Why we shouldn't lose hope in hospitality

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

23 March 2020

After a week of restaurant, bar and pub closures, and many workers made jobless, deputy editor Millie Milliken is reminded of what is at the heart of the hospitality industry – its people

‘If you, for one second, start to believe that, because you’ve captured everyone’s attention you are, in some way, better than the homeless guy begging for quarters at the bus stop, you will be doing a dis-service to yourself, and to the bartending community at large.’

When the late Gaz Regan wrote this sentence in his letter to young bartenders in October 2016, he would never have known just how pertinent its message would be to the hospitality community less than four years later.

Come to think of it, up until a week ago, I don’t think many people working in the hospitality industry would have believed that today, all of our UK pubs, bars and restaurants would be shut and over one million of their workers would be out of a job – and for who knows how long?

Watching from the (close) sidelines as a trade journalist, it’s been heartbreaking to witness the domino effect that coronavirus has had on the drinks industry – not only on venue closures and hospitality workers, but with PR companies and freelance drinks writers. I’ve had more than a few emails over the last week or so from said people, saying goodbye (for now, fingers crossed) as, understandably, work has dried up.

But amid the gloom, there has been an overwhelming effort from restaurants and bars alike to adapt at a rate that is sheer testament to the creativity of the people who are at the core of the industry.

Amid all of the uncertainty, after the rug had been pulled from beneath them all, their resilience reminded me of what keeps us all working in and for this industry – the people

Over the course of two days (the Saturday and Sunday just gone) I spoke to numerous members of our community about the many ways in which they are dealing with last week’s announcement by the prime minister to close their doors and how they are working laterally to overcome its obvious obstacles.

On Friday, Maxim Schulte spoke to me about his and Jo Last’s education project, The Booze Brain, which then was in its premature stages and today it went live with its first (of many) sessions. Nearly 500 people liked his Instagram post calling for brand ambassadors to join their mission, and three of them feature on this week's lineup.

Others are turning to off-trade sales, either on-site or via delivery. The Imbibe team made a pact this weekend, to support as many on-trade venues still operating as much as we could from our sofas. And so it was that Top Cuveé delivered three bottles of wine within two hours of me placing an order (essential fuel for a journalist on a deadline). Deano Moncrieffe of Hacha drove to my flat to hand-deliver – from a distance – the takeaway Mirror and Mezcal Margaritas I ordered. Jose Pizarro and Tom Cenci's Loyal Tavern operated as delis this weekend, donating all the proceeds to local communities, and so I shopped there for eggs (get in), rice and pasta (I know) and beans I can't pronounce.

Numerous PRs contacted me, working for free to try and get the word out about the avalanche of other initiatives out there, from both clients and non-clients alike.

I even got a visit from the Artesian’s Anna Sebastian and William Campbell-Rowntree, along with Berry Bros & Rudd’s Jack Hanlon, who dropped off some cocktails and bar snacks, stayed for a quick natter (at a distance, guys) and jumped in their No 3 Gin van off to their next stop – I was one of around 50 free deliveries the trio made over the weekend.

If Gaz was still here, he’d be looking on proudly – and, no doubt, getting his hands (metaphorically) dirty

I’m not ashamed to say that as I waved the three of them off, I may have had a lump in my throat. Because amid all of the uncertainty, after the rug had been pulled from beneath them all, their resilience reminded me of what keeps us all working in and for this industry – the people.

Even when the shittiest of cards had been dealt to them, they all – somehow – played a winning hand. Not for the kudos, not for the (as our industry is sometimes guilty of) naval-gazing glory, but for the very real reason of keeping going.

I hope that when we come out the other side of this – and we will – those who have lost their jobs can go back into hospitality jobs, with a renewed sense of pride and purpose. I for one can’t wait to see which other ways our industry adapts over the next few months. 

And I’m sure that if Gaz was still here, he’d be looking on proudly – and, no doubt, getting his hands (metaphorically) dirty.

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