The plight of the victims of temperamentalism in the kitchen, of rude customers and unsympathetic bosses, is in a government-backed survey, Britain at Work, published yesterday that found hotels and restaurants dismissed an astonishing 6 per cent of their staff a year, more than three times the level of any other industry.
As Manuel in Fawlty Towers might testify, working as a waiter can leave a lot to be desired. Charlie Finlayson, 22, who has waited tables for five years, says catering staff are often foils for customers' bad moods.
"Often they come in after a difficult day at work just looking for someone to shout at," he said yesterday. "When there's only five of us on a shift, and 300 hungry customers, we don't appreciate obnoxious comments and insults."
Catering staff may be at the greatest risk of being fired, but they are also the most likely to leave voluntarily, the survey found. The volatile chef Gordon Ramsey, featured on ITV's programme Britain's Most Unbearable Bosses, staged a dramatic walk-out of the Aubergine restaurant in London. Almost 40 per cent of hotel and catering staff resign each year. The industrial average is one in seven employees.
Restaurant and hotel staff are also most likely to suffer work-related injuries. Their places of work are more dangerous than building sites, causing 5.6 injuries compared with 1.4 for site workers.
The pounds 1m survey, the largest workplace study anywhere in the world, questioned 2,200 managers, 1,000 worker representatives and 30,0000 employees. To measure the workforce's general well-being, the researchers looked at resignations, disciplinary sanctions, dismissals, absenteeism, workplace "strife" and injury and illness levels.
In almost half of workplaces, managers said one or more employees had experienced work-related illness in the preceding year. Most common was stress, reported in 30 per cent of workplaces, followed by bone, joint, muscle or limb disorders in 21 per cent.
But in some cases, dissatisfaction may simply result from boredom. Nicky Baker 18, became a receptionist after leaving school unsure of what she wanted to do. She started only eight months ago and she is already frustrated. "I feel like a goldfish in a bowl with too little work to occupy my time," she said yesterday.
One reason for the low morale among workers in hotels and restaurants may be that their professions are not unionised. Unlike the transport and communications business, where 28 per cent of workers take industrial action, no-one working in hotels and restaurants takes this route. Workplaces with union recognition tended to have more stable and productive workforces, the survey found.
Almost half of Britain's workplaces have no trade union members, and in a further 10 per cent there are some union members but no recognised union. Waiters, receptionists and chefs may feel hard done by, but they are less likely than construction and transport workers to moan about a "long hours culture". The survey showed more than a third of managers and a fifth of professionals put in more than 48 hours a week, compared with 12 per cent of hotel and catering staff.
But the majority of employees feel relatively secure at work. One in five said they did not. The most likely to feel insecure are men in full-time jobs who are in the prime of their careers.
Sadly, there does not appear to be an obvious financial incentive for companies to cheer up their employees. The survey concluded there was no clear relationship between economic performance and the well-being of a workforce.
Additional reporting by Georgette Ginn and Gemma LeaderReuse content