The BBC has been talking a lot about trial shifts in bars and restaurants and how they’re exploiting people for free work over that past few days. I don’t believe a word of it!

For me, trial shifts are a key part of the recruitment process, not just in bars and restaurants but in any industry that involves dealing with customers directly.

One of the key parts of the story that the BBC (and I’m sure many others) ran was around prospective workers being brought in for trial shifts to cover regular staff shortages.

Trial shifts are no substitute for experienced staff

Here’s the thing. As a bartender for many years, I know in a bar where you make a decent amount of cocktails at least, having a trial bartender or trainee makes your life harder. To suggest someone could walk in off the street and start serving drinks and filling in for someone who’s off sick, is ridiculous. This is where there is such a void between the understanding of the media and the current state of the bar industry.

The BBC would not allow someone applying to work there just anchor the breakfast show live, because their regular presenter had a cold. Their customers, the audience would never accept that and they wouldn’t take the risk of ruining the trust the station had built with them. Why they think we’d risk the same thing is beyond me.

Does this ever happen?

Listen. I’m not claiming that no-one abuses the system. There are probably some terrible people out there. However, the trial shift system, where a prospective bartender buddies up with a member of staff is a key to hiring the right people. Being able to see the way that someone in the service industry interacts with the public as well as co-workers is vital.

It’s very easy for people to come across well in an interview but when  they have guests waiting they freeze.

Given the recent news the restaurant industry has enough challenges right now with expanding too fast, without the media berating them for a non-issue.

How should it be handled?

I’m a huge fan of the free market. When we heard about businesses in the US not wanting to make wedding cakes for gay marriages, I thought – “That’s fine”. If people dislike that attitude (which I personally do) then they will shop elsewhere. The business will change their policy, or go out of business, or do okay but miss out on  that business. Surely this is the right thing to happen. I don’t support discrimination, but I do that with my spending. Then they can decide if they made the right decision.

In the same way, we can just fix this with more talking. If a bar does abuse trial shifts, then tell other people in the industry and let them decide. If they’re a bar ninja who knows doing a trial will land them a job, fine. If they’re not willing to do a longer trial to get a job they want, that’s fine too. If a business regularly gets people to do trials that don’t end up in a job, then let others know.

I think trial shifts should be a last line of checks, and they shouldn’t need to be that long. You should only get to a trial shift if you’ve aced the interview already. At that point it should basically be a formality unless you lied on your resume and interview and can’t actually do the job. And at that point, its kinda on you.

Trial shifts in bars

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