Ryan Chetiyawardana asks if it’s now time to refocus and talk up the benefits of bartending as a career.

The pandemic has made us reassess so much of everyday life. The value of our time, the people we want to spend it with, and what we want to spend our money on have all been pulled into question. The ideas of sustainability, social balance and fairness have become more apparent and universal than ever before.

With sharp focus, the mirror has been held up to the food and drink industry. Covid has acted as an important catalyst for positive change. Some have looked to address sexism, prejudice and inequality, others worker pay and hours, while the question of the trajectory of a career in the industry is part of the conversation like never before.

All of these are important issues that desperately required a balanced, adult discussion. And though crucially necessary for our progression, these conversations have undoubtedly permeated the wider jobs market, reducing the appeal of our industry and impacting our ability to recruit. After the couple of years we’ve had and the recruitment crisis we face, it’s important now that we talk about the positives of the bar industry too.

Sometimes it’s about the language we use. We say people “fall into the industry”, almost implying a trap from which they couldn’t climb out. But that people don't want to leave, is very much a positive: once you’ve had the initial bite of bartending, you don’t want to go back. Not enough is said of the great, passionate, creative people who work in our industry and the huge sense of fun and freedom that you are afforded.

A life in hospitality

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There are deeper aspects to the job that are even more meaningful: I believe hospitality creates rounded individuals and fulfilling lives, in a way that many other careers do not. When I speak with old school friends who are in serious jobs from a parental or societal point of view, many are miserable. They dial in, turn up, hate their colleagues, and rarely live in the moment – always unsatisfied with where they are, a wandering eye on their next role. How is it that a mundane office job is seen as a more serious career than a life in hospitality? It’s crucial we shine a light on the benefits.

We should be speaking to school leavers, graduates and governmental bodies about the positivity that can come from a life in hospitality. We are the biggest manufacturing industry in the country – vital to the economy – and we are an industry (pandemic aside) that has been on a historic rise. As long as you can imagine people wanting to eat and drink outside of their homes, there will be jobs in hospitality.

If the bar industry was pitched as a community of like-minded people with employers that train, support and develop you as a person (something the army does an amazing job of promoting), and that prize and promote those with people skills and a positive attitude, we’d be more competitive in the job market. If we could find a way to get across that our industry can offer the kind of fulfilment that is so fundamental to human happiness, we’d surely appeal.

So for all the need to grow and tackle the challenges we have, we can’t forget to talk up the positives. We need to somehow put into words why when we fell into the industry, we’ve never wanted to climb out. And perhaps looking forward, why joining this industry can be a career plan, not a happy accident.