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:
It’s a tough time of year for those working in hospitality and guests at Christmas parties behaviour can become pretty outrageous. Be good, have fun, keep your hands to yourself and leave a good tip.— Stevie Parle (@StevieParle) December 15, 2017
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.
That's the end of my custom with @wagamama_uk. Treat your staff with some respect. pic.twitter.com/R3g5Nm4yEe— Ross Greer (@Ross_Greer) December 23, 2017
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:
following reports of a notice posted in our north finchley restaurant we can confirm this was an isolated incident and is strictly not company employment policy. (1/3)— wagamama uk (@wagamama_uk) December 24, 2017
the manager involved feared team member shortages over the festive period and regrettably decided to take this highly unusual approach. as a company we treat all our team with the greatest respect and understand and appreciate the hard work they all do. (2/3)— wagamama uk (@wagamama_uk) December 24, 2017
we sincerely apologise for what has happened and we wish all our team members and customers a very merry christmas and a happy new year (3/3)— wagamama uk (@wagamama_uk) December 24, 2017
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.