My First Hotel Job

This article encourages you to think back to your first job in our industry and see how far you’ve come from your early days in hospitality.

Everyone has to start somewhere. For most of us in the hotel business, that first job in our industry is of utmost importance: it is your opportunity to prove to yourself that you have made the correct career decision: It is a validation exercise.

I am sure that everyone has his or her own story. Permit me a few minutes to tell you mine. My first hotel job was strictly unintentional. High school was ending for the year and my father encouraged me to find a job for the summer. I was not yet 15 years old (my birthday is in September). I took the city bus downtown not really knowing how to go about getting a position, nor where or what this position would entail.

I do recall the day was extremely hot for late June in Montreal, and my brief bus journey ended at the Quality Inn. A relatively new property at the time, the building included two restaurants, meeting rooms and several floors of underground parking.

The location of the employment office was on one of the lower levels. The Human Resources Manager was named Marcel (I do not recall his last name). I estimated his weight to be somewhere in excess of 300 pounds. Wearing a dark, somewhat shiny suit, white shirt and thin dark tie, he was sweating profusely, as the air conditioning on this lower level was no match for the hotel’s laundry next door. Marcel was pleasant enough, and judging from the job applications sorted into piles on his desk, seemed happy to meet an applicant or anyone for that matter, in person.

Montreal is a bilingual city. My French was not great, but that did not seem to matter. Marcel advised me that, unfortunately, there were no jobs currently available as dishwashers, bus boys, convention services, janitorial, maintenance, bellman, front desk, or even housekeeping, which he explained was “a job for the ladies.” I was naturally disappointed. Preparing to leave, as I turned away he asked, “Oh, but wait, do you drive?”

Drive? Me, age 15 being asked if I drive a car? Now, I ask you, how could any fifteen-year-old-self-respecting-male-teenager respond with anything but affirmatively?

“Great,” said Marcel, “The summer season brings a lot of tourists from New York. We’ll need extra car valet staff starting the holiday weekend. So, come back next Friday. Be here by 8AM. Pay is a ninety cents an hour plus tips.” With that, Marcel turned around and went back to his detailed paperwork.

On the bus ride home, I contemplated the great opportunity that I was handed. Recognizing that I had been living on a $5 weekly allowance, the prospect of making close to forty bucks a week was exhilarating. Somewhat daunting, however, was the task of learning how to drive over the next week and a half!

Unlike most of my counterparts at the time, our family did not own a car. My father’s eyesight precluded him from driving, and there was no real need for my mother to drive, as everything we needed was really within a short walking distance of the home.

A friend of mine had an older brother, who attained that “age of majority” in the teenage world, having acquired his learner’s permit at the age of 16. Secretly, my driving lessons consisted of several trips around the local shopping center parking lot and the old unpaved winding golf course road at the base of our street. If I was lucky, I had a total of four hours of training: part behind the wheel, part watching my 16-year old instructor showing me the ropes.

Arriving for my first day on the job, I was given my uniform – a jacket, name badge and a thin tie, similar to Marcel’s. Training was non-existent. But my few hours behind the wheel served me proud and within a day or so, I was negotiating the up and down ramps of the garage, backing cars into their parking positions with relative ease.

The summer was progressing well for our small car jockey team. One of our pastimes was to accelerate cars through the garage, then to brake aggressively before the next down ramp, trying to see how fast we could nudge the speedometer forward. My colleagues were quite adept at this and I never seemed to be able to match their finesse in this regard. Perhaps the fact that I was about five years younger and less experienced might have had a bearing on this proficiency.

One Friday afternoon, a guest arrived in a magnificent Chrysler New Yorker, 4-door hardtop. If you recall the late 1960’s, these cars were true land barges, exceptionally comfortable, providing ample room for three passengers in both the front and back seats, with a massive trunk. While this car had outstanding power from its 440 cubic inch V-8 engine, I was soon to learn that its brakes were not of equal caliber.

As I steered onto the down ramp, I could feel the incredible torque and seemingly endless horsepower.  I stabbed the gas and the car literally took off. The surprise came when I jammed the brakes. I met the concrete foundation wall at about ten to fifteen miles an hour, sufficient to knock the engine off its mounts and push the radiator into where the engine was supposed to be.

Everyone easily heard the sound of the crash. One of the first to appear on the scene was Marcel. Les jovial than the earlier times we had met, he demanded to see my driver’s license, logically claiming he needed it for the hotel’s insurance. When I told him I did not have one, adding that I was only fifteen years old, Marcel’s mood turned from bad to worse! His complexion turned beet red. Using words in French whose clear translation was obvious, he asked me to leave immediately.

Being fired was fine, but not so fast: I politely asked for my pay for the past week. He took one hundred dollars out of his wallet, and handed it to me, warning me never to show up at his hotel again. My short-lived career in the hotel industry was over.  I did not renew my love of the industry until I started working in marketing at the Inn on the Park Hotel in Toronto some twenty years later.

I am sure that everyone has his or her own unique “entry” experience. Think back to what you’ve learned in the past ten, twenty, even thirty years. Now, determine how you are going to make this profession better for those who are just starting out on your team. Make their first experience memorable for all the right reasons.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on eHotelier on February 13, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyMy First Hotel Job