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Reimagining Hospitality: A vision to mend a suffering industry

Imagine this: It’s 12 p.m. on a Tuesday, you have a 45 minute lunch break, it’s been a long day and you are absolutely ravenous. You place your pickup order at the cafe up the block — one crispy chicken sandwich, extra mayo and a large Dr. Pepper — the usual. You perk up and start salivating already as you track the order’s progress like your life depends on it. Suddenly...the unmentionable happens; “your order has been cancelled” and with only 15 minutes to spare. 


We’ve all been there at one point or another, especially during Covid. Whether it’s the cancelled order, an aggravating wait in a long line only to find out they’re out of your favorite meal, or service so slow you might forget lunch all together. 


You’re Not Alone.  


In the post-pandemic world, these are normal aggravations when it comes to the customer experience, but are unavoidable obstacles for small businesses. We as consumers have come to expect the highest level of service, in the shortest amount of time and all for the lowest price possible. What’s more, the pandemic has made this standard nearly impossible to achieve with added complications like supply and staff shortages. 


It is inevitable that sometimes service industry expectations will not meet reality. When this does happen, what emotions do you find yourself feeling, and toward whom? Is it the machine you placed your order through? The service worker standing before you? An imaginary entity who made sure you didn't get your extra side of ranch on time? 


Whatever the case may be on the consumer end, the food and beverage industry is having its own internal reckoning. Like many of us in the past year, service workers are reflecting on what works and what doesn't work for them. Melissa Villanueva, CEO and Founder of Brewpoint, takes a deeper look into the reality of this turning point with a vision she refers to as a “reimagination of hospitality."

 

"I believe the core need is a cry to be humanized. To be paid enough to enjoy life, to not have to worry about catching a deadly disease at work, to know that you will be treated with human dignity from fellow staff members and customers, to have time and space to rest and recuperate."


After the year we’ve had — and with your experience in the industry in general — what is your vision for the future of the service industry?


MV: Can we have some real talk on this blog? It is easy to share our successes, the ways in which we have overcome a really tough year. But maybe before I can even share the vision of what we can reimagine hospitality to be, I think I have to share WHY we need to reimagine it. 


Why do we need to reimagine hospitality?


MV: Let’s start with the issue of dehumanization in service work. I will be the first to say that I am guilty of dehumanizing others, I honestly think we are all conditioned to it at some level. There are ways our culture normalizes it; we use language like "human capital," corporate structure makes people cogs for the purpose of profit, even the simple assumption that "the customer is always right."


Before the pandemic, those in the service/hospitality industry were expected to be 100% cheerful, 100% attentive, 100% quality oriented, 100% speedy; often for close to minimum wage. And in the face of the global public health crisis, most of these expectations didn't change and, generally, compensation also didn't change. But everything else changed and the burden on essential service workers grew exponentially.


For Brewpoint, like many in our industry, our staff and company were not just critiqued/rated/harassed on the product and services core to our business; but on things that had nothing to do with the coffee we sell. We were navigating health & safety protocols, stances on racial justice, using our platform to articulate who we are and what we believe; all the while going through a highly politicized global pandemic. Every decision we made resulted in deep and personal backlashes pointed both at our team members and the company at large.


I hope it comes through that sharing my perspective and experience is not a scapegoat for poor service. Owner/operators absolutely have the paramount responsibility to create an environment that is worthwhile and welcoming; but all of us are human and this past year created more challenges than we could have imagined. 



So, when it comes down to it, what is the real issue we are facing here? 


MV: As much as people might hope that staff shortages are a short term thing, there is undeniable evidence that without reimagining the service industry this gap is going to grow. And like many of the structures that are being challenged in today's age, I believe the core need is a cry to be humanized. To be paid enough to enjoy life, to not have to worry about catching a deadly disease at work, to know that you will be treated with human dignity from fellow staff members and customers, to have time and space to rest and recuperate. 


What is the vision for reimagining hospitality?


MV: So when we talk about reimagining the hospitality industry, we have to focus first on our cultural tendency to dehumanize and commodify people; because people feeling like people again (and not coffee making robots) can create the modern day watering hole that will help us rebuild life-giving connection after the isolating, terrifying and down right draining year we all had. 


We believe the remedy to this problem is not a place where we can treat people any way we feel justified in order to get our desired end product, this goes both for industry owners and customers. It instead requires reimagining and rebuilding our goals and expectations. We want to build a place where service workers and customers alike can feel rejuvenated by an authentic connection to each other. A place where there is a true sense of community that fuels creativity, culinary and otherwise, because we recognize and affirm humanity in one another. That is the coffee shop vision I had when I first started Brewpoint, and it's something that together we can build, create and enjoy.

All this being said, I know it takes more than just a vision to build a better world; it takes experience, structure, finances etc. and on our next blog I will dive a bit more into how we can make a vision become a reality. 


See linked articles and podcasts to take a deeper dive on what it has been like to be in the hospitality industry:


  • See article on Starbucks employee experiences: 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/may/26/starbuck-employees-intense-work-customer-abuse-understaffing

 

  • See Times article on the issues at large in our industry including pay, health & safety, and general abuse: 

https://time.com/6076710/restaurants-labor-shortage/

 



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