Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Let them have crumbs

'A rewarding career in hospitality and culinary arts' reads the headline of an ad for a hotel management institute. One of many hundreds which have sprung up all over India.

You would think, yes, there is a huge demand for hotel management professionals. And chefs in particular, looking at the rise of speciality restaurants and their exotic offerings. At truly exotic prices!

I recently met a girl who came to Bombay all the way from Assam because she always wanted to be in the hotel industry. She joined the 'Craft Course in Baking and Confectionary' at Sophia Polytech in Mumbai. This course is 1 year, full time and open to anyone who's completed HSC with 45% marks. But many, like this girl, choose to take it up after graduation.

During that one year you'll learn everything from the science of yeast to the "eight golden rules of recipe balancing". You become well versed with cookies, international desserts, shape cakes and Christmas cakes.

It's little wonder that students are highly regarded in the industry and land internships with prestigious 5 star hotels. Here, they slog from 6 am to 7 pm, training under experienced chefs to create new and varied sweet temptations. "We prepare 9 dessserts a day and don't repeat them for a whole week!"

It's back breaking, physical work although in pleasant and aromatic surroundings. During the trainee period you get paid a stipend of Rs 500 which does not even cover your to and fro travel. If you do well, you may be offered a job - at Rs 45,000 p.a. or Rs 4000 per month!

That's an amount that won't even get you a decent PG in Bombay these days. Unless you share the room with someone!

Well, maybe this is the price you pay to learn the tricks of the trade. The intern sighs and says,"Someone who's worked here 2 years gets Rs 6000... " And this is for a 12 hour shift which could be morning, afternoon or late evening.

This girl plans to pack up her bags, go back home and set up her own cake making business. But the question that bothers me is why - why should the hotel industry be so exploitative?

A single pastry at the hotel cake shop sells for Rs 80 and desserts Rs 200 upwards. Surely if trainees and junior bakers are paid a little more, it won't hurt them. Are they simply not bothered about attrition?

Because the hotel industry is booming in India, but hotel management graduates are on rather unhappy with their prospects. From the non-culinary side, many are joining BPOs and other 'service industries'. Those in the cooking side of things aren't as mobile but veering towards foreign cruise liners or starting their own catering business.

No doubt - if you stick on with a big hotel and make it through the struggle - you will eventually be rewarded. But are young people today willing to wait that long?

On the other hand we have the MBA. Forget final job placements. A student from a prestigious MBA institute would get Rs 12-15,000 p.m. as a summer trainee. And he/ she would spend the two months fooling around with xl worksheets doing an 'industry analysis'.

This girl, who can make the most luscious cakes and desserts (I've had some and can vouch for it!) can't dream of getting Rs 12-15,000 even after 3 years of slog in a 5 star hotel.

Remember how Marie Antoinette once sparked off a revolution with her "Let them eat cake... " statement? Well, someday we may see 'cake labour' rise up and declare, "Let them eat XL sheets!"

pic: from


  1. Hi Rashmi,

    Well said :),unforunately this is the case everywhere,especially in India...

    You don't pay for the coffee as much, as you pay for the foam !!

  2. Isn't it so with most creative fields everywhere? As an intern at a fashion mag in NY, I was paid $6/hour that barely covered my rent. The entry level jobs in journalism/media start at $28-$32K P.A, as opposed to the business majors who make $50-$55K P.A.

  3. as a former HM graduate I agree totally !

    I never thought the day would come when chefs leave the kitchen (somewhere in the Hotel industry, it's considered a 'vocation' to be a chef and others a job!) but even chefs are exiting the hotel business into BPOs

    check this post out

  4. Hey,
    I cldnt agree with u more!!!
    I also am a graduate of catering college and then did my MBA coz the profession is highly exploitative and pays extremely low!!
    In fact in some ways its inhuman the amount of work we were made to do and yet the salary we took home wasnt even enugh to feed us for a mth!

  5. Rashmi,
    You ve hit the bulls eye...!!
    My roomie is a for one of the biggest names in the hotel industry in the country and works from 5 AM to 11 AM and hardly makes any money..!!
    Maybe left should approach these poor people for their next rade unions coz these guys need it..!!

  6. Rs 500 per month? That is the closest one could get to organized exploitation.

    One of the big problem with hospitality industry, inclusive of the stand-alone restaurants, is that it is cyclical in nature. In bad times, the industry bleeds profusely as the maintance cost remains almost same even if the business is thanda. And good times may not really last long. One remote warning of bird flu is raised, and business nosedives immediately.

  7. I do agree with u!
    but exploitation is not only in catering or hm in india its every where!

  8. I am absolutely bowled by this one. And it really is beyond me, how the hotel industry manages to fool their employees for even the three years when they are thrown crumbs. And as you write, for people who actually bring so much pleasure with a tangible offering, it is really criminal. But the big shocker is that we don't see more people from the industry venture out to do their own thing. Even there, it seems to be the investment bankers and the likes who are opening up eateries:)

  9. I disagree with ur comments on the Summer Trainee fooling around with XL sheets during summers, doing industry analysis as u say, many smart companies get lot of work done in the 12-15K bracket, its up to the company to utilise them well.
    Its sad that such a statement comes from an MBA herself !!

  10. Its sad but true that this Walmartisation(very low remuneration for its employees) is happening in Indian hospitality industry.
    I think the problem is manifold.
    There are plethora of institutes in India offering courses in hotel management(HM) and not many are reputed. As a result there is more supply than the requirment of these HM grads.So obviously the bargaining power is with the employers.

  11. Good to see, Youth Curry blogs once again becoming more issue centric than people centric( as was the case a few weeks back).

    But Rashmi, one issue that was just touched and no further digs were made at it was , the attrition problems that the hospitrality industry could face due to low salaries being offered.

    My take at this is- all the companies in the industry pay only according to the returns they expect. If an MBA is highly paid for working on XL sheets (considered as an easy job by many) then the company would definitely be getting returns out of it else they wont pay that much.

    and as the above guy mentioned the supply of HM graduates being more than demand, the it seems apt here since that makes the industry not very vulnerable to attrition since even if somebody leaves because of low salary then u get more than 1 to replace.

    So if we could have more on the aspect why the indutry dosent wants to pay them high besides earning good returs from the products from these employees then may be we could look at both the perspectives.

    But anyways a good post.

  12. i was working in the HR dpt of a 5 star hotel as an Hr trainee fr a month. And yes, i do agree with u. The trainees are thoroughly exploited. They are made to work their arse off and in return are paid hardly anything.

  13. Simple solution.. Save up or borrow some money and buy some hotel company stocks like Indian Hotels or ITC. If the whole industry is exploiting its workers, then the companies will be profitable and declare regular dividends.


    I am a business school graduate.

  14. Sad but true.When have true artists been ever valued in our country?If not for Sanjeev Kapoor and his likes,Hotel Mgt guys would've been paid even lesser

  15. Rs 500 a month .. pphhewwww!!
    i got tht perday during my internship .
    Boy these people are exploited.. &
    Thnks 4 bringing the issue to notice Rashmi .

  16. this is extremely shocking.. thanks Rashmi for bringing out in the open.. Rs.500 per month!.. and even a full time employee getting Rs.4k .. thats junk..

    .. the "bare minimum" cost of living in a city like bangalore or bombay would be 6-7k per month (stay and food).. this is serious exploitation by the hotel industry.. and as pointed out in many of the previous comments, this is not limited to the hotel industry alone.

    there are very few professions in INdia which pay you well enough to keep up with rising costs - MBA, IT, medicine, law to mention a few.. quite a lot of the others are a real struggle..

    And i also agree with Rashmi that there are some professions where if u persist for 3-4 years that its very rewarding (Architecture and interior decoration are a few examples).. but is it really worth the wait (not to mention the risk)??

    Regardless.. I compliment Rashmi on an eye-opening blog.. keep up the good work..

  17. My idea.. a few of those interns get together, start their own pastry shop, sell them at less than half the rates that the shops sell, and give them serious competition.

    Consumer benefits, Hotel mgmt interns also benefit.

    But 4000 per month.. what are these hotel industries thinking?? Anyway, hotel industry in India is still stuck in that old mindset of commie days.. thats what it seemed to me even before reading this post.

  18. I really dont see what the problem is. First of all, 5 star hotels have to pay huge taxes and provide for a lot of infrastructure which the damn state dosent provide despite all the damn taxes it takes. This increases their cost. Then they have to put up with breakage of crockery, cutlery, changing the table cloths and carpets and the wood in the restaurants and run the ac when nobody is there and all that. And the fact is, nobody needs a damn catering institute to know how to bake a good cake. There are millions of people who can make the best cakes at their homes, espescially among the christians in mumbai and they run their one man operations out of small shops which have been passed down over generations over hundreds of years and hence their establishment cost is negligible, probably even less than the electricity bill that a a small restaurant in a 5 star has to pay. And a good baker in one of those bakeries would get not more than Rs 3-4k even after working for more than 10 years. If 5 stars have to compete against all these guys, they have to work only on the wages which they are giving plus their skill is only one which only pays as much as they are getting paid in the market. I dont think 5 stars can afford to pay 20 k to a cook in their hotel without making the normal bakers and small restaurants go on strike and causing a big issue..after all, change can happen only slowly and even if 5 stars want to change the wage structure, it will take time for them to do so and they cannot do it overnight. And the day the cake baking class tells us that we can eat excel sheets, we will stop eating cakes and start eating rotis and dal rice made at home.

  19. the software industry doesnt offer fat paypackets for nothing. even as an intern, im slogging my ass off staring at a monitor, sitting in the same place for twelve hours.
    apart from that, i have to spend time updating myself on the latest concepts and softwares.
    even so, my company makes more profit than five-star hotels and cafe coffee day, and uses lesser workforce. they can _afford_ to pay me a stipend of 12k for two months.
    not anyone can write code without studying for four years, the same way anyone can bake a cake.
    if you're so worried about bakers, why dont you take up the cause of doctors?
    they spend five years [minimum] studying for their degree, intern at a hospital for nuts, then slog twenty years off before they can finally ask for a fee of Rs. 150 for prescribing a crocin, all this after having paid not less than ten lakhs for their education.
    they work round the clock, on their feet the whole time, can't fool around with their jobs, and still get peanuts.

    btw, that was a dee-lic-ious pic on the page.

  20. Your logic is crap.
    Wouldn't like to add more. Am tired.

  21. Hi Rashmi,

    Your logic doesnt really make sense, salary in any industry is not based on the effort but on the value added. A mason building a bridge work much harder than a Techie in a S/w firm (Physically) but what matters is the market value of that work.

    I am an ardent follower of your blog, but this logic took be aback.



  22. @cb & sandeep

    The essence of this blog is not about comparing professions but about showing how colleges attract innocent students into hotel management courses, which have gloomy future prospects.

  23. @sandeep

    "A mason building a bridge work much harder than a Techie in a S/w firm (Physically) but what matters is the market value of that work."

    That coz the S/W guy is working for a Western Client, if S/w people were working for only Indian clients then their pay would be in the same category as other low paid occupations regardless of the nature of work.

    India on a whole doesnot have a fair living wage system

    And thats why i logged out of it inspite being a MBA.

  24. software companies dont have to invest as much as other industries. the returns are high, whether the companies are indian or otherwise. so they can afford to pay high salaries.
    the hospitality sector in india is first of all a luxury-based business, which doesnt really make for high returns, on top of which it is highly disorganized. you cant blame anyone for their low wages. it's an unfortunate situation, and i guess will take time to get sorted out.

  25. eye opening ... the hotel industry is taking undue advantage of the shortage of good hotels in India ... govt should open up this sector for private/foreign invenstment so that these 5-star types get plenty of comeptetion and their rates fall as well as salaries to their staff goes up ...

    this sector could prove to be a very big employement provider ... but as usual our dear govt can only talk of hindu/muslim brahmin/dalit mandir/masjid or divestment/psu ...

  26. Anonymous3:44 PM

    A cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. - Oscar Wilde.
    It's hard to argue against cynics - they always sound smarter than others because they have so much evidence on their side

  27. Have you read "Atlas Shrugged"? Curious to know what your opinion on that book.

    In any case, it's not fair to compare a cake-maker with an MBA. Salary is a function of:
    1. How rare the skill is
    2. How much money a person is making for the company

    By the way, I just discovered your blog and I think your writing style is just amazing! Keep posting.

  28. Well, much the same thing is happening in the great Call Centre Boom. The only diffrence is that the reality may take some time to sink in. At the moment euphoria is all pervading.

  29. These people are getting as much as they should be getting. You should avoid communist rhetoric. Hospitality industry as a whole is lousy salarymaster, hotels in specific. These Hotel management graduates are not alone but all other employees (other than waiters and head-cook) are paid badly. I have many friends/relatives in hotel industry and that is why I can say so. ..finally it is free market..

  30. Rashmi...

    you talking about exploitive hotel industry... low wages... high prices..
    and then this one "Surely if trainees and junior bakers are paid a little more, it won't hurt them"

    i didn't know you have a communist
    streak in you... Isn't this all
    manifestations of free market economy ? What is your alternate proposal ?
    Government fixing prices and wages ?

  31. @sumant

    High Wages lead to Higher Consumption.

    Henry Ford paid his workers higher wages than the industry norm so that they could afford the products that Ford Motor Company made.

    Look at McDonalds in other parts of the world the worker there can afford the product that McD makes in less than an hour of work compared to India where it would take a days work.

    While i dont agree with the government fixing wages and prices. A wage should be able to be one on which you can live frugally.

  32. @not a nice man to know

    your idea of other parts of the world seems to be restricted to US, western europe and australia/nz and conveniently seems to exclude asia, africa, south america, east europe and the middle east. And in india also, a worker in a city can afford a mc aloo tikki burger in a couple of hours work. Besides in USA, nobody wants to hire americans as workers and rather prefer illegals to whom they pay probably 2$ an hour while the minimum wage is $10 and hour and the govt knows that this is happening, but turns a blind eye to it, so that businesses manage to survive. What would you prefer? A high wage with no jobs or low wages with a lot of jobs?

    Higher wages lead to higher consumption. Higher consumption leads to higher prices unless supply increases faster than consumption. And again, the purchasing power parity comes to square one. Henry Ford did not pay his workers more because they could buy his car. He paid them more so that absenteeism and attrition would reduce. It was more than 7 years after he started paying them more that he could reduce prices to the level at which they could afford it. If these 5 stars want ppl to make multilayer cake etc, they just need one cook who is paid well and hire guys temporarily from the pool available and pay them for the one week or so during which they make the 5 star cakes. And if these bakers start getting salaries of 15000, then a pg will also start costing 15000 which will bring it back to square one.


    i may agree with your contention
    about higher wages with higher
    consumption. but what u or i think about
    this is irrelevant as it's the hotel
    industry who is running the business.
    We may choose to run business that way.
    But obviously, the hotel industry has
    done cost-benefit analysis differently.

    At a fundamental level, price/wages
    are determined by perceived
    supply-demand. It's not something
    we can or should try to alter.

  34. I am doing BHM right now. I have undergone 6 months 'training' in a 5star hotel. And I have decided I am not going back to the hotel industry. Never.

  35. Guys this is not a bad industry.Believe me if u work with a big name u can do well.I work in the industry myself.

    There are a lot of people I know who are doing well.The start is difficult but if u are persistent you will make more money than anyone else.There is an intenational demand for good chefs.

    Believe me it is not all that bad.Do notb that initial salary affect you.

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  37. Anonymous8:06 AM

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