Gravy, sweat, and tears – a different Christmas story

The C-word. (Not that one, reader!)

You can’t escape it. Every year it creeps in, chews you up, and spits you back out.

This will be my 1st Christmas in 11 years of not working in hospitality. The 3-course dinners, the next day 7 am finishes, the Christmas roadshows in July, the vomit clear-up in the toilets, the repetitious Mariah Carey sing-along every night at closing time, the 14-hour shifts, the cook-offs, the 250-person buffets, the students eating with their hands, the sweet 10 minutes of silence sitting in the office in your break cradling a plate of cold pigs-in-blankets and a lukewarm latte in a glass jar.

Can you tell I do miss it a wee bit?

I am always curious to know what it’s like for someone who hasn’t experienced a festive period in a bar, restaurant, hotel, nightclub, or any other hospitality venue. I can’t relate to the stereotypical cringy office Christmas party posts on LinkedIn. I was the one handing back your jackets at the end of the night. Allow me to offer some behind-the-scenes insight into the craziest time in the hospitality calendar. If the worst thing at your workplace is an awkward secret Santa and an argument over what day to put up the office Christmas tree, then you’re in for a treat. Mugs of Hot chocolate and mince pies at the ready…

The Planning.

It starts in June. No, May sometimes. Whilst the rest of the country is in beer gardens throwing warm Carling, or Tennets, over each other as Harry Kane misses another penalty, you are reluctantly pressing accept to a Christmas Roadshow event in 2 weeks’ time. You’ve put it off for this long, but it’s finally time to dust off the Christmas Planning worksheet and get to work. Most large venues need a military-style operation organized by Monica from Friends. Colorful folders, A-Z lists, post-it notes, targets, budgets, a step-by-step, day-by-day route through the chaos that can only be calmed by the thought of a pig in a blanket in early July to get you in the mood. No one really takes it seriously until your Area Manager calls a week later and asks; ‘Have you got your December Forecast Spreadsheet ready?”.

The Volume. 

People come out of nowhere. The walls, the ceilings, the floors. Groups of 10 wander in on a Tuesday afternoon sporting the latest Primark Christmas jumpers and a craving for Sambuca. Where do these people go for the other 11 months? It’s a mystery still unsolved along with the Bermuda Triangle, and how Liz Truss became Prime Minister. It will be studied for centuries to come by Simon Schama, much like we study ancient cave paintings, with no real answer. It doesn’t just ‘get a little bit busier. It can go from 0-70 miles per hour overnight and you better be prepared.

The Team.

There will be a moment in all of this where you stop for a second and realize that you cannot do this without your team. That sounds silly and obvious. Of course, you need a team to deliver. There will be individuals that shine, the ones that drive the entire squad kicking and screaming out the other side. But Christmas is just as much about the silent heroes. The Kitchen Porters are there until 1 am cleaning down the pot wash, the cleaners in every morning five hours later sweeping up an endless mountain of Christmas detritus, and the bar back person running up and down three flights of stairs, carrying a global warming amount of ice trip, so the people can have their Pornstar Martinis.

The Breathers.

If you want to make someone working in hospitality laugh, just ask them on any day in December; “when is your lunch break?”. You will be met with a 1000-yard stare, followed by Joker-style maniacal laughter, and then a slow descent into a mental stupor. There is an unfortunate unwritten rule during the festive period which is that you will get a break if you’re lucky. There is so much to do, so many mouths to feed, glasses to fill, people to please, things to clean, things to sweep, tables to set, cutlery to polish, that the work is never ‘done’. You simply scan the kitchen for any scraps and leftover buffet, sink a can of Red Bull, and get back to work.

The 1%.

I can’t write a blog like this and not mention the 1%. Over this period 99% of people are lovely, having fun, enjoying themselves, and letting their hair down. Unfortunately, there is a small group that seems hell-bent on making it as miserable as possible for everyone around them. Yes, occasionally we do run out of things. Yes, sometimes the toilets do get a bit messy before we’ve had a chance to give them a once over. Yes, sometimes the food gets delayed, and you have to wait longer than we’d like. I think I speak for most of the industry when I say that we genuinely don’t mind listening to complaints, we know things go wrong and we’ll try and fix them. All we ask is that there is the same level of understanding on the other side. Manners, patience, and respect go a long way, and in actual fact, the combination of all three is a dynamite power move of ensuring you get the best service possible. No screaming and swearing please, or in extreme cases, no violence, please.

The Period of Uncertainty.

The Jurassic, the Victorian era, and The Renaissance. We know more about all these periods of history than the one-time frame that baffles us all. The week between Christmas and New Year. At home, of course, this is the time to polish off any sweets that are hiding in the house and lie on the sofa for days on end watching re-runs of Christmas Specials, but in hospitality, there is no precedent. No one has booked their Christmas party; the doors are flung open on Boxing Day and whoever walks through those doors is a mystery.

Don’t get me wrong, as much as all these things are tough and make the month seem like a year, there is a feeling of accomplishment when you eventually reach the promised land, January. Peace. Quiet. Sleep. Done for another year. At Global Talent 2020, we speak to candidates and operators every day and hear all about these struggles over the festive period when things ramp up, and our aim as always is to support these businesses and people throughout.

Have a great Christmas everyone and enjoy some sleep after the New Year!

Written by Ben Jones

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