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The National Graft: Everyone Should Work in Hospitality


Roar writer India Dunkley writes a love letter to working in hospitality and the service industry, and the personal fulfillment it can bring.

22,418 steps. That’s what my step count reads this evening after a twelve-hour shift in one of central London’s busiest restaurants. My feet are red raw, my make-up smeared and my head spinning; my entire body feels hollowed and parched, and the only sight spared from the blanket numbness are the two points bordering either end of my lips, for they have – despite everything – remained firmly, and unquestionably poised in a warm smile all day. This smile may be scarring but it is indisputably genuine, both reaching my eyes and lingering past my clock-out time; it is for this reason, I firmly believe, with every fibre of my being, that everybody should work in hospitality at some point in their lives.  

Maybe it’s the fluids that put people off: the prosecco, vomit, bean juice, more prosecco and, perhaps the ghastliest of all, the sticky syrups which claw to every hour of your shift. Perhaps the deterrent is the public side of it, the overexposure to not just all walks of life, but all strolls, sprints, struts and sludges; all of which become your problem the second they step foot inside the building.

For some, the pace is simply unimaginable, and the demand increases to perform some kind of self-severing ritual in order to split yourself into enough pieces to be everywhere – and nowhere – all at once. The spats of abuse are also profoundly undesirable; I’ll never forget the day a man in his mid-thirties hurled insults at me and my colleague for refusing to serve him any more drinks (crucial to note that the man was punctuating his tirade with head-butting snoozes and attempts to lick his friend’s shoulder), I was thus branded a ‘bitch’ and – as the messenger – was well and truly shot. 

Between sticky syrups and even sticker situations, it may seem perplexing that I am still, whole heartedly, an enormous advocate for hospitality work and – believe it or not – really do enjoy waitressing. The lottery of hospitality is like no other: never knowing who will walk through the doors is something that has always compelled me, and I marvel at the uncertainty underpinning every interaction. There’s nothing more daunting, more enthralling or inexorably human than that of unpredictability and improvisation. Hospitality is, after all, a performance.  

It is not however, a one-(wo)man show. It’s an ensemble of co-ordinated chaos, conditioned by unparalleled camaraderie and perhaps even friendship. Hospitality is both fuelled and facilitated by characters, and it is in this industry that I have been fortunate enough to meet some magnificently mighty and unquestionably interesting people, many of whom I now call friends. Chaos is the most operative catalyst to these friendships; there’s an unlikely charm to unruly madness as well as something heart-warmingly unifying about a community of mismatched people, dowsed in the same experiences and drenched in the same fluids.  

At sixteen, I started working at a beach bar on the south west coast of England.  After just two shifts, I had already pacified a woman who was throwing a tantrum over her burger being too well-done (the beef was so red, it was practically ‘mooing’), cleaned up after a child urinated on the restaurant floor and the parents simply walked out with child in tow, and managed to navigate an onslaught of drunken men on factory Friday when I was roped into bar service, despite being underage. Operating with the philosophy of both good faith and good humour (as well as a fantastic team) made all of these experiences not just tolerable, but also hilariously enriching in their own right. I came away from the burger bust-up convinced I possessed the diplomatic skillset to actualise world peace; the clean-up provided weeks’ worth of giggling fits, and the factory Friday fiasco taught me to stay wary of (most) men for a good few more years – the net benefits were evident.  

Aside from the comical and performative side of hospitality, it has also provided me with some much-needed escapism. Like for so many, I have found the past 18 months to be yawned by loss: having lost two of the most important people in my short twenty years on this planet, my mental health had been suffering and marred by what felt like a perpetual and inescapable choking of grief. For months, I felt so deeply trapped in the mourning, and the lingering hollowness after months of illness and funerals felt so profound as if I would never be able to escape the paralysis of loss. 

Of course, there is no silver bullet to overcoming grief, and I am by no means suggesting that a front of house job is going to be holistically curing. But it certainly has aided my personal growth and helped me to lean into life after loss in ways I had previously believed to be impossible. There’s something so unique about the experience of waitressing because it matters only in that moment; there is no yesterday or tomorrow in hospitality – all that matters is the now and in a world which can feel so crowded by concerns of future fret and past mistakes, I have found revelling in the fleet to be a wonderfully freeing antidote to the dizziness of all else.  

It is this mixture of confidence building, skin thickening, performance developing, friendship forming and much needed escapism that justifies my titled assertion that everybody should work in hospitality at some point in their lives. There truly is nothing like it and I know for certain that wherever life takes me, my respect for hospitality workers will remain firmly at the forefront of everything I do. Whispered between staff members is a shared knowledge of which customers we know to have worked within customer service: nine times out of ten, they are always the kindest and most likable individuals and are the reason my jaw aches from smiling at the end of the night. They also pay the service charge… but that’s another conversation.  

Ultimately, my love for hospitality stems from the uncertainty: when in life, the only thing certain is death, being thrown into an environment which both celebrates and capitalises from uncertainty, the result is knowing you are truly alive’



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