I took part because I felt the event might have been under-represented by privately-run, small businesses, of which we have so many operating successfully in Scotland.
There are amazing career opportunities for young people within our small hospitality enterprises. Indeed, the whole of Scotland’s vital tourism industry would be a desolate place without them and they need to have a voice in the career stakes.
Having worked in the business for almost 30 years, I know from first-hand experience how difficult it is to recruit people with passion for food and drink to some of the high-end, but small, hotels and restaurants that exist all over the country.
There are obvious pitfalls, especially for outlets in remote locations – they don’t attract those looking for inspired nightlife, and there are also issues concerning travel, housing and moving away from family and friends.
It is understandable that these reasons may be insurmountable for some, but it hasn’t stopped successful businesses developing in these areas.
Indeed, a remote location and spectacular scenery can be very desirable for people who love the great outdoors.
Up until a few years ago, the emphasis was upon finding and training chefs.
Our educational establishments listened and took great strides in changing the courses they provided, encouraging many bright young people into this occupation. With the equally welcome change of attitude towards serving excellence on a plate and using fresh, local ingredients, there are now countless opportunities for young chefs to make a great career.
Much less emphasis has been placed upon the hugely important front-of-house role, and I dearly wish we can alter the status of this brilliant career opportunity for young Scots.
For far too long we have neglected the importance of the role of waiter in our restaurants.
Chefs are rarely seen by their adoring customers. They work on the other side of the swing door – not centre stage in the theatre that is a restaurant on a busy night.
Being a waiter (I mean waitress too) is a starring role, with highly professional skills and experience required to take the best people to the top.
The knowledge needed by waiters not only concerns the food served, how it is prepared and cooked, where it is sourced and what wines to serve with it, but also understanding people – the customers – and meeting their requirements.
A waiter becomes an ambassador for his or her restaurant or hotel, its location and, above all, an ambassador for Scotland. A good waiter is also a brilliant communicator, a wonderful host with good knowledge and outstanding organisational skills.
These are all fantastic attributes to have throughout life and to gain these skills is a good start to any career.
Having and taking pride in one’s work develops strength of character. Dealing with the public, whether friendly or difficult, develops people skills of the very best kind.
Team effort prevails at all times, but in a small business there is also an enormous opportunity for excellent waiting staff to shine as individuals. A top waiter is the star of every good restaurant’s performance.
Scotland is dependent upon its tourism industry, which has contributed on a massive scale to the development of our country over the past 200 years.
That’s why a great start in a career in hospitality and tourism can be a significant building block, a foundation leading to much more in the future.
These are fantastic skills to have throughout life and a good start in any career.
With the great plans in store for Scotland over the next few years, there will be huge opportunities for today’s young people, training and learning now, to take the main stage in management positions soon.
I hope, of course, that today’s trainees will stay in Scotland, but the whole world becomes their oyster: work and travel is a definite possibilty.
My mission is to create a better status for this exciting trade. For too long it has been looked down upon by too many, including teachers, parents and young people who believe – incorrectly – that it is a lowly profession and not worth considering. I get very frustrated by those who still point to low pay, long hours and unsociable work as reasons for not getting involved.
With so many fixed working practices in place, such as working times, minimum wage and statutory holidays, all of which must be adhered to, our industry can no longer be dismissed as unworthy for bright, ambitious young Scots.
The very opposite is true, particularly within the lively network of privately-run hotels and restaurants throughout Scotland. I know that I speak for many business owners when I say that we are all desperate for good people to come and join our teams.