Victoria Stewart on hospitality’s support networks

Published 1 June 2019

Whether it’s to find support with mental-health issues, share intel on gender inequality or simply hang out with like-minded people, networks are vital in hospitality, says Victoria Stewart. Victoria discusses hospitality’s support networks.

The retro concept of networking – having to rush around events attempting to extend your contacts list – is enough to bring even the most sociable person out in a cold sweat. A network, however, is defined as ‘a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (such as friends or professional colleagues)’.

If you work in hospitality, you are already part of a communal atmosphere of sorts. But whether you’re a long-timer or a newcomer to the trade, it can be hard finding people outside your day job to talk to and learn from about your work, any struggles you may have, or the burning ideas you want to collaborate on. Yet because of the diversity of jobs and experiences, it is vital that there are places for everyone to connect, learn, and share stories – without feeling intimidated.

“In the hospitality industry, the hours are unsociable and the job can be tough, so more than most other industries there is a need to connect with others facing the same challenges,” says Xavier Rousset, co-founder of Trade, the Mayfair members’ club for hospitality professionals to socialise, connect and share ideas.

Rousset’s co-founder, Gearoid Devaney, believes that “the nature of the business also leads to issues that don’t occur in other professions”, but that talking about them will go some way to “making our industry more progressive and its workforce happier.” He thinks it’s “fantastic that these issues are being spoken about more freely now, and the proliferation of networks and support groups will hopefully go some way to eradicating them.”

Indeed, today, thanks in part to their visibility on social media, it is possible to find something for the varying needs of everyone working in hospitality. If you’re interested in approachable training sessions, discussions or events aimed at women, look no further than Ladies of Restaurants, Women in Food Network, Les Dames London, the global Parabere Forum, or, for ideas around sustainability, the magazine AMP (@AMeetingPlace) on Instagram. If you need support or are interested in participating in conversations around mental health and wellness, Pilot Light campaign, Healthy Hospo and PX+ Festival are brilliant resources.

In the coming months, I will be launching a new platform called Hospitality Speaks with a small team.

It has a dual purpose: one, to provide employees with a safe space to share and hear anonymous stories of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination, with a view to signposting some of the issues, and providing a list of places for support. Two, to show examples of hospitality employers doing their best to make their bars and restaurants safe, supportive and fun places to work, with a view to allowing other decision makers to take ideas and make changes.

So what can someone gain from being part of networks like these? Deborah Shane from career coaching website, Work It Daily, defines five benefits as: content resources (sharing information, How Tos and content), personal support (to reduce isolation, and support each other), help (ideas, referrals, advice), a sense of belonging (feeling of being part of a community), and personal empowerment (giving and receiving it).

Cook Dominique Woolf recently discovered these, on a local level, through using Facebook to start a network called Crouch End Food People. After training in food, she realised she knew no-one in the industry, but through hosting small meet-ups for people from “all areas of food… I and others have made connections, got work through it, and have collaborations in the pipeline,” she says. Schedule some We Time and sign up to one of the following networks.

Six Networks to sign up to

Pilot Light 

Passionate about the need to combat the stigma associated with depression, mental health and addiction within hospitality, chefs Andrew Clarke and Doug Sanham have just launched a much-anticipated campaign. With the tagline, ‘burn the silence, ignite the conversation,’ their aim is to encourage people to take action for themselves and within their workplaces, and to find support. Their promotional work will include a panel discussion at Taste of London, as well as other events throughout 2019. Anyone interested in being part of the Pilot Light network, learning about how to access supporting services, and how to work alongside the campaign to further the discussion about mental health across the industry, is encouraged to sign up online.

WiFi (Women in Food Industry)

A new network set up in January by friends and food marketing whizzes, Mecca Ibrahim and Janie Ash. The pair want to promote the visibility of women within all parts of the food industry, from cooking and photography to writing and gardening, whilst also enabling people to connect, talk and hear from other’s experiences. Having hosted a week’s worth of events – including information on how to get a job in the food industry – in the lead-up to International Women’s Day, they are currently focused on connecting people through their 2,000-strong social media following, developing a tiered membership model, and starting a series of monthly discussions around the UK. Supporters include Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown, and chefs Frances Atkins, Chantelle Nicholson, Anna Hansen, Asma Khan, and Cyrus Todiwala.

Healthy Hospo 

An initiative launched last year by bartender Tim Etherington-Judge to ‘promote happier, healthy hospitality,’ by getting people to take better care of themselves and their mental and physical health. Through a series of specialised events and training sessions hosted in collaboration with brands and hospitality businesses, this year they will deliver a cycling engagement programme for bar staff, host morning yoga classes, run a seminar on bartender health and wellness at Rock the Farm hospitality festival, and deliver a new platform offering both health and wellness training for bar industry professionals across the UK. Having spread to the USA, Healthy Hospo is heading to Australia and New Zealand soon.

Counter Talk 

A growing network of hospitality people gathered by pastry chef, Ravneet Gill, who is keen to allow people to make contact, share ideas and discuss issues via ticketed events, film screenings, and supper clubs. Gill’s last themed event was based around pasta, and on 30 June she is laying on a line-up of ice cream producers – including Happy Endings, La Grotta Ices, Poco Gelato, Blaq Milk, and Nonna’s Gelato – for guests to meet. Monthly panel and Q&A sessions are coming soon, aimed at owners, chefs, front of house, restaurateurs, and other industry people, and upcoming topics include: imposter syndrome, staff retention, dealing with confrontation, knowing your rights, diversifying your career in food, and opening a restaurant.

PX+ Listens 

1,500 industry folk attended this new annual festival at Duchess Farm last year, where producers, chefs, bartenders and hoteliers turned up to eat, drink, dance, hear talks, attend masterclasses and ask questions. This summer’s event in August will focus on how people from different parts of the industry can learn and collaborate with each other, and will be based around eight panel talks, as well as a wide selection of workshops. For isntance, these will look at wellness within the industry. PX+ has also just started a telephone support service, PX+ Listens, offering an initial port of call for people needing to discuss what’s on their mind. More information is available on the website.

L.O.R (Ladies of Restaurants)

Like a club or forum, this UK initiative promotes and supports women who work in the hospitality industry through panel talks, training sessions, dinner parties and kneesups all around the country, all with a view to improve culture around the industry they are proud of. Specialist sessions cover areas including wine training, to advice around being a working parent in the industry, recruiting a good team, and excelling in a job interview. In June the group launches a new storytelling event, allowing the community to hear and share experiences in order to support each other, and it will also be curating a week’s worth of talks at the VIP tents during Taste of London festival. In July, there will be two events themed around property and landlords. 

This article was first published in Issue 19 of CODE Quarterly.  

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