Stand at the famous ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza in the heart of New York City. Gaze up at those silvery spires that scrape the sky. At the top of the tower, on the 65th floor, you will be able to imagine the glittering Rainbow Room. It no longer glitters. They’ve turned out the lights.
Forty-two employees were thrown out of work when The Grill at The Rainbow Room recently closed in January. Who would have thought the most secure of jobs, the wait staff positions, would suddenly become vulnerable? Who would have thought a landlord, (in this case, Tishman Speyer), could and would demand a rent increase to $8.7 million a year? Who can calculate how many meals must be served to come up with such a stratospheric rent?
The Rainbow Room was built in 1934 during The Great Depression. But like a great film star, its glamour and radiance sadly faded over time. The legendary restaurateur Joe Baum restored it to its original grandeur in 1988. Imagine: three restaurants, a floor full of banquet facilities and meeting rooms and an exclusive members-only club. But Joe lost the lease to the Rainbow Room in 1998 when he declined to meet the demand for $4 million annual rent. Joe served more great meals to more people than anyone in the history of gastronomy.
Joe would say: “You must show your people that you love them and appreciate their work. We have to learn to deserve our staff. People don’t come to a restaurant because they’re hungry. They don’t come to be fed. They come to be served. They come for fun, for the pleasure of being together.” Being laid off might be the worst thing that could happen to a waiter — or the best thing.
The wait staff who suddenly find themselves on the street have to rethink their options. Gone now are the shared family meals before service. Gone are the tips. Gone are the couple of beers at the end of the evening shift.
But what is one person’s catastrophe can be another person’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. No more working every evening. No more working every holiday. No more being nice even to guests who ask silly questions like: “Is the fish fresh? Can we share the calamari? Can I have the sauce on the side?”
Here’s the chance to see what’s around the corner. A lost job in Manhattan could provide the needed impetus to move to Hawaii or Paris or Thailand. We have embassies in every major city in the world. All these embassies invite guests to parties. All need wait staff. Luxury private yachts and ocean liners like the Queen Mary need wait staff, and employment three miles off shore means no taxes, no car payments, no mortgage or rent to pay — and many new people to meet every night.
There are so many prospects lying at all our feet. We just have to choose one, and bend down to pick it up.
A waiter who loves music can work in the dining room at a concert hall. A sports fan can wait in the sky box dining room for football, baseball, hockey, tennis or whatever game is in town. There are corporate dining rooms and country clubs to consider. And museums. And retirement villages. These foodservice facilities seem mostly to have weathered the economic storms and a full-time staff position often comes with enticing perks.
Caterers are always on the lookout for caring and competent servers. Some specialize in weddings, parties for politicians, and private dinners, large and small, for stars of the stage and screen.
If you can rustle up and graciously serve some bacon and eggs and you know how to make a bed, you might consider opening a bed & breakfast. If you would prefer to work regular hours, you could think about applying for a teaching position at one of the 600 professional cooking schools in America alone. There, you can teach front of the house and other management skills.
If you can match your hobby, your passion, your special interest to your talents as a professional waitperson, you’ll never look back. You will wonder why you didn’t make the move earlier.
My tip is: Explore all your options and all the possibilities that are just waiting for you, and boldly take the first step.