Jenna Hemsworth on what it’s like to be unemployed after 12 years of hard slog

Jenna Hemsworth at Restaurant Hubert.
Jenna Hemsworth at Restaurant Hubert, pre-COVID. Photo: Christopher Pearce

This story appeared in the August issue of Bartender magazine as part of our new series called ‘State of Play’ which includes contributors each month from around the country. Here’s one of our very first contributions from a big name in the industry and a former Bartender magazine Bartender of the Year.

Story by Jenna Hemsworth

I’ve been unemployed for six and a half months now, at the time of writing this. By the time this article goes to print, I’m hoping that has changed, obviously, with venues gradually reopening and job positions slowly being advertised.

Did I ever picture myself to be here, flat broke and at square one- trawling through minimum wage jobs begging to be employed after twelve years of building a successful career in this industry? Fuck. No.

I don’t write these words to elicit sympathy for myself. God knows what’s going on in the world around us warrants much more attention than my situation; but I think it’s okay to fear for the future right now. And it’s okay to grieve the industry as it once was.

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All around me I see my peers (my friends) affected by job loss, threat of closure of their businesses and their entire livelihoods and life’s work at stake. A good proportion of us in the hospitality industry have chosen this as our lifelong career, so simply ‘getting another job’ is not a viable option, as many media outlets would have you believe.

And yet the incredible air of positivity and community shown by our industry during this complete reformation and rebuilding has been awe-inspiring. We’ve seen people come together to feed anyone in need for free, no questions asked. We’ve seen people struggling to make ends meet making sure they support their local businesses just to keep them afloat, all with next to no complaints about how our lives have basically just been put through the rotovap, so to speak.

Sure, there has been no illusions that it’s been really rough, mentally and financially, but the point I am trying to make is that for a group of people who dedicate their lives to the service of others, when their own quality of life is under imminent threat, their immediate response is to band together, literally feed each other and make sure no one is left behind moving forward. I think that’s pretty fucking special.

If this is how we behave during one of the lowest points we’ve all collectively lived through – imagine what we could build going forward.

Being flat broke and starting at square one doesn’t seem so hopeless anymore. I can now see a chance to rebuild our industry the way we wish it was to begin with.

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