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Friday, October 8, 2021

St. Louis Hospitality Pros Grapple with Industry’s Future

Posted By on Fri, Oct 8, 2021 at 9:58 AM

Industry professionals will gather on Monday to discuss the path forward for hospitality professionals. - COURTESY OF THE GIN ROOM
  • Industry professionals will gather on Monday to discuss the path forward for hospitality professionals.

How the hospitality industry moves forward after facing a year-and-a-half of unprecedented challenges will be the topic of discussion this Monday at an industry roundtable held at the Mad Art Gallery.

The event, titled "Rebuilding Our Community Together" will be hosted by media personality and chief curator of Herman Farm and Museum Catherine Neville with the goal of bringing people together to share their thoughts on how the food and beverage community can rebuild as a more inclusive industry and one that builds up its people.

"The pandemic hit, and the food and beverage industry was just decimated," Neville says. "We're seeing that people aren't coming back, and they aren't coming back for a reason. The pay isn't great, the hours can be really difficult, and often there aren't benefits. It can be really difficult to balance work and life. There are also a lot of issues with sexism, racism and all of these 'isms that people don't want to deal with. I think the industry is at an inflection point where people need to take a look at why people aren't coming back and how to make it healthier and supportive and allow for personal and professional growth."

The roundtable is being organized by the Gin Room's Natasha Bahrami, who put together the event on the margins of her gin symposium, Ginworld. Though she typically uses her Ginworld platform as more of an education tool, she felt strongly that she wanted to set aside time for this important discussion.

"The past month or so, we've been trying to reactivate the industry through casual gatherings over wine on our patio, and a lot of the conversations have centered around concerns for the future sustainability of the industry and even frustration about inclusivity and women in the industry," Bahrami says. "I've had multiple groups coming to me, and we all felt that we needed to come together and work together because we all have the same issues."

One of the issues both Bahrami and Neville point to is the ongoing staffing crisis that has made it difficult for restaurants and bars to find the help they need to operate at full capacity. Bahrami, Neville and the roundtable participants hope the event will jumpstart a conversation about ways to not only bring people back, but to foster a new generation of talent, particularly for the beverage side of the business.

"In the food world, not everyone goes to culinary school, but there is that option, as well as the opportunity to stage that is baked in," Neville says. "It's part of what you do to become good, and we don't see the same thing mirrored in beverage. It makes sense to talk about a mentorship program to help young people who really want to kill it in the industry."

Veteran bartender Tony Saputo has that idea in mind for Platypus, the forthcoming bar he is opening with fellow beverage professional Meredith Barry. He is eager to be a part of the discussion not simply to share his ideas, but to learn from others.

"I think right now, the biggest thing for us is the labor issue that everyone is having," Saputo says. "It's a challenge to bring in new people. That mindset of mentoring is why we're saying at Platypus that we purposely don't want people with experience. We want people to come in excited about a job who may not know anything but who are willing to learn."

Saputo joins other industry professionals including Barry, Ted Kilgore, Phil Ingrim, Alicia Blackwell-Calvert, Brad Phillips and more for a conversation that is gearing up to be a lively one. The event, which begins at 11 a.m. is free and open to all and lunch will be provided. To register, visit here.

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