Tuesday, September 21, 2010

With 5 Days Left...

When I want something, I go for it. This I’ve always known. So, when I decided I wanted to work downtown Vancouver, I knew I wanted it to be at a well known, well respected hotel such as the Pan Pacific. While I didn’t get the position I’d initially applied on (front desk), and I didn’t get the position they’d suggested (hotel club lounge), I did end up in exactly the position I was supposed to be in for my first job in the world of hotels.

Eager as I am to begin the process of obtaining my career in the hospitality industry, I tend to get a little…impatient. Trying to take it all on at once, to submerse myself up to my eyeballs in challenges and changes, anything to get a step closer to my dream job.

When I was first told of the greeter position with the bell services team I was apprehensive that it wasn’t going to be the right fit. The bell team consists of roughly twenty men and then, once a year during the summer, a female greeter to stand with them at the main entrance of the hotel fielding questions from every other person and their cat visiting Vancouver, whether it be for leisure or business. In addition, this group of people answer phones, park and retrieve valet vehicles AND shuttle luggage all over creation.

Despite my initial concerns, I participated in a phone interview with Phil Wonnacott, the bell captain, and after only a few minutes I felt a kinship with the man who was to be my supervisor for the summer months of my first ever coop experience. In conversations following the initial interview Phil said he knew immediately that I was going to be a great addition to their team as I had him grinning, ear to ear, throughout the entirety of our thirty minute phone call. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To begin, and as a part of HMGT 101, I set my goals for the summer. The following is a list of my top three and how I feel I’ve handled the guidelines I set out for myself:

(1) To receive an exceptional review from my employer

From the start Phil recognized my goals as being good ones to help me learn the intricacies of the position. When we met with Carl mid-term I nearly had to deflate the air from my head to walk through the door. Phil had nothing but outstanding things to say about my work to date with the group. He has continually encouraged my questions, praised my work, and supported me in every way and situation. He has picked up on my promptness and mentioned as much in my reference letter. He thinks I fit in well and as a result of my time here has become interested in forming a strong, working relationship with Camosun College. In my end of term review he gave me multiple 5/5’s and 4/5‘s. He said he would have given me all 5/5’s as he feels I met and exceeded all requirements but that he still wants me to be open to learning and growing.
As a side note, Phil is, without a doubt, a blessing in disguise. Not in a million years could I have hoped for a better example of what it means to work in the service industry. He is unfailingly helpful when it comes to the guests. Goes out of his way to ensure their every happiness and request is being not only met but exceeded in the most humorous and efficient of ways. He genuinely cares about the work his team does, about supporting them and about leading by example. He works just as hard from one day to the next and keeps everything in perspective. My favourite Phil quote has come to be “we’re not saving lives here so let’s have some fun,” a saying we live by at the bell services desk.

In addition to Phil, there’s Randall Lister. My second in command supervisor and an equally competent and dedicated mentor. The “Father” of the group, Randall takes every new employee under his wing and provides strong moral leadership. He is a sounding board as much as he’s a story-teller. Another individual truly meant for the industry and an excellent example of what it means to go above and beyond.

To bring it back to the goal of receiving an exceptional review from my employer, I knew this job wasn’t going to be the most challenging position I’d taken on but it was an important step and I needed to think about this while creating my goals. I realized quickly that the real challenges for me would come from a personal standpoint rather than a technical one. I tried to get creative, looking at how I could do this job to the best of my ability so that I could leave a lasting impression. This was a great goal to have because it just meant that I would never get lazy with my work targets, that I would always try to impress those I was working with and that I could have a little fun in the process so that they could get to know the real me.
At the end of the day, I know I’m leaving a group of people I can call upon in the future and employers who will, and have, written me glowing letters of recommendation.

(2) To WOW the guests through outstanding customer service

In creating this goal I began by putting myself in the guests shoes and tried to think of the things that would surprise me from a customer service point of view. What would make the hotel and its staff stand out? How could the greeter exceed my expectations by anticipating my needs?

Here are the things I think I did well and the areas that could still use improvement.

The most challenging part of this goal was not being native to Vancouver. While I was encouraged to ask questions I didn’t want to ask so many that it didn’t seem the information was sticking or that I didn‘t know how to take initiative. I know this has been something I’ve struggled with in the past. Yet, not being from Vancouver made it incredibly difficult to give walking/driving directions to different parts of the mainland or to provide recommendations on where to dine. I lucked out by having the internet at my fingertips. I could easily Google the information I needed for those who were more than willing to wait the extra second. At the same time, I would encounter guests who needed the information quickly at which time I would have to defer to a co-worker for speedy replies. As the summer came to an end I found there were very few questions I couldn‘t answer. Most of the job, it seems, is repetition and when a guest asks a particularly difficult question I have to Google, they usually know the answer won’t be in the rolodex of my mind and are willing to wait. By dining out, reading reviews and walking/bussing multiple routes around the city I think I fulfilled my goal outstandingly. With a few more months I know I could’ve really mastered the answers to even the most obscure of questions regarding Vancouver and all it has to offer the every day tourist.

Another challenge was being able to provide the very best possible customer service via recommendations from personal experience. I dined out on many occasions but being a student, nay, being a starving student, made my vast knowledge of the best of the best nearly impossible. There were times a guest would be looking for my idea of the best Mexican restaurant in town, seafood, Italian, whatever and I would have to rely on others reviews and local recommendations. This is still helpful and I had a few fallbacks but it would have been nice to have better knowledge of such things. I was constantly reviewing menus online so I was familiar with what was being offered but I couldn’t say “ooh and you have to try the so and so at blah blah because it’s the best in a city.” Working at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chophouse gave me an advantage in a few instances because I was able to both recommend the location and as well make the reservation. My concierge like status in combination with my actually working there allowed me to get them special treats and it was often fun to see the guests in both locations in one day. On one occasion in particular I was able to plan the activities of two couples travelling together over three days based on my personal experiences. By the end of their trip they were coming in to my various jobs just to give me their rave reviews and to take pictures and give hugs!

One area I failed to really improve in was an intimate knowledge of the hotel meeting rooms and their locations. There were a shwack of them I never could recall without referring to the hotels daily event board. It was easily accessible but I would have liked to provide directions without thinking twice. No matter what tricks I tried the information didn’t seem to stick. Thankfully, this wasn’t a drawback from my work in any way that was noticeable to others it was just something that frustrated me.

Finally, I was the lucky recipient of a Tourism Vancouver Award this summer. A guest wrote in to the hotel nominating me for the work I’d done with them and just a short time later my supervisor, peers and hotel general manager were presenting me with an award for “Exhibiting Customer Excellence.” If feeling sufficiently satisfied with my performance wasn’t enough proof that I was fulfilling my goal, this certainly was!

Working with the bell team reinforced my belief that going above and beyond is almost always a possibility even if it’s in a very small way. Answering the phone, responding in a helpful and friendly way to the guests request and then going that extra step by asking if there is anything else that can be done to make the guest happy is an example of how you can take service to the next level. Reading the guest can sometimes be a bit more difficult – as in knowing when they require a brief answer versus those who appreciate the humour of a good story or personal recommendation. In this sense, this goal was both realistic and easy to achieve. Always wanting to go the extra mile for a guest who is less than polite, snappy, rude, agitated…this is where the challenge lies. Not taking it personally is even harder for me as I tend to internalize every bit of negativity being directed in my direction. It was satisfying working on this over the summer. I lucked out in not having many situations where this was the case but being able to hang up the phone after a particularly grumpy encounter having handled it the best I could and then being able to bounce it off my easy-going coworkers was incredibly helpful. It kept things in perspective whereas I might have left work that day feeling put-off in the past.

(3) Take initiative and impress the Pan Pacific team

For about 98% of the bellmen I do believe I achieved this goal with distinction! At one point, during the time Phil was collecting information for my review from the rest of the team, he said he had one of the guys refer to me as a breath of fresh air. I did my best to learn about each team member, to know a bit about their family, to know what stressed them out, what helped with their jobs, what made their lives easier. Heck, every once in a while I’d even keep them company at the bar across the street for a little post-work comradery and a beer…anything for the team right?!

For the most part, this was the best goal to work on. Being part of a team isn’t always easy and, almost more so, being the only female in a group of long-term, well-established bellmen made it even more challenging at times. I had five months with very few conflicts so I consider this goal to be a success. At times I needed to learn how to be less sensitive, how to take the ribbing “like a champ.” And, during my more sensitive of days, I needed to be able to convey to them what I needed to make my job easier. They respected my requests and I theirs. It was truly a harmonious balance. I have never had so much fun in a job. I’ve never laughed so much nor have I felt as much a part of a family so quickly. On day one I was told this was a boys club and that I was allowed to be a part of it. Everyone should be so lucky as to work with a group such as the one I have.

The only real conflict I ran in to with this position was a financial one. Upon receiving my first gratuity this summer I immediately asked my supervisors what the protocol was on my keeping it. The explanation I got was that if I’d done the work, stored a bag, provided directions then returned the guest luggage that it was mine to keep. If, though, I just completed the process, such as returning bags to a guest who had dealt with another bellmen previously, I was to give the money to a bellman. This all made perfect sense to me. For the most part I walked with nothing at the end of a day (sometimes as much as $20) and that was just fine with me as I had not come to expect gratuities as a part of my job description. However, at one point there were two people in particular who must have been under the impression that I was not following these guidelines and it got to a point where the issue needed to be addressed. I was pretty concerned, even a little hurt that it was even a concern. I explained that I am an extremely honest and conscientious person when it comes to such matters. I worried that it was going to reflect poorly on my work and integrity. But, after only one day, my mind was put to ease and it was explained to me that this had been an on-going concern for which there was seemingly no solution. You can’t please everyone all the time, or so I keep being told.

Upon reflection of my summer with the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing I would have done differently. It was a steep learning curve in terms of my city knowledge, or lack there of, but aside from that aspect it was just a matter of being myself and working hard.

My knack for reading people and previous customer service skills were my biggest assets in learning how to best assist the guests and my team mates. I was on fantastic terms with various staff members throughout the hotel and was able to multi-task professionally and efficiently during those more chaotic days. Days when every other guest required assistance with luggage during check out, the bellmen were rushing to bring up cars, meetings were being held in every which room of the convention centres and all the while hundreds of people were boarding the cruise ships which depart a mere floor beneath where I worked.

I literally wipe a tear away thinking about my work term coming to an end. That I have to leave this wonderful group of people is beyond my comprehension during my final stages with the hotel. I can’t reiterate enough how much fun I had during this first coop. I learned how to be myself, completely, in a new situation. I was able to handle myself in a way that was professional and still playful. I was able to strike that balance that can be so hard to achieve all the while having confidence and forming relationships with the hotel guests.

Now, my winter coop is my driving factor. From my supervisor thinking of ways to help me, to contacting a past employee who currently happens to work as a recruiter for Intrawest Whistler, to the distribution of my resume to my desired properties, an interview with Patrick Chen, another fantastic interview and the obtainment of the next step in my hospitality industry career. I get to look forward to working the front desk at the Westin Whistler Resort for a man who shares similar qualities with my current supervisor and who believes whole-heartedly in the recruitment and training of driven individuals. Ah, the world of networking and another step in the right direction.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two more weeks...

I can't believe there are only a few more weeks of work before school starts again. This whole month I've been counting down the time until I'm done and I'm getting more and more sad the closer it gets. I wish I could pack up all the bellmen into my pocket and bring them back with me...that's a weird thing to say right?! But it's true. If this position had been the job of my dreams, had it even been more challenging, I fear I may never have come back. I completely lucked out. The guys are great, the guests have been funny, and my supervisors are just like hilarious dads to me.

Every Sunday after work, most of our Fridays, and prior to my shift at the restaurant, we head across the street to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel and have a drink at the pub (well the guys have a few and sometimes more than that but I have one small glass of beer in keeping with the end of the week spirit). We recap about the day we all had and then part knowing we'll be back to the grind on Monday (or whichever day our Monday actually lands on). Only now, I know I'm down to only two more weeks and just one more weekend at the restaurant!

Looks like I'll be working at the Westin Whistler this winter and starting to look forward to that to distract me from my current sadness about leaving Vancouver. I had a fantastic phone interview a few weeks back and then this past weekend headed up for a little fun in the village. Different than I remembered it being when we all headed up for our whirl wind trip last April. Though that could be due to the mass quantity of sugar we all consumed while we were up there. Stayed at the Pan Pacific Mountainside as I was able to score a good staff deal and after an evening of lounging in the hot tub and dancing to the best of the 80's I woke up to tour the village. Later in the afternoon I met up with my phone interviewer from the Westin and had another great interview. I was thrilled to receive the call a few days later telling me that I got the position. I'm delighted to know I won't have to think about it this fall term. As you all know I'd taken classes prior to the program starting so my terms have been a little easier than most of yours. HOWEVER this term I actually have the full course load so will need to focus more than ever (sigh, I'm really not good at full time studies).

So that's whats new. Just enjoying the last few weeks of my time in Vancouver and then making the move back. I see a lot of you have posted your return dates on Facebook but I have no idea yet. I think a welcome back party is in order if it's not already been suggested.

See you all sooner than soon,


Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Mean Really?!

Who gets a cold in the middle of summer??? Forecasts predicted last night to be the last hot sunny day of summer and I wake up with a debilitating cold...*cough, sneeze, wheeze.* Worse...I made friends with a boat owner and was invited out for one last night on the water before he parks it for the year. Sadly, I couldn't risk it with all the doubles I do over the weekend. That seems to be when I'm burning out these days so I'm trying my best to pace myself.

I'm not sure if any of you have heard of the plane that went missing last Tuesday evening on its way between Kelowna and Victoria. The pilot is the long-term boyfriend of my sisters best friend. They found all four passengers yesterday, none survived. Rama, the pilot, was flying his brother to Victoria to attend school and they took along a couple of buddies. Sadly, the media took it upon themselves to speculate that this route was in some way associated with the smuggling or trading of drugs. A sensationalization that shifted the focus from the tragedy of four missing people. Rama is the father of a little boy who will grow up without his dad. And, Rama's parents just lost both their children at once. I can't even imagine. It has been a hard week for my family with my sister taking trips to Kelowna to comfort her friend. I'm not sure this is in any way the type of stuff I should be blogging about but it's been a big part of our life recently and I felt like, for whatever reason, I needed to talk about it.

Moving on...despite my pessimistic opening to this particular post, I'm having a phenomenal summer here in Vancouver. I've charged up my camera batteries for the first time all year and am preparing to take some shots to put up here prior to our return to school. I know most, if not all, of you have been here but it truly is breath taking in the summer. I spend nearly every free moment out on a beach somewhere, reading in a park or playing in the ocean.

I'm still working Wednesdays through Sundays at the Pan and a few extra shifts at the restaurant. Starting to feel a little tired but only have another month to go so am trying to stay focused. I keep thinking I can stop working on the 19th and just spend the last few weeks relaxing. What makes me think I can afford to do this is beyond me, lol. Sometimes I think that I hate working so much but actually, I've met the most amazing people through both jobs. It's going to be impossible to leave here when I feel like I've just started to create this new life.

I've rejigged my resume for winter coop applications (sigh, can't believe we're thinking about this already). Also, I'm not sure how many people in our program don't live at home but I hope everyone is lining up a dwelling for the fall. 10 weeks is such an impossible time to plan for when it comes to lease signing and furniture hunting. I got lucky, I'll be returning to my place in James Bay but post winter coop I have no idea what I'm going to do for that final term as my roommate intends to move from Victoria. Hopefully post winter work term I'll be able to afford a cozy sleeping bag because I'm seriously contemplating camping at Dunlop!

Hope everyone is enjoying their coop...more soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


If a passing grade is based on frequent and regular updates of my working coop and life via this blog...I'm pretty sure I'm failing!

My celebrity sightings can be summed up by local news and sports broadcasters, el presidente de la Argentina, a B-list basketball player and John Lithgow.

I've spent any ounce of free time at the beach in English Bay, going to the PNE, watching our Canadians play baseball and trying all of the local restaurants. (NOTE: free time can only be defined as the three and a half minutes I have in between shifts).

I'm working two jobs now (booooo). Pan Pacific, which is still fun, and Joe Fortes, an iconic restaurant downtown Vancouver, as part of the hostessing team. I go from spending my day with a bunch of dudes to an evening of all gals. It's quite the contrast providing endless entertainment. My feet are constantly sore but the pay cheques come once a week between the two places which reminds me it's all worth it (almost).

Sad to say I'm not learning too terribly much during this coop other than how not to complain about working all the time. I am getting lots of incredible customer service experience though and between dealing with grumpy post-cruisers at the hotel and grumpy hungry people at the restaurant I'm pretty much learning how to handle a variety of angry people. I'm sure this will come in handy in life :)

Unfortunately that is all the time I have to report for now. Off to work, surprise, but more later.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time Flies

Hallo Guten Tag!

At the same time every day we have the Lufthansa German flight crew depart and, a mere few hours later, a whole new batch arrives from the airport. As this is an ongoing event I'm taking the time to learn a few words in German. The crew gets a kick from my broken attempts but it's a pretty good time.

I've not written nearly enough, I'm finding it impossible to find the time and the days are just flying by. I'm in week 6 of work already. Sometimes it feels like I started yesterday whereas other days, most days, it feels like I've been there the entire summer already.

Lately I've been finding that I'm not overly challenged at work and while the people I work with are amazing (as previously mentioned) today was the first day I was really challenged. With huge numbers arriving and departing AND two ships in I didn't get a chance to look at the clock until around 1:30 this afternoon. Even then it was just long enough to remember I'd had to go to the bathroom for about 3 hours and to get back to work until 5:00. In my last blog I mentioned that I was looking for another job but that's been put on hold temporarily as they've been good enough to keep me on until 5 during the busy days.

Initially I had been hoping that I would get the opportunity to job shadow or maybe do some cross-training in various departments but it appears that neither of these things are an option for me due to liability, etc. etc. I was starting to feel a little down on the slower days and then I remembered that the hotel offers online training for its employees for free! After a few conversations with the Human Capital Department I was all set up with a name and password and have started a series of online training in areas of study bizarrely similar to those in our program. I'm hoping this will lead to some kind of certification in the end but if not, at least it was something to do during the down times of the day.

So far the highlight of working at the Pan Pacific has been the opportunity to attend a number of industry events. I've had more free food and drinks and met more interesting people in the past month than I have the past year. The first was at the Chinese Gardens and it was a promotional event for Big Bus tours. I met a fellow who let me know that he could hook me up with after hours fudge (what?!?!?!)...one of many unique characters at these shindigs. The following week I attended two more events - the first was on the rooftop of Joe Fortes and the next night on the patio at the Boathouse down in English Bay. Both were a blast but, like most networking situations, our crew tended to stick together which actually provided a great opportunity to get to know the guys I work with on a more personal level. They're all am-az-ing!
The following week the group headed to the Hastings Race Track for horse racing and hot dogs! All these businesses trying to schmooze us so that when guests ask advice on what to do we send them their way...pretty powerful marketing tool, I'd say. Someone came round and taught us how to bet, about the odds and each horses history. I lost $2 that night...I only bet $2...but I lost $2. Proof that I should never gamble! I did, however, place bets on which jockey would win in a running race and took home a few dollars that way.

Last week I was feeling a lil homesick for Victoria so I headed back over to the island for my days off. It was fantastic catching up with my friends and visiting the restaurant (Pag's) but after just 2 days I felt I'd made the right choice moving to Vancouver. I believe I mentioned it in the last blog but truly honestly, the energy here is absolutely contagious.

Anywho, that's the latest from the Pan Pacific and my life here in Vancouver.

Hope everyone's doing well...miss you all!


PS - check out Peter Chao..."guy that rubbed his crap on a building" and "Chinese guy eats sooo loud" on youtube.com - HEELARIOUS

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing

"Sometimes you're loved because of your weaknesses, she said. What you can't do is sometimes more compelling than what you can do."

Had I had access to the internet from day one I could have started this blog at a more appropriate (read more assignment-deadline-friendly) time...but here I am, curled up in sweatpants, coffee in hand, in a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop on Davie Street starting my online journal. Initially viewing my lack of internet and cable in the homestead as a problem, I've started to see it as more of an opportunity to get to know my new neighbourhood.

The diversity of the West End's inhabitants is as electric as the ethnically diverse cuisine offered in every other store front and in between those...more fetish stores than I've seen in the entirety of my life. Instead of the ongoing battle of price wars on gas it's who can offer the cheapest peep show (25 cents to the lowest bidder, in case you're wondering).

It takes me exactly 25 minutes of downhill power-walking to arrive at work at the Pan Pacific Hotel on the beautiful Vancouver waterfront and precisely 35 arduous minutes of uphill, traffic- dodging labour to return home...and I love every, single second of it.

I lucked out and got a position with the bell services team at the front doors of the hotel. I work with a group of amazing bellmen and doormen whose experience with hotels ranges from 3 to 30 years. They granted me admission to "the boys club" immediately and it's been a hilarious and pseudo-professional journey since my first day, May 6th, 2010.

Unfortunately, I was only able to secure 30 hours with the team and have since been searching for additional, part-time employment. It's a fine balance between working for school experience and much needed funds and maintaining some kind of sanity via my days off. I've had incredible support and assistance from the hotel group and they're currently trying to find a way to get me into the hotels restaurant, Cafe Pacifica, for my remaining hours. This current battle has already taught me so much about the labour standards rules and regulations. Like did you know you can't exceed 40 hours a week? Simple, right?! BUT did you also know that you can't exceed more than 8 hours a day, even if those hours are split up between entirely separate departments? Still easy. Okay okay okay...how about this: Did you know that you can work a split shift, for example 4 hours with the bell services team and 4 hours with the restaurant but if and only if those two shifts are distanced by exactly 4 hours?!

This making money thing is proving more challenging than I'd anticipated.

I just read a book called The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a collection of short stories told from a woman's perspective on life, love and work. She spends her life becoming an editor and after realizing how much she dislikes judging other people based on their written word she quits and starts a new adventure.

"How was the first day of the rest of your life, he asked. It was okay, she said, but I think the second day of the rest of my life will be better."

For some of us this coop experience is going to be flawless, exactly what we'd hoped for and an amazing opportunity to learn new skills in the work place. For others, perhaps, it will just be a lesson in patience and anger management. For me, it's been a great way to get outside my comfort zone. I started to fall asleep in Victoria but for more reasons than one Vancouver is reenergizing my life and teaching me how to start from the bottom again. How to work my way up through respect and hard work. I've got the unfailing support of my family but am starting from scratch with friends. It's daunting and at times I just want to run back to Camosun and laze about Dunlop with my classmates. My friends.

But, for now...I forge ahead. So to those of you who read this, thank you and good luck. I miss you.