You guessed it, I am still unemployed. I have been offered a handful of positions over these past few months but due to one red flag or another (salary too low, location too far, hours too many) I have declined them all. In fact, I declined another one just this morning due to the 10 hour/week commute + a 50 hour work week expectation. No fricking thank you.
Yet, that’s the standard for the industry I chose: hospitality. I started down this path in high school, working in coffee shops and pizza places which built a strong foundation for dealing with difficult customers but, young and inexperienced, I wasn’t very good at that at first- you give me attitude, I will give it right back and you can take your extra-hot-half-caf-dollop-of-foam-5-shot-ridiculousness and your I-am-allergic-to-everything-gluten-free-carb-free-vegan-hockey-puck and kiss my 16 year old minimum wage earning butt!!! (“Let’s have a talk about your attitude, Laura.” Yeah, I got that a lot.)
I matured, learned the elements of successful customer service, becoming oh so very friendly and welcoming that in college I landed at a fine dining restaurant in Beverly Hills as a hostess. This was no Starbucks-Pizza-Hut, no sir- this place was 5 star, this place was expensive, this place attracted celebrities, this place was serious service. And, I loved it.
Within a few months, I was promoted to cocktail server and quickly learned the art of the upsell. I educated myself on all things hard alcohol, fine wine, and cocktails. Downright charming and quick with a smile at this point in my youth, I could sell anyone a drink that was a little more expensive than the one you thought you wanted. And wine? That’s where I really shined- I drank it, I educated myself about it, and I sold the hell out of it.
Kept my sales consistently high (over $1000 in sales nearly every shift, even on the slow nights) in order to be promoted to a dining room server- that’s when the true fun/stress that is this industry took hold. The only day the restaurant was closed was Christmas. I was expected to come in hours prior to my shift start to complete my side work and prepare my uniform. I couldn’t leave until my last customer did (and boy do those deuces love to just haaaaaaaang out after closing!). We only served dinner but shifts were still 10-12 hours long. I was also attending college at this time so it was a struggle- I spent more time at the restaurant than I did going to school.
You name the holiday, I was working 18 hours of it serving, spinning salads and slinging slabs of beef with sides of as many lobster tails as I could sell. Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Easter, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day for years I spent not with family but with my restaurant family- even though the hours were grueling, the money was always plentiful, and I found true pride in being a part of someone’s special night out. I learned how to remain professional while dealing with famous and demanding people (Denzel Washington, Larry Flynt, Bob Hope, and Billy Joel just to name a few), customers would send me autographed head shots and gifts of thanks, plus my co-workers were such amazingly genuine, caring, and thoughtful people. They taught me what it means to be hospitable not just to your customers, but with each other. We went out of our way to care for all of our teammates at work as well as outside of work, just as we would go above and beyond to make sure each of our guests- even the difficult ones- had a memorable, fun, and exceptional experience.
Following college, I worked in technology Public Relations for a few years and hated it. I loved food, I loved wine, I loved cooking, I loved restaurant life so goodbye PR and on to culinary school, majoring in culinary arts and restaurant management. I landed a job as a catering chef but back of house work wasn’t even close to the money I made in PR let alone as a dining room server so back to fine dining I went, landing at one of the most popular (at that time) and known California Cuisine based restaurants here in the Bay Area. And again, I loved it.
Unfortunately, a shoulder surgery ended my time as a server. I never considered myself “just a waitress”. I took pride in every minute of it, especially at Bay Wolf- we were a unified team, back of house and front of house working together in unspoken unison to provide guests with a stellar experience they would recall fondly for months after. We knew our menu forward and back and our suppliers inside and out, we were required to be up to date on local wine trends and purveyors and aimed to educate our guests with the same. I wanted all that food/wine/people connection back in my life. In fact, I needed it. And then I got engaged…
After planning my wedding, many people (including my husband, close friends and family) said to me, “Have you ever thought about being a wedding planner?” So I started thinking about it. And thinking about it. Then I started talking about it and the idea started to take form: August Events was born.
Build it and they will come proof! My husband taught me basic HTML, I made a website, got certified, started building a portfolio and the brides just kept coming! I refined my pitch so well that every couple I would meet with would sign a contract that same day. Happy brides make happy bridesmaids and happy vendors, referrals flooded in from all the above, more business kept coming my way- weddings are my favorite and it showed! I adore the beauty and perfection in even the smallest of details, helping care for the emotion and execution behind one of the most important days in someone’s life is an honor and it quickly became my passion. 12 years in business, hundreds of successful weddings across the Bay Area, and only 3 total disasters (some people you can’t please no matter what!).
I finally folded August Events in 2015 to focus on family and the most important career of Stay At Home Mom. As soon as my kids were in school full time, I landed as a Catering Supervisor with another very popular establishment here in the Bay Area, Market Hall Foods.
About a year later, I began working as a Catering Manager at a few colleges and higher education hospitality was an interesting turn of things- college students as staff are amazing and the worst all at the same time yet that school schedule is The Best. When school is closed (spring break, winter break, summer break) so is catering. I loved it. On to corporate catering after that, taking a Senior Catering Manager role at Charles Schwab in San Francisco- I hated the commute but a Monday through Friday schedule after years of weekend work was a worthy compromise.
The moment the news of the lockdown was announced in the light of Covid-19, I turned to my boss at the time and said, “No events means no catering. Do I lose my job now or…?” 2020 brought the end to events as we knew them; the word of the day for those of us remaining in hospitality was pivot. Everyday we went to work, we put our lives at risk but as a service industry, pivot we must… in October 2020, I was finally laid off.
I half-heartedly looked for a new job but there was nothing out there in my field so I took those unemployment checks, stayed home, and stayed safe. I finally found a new job the summer of 2021 managing one of the Dining Halls at UC Berkeley. It wasn’t my first choice but the catering and events landscape was still out of whack so I figured why not, and accepted the offer.
Saying yes to a job I never really wanted in the first place provided over a year of constant frustration and stress due to short staffing, unreliable staff, supply chain issues, internal drama, malicious gossip, constant staff arguments, faulty equipment, with no true guidance/ leadership. I love my autonomy, but those of us in senior management were left to struggle alone in this new pandemic version of food service- I argued with residents who refused to show vaccination proof, I was accused of being racist when I simply asked residents to wear their masks when not seated, we even had an isolation kitchen where daily I dropped meals off for Covid-positive residents who often walked right on in without a mask, putting everyone at risk but pivot, pivot, pivot. I always joked it was just a matter of time until I got Covid working there and of course, yes, I finally did.
My job at CAL ended just as it began– fucked up. Yet I think that’s indicative of the hospitality landscape now. Each and every interview seems so desperate for people yet totally screwed due to food inflation and still working staff to the bone now more than ever! The majority of my interviews begin for one job with one title at one location then turn into multiple jobs with a combination of titles at a completely different location, of course much farther away than the first. Most job openings for my level want day shift, night shift, weekends, holidays and overtime availability and I don’t think so! After going through the misery that was my last job, I will not sacrifice my health and well being for work again no matter how much pivoting needs to take place.
Well then I better get of out of hospitality, right?! I’ll complete my Yoga Teacher Training certification in March 2023 so I aim to do as much as possible in the meantime to be prepared to make that leap when the time comes; however, I am 48 years old and all of my experience lay in food/beverage/events, that’s where I can make the most money. I have kids to put through college and a damned student loan to continue paying off and a house in the Bay Area with ridiculous property taxes and a mortgage and all the other stuff that makes affording adulthood oh so fun. I know you know how it goes…
In the meantime, I am still focusing on yoga training while on the hunt for something in catering or events that isn’t completely trying to steal my soul and crush my spirit but that just may be asking too much! (Just as I wrote this post, I got 3 interview requests and one I already declined is trying to sway me back so that’s all good momentum!)
Hospitality was and will always be challenging and stressful but now, it’s a helluva lot harder. The jobs are out there, sure, but I want this next one to be the right choice (even if temporary) that does not force me to sacrifice all the things I love to do outside of work. As we learn in yoga, it’s all about finding balance and only when we are in balance are we able to gracefully open up to the joy the surrounds. An occupation that brings me peace while being of service to others, all that which I truly love, is within my grasp; I know it’s just a matter of time…
In whatever position one is in, or in whatever condition in life one is placed, one must find balance. Balance is the state of the present – the here and now. If you balance in the present, you are living in Eternity. — B.K.S. Iyengar