Why Strive for “Greatness” in the Hospitality Industry?

27 Aug

Growing up in an upper-middle class suburban town, I learned my American values from an early age.  A good child didn’t have many responsibilities besides going to school, doing homework, and trying hard to earn A’s.  We would reap what we sowed with regard to success; the ultimate goal was to get into honors classes and then great colleges.  Society even stuffed my dreams into its sort of straight-jacket, for although my love lay in cooking, the seed of doubt was planted in my head: was that good enough?  No it was not–not if I could attend America’s best Hotel Administration program at Cornell University.  And I got there!  Woohoo!  Woohoo! W-oooh.  Not so much fun.  And as I realized that the school involves many boring classes designed to push us to the top, I wonder: why do I want to be at the top at all?

Why wonder this silly wonderation, you ask?  Because I’ve seen too much.  I’ve seen people in my preferred industry, food and beverage, who enjoy their ventures or work lives without having spent four years at Cornell taking Financial Accounting in the ass.  In fact, at my current job in the kitchen at the Statler Hotel, I experience working with such people every day.

The staff at the Statler kitchen is comprised of a multi-ethnicity, multi-trained, unionized workforce.  People from Ithaca who have simply always worked in kitchens; students; trained chefs; and people from Eastern Asia all show up to work with the same intent: work and do it right.  Each has a different motivation, be it money, the people he or she works with, a possible promotion, or just to make the hotel’s food side run smoothly.  No matter what, though, they are all happy at work.

The other day, I realized something: even though a technical job like cooking is laborious and sometimes tedious, there is a certain pride and honesty to it that is often absent in “top jobs.”  In the kitchen, the staff creates, feeds people, and provides a service.  While they work, staff members talk, joke, and enjoy each other.  Meanwhile, what have we been hearing from those jobs at the top in the past few years?  Well, Madoff decided to take everyone’s money; ponzy schemes are being caught left and right; and lots of corporate professionals are just plain greedy.

At the top, there is money.  Assuming the “lonely at the top” statement so many professionals claim is true actually is, I conclude that lonely, wealthy professionals take comfort in their money rather than their staff.  Alienation from human interaction fosters their need for material items.  And, hence, they fall into the cycle of greed.  The choices they make are tough–who do I fire today?, etc. And after all this thinking, I wonder: why strive for the standard set by the suburban white collar homies of my childhood?  If I could have a job that made me happy, in which I was creating something great, and in which I was pleasing my customers, I’d be happy to settle for a lower pay check.

But why did I go to Cornell?  Uncertainty.  That’s the only reason I’m here.  The other day, I was at a meeting for students interested in hospitality leadership.  When asked why they wanted to lead, my peers replied with answers like, “I want to help people”, “I like working with people”, and “I want to make my organization effective and efficient.”  I was sitting there wondering why I wanted to lead.  And you know what?  I don’t care a lot about business and people skills, no matter how important they are for a company.  I want to be at the top because I’m a creating type.  I want my ideas to be seen out in the world.  Like an artist enjoys showing her work at  a gallery, I want a stage to present my cooking.  But I don’t want to sit the gallery–I don’t want to keep the books at all.  Some other guy can do that part.  But the uncertainty of my rise to the stage without the strong name of Cornell on my resume pulled me into the ivy league universe.  And here I sit, asleep in class, waiting for my diploma.

Ultimately, the top is overrated.  If everyone was equal, and having Cornell on the resume was no object of interest, people would take pride in their skills.  I swear that the top is for monkeys!  Accounting is not hard, but it sure pays the bills–why?  An epiphany for the world: putting on my economist hat, I say: when an item is a luxury, it is expensive.  Now, how many people enjoy the long, boring task of accounting?  Only a few special people.  And, hence, we will pay anything to have one of these luxury people–a rare species–do it for us.  So the top can be for smart people, but it can also be for people with boring jobs.  Going back to econ for a minute, I conclude in asking: what is the opportunity cost of taking a high-paying corporate job that makes you grey early and eat Zoloft sprinkled over your cereal rather than a lower paying job that makes you proud and in which you have a whole new family of co-workers?

Answer for yourself, but for me, the cost is greater than the money a miserable corporate professional could ever make, no matter how many times they “grace” the cover of Forbes.  And with that large cost–a huge life expense for the Yuppies and “Ouppies” taken into consideration, I observe that the happy and lower paid worker ends life with more money.  He, ultimately, is the rich one.  But this is only my view now…thoughts?


5 Responses to “Why Strive for “Greatness” in the Hospitality Industry?”

  1. marilyn bogdanffy September 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    This subject should be revisited 5 years hence.

    • getinmebelly September 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      What would 5 years mean for the subject?

    • marilyn bogdanffy December 4, 2014 at 12:58 am #

      good luck

  2. holly September 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    A lot of people go into nursing for this reason (me). You may not make top dollar but you wake up every day knowing you are going to do something good for people. By going to a great college (me again) I learned to be a more well rounded person so I could serve my clients better… and yeah, I could have gone to art school… but there was this uncertainty…

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