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HOSPITALITY- A LOST ART
by Stacy Schwartz
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines hospitality as, “The friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers,” or “The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly generous way.” It was those words that made me realize my true calling in life.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve strived to make others happy, as something I gain joy in is seeing the satisfaction cross the face of another person. I found myself caught up in the world of “Southern Hospitality” in 2002 when I left cold, boisterous New York for the warmth and comfort of South Carolina to begin my college career. I immediately found myself mesmerized by the change of pace and attitudes I soon encountered. The politeness of new friends, teachers, and even strangers was uncanny. It was even expressed in their state motto, “Beautiful Places, Smiling Faces!” I soon felt that maybe my current major of Business Administration was too broad and my creativity and passion would get lost in the shuffle of corporate America. After my first Hospitality class I was sold. I transferred to the College of Charleston, where Hospitality & Tourism Management was a new, up and coming major; this was right up my alley, an industry that was devoted to allowing individuals to express themselves and make others happy! It seemed almost impossible. And I came to realize creating memories truly is an art, whether it is event planning, serving, or simply providing guests with a great stay.
Upon completion of my degrees, I moved further down the coast to see just how far “Southern Hospitality” really stretched. Unfortunately, the charm of Charleston, SC did not quite reach Fort Lauderdale, FL’s hotel atmosphere. Here in Florida it was transplanted Northerners with that sense of urgency rather than the laid back, easy going lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. I also found that to many, their jobs were just that jobs; they lacked passion and drive. I soon found myself returning to NY to once again begin my career, when I learned a polite attitude and friendly smile would not pay the rent.
This is when my long-term love affair with the hospitality industry was rekindled; I fell back in love. I took on the position of Catering Manager, for a local company that I worked for in high school as an office assistant and banquet server. My personality shined and my creative ideas flowed like the wine we served at weddings! I finally felt as though I was helping make people’s dreams come true. After almost three years in my position, and the countless smiles that were put on people’s faces because of my hard work, I felt as though it was time to move on and expand my career and bring my energy elsewhere.
My former boss taught me so much about the industry and is the reason I knew that there was much more to strive to become. So with her support, and with the support of my friends, and family, I made the decision to leave my small town of Newburgh, NY to broaden my horizons and begin a new life in New York City, Philadelphia, or DC. This is when the passion began to drain, when ironically I tried so hard to keep it in. Although, the economy has taken an extreme hit, people are still getting married, still finding ways to go out to eat, and business professionals still have to travel, right? Wrong. This is when it occurred to me, that the industry seems as though it has lost sight of its own definition.
For the past 9 months, I have sent out hundreds and hundreds of resumes and e-mails, countless online applications and cold calls, and have had a few dozen in person or phone interviews. Upon making my decision to move and move forward, I knew times were tough, but also knew that I am a determined and hardworking individual, with over 10 years in the industry, 3 of them in a management position, and in my eyes, young and ambitious- would be an asset to any company.
Unfortunately, I soon found out this was far from true. Being extremely detail oriented, I kept track of every e-mail, application and phone call. The amount of responses from companies in these three major cities floored me. For every ten resumes or applications I sent, I received one response. Never the common courtesy (that I thought this industry once stood for) of a phone call back, not even an automated e-mail from nine out of ten places! Interviews have become second nature to me, almost as if I hit the play button; my answers and stories were always spot on and I was continuously told how impressed and interested each company was with my background and enthusiasm, yet I never received so much as a call to say they would not be selecting me. A handful of times I would receive a typed postcard from major hotels saying I had not been chosen for the position, how very hospitable of them to publicly pass along the message.
In today’s society almost all business professionals have access to their e-mail on their phones, but apparently don’t have the time to respond to a hungry young professional, a potential asset to their company, but have the time to catch a game of Angry Birds or update their Facebook status. I too was once in a management position and I learned early on that the key to a successful business is both follow through and the relationships you are able to build.
The companies I had once longed to be a part of made me lose sight of my beliefs. The ability to smile, and be proud of a company, that once stood for something so wonderful, has now abused the term, “Hospitality”. For me at least, the young woman once so encompassed by a magical, smile making industry, the term hospitality has lost its meaning.
Although, I also possess a degree in Business Administration, I still am drawn to this business. I am drawn to the art of making people happy, and have faith that deep down others feel the same. Maybe they too, are ready to bring back a term with such meaning.
NOTE: Stacy, thanks for sharing your thoughts - the best of luck in your search.