Holiday, what holiday? How hospitality professionals cope with working on holidays
Working on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas is standard for almost all hospitality jobs. “When other people are celebrating, we're working,” says Paul Draper, who worked in a casino for several years. While on an ordinary day he would perform as a mentalist or magician in the casino’s suites, on holidays “they would send me out on the floor to entertain large groups of people who were coming in the casino because we have four to six times the number of guests on the floor.”
Holiday work has some disadvantages for hospitality professionals; they have to spend time on the holiday away from their families, and they have extra responsibilities which can make their jobs stressful. Derek Humphrey, who has worked in several managerial roles at a luxury hotel, explains the psychological toll of going to work on a day most people get to relax. “It’s a little bit challenging when you sit there and you think 80 percent of the country or community are off of work. They're celebrating; they're being indulgent, and you're working.”
But working on holidays can be a positive experience. Both Draper and Humphrey list the ability to earn more money as a plus of holiday work. Then there’s employer-provided food, which on holidays is typically better than ordinary fare. “They stepped up the food quite a bit,” says Draper.
Humphrey adds, “I had duck several times at Christmas when I normally wouldn't.”
Draper has received special gifts on holidays, from guests and from his employer. Each holiday, employees where he worked received something new from the casino. “They gave us free gondola rides; they gave us free passes to see Phantom of the Opera.”
Humphrey sees the satisfaction of a job well done as another bonus of working on holidays. “When you execute it properly, it is really gratifying to see that come together,” he says.
Draper describes his performances on holidays as more meaningful than performances on a typical day because it has a greater impact on guests’ lives. “You are making memories for people forever because they associate your show with that holiday,” he says. “People don't remember what they did on September 14th of 1994, but they remember what they did on New Year's. They remember what they did on Christmas. They remember what they did on Easter. And so you are invited into other people's memories, into other people's families to have a greater, more lasting impression.”
Humphrey says that for him, working holidays isn’t a big deal, and he recommends that hospitality professionals plan ahead and try to spend time with their families when they’re not at work. “If you're working a morning shift, see if your family can have dinner at night.”
Draper celebrates on days that don’t conflict with his work schedule. “I don't tend to do Fourth of July, but I have great fun for Utah's 24th of July. I'll shoot off fireworks on Persian New Year's, or I'll go to the Goshute Indian Reservation and shoot off fireworks there because you can do it all year long and buy fireworks from the reservation.” He and his friends also hold holiday celebrations at the beginning of December or in January instead of at the end of December when work is busiest.
Draper’s advice for hospitality professionals preparing for holiday work is to eat well, get enough sleep, and gather items you may need on the holiday like snacks, water, and hand sanitizer. “Have lots of cards available, thank-you notes that are pre-written if possible, so you just have to write [the recipient’s] name and your name,” he advises.
Draper also recommends that hospitality professionals view holidays not as burdens but as happy events that they are contributing to in a meaningful way. “Do your best to experience the holiday as a joyful celebration that you happen to be the director or facilitator of.”