(This is an auto-generated transcript. There may be errors.)
This is part two in a three episode series. About my time working in the food service industry. In the past, I worked in three different roles at three separate establishments. I was a waiter at a 1950s themed diner, a banquet server at a hotel and conference center and a bus boy at an Italian restaurant.
At each establishment, I gained valuable life experience, made a little bit of money, learned a lot about food, customer service and the human condition and met some fascinating people along the way. I made a few lifelong friends and broadened my perspective, becoming a bit more educated and culturally enriched.
I also died a little inside at each job as my romantic image of dining, as an exciting career was shattered. And instead I saw what you might argue was the ugly underbelly of an industry that portrays itself as glamorous, but is actually filled with people who are struggling poor broke, and sometimes highly dysfunctional.
In this series, I will try to be positive about the aspects of the industry that I can. But as I promised in my introductory episode of this podcast, I will be completely real and tell it like it is from my few years of experience, which is by no means authoritative, but it is my experience. Food service is an industry that you might love, but it doesn’t love you back.
It is hard to make a living. It is even harder to find a place where you can work, that respects you. And no matter how many years you spend in the industry, you will always be completely and utterly replaceable. This is episode two of three, where I’ll share about the time I spent as a banquet server at a hotel and convention center.
If you already heard my previous episode about working at a diner, you know, how and why I ended up leaving that job for this new job as a banquet server. If you need the full story, feel free to go back and listen to that episode. Otherwise, I’ll pick up here where I left off. When I applied to work at the hotel, I had a little bit of info about the job itself, but I didn’t really know how to apply or how to set up an interview.
So I just printed out a copy of my very short resume and walked in the front door of the hotel. I went by the front desk and talk to one of the attendants and asked if I could speak to the manager whose name I had. And they called her up to the lobby to meet with me. She shook my hand, took my resume and talked with me for about 60 seconds and then said, she’d call me later to talk more.
Now, as I mentioned, I didn’t exactly know how to apply for a job working at a hotel, but I figured that dressing up nice and getting some actual face time with the decision maker. Couldn’t hurt. What I didn’t want to do was just walk in the back door and drop my resume off in some inbox at the HR office where nobody would pick it up and where it would have no context at all.
While I think I interrupted the manager’s day, my method worked, I got a call back, had an interview and I was hired. Yay. It was that simple. I was ecstatic to drive back to the diner and give my two weeks notice. And that was hard for me because I wanted to leave immediately. As part of the onboarding process to work at the hotel, I had to get set up with a new uniform.
If memory serves, I went to Burlington coat factory to get my outfit, a white shirt with a flying collar, a black bow tie, a black vest, black pants and shiny black shoes. I was really happy about this new uniform. It was a nice contrast from what I had to wear at the diner. I hated the embarrassing diner gear with its gaudy bright bowling shirts with oversized collars and are embarrassing name tags with fake names like Wally on them.
No, at the hotel, I was going to be proud to wear this outfit, the stark white shirt and dark bow tie and slacks looked not goofy, but elegant. I was looking forward to talking like a normal person, again, saying things like, thank you. You’re welcome, sir. Ma’am rather than silly, 1950s TB lingo, like what’s up Daddy-O and Sienna, while crocodile, while I only had a few months of food service experience at this point, I knew it couldn’t be that hard to learn how to wait tables as a banquet server.
It was definitely going to be different than being a quote unquote, regular waiter at a diner or a restaurant because banquets are much more formal and they have a very specific format. I wouldn’t need to wear an apron. I wouldn’t have to have a bank with me. I would never have to deal with money. I never had to memorize a menu.
And the actual interaction that I would have with guests would be minimal. Someone I had been talking to before I worked there, told me. Look, basically, all you have to do is set the table, serve dinner and clear the table. You’ll essentially have one question, chicken or beef that turned out to be a slight exaggeration, but it was actually mostly true at the hotel.
I was given a name tag just like at the diner, but in this case I got to use my real name are nice, shiny silver name tags, listed our first name and also where we were from. Now, this is a bit subjective because it mainly referred to the country that you were from. So in my case, my name tag was a bit boring.
It said Ron Colorado, that was a bit of a stretch anyway, since I was actually born and raised in California, but whatever fine Colorado it was. But for people from other countries, it helped a lot to get an understanding of just how international hotels and resorts are. Plus this was a great conversation starter.
You can spot somebody serving you for dinner or sweeping up the lobby and just by glancing at their name tag, you can tell that this is and Selma from Mexico. By the way, my friend Dan Selmo from Mexico at the hotel, I liked him a lot. He was a goofball. He had a great sense of humor. We had people from all over the Western hemisphere, working at the hotel, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and a few small Island nations like Jamaica and Puerto Rico, but mostly by a huge margin, the country with the most employees, Peru.
There were far more Peruvians than any other nationality at the hotel. There were also a few stragglers from Europe, Germany in particular, but only one or two. If I recall correctly, even for people born and raised in America like me, we had people from all over the 50 States. One coworker was from Hawaii being in Colorado in the heart of the Rocky mountains.
I figured we were located in a place that was about as polar and opposite as you could possibly find from Hawaii. I later learned that that happens all the time. People in Hawaii sometimes get Island fever and they go to the mountains. When I started working at the hotel, I didn’t know a single soul. I did have the name of someone to keep an eye out for because the whole reason I applied for this job in particular is that one of my coworkers at the diner told me about his friend who was in management here.
Well, as it turned out, management was a bit too strong, a term. But this gentleman was indeed a leader of sorts a captain, which is like a supervisor of banquet servers. When I finally met this guy, I was really glad I did. He was a great person to work with very friendly and a hard worker. I liked him a lot and I could see when my old coworker had been friends with him for so many years slowly but surely I started to get to know my coworkers and ended up becoming friends with many of them for many years.
Since I was still a college student, I was hired for the perfect role for me, an on-call banquet server. That meant that basically I would be on the list for whenever a banquet or what we actually called a function needed more servers than the full-time staff could handle. This happened quite a bit as it turned out and that made it a pretty respectable part-time job.
There was never any pressure to come into work. All I had to do was wait for the call. I’d get a phone call or a voicemail saying, Hey Ron, we have a function this Saturday at six o’clock. Do you want to work? If I did, I would just call back and say yes. If I didn’t, I could just say no, or ignore the call now that I think about it.
This was really the ideal job for a student like me. I didn’t appreciate at the time, just how beneficial this flexibility really was. If I was too busy studying during a particular week, I could just decline if an offer to work a function came through. There would never be any penalty for saying no, it was kind of cool, like being in the military reserves.
Even after I had worked there for three or four years, I still kept meeting random people at various functions that I had never seen before, but they weren’t new employees. They were just people who rarely came in during the summertime. When I had more time or during holidays, especially I could pick up a lot of extra shifts.
Toward the end of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas, new year’s, et cetera. That’s when the hotel would be packed with lots of functions and I could pick up as much work as I could handle that actually brings up a good point about the hotel business. The term conference center is kind of a misnomer.
Typically the events, or as I said, functions, which is what we call them, weren’t really conferences at all. Although there were some of those, mostly the functions that I worked at were private parties, parties of all shapes, sizes, stripes, and budgets, and they typically followed a seasonal schedule of sorts.
If you’d look at a calendar year, let’s say you’d start the year with maybe some Valentine theme parties or dancing balls where people would pay a lot of money to dress up real nice and have chocolate and wine and formal dancing. Then there’d be a few mother’s day events. And of course, a Sunday brunch buffet on Easter.
And during the summertime, there would be a couple of high school graduations. Now I was always a night server. So doing the Easter brunches and high school graduations meant I had to get up in the morning early. Like I had to report to work at five 30 or 6:00 AM yuck. I must’ve been pretty desperate for cash to work.
Those gigs sprinkle in a few quinceneras and then you’re into the fall. And then once the holiday start rolling, that’s when I could work almost a full week. We would have Thanksgivings, corporate Christmas parties, new year’s Eve celebrations, and more, the last two months of the year were definitely full for me, which was good for school as well, since I’d be on winter break and I could work almost as much as they’d throw my way.
Oh yeah. The function I worked by far more than any other was the air force NCO. Non-commissioned officer Academy, graduations. They had those all the time. I never really figured out exactly what a non-commissioned officer was or why they were constantly graduating, but who cares? That was a good gig. I observed a lot about how the military works by serving those events from their use of drug sniffing dogs, to the invocation, the prayer they’d give before dinner and how they would always have a missing man table sometimes called a fallen soldiers table.
At every event. You’re probably getting a sense that I liked this job much, much more than the diner. And you’re totally right. There’s a reason I stayed working here for years, even after I was married. One of those reasons was that I was thoroughly fascinated by the people I worked with at the hotel. I had a great time getting to know them, and I really enjoyed working with some of them.
Most people I worked with were older than me. I know that’s not saying much, but really many of them were much older than me in their forties, fifties, and even sixties. The job was physically demanding, but the nature of serving banquets made it manageable. There’s enough downtime, and you essentially only have to do what your captain tells you.
So some people, even in their much older years who couldn’t handle the stress of working a normal restaurant job easily fit in serving banquets at the hotel. Funny enough. And there’s no way to put this other than to just say it. I was an ethnic minority at this job. I was a gringo in a hotel, essentially staffed with Hispanic people.
Now this was never a problem for me. And in fact, I thought it was fun. I spent way more time during breaks, hanging out with the Hispanic folks. Honestly, most of the Spanish that I still remember to this day came from spending break time sharing meals with, and working with my Peruvian and Mexican friends and coworkers.
I learned far more real daily, use Spanish from this job than I did in my one semester of college Spanish on a total side note. One thing I learned that I didn’t expect at all. Was that when you’re learning a language in a classroom setting and you’re also using it on a daily basis at the same time, it doesn’t mix.
Well, I would learn things at the hotel for my coworkers, which would then spill over into my Spanish class. And my professor would say, Ron, where did you learn that we haven’t covered that yet or worse? I would try to say things on the job using my textbook Spanish. I had learned in class and my coworkers would laugh at me, literally.
I asked one employee once done the NASCIO and he said, huh. Oh, you mean ? Well, you said doesn’t make sense. I don’t know. I’m not a native Spanish speaker, but little nitpicky things like this happen all the time. I said a few things in Spanish, one time and a Peruvian coworker laughed out loud and said, you sound just like a Puerto Rican.
Hey, everyone, come listen to Ron. Speak a Spanish. He’s a Puerto Rican. I still don’t remember exactly what I said, but the point was my Spanish professor in college was from Puerto Rico. And apparently my coworkers could sense that in the way I used Spanish, sometimes the people I worked with were so fascinating since most of them were recent immigrants, they had the most interesting stories.
One of my favorite coworkers was from El Salvador. He went to college there and earned a degree and even learned French so that he could work for a French telecommunications company. But after moving to the USA, neither his degree nor his French skills were in high demand. So he worked as a banquet server, just like me.
I was sad to see that someone could work so hard and study so much. He spoke three languages for Pete’s sake and still have to work an essentially entry-level job at a hotel. He told me that American employers didn’t value his Salvadoran college degree. Some people from other countries had really done their work and studied hard, but came to the USA with a distinct disadvantage because they knew little to no English.
Some of the most inspiring people I met were the people I would only see rarely, I met all kinds of folks who had never worked in food service or hospitality before, but they had families and wanting to make a little extra cash for the holidays when we had too many functions and not enough servers.
Our hotel would make calls to local temp agencies to get more staff that’s when I’d really meet some serious characters. I don’t want to cast dispersions on people who work for temp agencies, but it was a mixed bag. Some of them were heavy smokers who cursed quite a bit. Some had very little in the way of skills and some were criminals on probation who wore ankle tags to track their every move.
But some of them were truly all inspiring. I’ll never forget. One guy I met who worked for a cement company for a living. He came to the temp agency. You’re looking for extra work, so he could buy a PlayStation for his daughter for Christmas. He told me, I promised her that if she got straight A’s on her report card, I would buy her a PlayStation.
She did the work, she got straight A’s and now I want to reward her. The tenacity of some parents was really inspiring. Seeing that guy work a full week at a hard physical job, and then spend nights and weekends staying up til past midnight, serving tables to reward his daughter. It’s just one of those things that I appreciate more now as a parent, because I have a feeling that whoever his daughter was, she had no idea just how hard her father was working to provide her with that PlayStation.
Also due to the part-time nature of the work, there were several cases of husband, wife, couples working there. Because, Hey, if you were serving tables and you had extra time, maybe your spouse did too. That’s twice the money. Sometimes I would meet say the husband of one of the assistant managers and to see him wearing the same uniform as me working as one of my peers under the management of his wife, that made me chuckle and they were good sports about it.
The nature of serving functions at a hotel is kind of strange if you’re not used to it. There’s a certain cadence to it that is different than most other food service jobs. If you’re just a normal waiter at a restaurant you’re expected to serve all the tables in your station for as long as people come in during your shift period, no matter how many people show up, you’re on the clock.
So you gotta go check on them. There’s really no downtime. Hotel functions like banquets though are an entirely different animal. Instead of being on your feet from start to finish, it has more fits and starts with lots of downtime in between. For example, if a function we’re serving starts at 7:00 PM, then some of us would show up at some bizarre time, like say two 50 to start prepping would start by setting up tables.
This included placing dishes and silverware for each seat. Folding the linen napkins into peacocks or fans, adding water glasses and coffee cups, stanchions for table numbers, butter dishes, and bread rolls, et cetera. This would take a few hours and then the other servers would slowly start to trickle in as the time drew near, before the event started, we would have a powwow in the backroom with our captain where we would review the BEO banquet event order.
And talk about what we’re serving cover any last minute details or things that would be out of the ordinary, then people would start to show up, they’d be seated at their tables and we would begin coffee service or filling their water glasses or offer ice tea or things like that. According to the preset schedule.
When the event officially started, all the servers would descend upon the dining room and serve all the salads at the same time. And I mean the same time, boom out, they go maybe 800, 1200, let’s say 2000 salads. We all grabbed the chilled glass plates off the carts and set them all down. Then we’d wait.
We’d stand to the side, quietly waiting as the organization’s MC would start announcing how the evening would go. Or as in the case of the NCO Academy, graduations, there’d be an invocation. The guests would have a few minutes to enjoy their salads and we would refill bread in their bread baskets. And then at the set time, boom, we would clear all the salads at the same time.
We always serve to the left Claire from the right. Standing off to the side. We’d wait a few minutes. And then the heated cabinets would be pulled into the hallways, just outside the ballroom, filled with hundreds or even thousands of chicken or beef Wellingtons, and boom. We’d serve them all. Then we’d stand to the side and wait.
Okay. Do you get the point? We’d serve dinner, wait for them to finish it. Refill their drinks. Ad nauseum and field annoying requests. Like, do you have horseradish? Then clear dinner, then wait, then serve dessert, then wait. And so on. Usually right after dessert was the best part. If there was a long presentation, like at a graduation or some big speech, we’d have maybe an hour or even more where we could go to the lunchroom in the back and just watch TV or talk or watch TV and talk.
Eventually someone would come back in and say, they’re wrapping up time to go. Then we’ll go clean up at a basic level. Almost everything we did consisted of something like the following. Number one, serve salads, waters, and ice teas. Number two, wait, number three, serve dinner. Number four, wait. Number five, serve dessert.
Usually something like cheesecake and offer coffee, service. Number six, wait. Number seven. Clean up. Except for those rare occasions when we’d also have wine service or when we’d have an extra serving time in the middle where we would give them raspberry sorbet or beef consummate for a palette cleanser, which was totally annoying by the way, because it doubled our workload and made twice the dirty dishes.
It was pretty much start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. And that’s it. Every once in a while, something interesting would happen. Like we would have white glove service or we’d offer wine service, or even cocktail service during corporate Christmas parties where they’d have a casino night that food we served most often was Wellington beef, chicken, or vegetable, but not always, sometimes we’d serve chicken breasts, sometimes roast beef, sometimes London, broil, or certain kinds of fish.
At the end of each function, we’d come out, remove all the dishes and bring everything back into the back room, pulling all the white linen tablecloths, which by now had been stained with coffee or wine or soda or ice tea off the tables, then stack the chairs and the house men would roll up the tables and put them away then, and only then we could go home.
This was definitely a late evening career choice. And I spent many, many nights going home at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock midnight, or even later
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During downtime in the back room, I spent evenings sitting with my newly adopted extended family from South America. Whether it’s flattering to admit this or not. It’s just a true observation that when you walked into the break room, there was the white side of the break room and Hispanic side of the break room.
Usually I would sit with the Hispanic folks. I didn’t have much in common with the gringos anyway. So I figured it was a good time to learn about another culture and refine my Spanish. I’m glad I did. The South Americans were very talkative and kind, and they welcomed me with open arms and with some of the women, a kiss on the cheek, sometimes I’d have to wipe lipstick off my face.
After that, hotels are a funny place to observe. They’re a confluence of a lot of different things. Like an ancient trading city along the silk road, a lot of various services are offered under one giant roof. And very few of them come into contact with each other. For example, I was a banquet server that meant I served banquets.
I never ever served in either of the two restaurants at the hotel. And I honestly don’t know who did somebody did. I’m sure, but I don’t think I ever met those people. The restaurants were often closed when we had our functions anyway, also room service, again was a totally different thing. I never, ever served room service or even saw the people who did.
I have no idea who they were. I frequently watched the cooks make room service food, but that’s it. Anything else that wasn’t precisely related to what we did was separate from us. Doormen bellhops whatever you call them these days. I never saw them. And the front desk workers, they would occasionally come to the back of the house to get a glass of ice tea or watch TV during a break, or maybe make a phone call, but I rarely, rarely saw them and never talked to them.
They were just from a different side of the house. The same goes for housekeepers. We would see them in the break room sometimes, but we’d almost never interact with them. Well, at least I wouldn’t, not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that they kept a totally different schedule than us. They wore different uniforms.
They had different managers. Most of them didn’t speak English and I didn’t know any of them. And didn’t really have any reason to get to know them. The same was true of Haussmann. House men were like a breed of their own. They had slightly different uniforms and answered to a different manager than we did.
Although a few of them occasionally did switch and actually served banquets. Well, at least one did the house. Men are like the muscle of the dining room and ballrooms. They do all the heavy lifting for setup and take down the servers frequently unstacked and stacked chairs, but we never had to break down tables to roll them up because that’s what the house men do.
The Housemans manager was a taskmaster. I’m telling you that guy was scary. I was so glad he wasn’t my boss. He never smiled and constantly yelled into his little handheld radio. My point in sharing these thoughts is that there exists a chasm between the front of house and back of house in a hotel that people don’t really understand.
And not that they should necessarily. But it was funny to think about how I worked in a hotel for a few years, and I still knew almost nothing about the inner workings of the hotel. For example, I didn’t know anything about how to get a free upgrade on a hotel room or how late checkout policies work or what the room service food cost or whether it was any good or things like that.
For me, aligned from the Pixar movie, a bug’s life reminded me of my job. They come, they eat, they leave. There were a couple of challenging aspects of working at the hotel. And again, some interesting life experiences. One of the saddest is that I had a coworker who committed suicide. One day I walked into work happy and smiling, and I asked a coworker, Hey, how’s it going?
He did not smile. And instead said, Oh, I am so sad. I asked really why is that? And my coworker replied. Because Roberto, he killed himself. I could almost see that sentence hanging in the air. My brain was trying to comprehend what had just happened, Roberto, the fun, silly guy that I used to joke back and forth with who was only 16 or 17 years old killed himself.
He ended his own life. I was so gobsmacked by the news and so confused. I was supposed to get right to work, but I couldn’t, I found a private hallway and just sat alone quietly thinking about this. How could it be? By the time I had found out it was already old news for the full-time staffers, because they had already gone to the funeral and everything.
But for me, it was going to be so awkward because Roberto worked at the hotel with his sister and his mother. There were three of them. Now, there were only two of them. How would I be able to work with his sister and mom without talking about Roberto? What would I say? How could I ever work with them and act like everything was normal again, sadly, they ended up moving out of state and I never really got the opportunity to work with him again.
I understand now that as part of their grief, they probably had to just hit the reset button on their lives. And that included relocating the whole dynamic of having immigrants and kids who were born and raised in America, working in the same place made for a fascinating dichotomy. I’ll never forget how one of my gringo friends, a young gal, maybe 17 or 18 years old.
Was complaining about how she didn’t want to stack chairs anymore. After in particular function, I’m tired. This sucks. Stacking chairs is dumb. She said one of the captains from Mexico was totally unsympathetic. You don’t like stacking chairs, go to college, go to college, and then you’ll never have to stack chairs again.
I still think about that phrase to this day. And I’m thinking fall did that particular coworker etched in my mind, that phrase, which is the perfect summation of how to approach work with the proper work ethic. When I hear people whining about their first world problems in their lives that other people might consider are quite privileged.
I still to this day think go to college. I spoke to a Houseman one time who was wheeling chairs from one floor of the hotel to another. And in the elevator, I told him that I was a college student. He told me, wow, you’re going to college. That’s great. Then you can get a profession. This was enlightening to me here.
He was at least twice my age, working a hard labor job and thankful for it, certainly, but encouraging me that if I studied hard and I kept going in college, I could get a quote profession. That was interesting. I had never really thought of the difference between a job and a profession before. And I’m thankful for the various captains and housemen and other servers who helped me take a step back and analyze my life from a broader perspective.
One coworker I had, who was a Houseman, who was also the son of another Houseman, told me that he was joining the Navy. I asked him why, because we lived in Colorado and joined. The Navy is not something you hear on a daily basis. He said that way. When I served my time, I can become a citizen. First of all, I wasn’t aware that there’s a program in place to allow people to gain citizenship in the United States.
If they join the military, that is fantastic. And I’m a huge fan of it. But second of all, the way that he looked at me, when he said, then I can become a citizen was hugely impactful in helping me understand why people come to this country. How they view it and how much they value being a part of it. I don’t want to be too harshly critical of my teenage coworkers who were born and raised right there in Colorado.
But let me tell you, being a citizen is something they were born with and that’s a privilege that they will always have, that some of their coworkers had to work really hard to gain. That was a great life lesson. Some of my coworkers taught me lessons that were less than flattering. One of them was very fond of drinking beer, mucho, Corona.
He used to tell me he was so fond of drinking beer that, and I think most of us saw this coming. He got arrested for driving under the influence. So I spent a couple evenings late at night after work, driving him home to his house because he didn’t have a ride because they took his driver’s license away.
We had many conversations as we were driving home about how he learned his lesson and he was never going to do that again. And he’s not going to drink anymore. And whether he stuck to that or not, I don’t know. On that note, many people who work in hospitality can’t afford a car or had a car and can’t afford to keep it, or don’t have a car because they’ve lost their driver’s license or Marriott.
Other reasons. There are many people who work in hotels who walk to work, take the bus to work or require a ride to get to work, whether that’s from a friend, a coworker or a taxi. So sometimes before I’d head home, people would ask me which direction are you headed? And I tell them, and then they’d ask, can you drop me off on your way there?
And I would sometimes say yes, if I could and they’d give me a couple bucks for gas. That’s totally fair. And I was happy to help those people. This was an eyeopening experience for me. That was really important. I got to see how some people are completely reliant on public transportation. And if you work a job where you need to be there at a certain time, but the bus breaks down, or you miss the bus, for whatever reason, you could get penalized or fired working with people in situations like this.
Was good for me, it was healthy for me to see how there were people who are my age older than me. And sometimes twice my age, who were completely reliant on other people in order to get to and from work. This helped me realize that my ability to just get in my car and drive to work whenever I wanted is although I paid for the car and the gas and the insurance, somewhat of a privilege that not everybody has.
As I mentioned before, a lot of people who work in food service are seriously poor. Sometimes they’re outright desperate for cash, and sometimes they just don’t know what to do with themselves other than try to make money. I recall being in the locker room one time, dressing out and somebody popped their head in and said, Hey, who wants to work on Saturday?
One of the guys shouted out. I’ll work Saturday. Later muttering under his breath. I’m sure there’s a credit card company that I owe that I could use money to pay for. He was joking, but he wasn’t entirely joking. This guy was single and told me that he had made a lot of poor life decisions. Those are his words, not mine in the past and was reaping the consequences for it.
He even told me he chose to be homeless at one point because he just didn’t see the value of working. Well, here he was now, and he definitely saw the value of working, but he was at least 40, maybe 50 years old with no education and no real future prospects, basically just saying yes to any work that came along his way.
That’s not a bad thing. And I appreciate his work ethic, but my point is he had no real direction, nothing to aspire toward, nothing to work for. That was sad. One of the most shocking, the things I learned while working at a hotel is that the events that we served were expensive really expensive. Now, obviously some big corporate Christmas party with a thousand people, of course you’d expect that to be expensive, but weddings, anniversaries, keen senoras people would pay 20, 30, $40,000.
It was mind blowing. We’d serve a beautiful, but relatively small wedding reception on the third or fourth floor. And it would be $35,000. I was astounded how much money people are willing to pay for events like this. Oh, and speaking of weddings, well, actually speaking of just about any event where there’s a dance floor, at some point before the end of the night is over, no matter how fancy or elegant these ladies were in their various dresses, they would take off their high heels shoes, lift up their skirt, and seriously go crazy on the dance floor to the BGS or Michael Jackson or usher.
Depending on how much they had to drink. Sometimes they’d fall over and laugh and laugh at how funny it was. I’m not complaining about this. I’m just saying it was something I had never seen before working at a hotel. I also observed some craziness just in the way that parents refuse to watch their kids.
I was serving a brunch one day in the atrium, which has a swimming pool in it. And there were kids all over the place, running back and forth. Screaming and acting crazy. This was really annoying as we were trying to serve things like hot coffee and clear away breakable dishes and things like that. But I was mostly nervous that at some 0.1 of the kids was going to fall in the swimming pool.
And that’s exactly what happened. And let me tell you the only thing more shocking than a small child falling into a swimming pool is just how quickly all the men in the room jumped in the swimming pool. After that child. Five to 10 men instantly dove right into the pool, whether they were wearing suits, sweaters, or whatever they had on, they jumped in without thinking at all.
I was extremely annoyed at the irresponsible parents who had been letting their kids corrals without consequences. And I was really sad to see some of the men then pull dripping wet cell phones out of their pockets and squeeze water out of the dollar bills they had pulled out of their wallets.
Because these were clients and guests at our hotel. Obviously I couldn’t say anything, but it was painful to watch. I also got to see adults behaving badly one evening, where I was serving a function. That was a Christmas party. I started making the rounds to the other functions throughout the hotel that I wasn’t working, but my coworkers were at one of the Christmas parties.
I still don’t know what happened, but a fight broke out. Somewhere on the dance floor, somebody offended another person. And for whatever reason, there must have been a fist fight, which led to utter chaos because the cops were called. Some people were arrested. And by the time I heard about it and made it to that ballroom, there were broken glasses and beer bottles and blood on the dance floor.
People were filling out police reports and it was just a big, embarrassing mess. I don’t understand people like that. What a great way to ruin a holiday. That brings up an interesting point. There’s no real way to know ahead of time, whether your guests are going to be good or bad. And generally we didn’t have bad guests, but sometimes we’d serve a function where people were snippy or demanding or asked for a lot of special treatment.
Sometimes we’d serve functions where everyone was extremely thoughtful and very polite and very thankful. Ironically enough, the nicest people I ever served were hockey players. Despite their reputation for checking each other on the ice and smashing out teeth. And bloodying each other’s faces, USA.
Hockey was the most generous, polite and funny group I’d ever served. Who knew in all. I think my time at the hotel was a really good experience and I had a blast. I made some money. I never really figured out exactly how much money I made because we had this complicated tip pool system where all the money was shared between the employees.
But the number of shares you got depended on what time you showed up and how late you worked. If I had it to do over, I would obviously ask a lot more about the payment structure, but at the time I was young and didn’t really understand those things and didn’t want to make waves. You know, the more I think about this job.
The more. I realized that I miss it and I almost wonder why I ever stopped working there. Oh, that’s right now. I remember why I stopped working there because our hotel was sold. One day, I got a phone call from the manager saying, Hey, Ron, I need you to come in for an important meeting on Tuesday at three o’clock.
It’s mandatory. I had no idea what all that was about, but that was essentially all the info I got. So I showed up and they said big announcement. Our hotel has been sold to a new owner from England. What’s going back to my earlier point about how it’s hard to find a job in food service, where people respect you.
This was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back for me working at this hotel. Many people had worked at the hotel for much, much longer than I had five, 10, maybe 15 years. I had only been there for a few years, but essentially some big wig from this English company got up and said, here’s the deal.
This hotel is under new management and every single one of you here may or may not still have your old job, we will decide whether we want to hire you back or not fill out all this paperwork. And by the way, everybody’s taking a surprise drug screen today. Yup. They actually made every single one of us stand in line and go into a bathroom where all the water was shut off and a technician stood carefully making sure that our pockets were empty.
Then we went into the bathroom, peed in the cup and then gave it to them in front of all of our coworkers. It was such an embarrassing experience. Now, unlike several of my coworkers who absolutely panicked and started calling their friends saying, Hey, how long has it been? Since we smoked pot at the concert, I had nothing to worry about.
I don’t do drugs and I never have, but I was concerned about the fact that these new managers who knew nothing about us, all of a sudden for the first time ever made us all stand in a line to pee in a cup. And this whole business of, we may hire you back. If we feel, what the hell was that about? It was humiliating, degrading.
It made us look like cattle lined up for slaughter. The whole looking back, I think was designed to scare off as many employees as possible. And if that’s what they wanted to do, it worked because I never went back. Having to sit through this condescending lecture of a new corporation from a different country coming in and insulting everybody by saying you’re all essentially fired and we may hire some of you back.
If we feel like it, you all have to undergo this drug test, which surprise you have to do today. And we’re putting in strict measures to make sure you don’t steal time from us by using hand scanning biometric clock-in and clock-out systems. Was just so condescending and offensive. They also went on about how the hotel was outdated and needed to be repaired.
And they were going to spend a few million dollars renovating it. I didn’t necessarily mind what they were doing, but I did mine the way they did it. I honestly don’t even think I signed their paperwork to quote unquote, get my old job back. I just thought, you know what? I can do better than this. And I don’t want to work for people who disrespect everybody seriously.
That day I observed women as old as my grandmother, going into a bathroom, locking the door and coming out with a cup of urine that they handed to a technician for everyone to see. I think this is one of the first times as a young adult where I decided I’ve had enough. So I just never went back. I’ll be totally honest.
When I found out a couple of years later that their acquisition had actually been kind of a failure and they sold to someone else. I felt good. So in all, I had a great time at the hotel. I met a lot of nice people, some of whom became friends that I’m still in touch with today. And several of whom I invited to my wedding, I made more money there than I did at the diner.
And I learned a lot about life and people and human nature and hospitality and taking care of guests. I think of the three jobs in food service I had, it was the best, although I considered it step two in my stepping stones to finding a career in fine dining, my plan didn’t work out because step three, working at the Italian restaurant, which I thought would get me closer to what I ultimately wanted was a total disaster.
But I’ll share more about that next time. Thanks for listening.
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