Hospitality: the art of eating together

Hospitality is the act of generously providing care and kindness to whoever is in need. And the serving of food is one of the most hospitable acts.

By Jeremy Ryland


Thursday 13 September is 'R U OK? Day'. This is a day to reach out to your mates to check that they are OK – something you should do often. And listen!


Last week we published the results of a survey by RU OK? into hospitality workers- 'RU OK? encourages hospitality industry to look out for each other, which shows that we need to make time to talk to one another. Gault&Millau supports the work of RU OK? and other groups that support hospitality workers.


It’s a funny thing that hospitality workers need such encouragement. After all, we work in hospitality - the business of getting people together. Hospitality is the act of generously providing care and kindness to whoever is in need. And the serving of food is one of the most hospitable acts.


Food is more than just fuel: it is a social experience, one of the simple pleasures of life. The sharing of food is an important human interaction. It is often symbolic, more often a sacrifice and always a symbol of acceptance. We discuss business over a meal. Feasts cement agreements, treaties and alliances. We patch up quarrels with a shared meal. We join together with family and friends to share good times with food and drink. We meet new people over dinner. We seek to woo a lover with a special dinner. We have feasts for birthdays, weddings, religious ceremonies, cultural ceremonies and even funerals. In contrast, a solitary meal is often a punishment – being made to eat by oneself in a corner of the room or being made to eat in silence, implicitly excludes the individual from the social group.


Good food brings people together. Eating together is an enjoyable social experience which we should encourage. It is important to relax and share time with family and friends. The power of the kitchen table should not be underestimated. Countries with strong food cultures also have strong family ties. For example, in Italy, la famiglia (the family) comes first and forms a social network that shields its members from the rougher realities of life. In Italy, 30 per cent of people find employment through parents and siblings. In the big cities, 20 per cent of adult people see their mother daily; 40 per cent in smaller towns.


In Australia, the demise of the family meal is symptomatic of the fragmentation of the greater family unit. Regular family meals are a traditional way of teaching our children the importance of sharing, of communication and of good manners. It is a time when we can help our children and teach them life skills and listen to their concerns and joys.


Patterns of daily life have been changed dramatically by urbanisation, industrialisation and globalisation. People are eating out more because “fast food” and convenience foods have changed the way we prepare meals, all of which put pressure on the shared family meal.


Unfortunately, due to the pressures of modern daily life, families are spending less time together, less time talking; the television, computer and other screens have replaced the dining table as the centre of family life. Today we spend on average 10 hours a day looking at a screen and less than two hours talking face to face. It is important that families make the time to share a meal and enjoy the simple pleasure of each other’s company.


Bringing the family together for a regular sit down meal is an important way to teach, socialise and relieve tension. Over a meal, we can discuss things and air our differences without resorting to violence and we can teach our children life skills. And the same thing applies to our work groups, friends and colleagues. Food is about sharing and getting together. When people get together to eat – or even over a coffee – they talk. And a conversation can change people’s lives!


Let’s encourage people to get together. Start a conversation and LISTEN. It is important to provide a safe place for people to share their fears and anxieties as well as their stories and good times. Listen. Don’t judge. Don’t problem solve. Some issues are hard, but mental health, which affects one in three of us, can be managed. Normalising the conversation is vital – it’s no different to any other medical issue like a broken arm.


Bring people together over a meal. Sit down. Relax. Eat slowly. Talk. Listen. Ask your friends, family and colleagues – are you OK? And remember,  it’s OK not to be!


Take time to watch this YouTube video from Canada – enjoy #EatTogether