management consists in valuing not only those who manage to distinguish
themselves, but also those who fail or find difficulties in being understood.
Indeed, an important point concerning professional activity is to agree
on its orientation and priorities. Otherwise, people misunderstand, and
there is a risk, for employees, of being judged as unable or unskilled.
The assessors may be wrong.
The case of French cooks is especially representative. In a country renowned
for its gastronomy, they aim and train to work among the prestigious top
end of the trade. But when discovering the day to day constraints of their
activity (significant physical effort, difficult working hours and sometimes
limited pay), they may decide to move towards more common restaurants,
among which are the public ones.
Working for chain restaurants or cafeterias, they rapidly manifest the
symptoms of a “dominated” or “disenchanted” occupation. Expressing a desire
for social advancement which has been constructed through their primary
socialisation (childhood and initial training), they may seek refuge in
idyllic ambitions which company policies seem unable to counter.
For example, many of them tend to prove themselves that they are still
able to cook with traditional and prestigious ingredients (such as langouste,
liver pâté, and morel mushrooms), whatever the budgetary constraints
are. Alternatively, they ask for a “brigade”, while their managers expect
them to deal with financial issues, that is working with a very small,
and sometimes non-qualified team. They also have to promote ordinary dishes
while they prefer to respect the Escoffier model and its little evocating
non-explicit names, in order to impress their customers or even their hierarchy.
The different ways they adopt, in order not to lose their professionalism
or integrity, has been analysed, especially in the institutional foodservices
cafeteria context, through sociological and psychological models of professional
identities. In France, this professional context is representative because
it concerns 55 % of employed cooks. But often being associated with public
services or administrations, schools, hospitals and even jails, they are
under estimated and therefore suffer from a very poor image. This is one
of the aspects that makes it difficult for cooks to carry out their jobs
as they always have to justify their professional reorientation perceived
as an egoistic choice or as the obvious recognition of a professional incapacity.
The domestic and educational socialisation of French cooks explains the
difficulty, in this given profession, of making a career choice that is
deemed contrary to the norm, which itself is perceived as socially prestigious.
These two aspects, that will need to be developed further during the Conference,
could be summarised in the following way :
Concerning the first aspect, it is important to clearly understand the
cook’s domestic socialisation. With the exception of those whose family
background is in the hotel and catering sector, the professional ideals
cherished by pupils when choosing their studies are far from the professional
reality. They tend to view the sector from the standpoint of the consumers
that they are, rather than from a professional standpoint.
Even the popular press tends to promote the image of luxury hotel and catering,
and feeds a widespread belief that the job opportunities available in hotel
and catering are unlimited both in number and quality, so much so that
the working classes can climb the social ladder, especially in the most
prestigious aspects of the profession.
After the domestic socialisation, the cook’s educational socialisation
clearly reinforces students’ ambition to serve the upper class as a means
of getting revenge on the dominating classes. Even in America, a document
listing Hotel Training Programs uses the expression “rags to riches”, to
summarise and encourage this frequent ambition.
and catering training, often providing protection against unemployment,
is also presented as offering rapid career development opportunities, in
a sector that is known for the low overall level of qualifications. However,
although it is true that the sector is regularly seeking new recruits,
this is generally due to the very high staff turnover rate and the fact
that it attracts massive amounts of young people, to whom it offers no
real possibilities for career development, with the exception of the kitchen
A growing number of job opportunities are those offered by cafeterias and
restaurant chains, where the traditional part of the work now has to be
accompanied by a modern management approach, financial concerns and, above
all, by a standardised customer focus. At the same time, teachers tend
to resist the two main chain orientations: the “general public” orientation,
considered to be non-prestigious, and the “industrial” concept, which could
challenge their very role. They thus tend to hide behind art for the benefit
of the most traditional aspects of the profession, for which they combine
both admiration and suspicion (because traditional restaurants represent
a risk of student exploitation or at least, because traditional chefs usually
prefer to keep their own professional knowhow rather than sharing it).
Young cooks also confirm their motivation for social advancement imagined
via an access to a superior culture -culinary art- which at once
represents a personal decision to serve the dominant classes and a negation
of the domestic practices of one’s original social class. Working in this
profession, they often take the habit of imitating their well-heeled guests
(consuming expensive produce, keeping their own wine cellar, making ostentatious
preparations when playing host…). Indeed, imitating professional practices
outside the workplace is a kind of norm by which cooks recognise each other.
When playing host to friends, they will go to time-consuming efforts in
preparing and selecting the freshest possible products from targeted suppliers
whom they know personally. The hope of social advancement or revenge is
never far away, and they complain of their clients’ behaviour, such as
bad manners or disdain, because it especially appears as a brutal reminder
of their original social position.
Another important socialisation anchorage is the way the “artist chefs”
are valued by the media system, and especially on television. It leads
cooks to dream about fame, which is nearly impossible in large companies,
and especially in mass catering.
For HRD managers, this cook’s ambitions, even impossible to realise, have
to be taken into account in the daily decisions. For instance, when cooks
ask to have training courses, they usually do not ask to be taught the
techniques they could use in their activity (for example, to learn the
latest techniques to cook frozen products such as vegetables or fish without
losing too much flavour and weight). They prefer instead to be taught prestigious
techniques in a renowned chef’s restaurant, whatever the use they will
do of these techniques later. HRD managers can therefore decide to compromise
on the training aims depending on their priorities, either to have a hands-on
course to gain practical techniques, or to encourage cooks by a kind of
non-operational, but motivating, incentive.
The same difficulties appear in all HRD decisions. For example, concerning
the way professional objectives are defined, or the way employees are assessed
by their supervisors. And even in large international companies such as
Compass Group or Sodexho, there is always an hesitation between the two
strategies. Senior management and R&D tend to give a greater priority
to the technical and practical orientation, while field supervisors tend
to be attached to traditional techniques and to resist any kind of change.
In this context, HRD managers have the uncomfortable position of being
the referee. The most difficult point is certainly to define what value
to address, with the risk of widening the gap rather than bridging it.