By Tom Nightingale
Foodservice has undergone something of a technological revolution in recent years, a seemingly long-term shift that has taken another leap forward during the pandemic. Increasing digitization and automation brings benefits such as greater convenience and accessibility, but what it cannot and should not replace is human connection.
Maybe people need other people now more than ever. The pandemic has made that clear. Human connections are vital in people’s personal and professional lives, and the same is true in the hospitality industry.
That’s a message that Pete Bombaci, the founder and CEO of the GenWell projectHe spends his life spreading far and wide.
“We still don’t fully appreciate how important social connections are to our health and well-being,” says Bombaci RestoBiz. “We talk about physical activity, healthy eating, sleep, drinking water. But research shows that sleep is the only thing more important than social connections in reducing and fighting burnout. Since we weren’t told about it, it’s still an afterthought – if it’s a thought at all.”
Bombaci, who has worked in the hospitality industry and in alcohol sales and marketing for 25 years, was a keynote speaker the national conference of the Culinary Federation in Saskatoon in June, which ran under the motto “Reset and Reconnect”.
At the conference, fittingly the CF’s first in-person conference since the outbreak of the pandemic, he gave a presentation entitled “The Power of Human Connections – In the Crisis and Beyond”, in which he spoke about the importance of human connections and personal contact -Facial contact, whether in a restaurant kitchen, dining room, behind a bar, or outside of the work environment.
“We need to look for solutions to make people happier and healthier,” Bombaci continues. “We have never been educated on the power of human connections: that was our keynote at the conference and that has been GenWell’s message since 2016.
Bombaci explains that GenWell was inspired by the 2003 Northeast power outage that left an estimated 10 million people in Ontario without power for several hours. During that time, he says, “we saw the power of human connection in a crisis.” GenWell aimed to create situations that facilitate that connectivity in everyday life.
Reconnecting after the pandemic
Thankfully, while the depths of the pandemic seem to be behind us, Canadians have had to endure less social contact for two years, and that has taken its toll. Anxiety and depression are seen by many as being at all-time highs at the height of COVID-19. Bombaci notes that GenWell research shows that 10 million Canadians say they are lonelier than ever, across all demographics.
“When you start hearing these numbers, you start to realize that this isn’t an age-specific problem,” Bombaci continues. He describes combating loneliness as a basic need that – like hunger and thirst – must be satisfied and can lead to serious health risks if neglected.
Restaurants, bars and cafes have long been a social hub for people; Places to network, talk about sports, movies or life. Whether it’s industrial workers staying after their shift for a drink, or members of the public meeting family, friends or colleagues for a bite to eat, these types of facilities have always been central to human life Links. Case in point: Bombaci showed excerpts from the beginning of his presentation in Saskatoon His field, cheersand friends. “Many of the most popular shows in history that we quote and ridicule have cafes, restaurants or bars as social hotspots,” he notes.
But during the pandemic, so many people were denied that option. “It’s been erased from our lives,” says Bombaci. “Not just deep meaningful connections, but meeting friends, acquaintances, or even casual interactions.” The same was true for hospitality workers. Kitchen and font-of-house staff are a team of people with a great sense of belonging and camaraderie; As many restaurants were forced to either have limited hours or shut down food service entirely, this disappeared overnight.
“The importance of focusing on mental health and the impact of the pandemic on all of us cannot be overstated,” said Jud Simpson, conference attendee and Executive Chef at the House of Commons in Ottawa. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to put the genie back in the bottle, but we need to find another way of using technology and social media – so much more is being accomplished face to face.”
Ultimately, Bombaci’s keynote presentation was very well received by the assembled chefs and foodservice professionals at the CF National Conference in Saskatoon. In particular, it was praised for giving a voice to an issue that, Bombaci said, is often overlooked.
“I’ve had student chefs, renowned chefs in high places, people struggling with addiction, people struggling with their business over the course of the pandemic who have come up to me and expressed their gratitude and approval for bringing this issue to the table spotlight,” he says. “I almost get emotional thinking about the number of conversations I’ve had with people.”
Adelina Sisti-DeBlasis RSE, a chef and cooking instructor who is CF Windsor Chapter President and CF Central Region Vice President, said Bombaci’s session provided a valuable perspective that sometimes cooks and people just need a little motivation to be best versions of themselves. “He gently reminded us to reflect on what excites us and how we can put our knowledge to good use throughout our career path, gain valuable insights from our peers and build relationships that will be ours forever. “
CChefs & restaurateurs can show the way
What can restaurants and industry leaders do to recapture and maximize human connection and ensure that chefs, hospitality workers and the public are mindful of their mental and emotional health and are the best versions of themselves?
On the other side of the pandemic, Bombaci points out, there’s a huge opportunity for bars and restaurants to improve the way they offer the human connection people so desperately crave.
Not only that, when it comes to chefs and restaurateurs taking care of their employees, their colleagues and themselves, a little can go a long way.
“Realize that you can change someone’s life by engaging them in conversation every day,” concludes Bombaci. “For customers, not only can you provide a great dining experience, you can change a life by hiring someone. Work on it for your employees and prioritize them – add them to your calendar to connect with your team. Cultivate this atmosphere. High fives, affectionate nicknames. Create an environment where social connections become the norm. Normalize it and you will notice the change.”