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Wagamama Had a Christmas to Forget

New year, new labour practices

The noodle chain was embroiled in an employment scandal over Christmas
Wagamama | Instagram

Wagamama, the UK Japanese chain with some 129 stores across the country, has a simple resolution for 2018: no more employment scandals, preferably as a result of clarifying and tightening its labour procedures.

Working in hospitality at Christmas is a labour both physical and emotional: hours are often longer, parties are often rowdier, and the licentious nature of the time of year is a grim incubator for the already pervasive nature of restaurant harassment:

With many restaurants and employees likely already under strain, the below was posted to Twitter on 23 December by Ross Greer, a MSP for the Green Party in Scotland. It had previously been posted to Facebook by the trade union, Unite.

Reaction was predictable and justified: (possibly former) customers were up in arms over such an unreasonable demand, with numerous threats of boycott and appeals for the manager responsible to be fired. The store in question is in North Finchley, part of a larger leisure complex. Wagamama’s response was swift, but did not put concerns to bed:

The story broke over a week ago, and following the chain apology things have inevitably quietened down. There are a few telling factors: Wagamama have not moved to clarify what their sick leave practices are; the uproar was paired with a resigned lack of surprise; the manager’s fear of “team member shortages” has largely gone unexamined. While the threat of disciplinary action for calling in sick is utterly improper, the systemic pressures — not just from Wagamama, but from the hospitality model — on managers and staff cannot be ignored in favour of blind anger. A manager taking a “highly unusual approach” is acting in the context of what Wagamama’s systems imply is acceptable and/or required to fulfil duties; a “fear” of team member shortages — and their consequences — says something about the restaurants’ culture at large.

There’s also the irony that the chain are loud, proud advocates for environmental sustainability. CEO Jane Holbrook, who has been in the post for 11 months, is a member of Friends of the Earth; waste food is anaerobically composted; their restaurants claim to have a zero emission rating. These are positive things, to be sure: sustainable restaurants must look within as well as without, though. While Wagamama will hopefully be resolving to improve their labour practice, a resolution to cover the London restaurant labour beat more closely wouldn’t go amiss either. Let’s start here.


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