Broken glass

Working in bars is fast, exciting and at times toxic, but in lockdown the entire industry took a breath. It’s time for a new path, reflects Sly Augustin

True hospitality requires you to give away a small piece of yourself in the service of others. We are an industry of givers – we are outwardly optimistic, seemingly indestructible, and silently vulnerable. I am passionate about hospitality, but the industry is flawed. Have you ever watched one of those news stories about a clinically obese child and questioned why on earth the parents kept feeding them junk food? Yeah, hospitality can feel a bit like that. It’s almost as if the very thing

you love is secretly trying to kill you (and you kinda like it). Conversations both private and in social media posts have highlighted the fact that, for a growing section of our industry, the open-all-hours hospitality lifestyle is just not sustainable.

Tim Etherington-Judge and Camille Vidal didn’t start their hospitality wellness programmes because it was trendy. They started these organisations because they understood our industry was slowly killing itself. A cocktail of long hours, late nights and free alcohol often leads to bad choices. Make enough of them and you might start to dislike yourself a little. You’ll take a quick shot before service (just a livener), an industry friend will offer you a shot during service and you’ll take it (be rude not to), maybe a quick Snackiri? Now you’re back on the road to bad choices.

When I think about hiring a bartender one of my primary concerns is not how well they can make a round of drinks but rather how resistant they are to the advances of a brand ambassador who bats their cocktail comp eyelids while pouring them “free” liquor. I promise you, the booze is never free, and right now we simply cannot afford to be making bad choices. We have Zoom and a postal service. Do brand ambassadors really need to drag themselves to every bar? Is there a balance? Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with booze? The number of industry leaders who have chosen to give up booze entirely is growing, and I think it’s time the industry as a whole had a proper conversation about looking after each other.

The bright side

The selflessness and resilience of people in our industry has shone brightly during the pandemic. And in the absence of endless festivals, pop-ups, brand events and award shows, one of the most significant changes I witnessed was people really taking care of themselves, spending time with family and pursuing other talents. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed watching videos of people working out on Instagram (by people I mean friends, not Instagram fitness models). It felt like the entire industry exhaled as one. It felt like a group of people whose lives revolve around the happiness of others were finally free to pursue their own.

As much as I miss all the pop-ups, festivals, brand events and award shows I really enjoyed receiving rum samples that allowed me to indulge in my own time, and I actually found online seminars a lot easier to digest without the booze stands or having to hold myself together with coffee and gaffa tape. It feels like I’ve learnt more in the past four months than I have in the previous two years – my business and personal life are better for it. My team are happier and more confident, and a confident team doesn’t need to give away drinks to make friends and feel good about themselves.

Of course, everyone’s path in hospitality is different and everyone will face their own unique challenges, but I hope that when we come through this we learn to slow down a little and understand that the most valuable commodity in hospitality is the people, not the product. I hope we figure out a way to occasionally show love without shots. I hope we learn to protect the bars that provide our livelihoods. I hope I don’t have to read any more premature eulogies on Facebook.