La'Mel Clarke: An industry in high spirits

La’Mel Clarke marvels at how the hospitality industry has already faced up to the coronavirus crisis with creativity.

At the risk of sounding ignorant or ill informed, the increasing risk of the COVID19 virus had mostly just passed me by. Amid the arrival of numerous antibacterial hand-washing stations popping up in [London bar] Lyaness, and the numerous stories regarding toilet paper hoarding, the virus had been ­firmly off my radar. I honestly didn’t realise the scale of the situation. Not even when I reflexively checked if my Eurostar to Paris was still functioning as planned. I wasn't even worried when the outdoor Parisian dance party I was poised to attend was shut down. The real sucker punch, however, was when I saw a sign on the door of my favourite after-work pub which read: “We won't be taking any cash payments, due to Coronavirus.” Everything fell into place. Things have become really bad, and the momentum doesn't seem to be slowing.

The cascade of closing bars and restaurants and the careers of my friends in hospitality at stake has already changed the landscape of our industry forever. But, just like that famous proverb, something about “falling but getting up stronger” – the hospitality industry is bouncing back with ferocity. The tenacity and speed with which the bar industry has reacted to this unprecedented situation has astounded and inspired me. Bars and restaurants became delivery and take-away services overnight; if guests can’t go to their venues, deliver a taste of the venue to the guests. The positive outreach of this is immense – keeping staff engaged while footfall is slowing down. The venues that closed before the government stepped in were able to generate some sort of income for their staff while navigating these uncertain times.


Home delivery is out of the question for me, however, as I don't live in east London – but luckily I've been sorted out with two amazing home deliveries, the ­first was courtesy of Anna Sebastian and the Artesian team with No.3 gin and then my Lyaness family making sure I had some goodies to keep me sated during this quarantine period. It’s the small acts like this that have made me most excited – the steps that are being taken to preserve the brains and lift the spirits of bar staff all over the world.

There is so much encouragement to stay motivated and sharp. This is the perfect time to up-skill and train physically and mentally, ensuring you return to your job in the best possible shape. I personally can't wait to see all of the ripped bartenders once this has all blown over. Learning is a commodity rather than a luxury – thanks to Pernod Ricard, I am about to embark on the WSET training for free. The Booze Brain, helmed by Maxim Schulte and Jo Last, is leading the online way with talks and activities ranging from fi­tness to cocktails to bar photography. It is unpacking all the facets you could potentially need to work in our industry. It is more than simply making drinks. Our jobs are all about proximity and being hospitable – personally, if I know you, and you come into my bar, there will be hugs galore. But we've had that stripped away and we now have to restructure the way we go about our everyday business, we have to acclimatise to the reality of post-Coronavirus, and we are ready.

From the fact-based updates on The Booze Brain to the home deliveries, we are really displaying what hospitality is – anticipating a need and providing your guest with exactly what they didn’t realise they needed.