How can you define hospitality? The expression of love for a stranger

21 April 2022
How can you define hospitality? The expression of love for a stranger

A moment of generosity at the Back to the Floor event clarified for Nicholas Dickinson why he holds his career in hospitality so dear

Something extraordinary happened last Friday that moved me to reflect on the raison d'être behind my 40-year career in hospitality.

In 1982, as Chewton Glen's newly appointed trainee manager, I helped a guest with their luggage and was handed a crisp £50 note, accompanied by the comment: "Don't ever take that smile off your face, young man."

Aside from the fact this was the largest amount of money I had ever received just for smiling at someone, I thought little about why my friendly expression had resulted in Chewton's guest making such a gesture.

Roll forward 40 years and I am putting all my energy into leading Team Yellow as we attempt to provide an entertaining evening for our guests at Back to the Floor 5, held in the Nine Kings Suite at the Royal Lancaster London, when someone discretely slips an envelope into my pocket. I was so pre-occupied with keeping some semblance of order among my team that it was a while before I remembered to check what I had been given, but if you've ever tried to control a bunch of highly experienced, yet strong-willed senior managers, you'll understand how challenging that can be.

As we assembled back of house in preparation for serving the next course, I pulled the envelope out and went weak at the knees. My fellow team members saw me shaking and asked what was wrong so I showed them what was written on the front. I had been given a £10,000 tip. But this time I hadn't carried any luggage, I don't think I'd even smiled and, in fact, I'd actually forgotten to serve a bread roll to my generous benefactor at the start of the dinner.

The biggest single tip to be given at any of the five Back to the Floor events, that have collectively raised well over half a million pounds for Hospitality Action, came from someone who wanted absolutely nothing in return.

So why did he do it? To answer this question, we need to dig a bit deeper into the circumstances leading up to the donation to Hospitality Action. The gesture was made following a series of probing questions about how the evening was organised, who was involved, what was the objective and, perhaps most importantly, where was all the money going to? The desire for generosity was compounded by the fact that this philanthropist, who is used to attending charity events by the dozen, told me our event was completely different to anything he had ever witnessed before and in a hugely positive way.

I then read Hilary Cooke's post ‘This is hospitality' on LinkedIn the following morning, in which she describes hospitality as "the expression of love for a stranger" and the penny dropped. Like Hilary, I too have been lit by this love for 40 years and my Team Yellow badge now sits on my desk as a reminder, should I ever need it, that our amazing industry has just delivered something that epitomises our entire existence.

Nicholas Dickinson is the director of Congham Hall in Kings Lynn, Norfolk

Pictured above: Nicholas Dickinson, Hilary Cooke, Rory Kelly-Naughton, Erick Kervaon, James Clarke and Annie Brown

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