A few weeks before Christmas I was excited to have an opportunity to work a busy Saturday afternoon on ‘work experience’ at the award-winning Redroaster in Brighton, a popular bar and cafe well-known for their bottomless brunch by day, and authentic Thai BBQ by night serving craft beers, cocktails and wines complemented by funky music.

The whole thing came about following a discussion with owner Diana Palmer, who challenged me to spend an afternoon to experience the modern hospitality sector during difficult times as the industry tries to survive COVID-19.  As the Managing Director of Whitehead-Ross Education, we deliver a variety of hospitality-related courses and qualifications.  One of my biggest criticisms of our training sector is that the qualifications are often dated and do not keep up with latest trends.  The same applies to the workforce delivering the courses.  Everyone can teach theory but how often do trainers get their hands dirty and do the job for the day to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date?  If everyone is honest with themselves, probably not often enough.


I rocked up at 1pm to a busy AA COVID-19 accredited bar cafe, where the cocktails were flowing and the kitchen was in full steam.  Once dressed in my newly purchased black t-shirt and having washed my hands, to my horror I was shown behind the bar.  My drink making skills had previously been limited to pouring a G&T and opening a bottle of wine at home.  I was given a crash course, by staff rushed off their feet, on how to make the various pitchers of cocktails.  For the next 5 hours I worked quickly as the orders flooded in and before I knew it I was making three different cocktails simultaneously.  Doing a walk around to every table to see if they were happy punters was particularly good fun in making small talk and keeping everyone smiling.


So what did I learn?  Whilst it was great fun for 5 hours, I was shattered at the end of it from being stood on my feet for so long in the same spot.  Smiling for so long and looking happy was also exhausting, but one thing I noticed was how energetic the team were and supportive towards each other.  One thing, reflecting on my experience, that struck me that hasn’t yet made it into the qualification content, which is set by the awarding bodies such as City and Guilds, is that there is no recognition of delivering hospitality services within COVID-19 restrictions.  Witnessing how the hospitality sector has adapted so quickly shows the resilience of the sector, especially as it is the norm now.


In conclusion, my ‘work experience’ reminded me of the importance that everyone in the training and education sector (whatever their job role) needs to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date.  I came away with some ideas about how we can enhance our programmes to ensure learners are receiving the best training possible.  It was 5 hours well spent, even if my feet disagree.


Ian Ross is Managing Director of Whitehead-Ross Education, an independent training provider, supporting unemployed individuals across Brighton, Swindon, Dorset, Worcester, Herefordshire, Somerset, East Cornwall and South Wales.

Work Experience for Leaders