All industries that exist serve an essential purpose and more often than not, that purpose is reflected in the name of that industry. You might ask your friend who is a financial advisor where you should invest your finances. If you’re finally getting around to installing that retaining wall in your garden, you should probably google a contractor.

Then there’s the foodservice and hospitality industry, of which I am part of. Considering the plethora of services my fellow professionals offer, the overarching purpose of the service industry is hard to put your finger on. A bartender does much more than create drinks. A waiter does much more than take your order, or bring you food. What essential need do we, as service professionals, fulfill?

I looked for answers in reasons that myself and others have for going out to eat or drink. Is it convenience? Maybe you are too tired to cook or simply don’t feel like it. But I don’t expect the entire process from ordering to payment to take any less time than making dinner for myself at home. Is it speciality? I am not a seasoned sushi chef and I can say with a lot of confidence that I never will be. The service industry allows me to discover and enjoy foods that I might not otherwise. But sometimes I just order a salad or a burger.

It was when I started looking into the origins of the word hospitality that an answer emerged. Imagine you show up to a relative or close friend’s house. They take your coat and invite you to sit down. You notice how cozy and comfortable their home is. You may be hungry or thirsty but if you try to stand up and help yourself, they say “No, no, you relax.” They treat you with food and drink, and you feel better about yourself and life in general.

When someone is hospitable to us, they are offering us love, caring, and acceptance. As humans, we need these types of interactions. We can’t simply wait for the next invitation to the home of someone who may treat us so well, and thus we are willing to go out and pay for it.

Once I realized that the service industry fulfills a need for love and care and that a lack of it makes one’s life inhospitable (unfriendly, unwelcoming, difficult to live in), I started to look at the specific, sometimes unnoticed, standards of the service industry in a completely different way.

These things I do for others in my line of work are things that I can do for myself and those I share my home with. These acts of care and love can be acts of self-care, and self-love. Implementing the basics of service in my own life has radically improved, my happiness, my health, and my relationship with myself.

Self-love is important because it both grounds us and helps us keep a healthy mood and state of mind. Treating ourselves with hospitable love is more important than ever due to our new reality of a world with COVID-19. Dining can be difficult or in some places completely non-optional. So what do we do to fulfill our need for hospitable love in a world that encourages us to distance ourselves outside the home?

Below are ten actions you can take to boost your sense of self-worth that the service industry has been doing for you all along. Some of these points can be applied to all three meals. Breakfast and lunch are unfortunately for many, or most, not usually meals where you can take a break or a seat. Thus, this list is primarily for dinner; that final meal of the day that signals relaxation and/or celebration. Apply a few of these simple pleasures to the routine of your home life and feel your self-love grow.

1. Eat sitting down at a table:

Who hasn’t stood in their kitchen slurping noodles from a bowl, or worse, a disposable container to “save time.” This act can be satisfying when you want a snack in the middle of the day or the middle of the night. However, to eat your dinner standing in the kitchen is arguably not an act of self-love, but an act of self-loathing. It sends your mind subliminal messages that you are not worth the trouble of taking a seat and relaxing. Allowing your body to relax for a meal helps digestion and proper nutrition. Practice this basic act of self-care to raise your self-worth. Eating by yourself can be a special time, undisrupted by distractions, and focused on personal needs and desires.

When dining with others; please seat yourself across from roommates, loved ones, etc… Maybe this is a no brainer, but it took some time for my husband and I to realize that if we were eating out, we would probably be seated across from each other, not next to each other at folding tables, with the TV on. Until this revelation; we lived in a bizarre scene of having conversations with our necks craning side to side as if this was perfectly normal. When we started seating ourselves across from each other we were delighted to be face to face, and to watch as we enjoy or don’t enjoy the fruits of our kitchen labors. Our dinner time has turned into a bonding experience, extra important for busy days where sometimes we don’t see each other at all.

We also realized that the TV was taking attention away from our food, which is also a problem. If you’ve ever heard your stomach growl just from seeing a picture of food, it is because our digestive system is hardwired to activate through visual cues in anticipation of being put to use. Conversely; you can also imagine that if we are not looking at the food we are about to eat, our body is not anticipating eating it. Thus the systems necessary to digest food aren’t prepared for the surprise party they are about to get. Give your mind-gut connection the respect it deserves. Love it, and it will love you back.

2. Setting the table:

While running off to the kitchen for something you forgot may seem like it’s not a big deal. This is something you would not be able to do while dining out. You cannot have access to the kitchen or go behind the bar, and if your server or bartender forgot to give you something you ordered or was part of your dining experience, it is sometimes awkward or inconvenient to ask for that which you are missing.

At home, we usually don’t think twice about running off to get something. But in actuality, you are breaking up the circle of relaxation you have created by sitting down to dinner together. Give yourself the gift of staying seated and set your table before your meal is ready, starting your dinner ritual.

3. Music: 

Setting the table to some music will make your dining environment more enjoyable and hospitable. It will begin the kind of immersive energy you should be cultivating for your meal. Music will reset your mind from the previous events of the day, clearing away mental clutter.

Follow the kind of courtesies you can observe at a restaurant. Do not use a dive bar as a standard for the kind of music to play. Blasting “Don’t Stop Believing” is not going to prep your body for digestion. Save those kinds of tunes for some rock and roll kitchen time.

While cooking can turn out fabulous from high-intensity jams, dinner music should be pleasant, and something people can easily chat over. Be creative though, you don’t need to resort to something that will put you to sleep. Some of my most lasting dining memories are connected to a song I love gently surprising me as it came on at a restaurant. The home can be a place to create unforgettable experiences too. Put a little love into these choices, and your well being will thank you.

4. Silverware: 

I’m not going to suggest you lay out three different forks for different courses. Elaboration is not the goal here, we are simply trying to make sure that dinner has a spirit of gathering and enjoying.

To avoid having to run to the kitchen as you realize part of your meal might need a spoon, do yourself a favor and assess what kind of meal you will be having, and what kind of tools you may need to get it from one vessel to another, or from the plate to your mouth. A steak knife is for more than meat and can be used for any foods that a standard knife might be too dull or not ideal for. I have seen a Brussels sprout resist a standard knife and fly across a table numerous times. And don’t get me started on the pleasures of using a steak knife to carve through half a head of dressed lettuce.

You can up the self-love levels by throwing away bent utensils. Using silverware that matches, in a design that sparks joy, will make life a bit more beautiful.

5. Napkins: 

This is an item a lot of adults do not introduce into their lives until they have a child. Somehow we allow children the kindness and understanding that some foods are messy and accidents happen. Whereas adults may act as if they are too tough to need napkins. Or that we should eat in some sort of perfect way where food never accidentally touches your chin or the corners of your mouth. This is really sort of crazy.

Besides, in a lot of homes and restaurants, the napkin goes on your lap. Perhaps once you‘ve dropped enough ribs or tomato sauce on your pants you’ve embraced this practice, that can seem posh but is actually an absolutely logical thing to do.

Not only is including a napkin sanitary and kind to yourself and others, but it is also necessary and liberating for those of us who are accident-prone, or inherently kind of sloppy eaters, and should not be ostracized for this (like myself).

While using fine white linen napkins may seem too fancy or like too much laundry. You may consider getting some washable napkins to save money and the environment. At least get some nice paper napkins. There are some options out there that look like cloth napkins. They do make you feel like you’re worth not rubbing things out of the corners of your mouth with your hand or arm.

To those reading this who use napkins and think that adults do not do this, you are mistaken. And if you don’t use napkins when you eat and wipe your face with your hand, you are worth so much more than this. Please use a napkin and you might start believing me.

Before I let go of this topic I need you to understand something very important. Paper towels are not napkins. Never have been, never will be. They are designed for wiping hard surfaces, like floors and counters. Your face is too precious for being scrubbed with these, never mind that they are unsightly and associated with messes in the kitchen and bathroom. In no way can using them on your face feel like self-love.

6. Water:

Ah, the ever under-appreciated glass of water. Unless you go to a country where they charge you for water, you receive a glass of it at every restaurant where you are being served. If you’ve worked in the service industry, you know how important it is to set a table with glasses of water. At a simple diner, you get a glass of it soon after you sit down. At some restaurants, even casual dining establishments, you may receive this glass from someone who isn’t even your server.

Soda, milk, iced tea, wine… None of them are a replacement for water. There are too many reasons to count why this is an essential part of eating. It cleanses the palate, you may sit down to eat already thirsty, something doesn’t go down your throat the right way. If for no other reason, it offers the symbolic gesture of kindness and respect for the health of yourself and your dining companions. Please include a glass of water when you set the table. It will give everyone a greater sense of being special.

 7. Glassware: 

I have seen people drink wine from a coffee cup. I have also seen people drink soda from a coffee cup. I don’t care how many coffee cups you may have in your cabinet. It is an unloving way to serve anything but hot beverages such as coffee and tea.

One reason is that clear or slightly colored drinking vessels allow people to identify what is in front of them. These visual cues are essential to proper eating and drinking experience. Whether it is ornately etched or interestingly formed, it just has to be a glass that you will clearly know is the glass of water, and not the glass of beer, wine, soda, etc. Confusion and self-love don’t mix. 

Plus glassware doesn’t have to be fancy, to be beautiful. One of my favorite, unpretentious, and all-purpose vessels is the pint-size Ball Mason jar. It is so clear and unspecific, that you can serve both water and soft beverages from it, without causing any confusion.

If you drink wine with your meals, even if it comes out of a can or box, use a wine glass. Stemless is absolutely fine. Just please don’t put alcoholic beverages into coffee cups like someone who drinks booze for breakfast. 

8. Tasty Drink:

“Would you like something to drink?” is one of the first questions you hear while dining out. Having a flavorful beverage with meals shouldn’t be reserved for the world outside. Let’s bring some drink options into your home that entice, enhance meals, and life.

There is no reason your kitchen can’t be a home bar. Cocktails can seem intimidating if you have never tried making them before. Just try to think of it as liquid cooking! Start simple, replicating your favorite basic cocktails. An Old Fashioned would be a great place to start if you enjoy darker cocktails. If light and bright is your thing, try one of our personal favorites: the Bennett cocktail. Before you know it, you will be making bespoke cocktails to suit your palate.

Yet alcohol is not necessary to making a delicious beverage to complement your food or clear the palate. Non-alcoholic drinks can be just as fresh and exciting as your dishes.

Just as all your food doesn’t come out of a box or out of the freezer, all your drinks shouldn’t have to come out of a bottle or can. The best sodas, lemonades, teas, and non-alcoholic cocktails are mostly or entirely homemade. Not only are they tastier but also customizable to your preferences. Why let someone else decide how sour or sweet your drink should be?

You can muddle fresh fruit and/or herbs, or even make your own infused syrups. Try experimenting with soda concentrates, mixers, fruit juice, and/or bitters. Companies like Perfectly Cordial from Tennessee makes mixers you can use for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Consider how much waste is generated by the transport of soft beverages, and the discard of their containers. Not only will you eat happier knowing you are helping save the environment and money, but you will also feel the self-love that comes from mixing your own liquid culinary creations.

9. Condiments and Considerations:

In a diner, you will usually find a few staple items that always live on the table. Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. These toppings make a lot of sense when you consider the number of burgers and fries they serve. Other types of restaurants have similar setups: chutneys at an Indian restaurant, chips and salsa at a Mexican place, bread and oil in an Italian eatery.

I consider it a kindness to myself and/or my dining partners to set the table with salt and pepper. It is convenient and takes people’s tastes into account. We’ve all dined with someone who puts pepper on everything, or that relative who thinks everything isn’t salty enough.

This topic is one that I can’t give you all the answers to because it takes a great deal of consideration, and thus love to figure out. You want to start by analyzing the common themes of your meals. And consider some tips from my house. Lemon wedges are important to those who like their foods zippier. Olive oil can enhance many dishes. Chopped herbs such as parsley, cilantro, or basil add flavor and color to the plate. Hot sauce or sriracha is a necessity for many people I know. I keep a bottle of Scorpion Bitters handy, to add spice while letting the flavor of my food sing.

A caddy or a flat bottomed bowl can store your accoutrements on the table or make transport from the kitchen easier. You may not always need these handy items, but let’s remember, the goal is to anticipate needs as any good service person would. This way you can avoid running back to the kitchen and stay seated in the bubble of self-love you created.

10. Go out with a bang:

When my plate starts to get empty, a little pang of sadness goes through my heart. But going out with a bang from your dinner keeps the happy feelings and good times rolling into the rest of your evening.

In my home, seasonal fruit is the daily dinner finale, without which, something feels missing. Whether it’s a simple scoop of ice cream or an elaborate pie with hand-whipped cream. For some people, dessert is a straight-up requirement. Which is one reason that there are tons of options out there and the internet is teeming with healthy alternative recipes. Find something that fits your diet and lifestyle to treat yourself right.

Not all desserts have to be edible. There are all kinds of dessert cocktails such as Brandy Alexanders, Irish Coffees, and Hot Toddies, that you can make at home. Dessert can be a delicious spirit like cognac, brandy, and grappa; liqueurs like Frangelico, Baileys, and amaretto; as well as one of my favorite boozy categories: Amari.

Amari is a type of sweet and bitter herbal liquor that hails from Italy, a country that knows how to dine. It is traditionally consumed sometimes at the beginning, and more importantly at the end of a meal. The primarily bitter flavor of Amari helps activate the entire digestive system to process the meal you just ate with more ease and less discomfort.

While Amari translates to “bitter” in English, the flavor of each brand is as distinctively different as the botanical formulas that make them. There are a lot of options out there and if you find one you like, Amari can be sipped from a cordial glass as a healthy and delicious finale to a meal.

There are two categories of bitter, potable and non-potable. Amari is considered a potable bitter, meaning it is meant to be drunk on its own as a beverage. “Bitters” (like the ones we make) are non-potable, and are meant to be consumed by the dropper, or added to a drink.

If you’ve ever wondered what drinks bitters are used in, the answer is a lot of them. The reason that they are a home bar essential is that they work seamlessly with almost any drink. Not only do bitters enhance the flavor of your non-alcoholic drink, but they add health benefits as well. Bitters with soda is a classic palate cleanser and stomach soother. Pour yourself a glass of soda water and top it with a few dashes of bitters. Your stomach will thank you.

I add lemon to the bitter water I have with or after a meal. It not only helps with digestion, but it also has a relaxing and reviving effect which is exactly how I want to feel after I eat. I celebrate the finale of almost all my meals with this cup of self-love.

Conclusion

What does self-love look like? Self-love is made up of actions that we have the opportunity to take at almost any moment. It is important for our health and wellbeing that we take time every day to care for ourselves and the people we are closest to. Since we began doing these ten things, we’ve started feeling happier, calmer, and more connected to ourselves and each other. The more we did these steps the more we developed a full and well-rounded sense of self-love. What are some of the things that you do every day to show self-love?

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