Some food for thought on job morale
Although a foreigner, I’m truly Chinese in one respect: I see food, from preparation to consumption, as the cornerstone of good living.
This love goes back to my mom’s cooking, and to the many restaurants in my home country, as well as in China and across the globe, where I’ve enjoyed the bounty of the fields and the fruit of skilled labor.
In Beijing and elsewhere in the food-adoring Middle Kingdom, you’ll find chefs who, judging from their scrumptious results, work miracles each time they light a fire in the kitchen.
Yet, despite the fact we rely so heavily on their good graces, these often unsung heroes — who bring joy to our breakfast, lunch and din-
This Day, That Year
ner tables — generally work in seemingly intolerable conditions for pay and benefits far below what they deserve.
Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that these workers who sweat and toil in steamy kitchens, who serve us and clear our tables and who endure so much to ensure our daily dining happiness, have something in spades that most of us in other lines of work do not.
That characteristic, my friends, is camaraderie.
I realized this recently when, well past closing time, I passed a shrimp hotpot restaurant near my home and saw the doors fly open as the employees, finally finished with their cleaning and countless other chores, emerged and began to walk home.
They had a bounce in their step, they walked arm in arm, and they genuinely liked one another, teasing and poking and laughing.
I recalled my own days working in a hamburger res- taurant, leaning over a hot grill and scraping it clean after each batch of burgers, garnishing buns with pickles and lettuce and onions whose scent clung for hours, and standing over bubbling grease waiting for french fries to reach perfection.
When our shift ended, we gathered as a group and headed off for the same boisterous banter that I witnessed that recent night in Beijing.
In contrast, a good friend in China told me of her boyfriend’s company, which organizes “team-building” exercises each weekend in an effort to create this very camaraderie.
Good luck with that. Circumstances, not planning, make these bonds that seem unbreakable.
We all probably wish we shared this magical trait in the workplace. But aside from the military, firefighting, police work and the medical profession — all of which involve high stress and life-or-death situations — the restaurant industry is one of the few places where true camaraderie seems to manifest naturally.
They meet the public’s every demand (preferably with a smile), endlessly strive for quality and cleanliness, and endure extreme temperatures, loud noises and constantly spattered, soaked or stained clothing. But notice next time you dine how restaurant crews generally draw together.
Camaraderie, that elusive workplace commodity, usually comes at a high price. These friendships, after all, are forged in a fire most of us could not endure.
Contact the writer at jameshealy@ chinadaily.com.cn
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