Zookeeping for beginners

Ski bum. Not sure that was quite what I meant actually.

Seasoned ski bums and habitual alpine wasters may find themselves subject to angsty self-doubt regarding their failure to hold down a ‘proper’ job and service an alarming mortgage on a mouldy bedsit in a bid to ‘get on the housing ladder’, whatever that means (‘housing hamster wheel’ sounds more like it to me, but never mind).

This sort of existential despair is usually fostered by parents desperately trying to get shot of wastrel offspring rapidly approaching 30 who insist on camping in their house for months at a time, using the dining room table as a ski workbench and squandering any available disposable income on airline tickets, lift passes and snowboards when they could be spending it on responsible adult accoutrements like interest repayments.

The usual response to all this is either a) land a token temping job and cook dinner for everyone now and then in order to curry favour; b) give in and get a mind-numbing Blighty-based job which you stick at for two years until the commute and the infantile office politics sap your will to live and you either sign up for a lobotomy or scamper off back to the Alps; or c) sign up for some kind of resort management job in order to placate the olds with the idea that you’ve been promoted and the whole thing might become some sort of career.

Office jobs. Nooooooooo!!

On the face of it, option (c) might seem to cover all bases – discourage people from nipping your heid by waving a job title which includes the word ‘manager’ under their noses, carry on skiing and quite possibly earn some sort of sensible money for a change. I mean they can’t be paying their hotel managers less than minimum wage, surely?

Errr …. yes they can. And what’s more, you may very well find yourself having to provide 24/7 management cover between yourself and your assistant, which typically gives you 60 hours a week each. Last time I did the job it was working out at about £2 an hour, which is more or less the same as chalet staff only with less ski time and responsibility for a dozen over-exuberant teenagers. Sorry, hotel staff.

Hotel staff are at the bottom of the resort employment pile – paid less than anyone else, without access to much in the way of tips, housed six deep in grungy hotel basements and fed whatever the assistant chef can be bothered to fish out of the freezer. Usually with chips. The only reason they don’t go home with scurvy is the limp lettuce in the lunchtime sandwich.

That's your assistant chef, that is.

As a result, your staff will be a mixture of terminal weirdos, incipient alcoholics and clueless children who up until the end of last week were wearing school uniform and relying on their mothers to get them out of bed in the morning. In addition to training them in the rudiments of restaurant service you will have to teach them how their alarm clock works, what a washing machine is and which is the business end of a hoover. While doing this you are not allowed to take them round the back and show them which is the business end of a baseball bat, however much you might like to. (Mind you, I did once whack one of mine across the arse with a huge wooden spoon thing we had in the kitchen. I had no reason for this, as the boy was doing a perfectly good job at the time – the temptation was just too much to resist.)

However lovely they are (and to be fair, most of them are perfectly sound and personable youngsters) there will inevitably be times when your staff a) do a crap job and b) indulge in utterly stupid and ridiculous behaviour, probably in front of guests. This is because they are teenagers and have just been allowed out in their own. However, it will be deemed to be entirely your fault and nothing whatsoever to do with the company’s policy of employing wet behind the ears 18-year-olds who wouldn’t recognise a job of work if it bit them on the bum.

Having been involved in the resort hotel management thing for far more seasons than was strictly sensible, I can safely say that I have still not seen it all. Every season they come up with some inventive new piece of behaviour so moronic as to render the hapless manager speechless. There are a few regulars though, which you can almost guarantee to come across every season.

Nice gadget, but it needs power if it's going to do anything

1. Timekeeping. Or more accurately lack thereof. Usually down to their phone’s lack of battery, apparently, though I was always inclined to think that the miasma of second hand vodka and the fact that I heard them come in at five in the morning might have something to do with it. Call me an old cynic if you like. Whatever you do, do not fall into the trap of letting them make up the time later in the day. After three days you will find yourself doing breakfast for 40 on your own and then supervising detention all afternoon.

2. Rampant alcohol abuse. Expect this to be a constant all season. Mostly incidental, but occasionally you might see the odd bona fide alcoholic. I particularly liked the one who turned up late for his own disciplinary interview, straight from the local bar and so slaughtered that he walked into the door frame while loudly maintaining that he wasn’t drunk and how dare I suggest anything of the sort.

3. Illegal drugs. If you’re lucky this will be confined to a bit of pot smoking, and if your staff have the sense they were born with you will be able not to notice it. Though I really had to do something about the pair who were standing around smoking it on a guest corridor just after the coach had got in on transfer day and people were arriving in their rooms. It’s not the pot I object to so much as the breathtaking stupidity. You’re less likely to see the hard stuff, which takes a bite out of a hotel staff wage, but I did once have the misfortune to have an incompetent cokehead for a chef. He spent the first week being alternately hyper and suicidal, before walking out on us on Christmas Day afternoon leaving me and my assistant manager to cook turkey with trimmings.

Yes you do ming. Shower. Now.

4. Personal Hygiene. Teenage boys have habits of cleanliness which would put a senile old lady in the final stages of dementia to shame. Expect to have to remind them to shower and change their clothes. Don’t bother trying to explain why guests might prefer to have their food served by someone who doesn’t smell like the inside of a gorilla cage because they won’t get it – just make them wash. On one memorable occasion a friend of mine was required to discipline a boy following a nocturnal episode of drunken double incontinence – this wouldn’t have mattered too much except that his strategy for dealing with it was just to put an extra sheet on the bed and carry on sleeping in it. A bit extreme, that one, but you get the picture.

5. Utter gormlessness. You will get this all of the time. Every single day. You might as well find it funny, because otherwise you’ll end up being sacked for drinking all the bar stock. By the end of the season they will still have failed to grasp that changeover day will go more quickly if they don’t sit on the floor and chat all morning; that they will get out skiing much sooner if they do the job properly the first time and don’t make you send them back three times; that you will notice if they hide the wet plates in the cupboard instead of drying them; that it might ultimately generate more work for them if they throw all the cutlery in the bin rather than polish it; that if they spray half a bottle of cleaning product on something they will be there half the morning wiping it off before they actually start cleaning the thing …………….. etc. I could go on. And on.

I may revisit this topic at the end of the season – managers returning from the fray can add their own examples. In the meantime, however, I give you a small example of what they get up to the minute your back is turned. (Thanks and apologies to Benny Benassi.)

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
This entry was posted in Ski Season and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Zookeeping for beginners

  1. BelledeNeige says:

    This is total genius. I only hope I end up with these guys on my team…. 😀

  2. Sarah says:

    Sounds a lot of aggro for a ski bum with very little reward. 😦

  3. Claire says:

    urm who cooked turkey with trimmings?? Seem to remember it might have been me!

  4. statusviatoris says:

    That all sounds about as much fun as trying to herd recalcitrant Italian school children (or French notaries)… And for a whole 2€ an hour, goodness. It makes translating shamanistic claptrap seem like a lottery win!

  5. All the funnier because it’s true . . ..

  6. badtoilet says:

    What a great insight into this life style, loved reading it, keep them coming please. I was considering working or learning to work as resort or hotel management but it didnt sound so bad before…
    http://landed.at/nomads – for backpackers to keep in touch and make new friends

  7. All I can think, after that video, is… I hope they cleaned thoroughly before the next service hit.
    Somehow, I’m guessing not…

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