I found a dusty old book at my parents’ house this weekend, which set me thinking about the hospitality industry’s continuing problem with public perceptions of its potential to offer a worthy career path.
Called Careers for Boys, the book was published in 1938 and features a range of insights into the various jobs and professions open to young men seven decades ago that are quaintly dated. “It is a mistake to assume that the coming of the motor age has done away with the necessity for veterinary surgeons”, begins one chapter; while another states that “Today, as ever, the sea has an irressistible appeal for the manly, adventure-loving type of British youth”.
I scanned the contents page for any mention of catering and hotelkeeping, and found none. Finally, under a concluding round-up at the back of the book entitled “Other careers”, I found hotel and restaurant work listed among other such marginal pursuits as brewing, the Ministries and plantation work (“Life in distant parts of the Empire always has a strong appeal”).
When I left University in the late Eighties, it never occured to me to enter the world of hospitality. Indeed, when a friend of mine accepted a full-time job managing a restaurant in Bristol after we graduated, I remember thinking her choice a very odd one. In the four years since I joined the Caterer, my views have altered hugely, to the extent that, if I had known 20 years ago what I do now I reckon I would have spurned journalism in favour of a career in hotels.
I can understand why hospitality held such low currency for careers officers seventy years ago. Hotels were far fewer in number than now; and the restaurant and contract catering booms were still decades away. But why does the image problem persist in 2007?
I think we need more role models the general public can relate to. When youngsters think about hospitality, Jamie, Gordon and Marco spring to mind, along with the poor, beleagured drones they bark at. But these public figures are atypical of the industry.
Instead, we need to ensure that the mention of hospitality conjures images of job satisfaction, international travel, creativity, even glamour – for these are all pleasures that a career in hospitality can offer. Do children appreciate that GMs can live in style in exotic locations around the globe? That sommeliers are courted by wine merchants and get to tour vineyards and champagne caves? That hotel reception staff get to speak to a huge range of people, anonymous, famous and infamous? And that all these job functions, carried out well, can create enormous personal fulfilment? Probably not.
How we alter misconceptions, I don’t know. But I have a nagging doubt that hospitality is no better at shouting about itself now, than it was in 1938.