training and incredible opportunities to nurture their valued skills. Some of those young baristas, waiters, restaurant managers and chefs will become our new generation of independent business owners, helping the city to push on to greater heights. We need to change our attitudes, and give young people a leg up to achieve their potential.

And what of the person who sent me that puzzling email last week? Brief investigations suggest it was written under a false name, and that the author was more closely affiliated with business Y than they let on. I wish nothing but the best for them, and I’m also hopeful for person X’s future endeavours.

I didn’t respond directly to the email, but I’ll be sending them a link to this piece.

Have you worked somewhere in the industry offering brilliant staff training with a real outward-facing approach? Which business owners are working to improve the choices available to people in Cambridge, assisting young people to set up on their own? Do let me know.