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Why I’m happy in hospitality

Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Cambridge plant-based food business Stem & Glory, urges readers to support independent restaurants.

Louise Palmer-Masterton - Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
Louise Palmer-Masterton - Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

Hospitality bore the brunt of the Covid pandemic. The stop-start of openings and closings and all the associated costs and stock wastage that came with it presented an extreme financial and emotional challenge to operators everywhere.

Businesses went from flying to being grounded overnight. Operators pivoted with every change in policy, trying to adapt and make the best of every situation that was thrown at them. Closings and openings took their toll, and then just when we thought it was all over, the hazard that was Omicron came out of the blue last December and ruined Christmas for hospitality.

Many found out the hard way that the myth of the successful dark kitchen doesn’t work for most operators. Hospitality needs people.

Now, on top of Covid, hospitality is facing new and perhaps even greater challenges. An onslaught in the form of increased food cost, increased utility costs and uncertainty in terms of supply. Not to mention the cost of living ‘crisis’ screaming at us every news bulletin, and now political mayhem is the cherry on top.

Everyone had been hoping for normality to return, everyone still is, but it's looking like anyone waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ will have a very long wait. We are already in the new normal, and from an operator perspective it’s really not at all normal. Nothing is for certain any more.

So given these very real operational challenges, and for a business model that offers sliver margins in the best of times, why would anyone bother? Why has anyone in their right mind kept going through the past two years? And why would someone like us be opening new and larger hospitality businesses at this very uncertain time?

For me, it’s because running a hospitality business is one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. Far from a stop gap in terms of career, we have people within our business with higher degrees who get more from hospitality in terms of personal and professional development than they ever would in a blue chip career.

In my view, hospitality matters.

Kimchi pancakes at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
Kimchi pancakes at Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

It matters because being in service to others is what brings happiness. It brings purpose and connection and these two things alone are enough for a life well lived. Happiness is not the destination, it’s not a place we get to when we get/have XYZ.

Happiness is found in those moments when we connect with each other, in service, in friendship and just in passing.

It reminds me of the Buddhist Metta Bhavana practice which is a practice of ‘loving kindness’. In this meditation you are guided through a number of stages, one of which is bringing to mind someone you don’t know and wishing them ‘well, happy and free’. It’s a powerful practice, and if we put ourselves into a mindset of kindness to all people, there you have the crux of hospitality.

Hospitality is a context for practising kindness. Those small moments of connection are powerful when multiplied by every single engagement and interaction.

Hospitality businesses are crazy, busy, stressful but happy places. The people within our businesses are the best people I know. They support each other, they connect with each other and our customers. Their aim is to improve your day by serving you, and connecting with you. Oh and serving you delicious food too.

We have people of all ages, and from all over the world working within our business. It’s a truly diverse team in every way. We have just taken on our first three young people on our degree apprenticeship scheme. They will be studying for their degree whilst working with us and earning too. My own two children work part-time in our business. Would I mind if they decided to choose hospitality as a career? No, I would not.

The UK has a thriving hospitality industry, thriving precisely because it is made up of people who care passionately about their businesses and the work they do. Hospitality is one of the UK’s (and the world’s) most entrepreneurial sectors, and as has been demonstrated in the past two years, extremely resilient too.

There are some brilliant independent restaurants in Cambridge, so if you like going out to eat and drink, please give them your support. They need it now more than ever, but above all, they love serving you and that is the reason they do what they do.

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