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Normal service has resumed

By January 22, 2022No Comments



As society springs back into action, Aoife Geary asks can we change how we view the service industry? 

Craic is back. 


Our restaurants, bars, cafés, clubs and other fun hubs can once again be awash with the sweat of a crowd. A post-8pm-crowd. Some of us are excited, some of us relieved. It feels like the last day of school but with the addition of masks and responsibilities and underlying anxiety. 

On this joyous occasion, as we take our first few bites of restored freedom, let’s spare a thought for those working at the frontline of our fun – hospitality staff. Not just because the sector is facing a giant staffing crisis or because their livelihoods have been on a knife edge for two years but because they form the very fabric of our cultural identity. Hospitality is an integral part of Irish culture and I believe it should be celebrated just as we celebrate our music, art, literature, theatre and sport. Because good hospitality is always a production and often an art. 

I previously worked for a restaurateur whose ethos was that people don’t come to a restaurant to be fed, they come for a magical experience. He would remind us that restaurant staff have the power to turn a good meal into a glorious memory and it’s a responsibility we should take seriously. He would even finish our pre-service briefing with some allusion to it being ‘show time.’ While I initially thought this idea of transcendence was a tad dramatic, I’ve since come around to his way of thinking. 

There’s a strange intimacy about working in the hospitality industry that you don’t get in many other professions – you not only get a glimpse into a stranger’s life, sometimes you’re actually invited to play a minor role in it. From first dates to marriage proposals and surprise birthday parties to funerals, hospitality staff are often present for some of the most memorable occasions of our lives. For those who are passionate about it, hospitality goes far beyond serving food and drink. It’s a vocation.

Stanley Tucci brilliantly articulates the drama and art of the service industry in his book, Taste. In a chapter where he discusses his inspiration for cult classic ‘Big Night’ he compares the structure of a restaurant to that of the theatre. The kitchen is ‘backstage’ full of barely contained knives, flames and noise while the dining room is ‘onstage’ where the atmosphere is calm and comfortable. He describes the way waiters can move from the chaos of the kitchen to the serenity of the dining room as the same ‘schizophrenic behaviour’ actors have to exhibit when treading the boards. It’s an analogy I’m sure a lot of hospitality staff can relate to, the freneticism of a busy shift and ‘the show must go on’ attitude. 

It’s also something I try to keep in mind when I’m out for a meal and the service is slow – it might look quiet but you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. To borrow Stanley’s analogy, (yes, I’ve decided we’re on a first name basis) there are many actors that contribute to the overall experience some of whom are never even seen. It’s a delicate balance and it’s not easy whether you’re in a high-end restaurant, a dive bar or a greasy spoon.

So over the next few weeks as we return to some form of normality, let’s remember to treat hospitality staff as the artists of poise they really are. Let’s be sound and patient. Let’s not take them for granted. Let’s cherish their recommendations, recognise their expertise, thank them for their service and be on time for our bookings.

It’s good to be back.