A new era for hospitality?

Like the travel sector, the hospitality industry has been massively impacted by the pandemic as businesses have been forced to close and lockdown has left us with no option but to get closely acquainted with our kitchens.

In the UK, restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars won’t reopen until early July and will then be subject to social distancing rules. The closures were rightly imposed by the government to safeguard public health but the industry has been hit hard with reports that almost 30,000 pubs and restaurants may never reopen.

For those that do survive, the business environment has changed. Could we be about to witness a new era for the hospitality industry?

The good and bad of hospitality

During the past couple of months there have been many articles published on the plight of the hospitality industry around the world. From the shock during the early days of the pandemic amid looming closures, to analysis pieces and predictions for how businesses can safely reopen, there has been ongoing concern for the industry.

As a former hospitality worker myself in different parts of the world, I know from first-hand experience the hard work and passion that goes into running those businesses.

For many owners, they have spent their entire careers in hospitality and put their life savings into their businesses. Many staff members make life-long friends with likeminded people. And the industry keeps many other businesses afloat, such as food and drink suppliers, while providing social environments for different occasions.

However, there is another side.

The dark side of the hospitality industry where staff are underpaid and treated with disrespect – by employers and customers. This is amplified by the fact that in many countries, working in hospitality is viewed as a poor career choice when compared to white collar office jobs, and is reinforced by typically low wages and poor conditions.

There are frequent stories of exploitation as highlighted by cook and artist Tunde Wey in a New Yorker article that discusses the argument for allowing the hospitality industry, in its most recent guise, to fail so that it can be replaced by something better. To be clear, I’m not advocating for the industry to fail, but there are some changes that are long overdue and perhaps this could be the time to usher in accountability and integrity.

Leadership and accountability

Strong leadership and the willingness to evolve will be key ingredients for survival moving forward.

The following suggestions have already been implemented by some businesses around the world but could be more widely adopted to evolve the overall industry.

  • Be more purposeful with hiring staff – so many businesses hire the first person they come across to fill a spot on a shift. Instead, focus on hiring people that are suitable and have a real interest in food and drink.
  • Treat staff with respect – better pay and benefits.
  • Invest in training for those passionate about the industry through barista training, wine education and leadership skills.
  • Collaborate with other local businesses to share knowledge and build relationships, such as staff visits to breweries, farms and food suppliers.
  • Source local produce – this has been championed by industry leaders for years, but it’s worth repeating.
  • Rethink business models by offering take away or grocery boxes with recipes – the pandemic is not over yet.

One final observation.

Out of all the many hospitality jobs I had during my 20’s in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, only two businesses actively pursued some of the points above. To this day, one of them remains my favourite workplace ever and I have watched (via social media) how they have quickly adapted to the changing business environment, leaving no doubt they will continue to thrive in the ‘new normal’.

Adaptability will prove to be crucial in the coming months and years, and I look forward to seeing how the business of hospitality will evolve.

What do you think about the future of the hospitality industry? Feel free to comment below.

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