The distinctive, high-pressure atmosphere of professional kitchens, often portrayed in reality television cookery shows and dramas, has sparked a debate about communication norms in the culinary world.
In a recent landmark ruling, an employment tribunal has concluded that the omission of the word “please” in a fast-paced kitchen environment need not be considered rude.
Instead, the tribunal asserted that “direct and efficient” communication, devoid of additional pleasantries, may be deemed “a matter of practicality” in upscale kitchens.
The ruling came as a response to a case brought forward by Bridgette Peters, a former chef de partie, who alleged mistreatment in a London restaurant kitchen due to the absence of “please” in her colleagues’ requests and claimed wrongful dismissal from her position at L’Eto.
Peters, who took her case to the London Central Employment Tribunal, contended that she was let go from her job at the Notting Hill restaurant because she insisted that colleagues say “please” when making requests and complained about perceived “rudeness” in their communication.
Communication styles matter
On her first day at L’Eto on August 23, 2022, Peters repeatedly requested sous chef Peter Bartczak to include the word “please” when assigning tasks or asking for items. In response, Bartczak explained that his communication style was consistent with professional norms in a kitchen.
The tribunal’s summary stated, “It is clear that the claimant is someone who likes to be asked politely and she likes people to use the word ‘please’. However, in the respondent’s kitchens, a more efficient, direct, and intense communication style is used. It is not seen as rudeness if individuals do not use the word ‘please’ and we accept the respondent’s evidence that this is not specific to L’Eto and is common across the premium hospitality industry.”
Throughout the week, Peters became increasingly frustrated with fellow chef Nishma Gurung, whom she accused of issuing “rude” commands. Peters refused to put bread on a grill after Gurung’s request, citing the absence of the word “please” as the reason for her non-compliance.
Employment Judge Woodhead remarked, “We accept that in that work environment, not saying ‘please’ was not rudeness; it was a matter of practicality.” The tribunal ultimately ruled in favor of L’Eto, dismissing Peters’ claim of direct racial discrimination, concluding that her treatment and dismissal were unrelated to her race.
This ruling raises important questions about workplace etiquette, especially in high-pressure industries like fine dining, where efficiency and directness are paramount. It also highlights the evolving dynamics of communication norms in professional settings, where practicality often takes precedence over pleasantries.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.