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Hospitality is the Only National ‘Service’ We Need

The Great British youth is doomed, (or so I’ve been told). Glued to our laptop screens and to endless TikTok ‘doomscrolling’, we are devoid of purpose, lacking in resilience and, most damningly of all, removed from the needs of our local communities.

A compelling argument—and one that might have held rather more sway were it not coming from the mouth of Penny Mordaunt, whose own sense of ‘community spirit’ has arguably been found wanting this month, (apparently, the Scots don’t really like it when you accuse them of harbouring a rat infestation and Victorian diseases in their midst).

No surprises, then, that Mordaunt’s proposed solution to the problem, (i.e. Us), is as antiquated as it is tone deaf. Drawing on the ideas of think tank Onward, Mordaunt is proposing the reintroduction of British National Service, yet her convictions are undeniably misplaced. Regrettably, we can’t all flaunt swords at the King’s Coronation and hope to be billed as the next Prime Minister; for us mere mortals, National Service is more likely to mark us out as unsavoury neo-nationalists, not to mention as out of touch with a (largely) post-imperial age.

Never fear, though: I have a solution. Forget army-style drills and so-called ‘civic exploration’ trips, the only service we should be giving lies in the hospitality sector.

Readers familiar with this hallowed field of work would be forgiven for feeling somewhat forlorn at the proposition. As a former wedding host and café worker, I know as well as anyone that the tasks of waitressing, bartending, and general ‘hosting’ are not for the faint-hearted.

On the other hand, given that cafés, bars, and restaurants are facing unprecedented staff shortages post-Brexit and the pandemic, a greater commitment to the sector would ensure the survival of vital community ‘hubs’ like local highstreets. Equally, while hospitality work can be punishing, this doesn’t have to be the case. Logic dictates that a greater uptake of hospitality roles among young people would lead to shorter shifts and more flexibility.

Yet the benefits of hospitality work run deeper than mere practicalities. What better way to imbue people with a sense of belonging than by immersing them in a shared struggle with relative strangers? They say nothing binds the hand of friendship quite like a Saturday-night shift, and I’m inclined to agree. After all, how could one not feel a pang of camaraderie as, wringing out the remnants of Customer’s misfired Jaeger bomb from your shirt, you collectively navigate the miscellaneous detritus of cigarette stubs and chewing gum to mop up the tenth broken glass of the evening—all whilst apologising profusely to said Valued Customer and promising them another drink? (At this point, I should probably state for legal reasons that all anecdotes are resolutely fictitious.)

In fact, for all their talk of ‘upskilling’, the government seems to have overlooked the mighty toolkit developed by so-called ‘unskilled’ hospitality workers. We’ve all heard the CV spiel of ‘improved multitasking, teamwork, and communication’, but those familiar with the sector know that hospitality is a subtle art. Front-facing staff must toe an inscrutable line, identifying moments to be chatty and familiar and when to be discreetly anonymous; they must learn to say no, yet be equally ready to accommodate the (often intolerable) demands of customers; perhaps most crucially of all, they must maintain in public that The Customer is Always Right™, while simultaneously sustaining a vitriolic behind-the-scenes commentary with their colleagues.

Back of House, operations are similarly fine-tuned—how could they not be, given one’s proximity to endless sharp/hot/fragile implements that could, at any moment, become the instrument in one of Frazzled Chef’s flare-ups (don’t take it personally). In fact, I’d challenge any corporate manager to display such heightened awareness of people management.

So, not only do hospitality roles physically accommodate the local community, but they form a micro-community of their own. Certainly, this comes with its own set of moral, physical, and psychological challenges, but just you try ‘doomscrolling’ while catering to a room of customers. Hospitality roles provide a means of productive distraction, promote cross-demographic friendships, and unquestionably set young people up for their future, be that in the service or corporate sector. Military Service is rooted in the past; Hospitality Service would ground young people in the sticky-carpeted present once more.

Illustration by Isabelle Holloway

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