Healthy Hospo: Working Toward a Healthier, Happier Hospitality Industry

Written by We Are Beer Staff
Published on January 8, 2019

We spoke to Healthy Hospo founder Tim Etherington-Judge about his organisation, the importance of sleep, and how the hospitality industry can take better care of itself.

Hi Tim! So, what are you doing at the moment?

“We’re starting doing some work in Dublin, then we have our first event of the year on the 21st of January, which is our big event of the year; our wellness workshop. We’ve got speakers and workshops, a no/low alcohol bar, pilates, yoga, which will be exciting. You should come along.”

Can you tell us a little more about what Healthy Hospo does?

“So Healthy Hospo was the first not-for-profit organisation that looks at the health and wellness of the hospitality industry on a global scale. I’ve been in the industry for twenty-something years now: I’ve been a chef, a bar back, a bartender, and then in my last role I was a global brand ambassador for Bulleit Whiskey. I had that job that people dream of in the industry: I travelled the world; a hundred flights a year; staying in hotels, getting to party, hanging out in the world’s best cocktail bars. There were lots of plus sides to it and it was great, but there’s another side to it: it’s an extremely unhealthy job.

In 2016 I had a massive breakdown and tried to commit suicide. That was a real wake-up call. I started to speak to people more openly about my struggle, and what I found was that it was like opening Pandora’s box: as soon as I began to a publicly about my problems, depression and suicide, I got hundreds of messages from people telling me their stories. It was like there’s this massive elephant in this room, and no one’s talking about it’. There are a few brands who are doing little things, like yoga or mindfulness, but there was no one looking at the big picture and going: ‘right, let’s talk about health and wellness as a massive thing, rather than taking one tiny bit’.”

What do you think are the biggest dangers in hospitality?

“The big thing I’m championing at the moment is around sleep. Recent research and studies have broken down the myth that it’s something we do to get through the night; we’re starting to realise that the body is as active when we’re asleep as when we’re awake. One of the world’s sleep scientists says that being awake is like low-level brain damage, and sleeping undoes the bad effects of that. We commissioned the a study into how the hospitality industry sleeps, this year. We found that it’s probably the most sleep deprived industry in the world.”

How did you go about conducting that study?

“We used a pre-existing survey called the ‘Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index’, which is a kind of industry-standard survey for testing sleep quality and quantity. It’s used for interventional studies, for medical studies, and to look at sleep deprivation of certain jobs and careers. We used that and had about 1000 people complete it around the world. It was cool, and super frightening.

The survey is about 19 questions, and at the end it spits out a score; you tally up the scores and then you work out the average for your survey. The survey comes with an advisory from the creators that a score of 5 or above suggest severe sleep deprivation, and that you should seek medical help. I’ve spent some time searching, and the highest score we found was 7.4, which was nighttime ship-working male doctors. Our average score was 9.92.

So, sleep is my big one. If you combine that with the extreme amounts of caffeine the industry drinks through energy drinks, Red Bull, and coffee, and then alcohol—which has the effect of reducing the quality of your sleep, as it affects your brain waves, and puts them out of sync. Alcohol doesn’t make you sleep: it starts to shut down and anaesthetise various parts of your brain as a defense mechanism: you may have passed out, but you’re not sleeping. They’re two very different things.”

What do you think we as an industry can do to improve?

“I think the first step is to change the conversation. It’s always been the norm that you have to be unhealthy in the industry: if you’re sick you’re weak, that kind of thing. Being sick or unhealthy is just a rite of passage or something you have to be, if you burn out you’re weak or don’t belong. Changing that attitude is a start. And it’s happening!

The next step is the industry realising that health and wellness is a financial benefit. No one benefits in the industry when everyone is sick and unhealthy. If you’re an outlet—a bar or restaurant—and your staff are fit and healthy, they will take fewer sick days, they’re less likely to leave your business (the industry’s biggest problem is staff turnover right now), they will be more productive and profitable when they’re at work, they’re less likely to break things and sustain injuries, so your risk factors are lower.”

What do you want to see in 2019?

“What I would like to see is a bigger change in the conversation around health; more outlets taking the health and wellness of their staff seriously.

Another thing I would like to see is individuals taking more ownership and making better decisions around health and wellness. I think that’s coming with the rise of non-alcoholic stuff; people now have a lot of options, so maybe an end to this peer pressure of endless drinking. It’s almost a competition sometimes to see who can drink the most. The amount of fun you have is definitely not proportional to the amount you drink. I think that the industry as a whole is doing great things: non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip and Ceder’s, The Small Beer Company and lower-ABV beers; we’ve gone away from the days of people like BrewDog trying to make the world’s strongest beer, and Double IPAs at 9-10%. People are making super delicious beer at the lower end of the scale, and I think that’s really exciting.”

Are there any distinctions between the hospitality industry as a whole and the beer industry?

“There’s a desire to do good in both industries when it comes to things like sustainability and social issues. I think that people are involved in the alcohol industry want to save the world, in some way—there’s often a desire to do good things. You don’t often see accountants getting angry about the use of disposable plastics; the drinks industry is constantly trying to improve its sustainability.

Because both industries are reliant upon each other, there are a lot of similarities. A lot of the people who started craft beer brands did so because they enjoy the hospitality industry: they enjoy going out to bars; they enjoy hanging out with their friends. I’m sure a number of brands started as conversations between friends like ‘this beer’s shit, we could make a better one.’ And then they do it.

For me, the lower ABV—when it comes to health and wellness—is the really exciting part. Looking at millenials and young people and what their interests are, health and wellness is far more important to them than it was to previous generations.

It’s a super interesting time. It’s an exciting time to be alive.”