The Opportunity in Hospitality
I was just 14 years old when I took my first job in Food and Beverage, slinging fries at the local McDonalds. It was the only place in town that would hire someone so young and, obviously, it wasn’t glamorous: I left each shift covered with a fine mist of stinking fry oil that only exacerbated my teenage acne. But I stuck with it because I liked the way the team worked together, like gears in a clock, to kick out order after order when our dining room was full. I especially enjoyed the shrill, thrilled squeals of kids when they opened up their Happy Meal to find a Power Ranger or Space Jam toy. I’m guilty of sneaking an extra toy to a kid or two during my time there. Sorry, boss.
By the time I was 17, I had moved on to a much more “prestigious” role in the hospital cafeteria where I was allowed to work the grill. Working the grill was big time, I thought. That was real food preparation! Families and individuals, sometimes in the throes of their worst moments, would come through my line hoping to find a little comfort in a cup of coffee. Doctors and nurses would seek out my omelets before starting a surgery that would take most of the day. Now, I don’t know that my cooking was actually that tasty. I was just a kid, after all. But I had learned a trick that few other workers in that cafeteria knew. I knew that if I made it a point to greet folks with a smile, to ask about their day, and to listen with a compassionate ear, those same people would make a beeline to my grill station the next time they came in. I still look back fondly at the relationships I built with hospital staff, ten minutes at a time, over the course of my employment there. For example, I can still tell you that nurse Mary had six children, a “pain-in-the-butt” husband (her words), avoided sugar, and disliked onions. I have a whole collection of these memories and I hope that they also have positive memories of me.
When it came time to leave my little hometown in South Dakota and go to the University in Minneapolis, the obvious choice to support myself through school was to get a gig in Food and Beverage, where I worked a number of jobs during my longer-than-normal haul through undergrad. I worked in the kitchen of my residence hall making meals for the 900 first-year students who lived there. I found a great deal of job satisfaction when a student would say my meal reminded them of home. I worked at a downtown coffee shop and kept folks in suits fueled with caffeine for what I imagined to be important business meetings. I worked with a catering company that specialized in high profile events where I served big names in entertainment and sports. And the honest truth is that during all these jobs, I was more interested in how Chef was going to transform last night’s tuna steak into today’s tuna salad than I was in my Macro Economics class. The jobs I had during that time in my life taught me a lot. But probably most importantly, they taught me that hospitality isn’t something that I wanted to turn on and off with each shift. Hospitality became a way of life for me. I believe that we all have the daily choice to listen to another’s story, to show compassion and understanding, and to try to make another feel as special as a kid with a Happy Meal.
I’ll save you my full resume because ultimately, this blog isn’t about me. Yet, in the 25 years since my first job in Food and Beverage (I’ll leave you to do the math on my age), I’ve held both front of house and back of house positions in restaurants, I’ve worked in hotels, and I’ve worked retail. There’s one basic truth that I’ve found that runs throughout all of these industries. Our society values customer service and hospitality. When someone is having a bad day and seeks out “retail therapy,” more times than not it is not the new blouse that makes them feel better. In a store that provides excellent customer service, that “retail therapy” customer shops there because they know they will be doted upon and cared for by the floor associates. They feel special in that moment.
Most people that I meet who come to our Intensives programs are juggling a lot. A career, soccer practice for the kids, vet visits for the dog, finding time for a spouse, you name it. Bottom line, many of us are very busy people. When life feels chaotic, seeking out ways to feel special can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list.
The Intensives Hospitality team intentionally tries to create opportunities for our participants to shift their focus from outward to inward during the several days they are with us. Our goal is to take away some of the noise of everyday life. Our goal is to show you that you are special.
Intensives participants can struggle to step away from the tasks of cooking meals, cleaning bathrooms, and doing dishes. I get it. It’s hard to not pitch-in. Our Hospitality Team takes on these tasks for participants and for good reason. When a participant isn’t consumed with these everyday tasks, they have time to work towards building community, more moments to share their personal story, and more time to read, journal, or exercise.
Evoke provides exceptional hospitality by creating the space for our participants to have meaningful experiences. We understand that little things are important.