Chapter One boss feared for future
Unfair dismissal hearing told of top eaterie's struggles
IT is one of the country's top Michelin-starred restaurants and its chef ensured the menu at the state banquet was fit for Queen Elizabeth.
But management at Chapter One in Dublin told yesterday how they had to consider all options for the future when lunchtime bookings collapsed as the recession took hold.
Ross Lewis, award-winning chef and proprietor of the restaurant, gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the pressures involved in running a high-end establishment in an economic downturn as he appeared before an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing.
Barbara Kazmierczau (49), originally from Poland but living in Cabra, Dublin, took a case against Chapter One for unfair dismissal after she had worked as a cleaner there for almost two years.
Anthony Traynor, a human resources consultant representing the cleaner, argued Ms Kazmierczau felt her dismissal in June 2009 related to an incident three months earlier in which her bag was searched over the suspected theft of a bottle of Absolut Vodka.
Nothing was found during the search on March 11, 2009.
Martin Corbett, manager of Chapter One at Parnell Square, divulged they had been dealing with a "very serious problem" with the theft of spirits and wine, which was contributing to a drop in turnover at the restaurant.
The restaurant argued before the tribunal it had simply decided to let the cleaner go that summer due to cost-cutting to survive the recession.
Mr Lewis said the cleaner was the only person dismissed at that time, but other workers had left and not been replaced.
The tribunal heard all options were considered as the downturn took hold, including potentially slashing staff numbers by 30pc and closing its doors for lunch.
Management began a cost-cutting programme as lunchtime sittings "dropped off the face of a cliff" -- from 60 a day down to lunchtime dining numbers fluctuating between nine and 40 a day. Mr Corbett told how the restaurant also called in independent stocktakers and consulted gardai over the theft of alcohol.
He said that on March 11, 2009, he noticed the cleaner with her handbag in the bar area. Later, while checking the laundry room, he spotted the worker's bag and noticed a bottle of Absolut Vodka in it.
He then alerted Mr Lewis as a witness and the cleaner consented to her bag being searched as she left the premises. They took the cleaner into an office, along with waiter Pawel Wilk to translate, after no alcohol was found in the bag.
"Our business was going down the tube, not only were staff jobs in jeopardy but also our own," Mr Corbett said, adding the cleaner denied there had ever been a bottle of vodka in her bag.
Mr Corbett said she had not been suspended or dismissed. She returned to work a few days later. She remained at work until three months later when she was dismissed.
However, Mr Wilk, who worked for three years at the restaurant, said Mr Corbett had informed the cleaner at the end of the meeting that she was being suspended until the situation could be clarified.
Mr Wilk, who was called to give evidence on behalf of the cleaner, said that, following the incident, "Mr Corbett was always behind her back" before her dismissal three months later.
He surmised it could be described as "bullying". However, he added he had never been "bullied" at the restaurant and enjoyed his time there.
The cleaner did not give evidence due to her poor English.
Tribunal chairwoman Margaret Levey asked whether business had since picked up as she had tried to book a table for June 2 at the restaurant but "couldn't get one for love nor money".
Mr Corbett said Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays were busy but business was mixed earlier in the week.
A decision will be issued by the tribunal in the coming weeks.