FACT: Great hospitality never goes out of fashion - and nobody ever gets bored of it. I've worked in the hospitality sector for over 20 years now and, as a complete extrovert who loves spending time with other humans, I love to come together with fellow hospitality fans to blend it with one of my favourite avocations: volunteering.
Every year one of my favourite charities, Only A Pavement Away, hosts Cook and Dine, a fundraising lunch hosted at the United Grand Lodge of England, which is essentially the Mecca of all things Freemason (the oldest of boys clubs). Talk to any Freemason, and they will go a bit dewy-eyed at the thought of this building, and it's difficult to blame them because it is a spectacular monument. It is a a stunning Grade II listed Art Deco building, and while I have absolutely no idea what occurs during their other events because of the extreme Masonic secrecy that one can only speculate about, I do know that this event is made all the more spectacular because of the group of people that come together once a year for this particular event.
It is at Cook and Dine that hospitality professionals from all over the country come together to either cook, serve or eat at this event to raise money for people who are at risk of homelessness, and help them gain meaningful employment in the hospitality sector. There menu is created and managed by Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, and the back of house operation is run deftly by the team from The Ivy which is very much a necessity because the motley crew that makes up the kitchen and serving staff needs to be expertly-managed (there is a lot of rust on the wheels of volunteers, some of whom haven't worked on the front line in decades!). The back of house and waiting crew is made up of senior professionals; CEOs, HR Directors, MDs and the like all don aprons and chef whites to serve the lunch guests, which are mainly made up of suppliers and their guests (usually business owners and operators). It's such a fun day, and I was in selling raffle tickets for the second year running.
I'd secured some prizes from some of my consultancy clients, and there were also lots and lots of other prizes that had been collected from supporters (hospitality is nice like that). I was meant to be using a card machine to sell tickets, but it wasn't quite up and running, so I was using a special TiPJAR QR code that was uniquely registered to me to pick up tips. I wasn't quite sure why I had one to begin with because I wasn't serving people, but it turns out that there was a fundraising competition between servers using these QR codes, whereby the winner would win a massive Union Jack chocolate egg with a cutout of the Queen's head (picture below). I was wending my way through the tables, selling tickets in between serving times, not really noticing that by using the QR code, I was climbing my way up the leaderboard. While doing this, it was really lovely bumping into loads of people that I hadn't seen in a really long time. One of the things that makes hospitality one of the best inudstries to work in is that you cross paths with so many different people, but on approach you are almost immediately friends - it's very much a "you had me at hello" sort of situation, and it happens very frequently. You can form amazing friendships with people over a single drink or even just sat next to one another at an event, and I love it.
I ended up coming sixth on the individual fundraising leaderboard, after stealthily selling raffle tickets through my QR code. I was quite pleased with that result, but more pleased that I managed to raise circa £600 from selling raffle tickets - not bad eh?
Why Cook and Dine is Better Than It Needs To Be:
Cook and Dine brings together the best of the best in hospitality and reminds us about why we do what we do. The hospitality sector is a special place where everyone is welcome. You don't need an expensive education, loads of money or fashionable clothes to join the crew - you just need to care. Everyone who is there is motivated by the cause and by the feeling that giving or receiving great hospitality gives them.
It reminds us that everyone needs hospitality, even if they don't know that they need it. The sense of feeling looked-after is one that we all crave, and when you are treated well in a social environment surrounded by lovely people (and given great food), you get a real rush. There is also the fact that we need hospitality to help contribute to our economy - the hospitality sector is worth £59.3 billion and contributes 3% of the total UK economic output, and it employs almost three million people.
It gets senior people back on the floor and helps them appreciate the front line of service again. I'm pretty sure that most people are familiar with the type of character who is 'too good' to go back to where they started. It's attitudes like this that put people off from joining the hospitality sector to begin with, and while these characters do exist in the hospitality industry, they don't tend to turn up at Cook and Dine. One of the reasons I volunteer is because I like to surround myself with good people, because the narcissists seem to shy away from it.
It raises the bar every year! Last year, we raised around £25k, and this year we raised £47k! There will be costs that dent this number, but we are well ahead of last year which is just astounding. This event is so well-suppported, and Only A Pavement Away is such a highly-regarded charity that I feel positive we will smash that target again next year.
I can't wait for the next event. I'm going to be running the London Landmarks half marathon in April, with a load of hospitality people for OAPA - I'd better get jogging!