Conscious consumption & hosting

You are what you eat. I struggled to understand this for some time — there was no single part of me that could be even remotely described as being composed of Wotsits and tequila. But there is, and always will be, more truth in that single statement than can be easily dismissed with innocent derision. Our consumption defines us, and we, as Hospitality Professionals, play a leading role in shaping the consumption of our guests.

We are being led down a rabbit hole of curated consumption, with pressure coming from our glowing screens urging us to share our every moment and the data that our sharing creates, which is collected and drives the production of the newest and hottest products that we must have. Every time you share a picture of your avocado on sourdough toast/Full English/Wotsits and tequila, you are telling the world that by consuming this delicious breakfast, you’re a certain type of person. Every time you wear Doc Martens/Yeezy trainers/Crocs, you present an image of yourself that is then consumed by other people to place you in their schema of the world. Whatever long-lost classic cocktail that requires a liqueur that is no longer made and was only ever written on the back of a whim that you order when you walk into a bar defines you as a bartender (make mine an Algonquin with Pikesville Rye). You are what you eat..

Our consumption forms the tribe we belong to, and these tribes seem to be polarising. For every vegan fried chicken burger Instagrammed, there’s a Snapchat of someone eating a whole rock of beef ribs. The trends, however, are shifting to a cleaner, greener existence. The incredible team at Smultronställe have already elucidated on this point earlier on in this series of bartender written thought pieces. We’ll continue to see a rise in “green consumerism”, in people specifically choosing brands that have an ethical ideology built into their core. Provenance and the narrative behind it allow consumers to buy into something that is “real”. How much do you love OPM, Provide, and the Hare & Hounds? They mean more to you because they are ours — Birmingham brands done good, by sticking to what they believe in and making the best experience that they can. Personalisation is another big frontier for consumers — we’re all well aware of what a personalised cocktail can do for a customers night.

As Hospitality Professionals, we occupy a special place in a consumers social sphere. We’re educators, we’re comedians, we’re pushing the frontiers of understanding to enhance the experience of all our guests. We’re hosts, playing the game, and these lucky people have joined us for the ride. And what we do, and the way we do it, has a huge impact on what these people experience. For example, the “Refuse The Straw” campaign led by Robert Wood was initially targeting the bars and restaurants of our fair city (and further afield). If we were all to consciously accept it as something we wish to work with, not only would consumer behaviour be impacted, but we would also encourage a conversation with our guests. How many times have you recommended a spirit to someone based on what they like, only for that someone to come back into the bar 6 months later and tell you that it is now their favourite drink? How many times have you crafted someone a cocktail based on their preferences, absolutely nailed it, and gained a regular customer? We hold a special power over peoples consumption, and we can use that power to create better consumers.

Above a door at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi lies an inscription that reads “Know Thyself”. It also happens to be the approximate title of one of my favourite Drake songs (mainly the second half of the song for when I want to get turnt up). It’s pertinent to this article because we can only stand for something if we know who we are and what we believe in. Once we know what we believe in, we know what we want to share with our world, and what we want to bring to our guests world. You are what we eat, and by inviting you to our dining table, we share our world with you in the hope you’ll share it with others.

The polarity of light and dark lies in every idea. And the darkness, in terms of our consumption defining us as Hospitality Professionals, lies in the heart of our madness. We all know someone who laughs at the idea of alcohol abuse, calling it functional alcoholism. We all know, or at least have heard of, talented people who have lost what is a promising career to drugs. I’ll freely admit I drink every night, and in moments of darkness earlier this year, my drinking spiralled out of control and I nearly lost myself. If you feel you’re ever slipping out of control, come find me, I’ve got your back. Speaking to a relative stranger changed my life, and I dread to think where I would be if I didn’t have that opportunity. I’d like to extend that to you, my extended family. I’m not here to demonise how you relax, or how you share it with your mates. But there is a conversation to be hand on this point, and all conversations have to start somewhere. Let’s not let what we consume consume us.

To sum up: You are what you eat.

Please excuse the bad english and lack of punctuation. Although the idea for this thought piece has been floating around in my head for some time, I only found out I needed to type it up yesterday. I’m sending it to Katie Rouse as it is, because I’ve got more to do before I can finish today. And if you ever want to chat about the contents of this article, or anything else, come and say hello. I’m normally at 40 St Paul’s till at least 7pm every evening, and I’m only a message away.

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