Poles? They make terrible waiters, says celebrity chef

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The Independent Online

They are almost universally admired for their work ethic, as well as their readiness to do jobs that British people shun, including waiting on tables. But, according to celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, the problem with the Polish immigrant waiters is that they don't speak English and are paid too much.

Worrall Thompson, star of television's Ready Steady Cook and owner of two London restaurants has launched a blistering attack on the standards of waiter service among the new wave of eastern European migrants, mostly from Poland.

His comments provoked a wave of counter criticism from the Polish community, trade unions and elsewhere in the restaurant world, accusing him of unfair treatment of a people whose contribution to the economy has been widely praised.

The chef told an interviewer in Square Meal magazine: "The service here, frankly, is shit. Lots of people from eastern Europe and elsewhere come here and work in restaurants without having the level of English or the skills they should have."

He suggested one way of making waiters more enthusiastic would be to get rid of the minimum wage, so waiters would have to rely more upon tips. "It's amazing the great service you get from staff who are out to earn tips."

He stressed yesterday he had been quoted "slightly out of context". He said: "I was speaking about the industry in general suffering from cheap competition from abroad. I know Polish people work incredibly hard, a lot of my colleagues speak very highly of them and we actively seek them for our restaurants - although I don't think there are any working there at the moment - but my point was that a lot do not speak English and they need to do so before they can work in establishments of a certain level."

Worrall Thompson accepted that many restaurants had traditionally employed French or Italian-speaking waiting staff because British people were loath to take the jobs. "But we have seen a revolution in the kitchens and you can barely find a French head chef in London. So why can't the British discover the profession of waiting?"

Jan Woroniecki, owner of two acclaimed Polish restaurants in London, Baltic and Wodka, said: "This is just stupid xenophobia. The whole of the catering industry in London is in deep debt to Polish people. I know I have an interest in saying so, but, as far as I am concerned, Polish people are very efficient and hard-working."

A Polish-born waitress at Baltic, Magda Mackowiak, 29, who has worked in London for eight years, said: "Of course, the language skills can be a bit poor but most Polish waiting staff go to school in the mornings to improve their English and work hard in the evenings. And the service they give is always 100 per cent. We never get complaints, English people always like us and we love them."

Ania Heasley, who runs a web-based employment agency for Polish people and supplies waiting staff to restaurants and other catering jobs, said: "This is the complete opposite of everything I have experienced. We get many repeat requests for Polish staff who show everybody else what the standard is."

A trade union also criticised Worrall Thompson, who is a Conservative supporter, for undermining the minimum wage. Ed Blissett, the London secretary of the GMB, said: "Perhaps Mr Worrall Thompson should go back to waiting on tables to see how difficult it is to survive on the minimum wage. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable."