I am currently in the process of applying for graduate jobs and law training contracts. Some recurring interview questions include: “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Tell us about a time you worked as part of a team to achieve a common goal.”, “Tell us about a time you demonstrated resilience.” The answer to all of these questions lies in my experience with jobs in the hospitality industry.
My greatest achievement: Getting through a shift without crying, cutting my finger or burning myself.
Teamwork: Every shift I ever worked in hospitality.
Resilience: Every time I dealt with a difficult customer, got yelled at by them, pretended not to have any feelings at all and moved on to speaking to the next customer in a positive tone and attitude.
Throughout the duration of my studies, I have worked part-time in hospitality. It initially started off as a way to support myself financially as, I must admit, I have expensive taste in food, but it later turned out to be research. I won’t talk about the legal implications of employment law in the workplace in this article, I will dedicate another article solely to that in the upcoming weeks. Let me tell you about my experience in hospitality.
Even though my main focus is hospitality, my friends working in the retail industry have had similar experiences so I think it’s worth noting that these experiences are not limited to hospitality. Having worked as a barista, bartender, waitress, host and kitchen member at coffee shops, independent pubs, high-end hotels and fast-food places, I think it is fair to say my experience in the hospitality industry is fairly diverse. The following are just a few incidents that took place:
I have had customers tell me that they would tip me better if I pulled my t-shirt a bit lower.
I had a customer who left me their room number written on a napkin at the bar.
I had a customer tell me I should go back to India. Strange, since I have never actually been to India, I am Sri Lankan.
I once overheard a customer tell her partner that they should not order with me because I am brown and would not be capable of taking a complex food order in English.
I had a customer remind me that he was paying for the roof above my head and food on the table. I did not tell him that his £6 smoothie did not even pay for the £8 I spent on some fruit that morning.
I had a regular customer call me “brownie” because I am brown. I do not know if he knew that was racist or not.
My two favourite (patronising) comments include “You speak English really well for someone who isn’t from here” or “I thought you were born here because you speak such good English”. Am I supposed to say thank you?
This list is endless, it’s merely a snapshot of all the abuse you can be subject to when working in hospitality.
So why do we do it? I have to admit that not all customers are horrible. I have met some amazing people with whom I am still friends with.
I had a customer who read a 3000 word essay of mine and gave me feedback.
I had a customer who read a lot and whenever he found an interesting read, he would let me borrow the book.
I had a customer who offered me a job after graduation.
I have had plenty of customers, especially during my time working at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, who offered me career advice and looked over my CV and LinkedIn profile.
So, as you can see, they are not all bad. And I guess this is one of the reasons why I remained in the hospitality industry. The main reason being – the amazing people I worked with.
My colleagues and I work in a fast-paced environment. We are all legally entitled to a break but none of us take one. There is a mutual understanding among us that if one person is missing, the chain of work will break and service will be slower and difficult. This, to me, is teamwork. We are all on our feet 6-13 hours a day. We continue to go to work the next day, tired and exhausted. We continue to smile at customers even though at times I want to cry or yell. We all, if not on a daily basis then at some point, deal with difficult customers. I have had customers yell at my face. I have had racist customers. This does not stop me from going to work. If that is not resilience, I don’t know what is.
On one of many occasions, I was working on the restaurant floor and bar, on my own. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and I was on the verge of breaking down in tears because there was too much to get done and too many customers to deal with. One of the chefs in the kitchen came out to help me. This is not his job. He did not have to help me but he did, and this is hospitality. We help each other even though we have no statutory or contractual requirement to do so.
For anyone thinking about working in hospitality, do it. You will most likely shed a few tears, perhaps even some blood and sweat and, if you are anything like me, burn yourself a few times but it is worth it. I have met some of the best people I know throughout the years. I even met my boyfriend, so that worked out well for me. By working in hospitality, you will gain more skills than any university degree would be able to give you. No university degree will prepare you to stand on your feet 10 hours straight. No university degree will teach you resilience. Go out there, get that experience. It will change you. It will help you build character. I am not the same person I was 4 years ago.
To any employers out there, a person who has worked in hospitality, is a person worth the risk.