17:05, 6 December: Updated with comment from Nobu Shoreditch.
World-famous sushi restaurant and hotel chain Nobu is advertising “food and beverage” internships with no mention of salary at its Shoreditch location. The hotel has since said that the opportunity is paid and specifically for hospitality students. Neither of these details feature in the job listing or the application process, which takes place on Nobu’s public access careers site where all jobs are listed.
The listing, shared to Instagram Stories by London chef and restaurateur Missy Flynn and posted both on the group’s website and employment platform LinkedIn at least three months ago, states that the food and beverage intern’s “key responsibilities” include:
- Anticipate guests’ needs, respond promptly and acknowledge all guests
- Maintain positive guest relations at all times.
- Knowledge of Japanese cuisine
- Supporting back of house operation
- Coordinate guest requests, reservations and miscellaneous tasks as required
It begins with: “An exciting opportunity has arisen to join Nobu Hotel Shoreditch. We are seeking a Waiter Intern to join the team at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch. If you are passionate about hospitality then we want to hear from you!” It makes no mention of being paid, or specifically for hospitality students.
The group advertises benefits, all of which are offered to employees. As Flynn points out, they do not include service charge on any tables or guests served as part of the role. There is no mention of expected hours or a contract, both of which make unpaid work illegal; the hotel is also advertising paid roles for waiters, which come with a lengthier and more specific list of duties. The benefits comprise:
- Tasty meals on duty
- 25 percent discount on food and beverage
- Overnight Guest Experience at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch inc dinner and breakfast
- Employee social events
- Family and friends rate for overnight stay
- Rewards and recognition schemes
Other restaurants and hotel groups, including Michelin-starred Hakkasan and worldwide chain Hilton, offer food and beverage internships, but are clearly marked as paid roles, or offered exclusively to undergraduates. Internships do, however, not require paid holiday, which could be used by unscrupulous restaurants to save money as opposed to hiring staff on salaried roles. Nobu says it does give interns holiday entitlement.
Restaurant culture’s relationship with unpaid and low wage work is eternally precarious thanks to the process of staging, which is both a tantalising opportunity for young chefs who can afford to work for free to learn under the tutelage of what deified awards bodies have decided are “the best restaurants in the world,” and a fertile source of free labour for those businesses to maintain those reputations.
Nobu might not be in the World’s 50 Best, and its Mayfair restaurant lost its Michelin star in 2014, but it is still a brand with a certain kind of worldwide clout, whose iconic black cod and miso, Nikkei-style sushi, and dedication to luxury ingredients draws celebrities in by the bucketload. Robert de Niro is an investor in the business that runs the hotels, Nobu Hospitality, also founded by Meir Teper and Nobu restaurant creator Nobu Matsuhisa. It said in 2018 that it aims to reach $1 billion in revenue across its 40+ portfolio by 2023.
Eater contacted Nobu for clarification on the nature of the internship, including whether or not it is paid. The hotel said:
We are offering a paid internship opportunity at Nobu for those looking to further their studies in the industry. We train and develop each student in various aspects of the business including front office, food and beverage, kitchen and sales. We are proud to be one of the many hotels in London that offer internship programs across their departments as well as one of over 200 highly regarded companies that attend the hospitality school career fairs to recruit interns.
Eater has asked for clarification on why the role is not listed as paid, and why a role specifically for hospitality fairs is being advertised publicly. More soon.