“The great advantage of a hotel”, according to George Bernard Shaw, “is that it is a refuge from home life”. This is not only true for the customers that stay there, but also for the people who work there.
Anybody who saunters into a hotel in the United Kingdom will notice the abundance of foreign staff; and there are good reasons for them to be there. Live-in hotel jobs are a popular choice among travelers who reside and work in Britain for a while. Some love it, some hate it, but none can dispute its benefits. If you do consider taking this route, the key factor is to know what you are letting yourself in for. This piece attempts to do just that, in a nutshell: a short guide to live-in jobs in the UK.
Live-in jobs are easy to get and solves a lot of logistical problems if you’re fresh from the plane. The deal is usually that while you work for the hotel, food and accommodation is provided for a small monthly stipend. Even though you won’t be earning huge amounts of money, you will also not be spending a fortune. At the beginning of 2006, the government-recommended amount was Â£27.50 per week for housing and three meals a day. This amount gets deducted from you paycheck, with the result that you have no bills or any other administrational problems to worry about.
Because the hotel needs to pay your wages into your bank account, they are usually helpful when it comes to opening one in the UK: not an easy task by yourself. On the flipside, it means that you can’t do this job on a cash-in-hand arrangement, and you need the correct visa before applying.
Another advantage is that you meet and work with people from all over the world. It would not be unusual to share your dinner table with a representative from every continent. Consequently there is a lot of time and opportunity for socializing, as staff-houses are jam-packed with people roughly the same age-group (approximately 18-to-35 years old).
You are also situated in scenic surroundings. Live-in jobs are mostly offered in small towns and rural surroundings, where there would otherwise not be enough accommodation available for the hotel’s staff. You could thus easily spend a couple of months in settings that range from the Lake District, to the Scottish Highlands, to one of the British Isles.
This carefree life sometimes comes at a price. Easy come, easy go. Hospitality workers are dispensable; a liberally available commodity in the churning sausage machine that is hospitality. I once worked for a hotel that had a staff turn-over of more than 400 employees per year. You could, depending in your employer, work back-breaking hours, be fed something you wouldn’t dish up for you worst enemy’s dog, and be subjected to management’s whims and brutal efforts to keep costs down â€” while earning minimum wage. As you will almost always work extra time, it is advisable to tread carefully in hotels that offer set wages, and are reluctant to pay overtime.
These problems aren’t solely characteristic of big hotels, but a lot of them can be avoided by applying for a position in a smaller, family-run establishment. Here, it could sometimes be harder to draw a line between professional and private life, but this can be an added appeal of such jobs. You are in closer contact to the family, and duties often extend beyond the official job description. For some travelers, these breaks often offer a welcome break from washing dishes, carrying plates and making beds. In the course of two years I’ve marked sheep, baby sat, painted walls and cleaned out garages. I also met more locals, made more friends and, I feel, made more memories this way.
If you decide to work in a hotel, there are various positions you could fulfill.
This is generally regarded as the cushy jobs in hotels. Your responsibilities will include answering the telephone, making bookings and other administrative duties. You hang with the upper management levels on a daily base and can scrounge free internet. Not bad, but keep in mind that with comfort comes more responsibility, and you also handle the complaints of unhappy customers.
Porters can work day or night shifts. You do everything that is not covered by the rest of the positions. Examples include carrying suitcases, keeping an eye on reception at nighttime, maybe laying tables for the next morning’s breakfast and running errands for who-ever needs them done. As a bonus, you usually also have access to the kitchen at night.
Theses are the people who connect the customer with the kitchen. Comfortable shoes are a must as your job description is basically running all the time.
Bar (Public or Lounge)
Hotels have either public bars, lounge (residential) bars, or both. In public bars, the job description is the same as any other pub or bar, but you get paid by the hotel and live in the staff accommodation. This is a great position to meet local people and have a good laugh. Usually, dependant on the hotel’s policy, more money can be made in the bar department through tips.
Lounge bars are for hotel residents only. They are usually a bit more formal, and a lot more expensive. These bars can also stay open until the residents decide to go to bed. This means long hours for the person who runs the bar. It also means more hours and more tips.
In this department your responsibilities include cleaning hotel rooms and public areas. Henry and James (the brand name of Hoovers almost all hotels in the UK use) will become your best friends, and over time, no human behavior or hygiene can make you flinch. Not everybody’s dream job, you do have inside knowledge on where to get ‘complementary’ shampoo, shower gel, coffee, tea and biscuits. Sometimes you also get to watch a little television during the day.
One of the less glamorous positions available, as kitchen porters (or KP’s) you spend your days hidden in the back of the kitchen scrubbing pots, pans and plates. This gives you lots (and lots) of time to think â€” perfect if you’re not a people-person and prefer just getting on with what you are supposed to do.
Not surprisingly, you are responsible for cooking the food. Variety occurs in the different kinds of chefs, for example, breakfast chef or pastry chef.
General Assistant (GA)
Usually, but not necessarily, this is a position available in smaller hotels. As GA you are expected to do any combination of the above positions. An average day may include serving or cooking breakfast, followed by housekeeping. Later that night you can work in the restaurant or pour pints in the bar. This position is good for people who like a bit of variety during their day, but bad for those who do not like to get their hands dirty by washing dishes or doing housekeeping.
How to Get the Job
There are various methods to secure a live-in job in the British hotel industry. One of the more popular methods is to use an agent. A well-known name in the traveling hotel workers’ circle is Dee Cooper. Famously hard to reach on your first try, the trick is to leave a message and she’ll get back to you. Dee Cooper covers England, Scotland and Wales, and also caters for groups.
Various websites advertise hotel vacancies. Good options are the TNT website. Alternatively you can pick up the TNT magazine for free at backpackers or hostels on every Monday. Both the website and the magazine also offer lists of vacancies as well as agents to phone for employment.
The government’s online jobcentre enables you to choose an area and industry that you would like to work in.
Alternatively, if location is the most important issue, visit the tourism board website of the area you would like to stay in, download a list of all the hotels in the area and phone them until you get somebody who has a vacancy.
Some people choose to hand out CV’s at the hotel reception area. If you prefer this method, remember that hotel seasons peak roughly from April to September. During these months it is easier to pick up a job and a place to stay. During the winter months you might have to prepare yourself to do a lot more walking.
When at last you find that employment, move in and start work, you will find yourself part of an industry that gives joy to many. Shaw was not the only author to indulge in the comfort of a hotel stay. “When I am ill natured I so enjoy the freedom of a hotel where I can ring up a domestic and give him a quarter” Mark Twain announced, “and then break furniture over him”. Oh the joys of the job.