S is for Stress

I’ve been sick for the past week and haven’t gotten to the letter S yet. It’s 10:20pm on Friday night and I just got home from work. I’m at the tail end of my cold and honestly I’m not really up to do much as I have to work tomorrow morning. Wow, do I ever sound like that person who has a huge file drawer of excuses.

I was going to write about stress, it seems fitting as I’m feeling a bit stressed to write this last letter for the week as my husbands and his friends are sitting around drinking beer, chattering about their day and I want to join in. No, I’m committed to this blogging challenge and I’m here to write.

What does stress mean?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.

I don’t really have a lot of physical stress. I have more mental stress which I am able to manage about 97% of the time. I’m human so there are moments that I do feel stressed, not being able to think clearly, moments of panic and feeling down right awful. When I first started serving that might have been the first time I experienced stress of being in the weeds; basically, being “in the weeds” means you’re so far behind that you’re having trouble seeing a way to not being completely fubared. It can be stressful trying to get yourself out of a situation that you possibly have put yourself in, but that’s another story.

Stress can take on many forms in many different ways for different people. I used to feel the pressures of work when serving large tour groups of up to forty people. The same appetizer, entrée and desert to everyone, the same white or red boxed house wine that we would line up each tour. We use to call it Frisbee service. It sounds easy but it can be stressful because it wasn’t only one group of forty, there were two at the same time and knowing that we had another two groups in another two hours. I learned time management quickly at an early age, but it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, if the guests eat slowly or want to drink more or it takes time to clean up then you are feeling the stress of getting the guests out the door for the next round of tours.

Needless to say after a year of this revolving service I came to learn the patterns of people, the kitchen and myself. Then I was able to manage my smaller a la carte tables, I had a dance with my tables, everyone was involved and we would all have a very nice time. No one waited for an inappropriate time and from my McDonald’s training, I was always smiling even though I may have been chopping at the bit because I thought I didn’t have things under control. It’s all part of the dance.

Now, I am able to handle stress much better as a result of my time being in the weeds. As I finish this post I feel a lot better than I did when I first started.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

 

The 3 R’s – Refresh, Renew, Restart

I’m not feeling well today. I caught the spring time cold that has been going around the hotel. One person gets it and bam, it runs rapid through each department causing a bit of stress due to filling in shifts due to illness. This is not meant to be about sickness, it is about what spring time brings us – refresh, renew, restart. Spring is a fresh and new season filled with change and sense of newness. There are new baby birds in a nest in the red maple tree chirping away outside my writing window. Their songs calm me and fill me joy. This cold has given me the time to reflect on what I have accomplished in the past few months and what I will renew for this Spring.

Much like the hotel life, creativity has chosen me. The message I have been given is no accident – the ideas that I’ve been given deserves to be shared. I had the sense that I wanted to be of service and going into the hospitality world seemed like it was the best avenue to fulfill that urge to help people. I knew there was being of service within church, but me and my ego had a conflict with religion at the time, so when I had the opportunity to work across the country from Nova Scotia at a luxury resort on top of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies – I found a different kind of religion. Nature. I also had a renewal of love for creativity. Not that I wasn’t aware of my creativity, it’s always been there, waiting for me to be ready.

As I review the past few months I am very grateful for the time I’ve been given to finish one memoir of a three memoir series. I’m grateful for the story ideas that linger around waiting to be written. I jot down notes and will be back to write what needs to be shared. Creativity is so ready to get going and wants to work through me. Much like writing, the hotel life has kept me around for a reason. As I was a work today, under the weather, I was still able to witness the odd behaviour of people – I’m grateful for encounters, I collect characters along the way as a renewal of my love of creativity. What are you renewing this Spring? Any themes that keep showing up that you can’t ignore any longer? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

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Questions I’ve been Asked in the Hotel Life

We have been asking questions from the beginning of time. We are full of questions and answer. Questions are great for deep meaningful conversations that can connect us on another level. In keeping with the Hotel Life theme of this years A to Z challenge I wanted to share some questions that guests have asked me over the years. Now, I must warn you, I’m not making these up, and I may sound a bit condescending but bare with me, you’ll understand. I’ve written about these questions in my latest memoir of working and living in small resort towns, Behind the Swinging doors, my crazy resort life. Summer I.

When I first became a server I had to train for about two weeks with a senior server. I had many questions about general service, how do I keep my tables in sync to avoid getting in the weeds? How do I sell wine I’ve never tasted before? How do I describe the tiramisu to someone who doesn’t speak English? I never thought I would have to ask questions in retort to guests questions like, How much does that mountain weigh? Seriously this was a question asked on a nightly basis. As servers, we had the full range to be a smart ass in a polite way.
With or without the glacier? I could hold a straight face, even though I was pretty much cracking up inside. Then I would be surprised when the guest would say, with the glacier. I kid you not. I would then say, give or take a few tons.
Guests would respond in some dumbfounded way, Oh. Like it was a surprise. I sometimes wondered if guests would believe me if I said or about 50 tons, only because we had the exact number of 35, 675 feet above sea level when the would ask how high up we were on the mountain.

Other questions asked:

• Does the shrimp come from the lake (the questions was prompted when guests ordered the shrimp and clam pasta entree)
• Can I take a picture next to a bear?
• Do I get American money back? (when paying cash for anything)

My Standard answers:
• No, the lake it too cold for the shrimp, but there are small minnows in the lake.
• Bear’s are dangerous, it’s not a good idea to get close to them.
• You will get Canadian back. If I was in the states would I get Canadian back? (Sometimes I had to thrown in a smart-ass answer, I wouldn’t get tipped, but I didn’t care, I liked to throw their stupidity back to them.)

One of my favourite questions was: When do you drain the lake and paint the bottom? Sometimes I would hear other servers share that we paint the bottom of lake. They would go into great detail, such as: well first we wait for the ice to melt and that happens in late May early June. Then we drain the lake at midnight when everyone is sleeping and all the staff have to come out and paint a section of the lake. There are about a thousand staff so it takes no time at all and we fill the lake back up by sunrise. I kid you not. And sometimes guests would believe the story. I would shake my head and think what are these people thinking? They look intelligent, did they leave their common sense at home?

When people asked me about when we drain the lake to paint the bottom, I would go with the truth. I would start with how the minerals from the glacier fed the lake and when the sunlight….I’d lose them there. Guests couldn’t understand that the color of the lake was natural. There was no way there were shades of blue that blue, ever. The power of stubbornness at its best. I politely would change the subject and ask them about their travels and in one moment they would forget about the lake.

As I reflect on my times in the Rockies, it doesn’t surprise me as much when people still ask me about if they will get American change back if they use their US funds to pay for something. Once again I direct the conversation to how they are enjoying their vacation and instantly the question of the money disappears.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

P is for Play Time

We all need play time in our life. The little girl or boy inside us is itching to have some fun. In the hotel life, especially when working at a resort where you live only steps away from the where you work, you need time off to play, let go of the stresses of work and do something that makes you smile.

When I worked for two different luxury hotel properties within the Canadian Rockies, play time was mainly skiing, hiking, white water rafting, camping, pretty much anything to get away from the hotel/resort. Guests that came to visit the luxury resorts would say ‘oh you must feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful place, how can you get sick of the view, the ski hill, etc…’ Yes, I was so very fortunate to live and work in two of the most stunning areas of the Canadian Rockies, and yes, there is a but. Sometimes, you wake up at five in the morning to rush to your five thirty start to serve the very same guests you served dinner the night before. Then on your days off when you want to go for a quick hike you bump into the same guests and you are still a representative of the hotel so you can’t turn off the light switch of customer service when all you really want to do is walk by quickly, with head down so they don’t recognize you. So when it comes to play time, we would go to another small town in the Banff National Park area and go for hikes where no one else knew us.

In the winter, play time was on the ski hill, we would ski for hours, run after run, in deep powder, on top of the world with no cares and never bumping into one guest. This was pure bliss and play time for us. For me I was drawn to cross-country skiing where I could go on a trail that took me deep into the trees along Moraine Lake on moon light nights. What joy. Sure, I like the thrill of rushing down the ski hill, but I’ll take the slow lingering moments while cross-country skiing.

It’s important to give yourself some play time, give yourself a break from the routine that keeps you afloat. Get out side and have some fun!

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

O is for Occupancy

The one word that pops into mind when I think of the letter O is opportunity, however I wrote about opportunity last year during the A to Z challenge. I can write about opportunities all day long. I am so grateful for the opportunities that have been provided to maintain this creative life. I then reminded myself that my theme has been focused on the hotel life and the word occupancy stands out.

Occupancy: the proportion of accommodations occupied or in use, typically in a hotel.

When I first heard, ‘the hotel occupancy tonight is 85%’ I was a server working at a Luxury Resort in the Canadian Rockies. What it meant to me and the other servers was that there were a lot of people staying at the hotel that potentially had a reservation in one of the many dining rooms within the hotel. The more people in the hotel, the more people in my section, the more money I could make. That was my mentality when I was in my mid-twenties trying to make my tuition for the year during my summers in the Canadian Rockies.

When I made the transition from the F&B (food and beverage) world to the front office department, occupancy was a bit more of a priority. I started in Royal Service (AKA: Hotel Operator) and one of our tasks was to write the occupancy of the hotel on the large white board to visualize how many people would potentially calling within the hotel, on top of that the hundreds of calls that came in from external guests looking to speak with a guest, any one of the departments, reservations, sales, general manager, etc. There wasn’t a time I wasn’t on the phone with someone during my eight-hour shift.

When I moved to the reservations department I was part of the occupancy process for the hotel. People would call the in-house reservations department to book their room with me. There were four of us in the reservations department, we were always on the phone or answering emails to guests with questions and inquires about room rates (this was before user-friendly websites and third-party booking sites) I was adding room nights to the bottom line. I was contributing to our ever-growing occupancy.

Now, I make schedules for the front desk based on the hotel’s occupancy. The rule of thumb for me is the more people in the hotel the more front desk and bellmen you need on to ensure great guest service. When I was a front desk agent, it was not fun being by yourself and having the hotel at 70% that is a lot of people walking by asking questions, looking to store their luggage, valet their car, check-in or check out. Hotel occupancy is much bigger than just individual hotels, if all downtown hotels in a city are running high that means a lot of visitors to the city, which means dining establishments, tourists attractions are being used, money is being spent, it’s one big circle of fun for the community.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

N is for Nonsense & Nincompoops

What are you going to write about for your next letter? A few friends have asked me. I take out my small note pad that I scribble ideas and partial conversations from new characters in, it’s a very interesting note-book to review. I share my focus is on the theme of the hotel world. N is for nonsense (leaning towards guests again) and my friend shared to use a fun word like nincompoop – I love it and that’s what I’m going with.

The guest is always right has been ingrained into our hospitality world and any customer service related position. I use to believe this when I first started my hospitality career. After countless encounters with guests over the past twenty years, I know that not every guest is right. Guests may think they are right and deserve a free meal or complementary room night because they have been wronged in some way. When I first started out in the hotel world as a server I would recoil when I heard the guest was having a bad experience during their stay at he resort. It may not have been anything that I did, but I wanted to be helpful and give a free dessert because they were expressing their negative experiences.

Your Customers Are Not Always Right, But They Are Always The Customer ~ Forbes Magazine

I recently dealt with a guest who proved to me that guests are not always right, but they are still our guest and that’s the bottom line. They are paying money to stay at the hotel and we can’t forget that. We wouldn’t have a job if we didn’t have guests to check into the hotel. However, guests do not have the right to be rude to employees to express that they are right. As a manager, I’m being paid to be that sounding board. Guests can yell at me, I’m like a duck, negativity falls away from me like beads of water off the duck’s feathers. I have empathy, bu I also don’t need to carry the weight of the world from every guest who complains.

This particular guest booked their room reservation through a third-party and made a request for a king bedded suite. Can you guess what happened? If you guessed the third-party didn’t share the guests request for the king bed for their special occasion, you would be right. They received a lovely one bedroom suite that happened to have two queen beds. I should mention this is a holiday long-weekend and the hotel is sold out of king bedded suites. When the guest called the front desk to ask to move to a king bedded suite, the front desk agent shared the truth with the guest of not having any requests from the third-party about the king bed and shared options for the guests. The guest didn’t want any of the facts or options, she wanted a king bed and wanted to talk to a manager.

I first did a little research on their booking and we did not receive any information about a request for a king bed. (No surprise at all. Hint: if you’re going to book through a third-party make sure you follow-up with the hotel directly for any special requests, or make your reservation directly with the hotel.) Then like any miracle we had another guest who had to check out early due to unforeseen circumstances. They checked out of a king bedded suite – thank you hotel gods.

When I called the guest, I first shared the exact same information as the front desk agent did regarding the third-party not providing us with the requests and we hope that she will share this with the company after their stay. The guest basically did not accept my information and threatened to write a “negative report on TripAdvisor” – she knew what she was doing. I don’t take lightly to idle threats and a part of me didn’t want to give her the king bedded suite for such childish behaviour, however I remembered that she may not be right but she was still our guest and I wanted to make sure she had a good experience. I shared the miracle of someone checking out early and we would be happy to help her move to the king bedded suite once it was cleaned and ready. The guests pushed me further to have the room ready right away, this is where I can push back to say that the room will be ready by check in time but we will do our best to get it ready earlier. I suggested to go out for lunch and we would be happy to hold their luggage and put it in the new room when it was ready. This seemed to be a good option for her and that’s what happened. They dropped off their bags they thanked me for getting them the suite they wanted. I smiled and nodded while saying ‘you’re very welcome, and have a good afternoon.’ I wanted to add, you nincompoop (okay, truth, I would have used another choice word, but we’re having fun with words during this challenge.)

This scenario is common in the hotel world, we deal with different personalities every day during an eight-hour span. It can be draining one minute and uplifting in another. Why do we do it? For me, each guest that I come in contact is a new character – they provide me with a little part of their personality that I can plunk into a story. For this I am grateful.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .

M is for Moving

I’m use to moving around a lot. I’m use to people coming and going in my life. This made it easy for me to deal with the ever revolving door of people who I have dealt with and deal with in the hotel life. Moving around has made it easy to pick up and transfer to another hotel within the hotel chain I use to work for. It made it easy for me to move from hotel to hotel as I broadened my experiences with in the hospitality world.

My mother moved me around a lot when I was younger. I’m an only child, so I find myself saying, me or I a lot. My dad was in the military and you would think we moved around because of his career choice, but that was not the case. I love my mother, however she was easily annoyed by people, once we moved from one great townhouse to another because she didn’t like living on the end unit closest to the street, it was too noisy for her. This is what I remember, it could have been for a completely different reason, but in this moment I’ll keep that memory in the filing cabinet to be reviewed at a later time.

Working for a luxury hotel chain has its perks, one of them being able to transfer to another hotel within the chain. I was very fortunate to experience four different properties in a short ten years. When I was ready to leave Lake Louise, I transferred to Jasper, AB, that is where my hotel career started to really develop. I was provided with so many opportunities. I look back and count every lucky star.

I left Jasper to try my hand in the big city, Calgary. Not only did I move locations, but I changed departments, I left the food and beverage world to the front office life. Serving guest wine is much different from talking to them on the phone or checking them in. I latest less than a year, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t handle the job, it was over a guy, and that is a different story to be told later. I was lucky to move back to Jasper and stayed in the front office department which gave me the experience to move to Edmonton as a Front Office Supervisor/Duty Manager. As I write these memories of my time in the Canadian Rockies and major cities in Alberta I can’t remember once thinking, what the hell am I thinking? I moved swiftly like the fresh powder on Lake Louise and the Bow River that ran through two Alberta cities. Am I still moving? Yes, I have and I will continue to move towards the next chapter in life.

Until next time, keep on typing. . . .