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Rebuild Better, by Ryan Chetiyawardana

The hospitality industry is fuelled by passion. It’s one of the reasons it’s so fun to work in, and why it attracts such a diversity of backgrounds.  Whether it starts as a side hustle or a means to support studying, the majority of people fall into the industry and end up staying there because of the creativity it offers, which is rarely found in traditional roles.

You have autonomy over your work, you get to shape decisions and problem solve, you garner new skills from global perspectives and experiences, and you get to do all this whilst making people happy. It’s infectious. People are captivated by it. It certainly captivated me – I was able to find an output for my science and arts background, choose my own path within it and create a viable business, all with the satisfaction of bringing people together and brightening their day.

 

Unfortunately not all parts of the industry are fuelled by passion. And this can damage the authenticity of a hospitality experience. It’s where bar and restaurant criticism play an important role: their awards and lists – both professional and amateur – sift out the businesses driven by profitability, not passion, who jump on the bandwagon of a good idea without any authenticity. (There’s no such thing as ‘bad art’ except when it comes from a disingenuous place.) Which is not to say great, authentic venues can’t be profitable. Quite the opposite. In fact, it’s often obvious to the guest when hospitality, which is built on and by personalities, lacks the human element. No flashy design, prestigious location, or even an incredible dish or drink, can compensate for an experience that has a careless approach to creation.

 

Beyond the guest’s perspective, unethical and inauthentic operators have largely been found out within a self-governing industry. People talk. And within what used to be a smaller ecosystem, operators could easily share who was doing what. That’s not to say sinister behaviour wasn’t rife and wasn’t covered up – it was and still is – but there was a smaller network to govern. The industry has since seen huge growth, and whilst it’s amazing to see the support networks, and to have the backup to call out malpractice, the scope to do so has not necessarily kept pace with the rate of growth. There is now greater legitimacy and attention on this industry than ever before and we’re facing two major problems: The first is how to attract people to a deliberate career in hospitality and provide the training they need to get started. The second is how do we fend off those who approach the new boom from a mercenary perspective, rather than from a passionate one.

 

The first problem of education and selling the industry as a career is tough. We need to educate people on the value of food (including drink), and this has always been a difficult task. There’s the imperfect nature of nutrition as a science, the complicated relation with health being an under-resourced, blanketed approach, and then there’s the geopolitics of agriculture. But we also need to reflect the true nature of the industry, to understand our pitfalls and issues and to try and work out why this fulfilling, lifelong career is not more widely attractive.

 

The second problem is something we can address: Yes, we want to be able to attract investment, to be able to pitch for prime locations instead of losing to bland corporates. And yes, we want to create a scalable, viable business model. But we need to value what we bring to the table. We need to set up more equitable partnerships that embrace the diversity of skillsets that hospitality brings. Otherwise, not only do we create a monetised, damaging, unstable platform for our food systems (as the pandemic has scarily highlighted), but we attract those who simply want to take advantage of a booming system, which in turn creates disingenuous, bland and unsustainable environments for workers. Speak to your peers, seek advice on business and legal insights, and stay firm to your own values and self-belief. Once we manage to marry the passion and creativity of the industry with business models that respect this, we can usher in a much more stable, exciting and meaningful future for the industry.

 

Edited by Chloë Hamilton

 

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