If only for one month, Moncia Berg felt the joy of hospitality again. She's hoping for more Septembers in 2021

As a whole, 2020 sucked, but September felt different. It reminded me why hospitality is the heart of any society worth being a part of. Let me explain why.

When bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen from 4 July, we made the difficult decision to remain closed. We calculated that with such low footfall, we would lose more money open than closed. By the end of August, we braved an opening date – 2 September – and started mentally preparing to reopen one half of our bar, Elementary. We knew we had to rethink everything, from the drinks and service flow to food – but also how we operate, as we’d managed to get both our off-licence and outdoor terrace approved during the first lockdown. The world had changed – we had to too.

The first week of opening was all smiles. Regular after regular walked through the doors, and it felt so incredibly good to be back behind the bar making drinks and serving guests. Sometimes, you only realise how much you’ve missed someone when you finally see them again. Even with the new distancing measures, Elementary was busy and thriving, and slowly, a feeling that had been long gone started to return – the feeling of hope. A sense of light at the end of the tunnel, and a possibility that we could actually ride this storm out.

Looking back now, those carefree weeks of September (carefree in the context of 2020) felt remarkable to feel the support of our guests – how invested they were in the bar’s survival and how much they were willing to fight with us. It was the first time I really felt the words “we are all in this together” to be genuinely true. As people, we are social beings and it makes us happy to be around other people, but uniquely, as hospitality people – it makes us happy to make other people happy. Not being able to do that has left a big void in my life, and as I write from lockdown, I feel somewhat purposeless. I feel like I have nothing to look forward to; no plans, no meetings, no guests – nothing. We exist only to fight for our existence – but there is no joy, no human interaction, no smiles and no happiness.

2020 highlighted how important hospitality is and what a lonely life it is when you take away the spaces where people meet and interact. It might come as a surprise to some, probably not to you, but the hospitality industry is the UK’s third biggest employer, accounting for more than 3 million jobs. It is for many young adults their first employer, and for some of us, the only employer throughout our careers.

What many politicians seem to not understand is that myself and many others do not stay in this industry because we lack options – we stay here because we want to. Creating welcoming, happy spaces for people, feeding them, serving them – even just listening to them – is just as important as providing bank services, government policies or marketing campaigns, despite the lack of recognition and seemingly social rank.

A functional society is dependent on diversity and versatility, but also respect and empathy, and it’s perhaps the latter that has proven the most challenging for our current government. Because where the hospitality industry is filled with a large proportion of empaths, politics seems to be deserted. Back in September I naively thought the worst was behind us, and I felt a new sort of happy; a mix of relief and hope – and that’s why September was my favourite month of the year.

The pursuit of happiness has never been more important than now, and if there is one thing I could say to our government it would be this: If serving is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.

This article was first published in Class magazine's Winter 2020 edition.