Today Healthy Hospo welcomes a new member to the family. Introducing James Beeson, who joins as our new UK Champion. James has just returned from New Zealand, where he spent the last nine months working in specialist craft beer bars and breweries, whilst also writing about the drinks industry on a freelance basis. Prior to that, he worked as a food & drink reporter for trade magazine The Morning Advertiser. He’s an award-winning beer-writer, freelance photographer, keen runner and passionate supporter of the hospitality industry and those who work within it.
I’ve always been obsessed with pubs and bars. When I was 16 my Dad and I used to go down his local together on a Friday night. He had an arrangement in place with the manager of the pub (which shall remain nameless) that I could drink in there, but only if he accompanied me, and only if I was drinking cask ale. Hence it became a tradition for he and I to spend a few hours every week drinking pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, eating packets of dry roasted peanuts and chatting with strangers.
This formative experience instilled in me a deep love of beer, and a reverence for the simple joy the pub could afford to its regulars, for many of whom a Friday night visit was the only thing that kept them going throughout the week.
It wasn’t until a trip to Belgium in 2013, however, that I wanted to become a bartender. Visiting the quaint beer cafes around the picturesque city of Bruges, I became fascinated by the theatre and reverence with which the Belgians treated the service of beer. Table service is the norm, and every beer is served in its own distinctive, branded glassware – anything else is considered deeply offensive to the brewers that made it. This care and attention to detail with regards to customer service was something I’d never really seen before drinking in pubs in the UK, and I returned enthused and determined to work in a venue that treated service with the same reverence and respect.
I got my wish in June 2014, when I took a job working in a Belgian Beer Café in my hometown of Tunbridge Wells. That summer I learnt more about beer, customer service and interacting with people than I’d previously learnt in the rest of my life. I went back every university holiday, and in truth, I enjoyed it far more than my studies themselves.
After graduating from my Masters in journalism, I was desperate to find a job that combined my love of the drinks industry with my writing skills. I was fortunate enough to stumble across a position being advertised for a Food & Drink Reporter at The Morning Advertiser, a UK pub and bar magazine. I’d written a few stories about beer on a freelance basis during my studies, and decided to apply. I got the job and started full time in June 2017.
The first few months in the job were an incredible whirlwind. I travelled far and wide across the UK, attending countless events with industry professionals, bartenders, pub operators, brewers, winemakers and distillers. I learnt more again about what makes a great bartender and what makes a venue tick.
However, I also started to see and suffer from some of the more negative elements of the industry. Attending events almost every night of the week, I was drinking too much, rarely eating home cooked food, and regularly getting by on less than six hours sleep a night. I wasn’t exercising at all and put on significant weight, which affected my self-confidence and only added to my overall feelings of anxiety and unhappiness. It felt as though my body was telling me that my current lifestyle was unsustainable.
In February 2018, after several months of discomfort, extreme fatigue, and numerous hospital visits, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, the onset of which my gastroenterologist believed was caused by work-related stress. The condition is lifelong, and a cure does not currently exist.
Immediately I made the decision to make some major changes to my lifestyle. I took up running and made a conscious effort to avoid drinking for at least two days every week (not much, but a start). The impact of the running was transformative and immediate, giving me vital headspace and making me feel infinitely more positive about my appearance as the pounds began to fall off.
In September 2018 I quit my job at The Morning Advertiser and moved to New Zealand. I needed a break from the industry and felt that a change of scenery would do my mental health the world of good. Within weeks of arriving, however, the lure of hospitality proved too much to resist, and I was back working behind the bar in a specialist craft beer bar in Auckland.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the hospitality industry is the best in the world. I’m a firm believer that everyone should work at least one bar or restaurant shift in their life. It teaches you about respect, patience, and how to treat other people. Without my experiences working in the hospitality industry around the world, I wouldn’t have met half of the people I now call friends, and I wouldn’t be anything like the person I am today.
Over the course of the last nine months, I’ve worked in a variety of different roles in bars and breweries across New Zealand. I’ve rediscovered my love of the industry and developed a much healthier and positive personal relationship with alcohol. Unfortunately, I’ve worked with and seen many other people who haven’t found that balance, and who are still using alcohol as a coping mechanism for the stresses of working within the industry, or other issues in their personal lives.
As an industry, it is clear that we are still not doing enough to look after ourselves. Excessive alcohol consumption, poor eating and sleeping habits and a lack of exercise are not a cocktail conducive to good mental and physical wellbeing. That’s why I’m delighted to be joining the team at Healthy Hospo, who have always sought to be a positive source for change, and who are doing such incredible work to change attitudes and build a healthier and happier culture within the industry.
Being part of the Healthy Hospo team is a huge honour for me, and I can’t wait to get amongst it at UK trade shows and events and give something back to an industry that has been such a huge part in my adult life.
If you’ve got any ideas about how we can work together, suggestions of things you’d like to read and hear more about, or just want to say hello, drop me a message over on Twitter @BeesonOnBeer, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s build a happier, healthier hospitality industry. Together.