From Platform 10 to Maître D’

In hospitality work, attitude counts for a lot.

john sebessy in platform 10 DSC01730

A few years ago, JOHN SEBESSY was with another organisation that provided support to people living with mental health issues, but he felt they weren’t doing enough. This is the story of how John came to be with RichmondPRA and how he then went on to become a manager in the hospitality industry.

Opening doors

A good manager will find people’s strengths, facilitate their development and, as a result, open doors. This can be life changing in an ADE (Australian Disability Enterprise). Not all managers do this for their workers, however.

The company I was formerly with was started off by a visionary, a woman who worked with people who had disabilities and who brought them in to do junior staff roles. During my time with the organisation I was involved in marketing, supervision, doing presentations, stock control, and all other aspects of the business. People relied on me. I had responsibility and I was proud of that.

There were a number of good-hearted people there, but overall it tended to be a bit of a Steam Age organisation trying to keep pace with the Electric Age, if you know what I mean. They were inflexible and wouldn’t change, despite how behind the times they were. I think the founding visionary was a bit heartbroken by this, as she left the scene and went interstate to start a new life.

The company was in a state of decay, but at the time I was committed to stay on. However, through various misadventures, I came into contact with a different ADE: PRA, the forerunner of RichmondPRA. I was actually checking the organisation out for another person, but by this point I was so impressed that I eventually decided to throw my lot in with PRA as well. This happened right at the beginning of the Platform 10 hospitality training project (which has been at Figtree Conference Centre since 2013).

Kerry Dixon (the manager of Platform 10 at that point) told me that I looked all right in a monkey suit, and I can remember just standing at the window on level ten of the PRA building, looking out over the city and saying, “OK yes, I’ll do it.” I felt that she was the sort of manager that opened doors, which was a big part of why I said yes.

Encouragement

My new role gave me an opportunity to help people way more than I could in my old job.

The people I worked with were all at different stages of recovery. Some, sadly, had been through far more than anyone should ever have to experience, and some were just happy to get through another day. Some workers were burdened by severe negativity as a result of their life experiences, but being productive and appreciated must have helped with this. Remember that this is about more than money: it’s about people. People’s lives were changing bit by bit, every day.

The participants at Platform 10 were all split into mentoring pairs, and we were each responsible for encouraging our partners. The mentoring pairs were a great way for us to practice graciousness, appreciation, encouragement and support for one another. Another thing the workers needed to learn was to feel comfortable saying “no” to things until the time was right for them. It was good being able to help the people involved in the project to overcome their shyness and to assure them “you’re going to get better at this,” and to eventually see that encouragement come true.

Kerry held team meetings at the end of each day and would speak to each one of us to both give and receive feedback. No one went home without feeling as though they’d gotten something out of the day. There was a lot going on behind the scenes there in order for us to perform as professionals for the customers. It was great to feel so productive, and some workers from those early days still ring me up for a chat.

Duty?

There is a common attitude going around these days among workers which is all focused on “my rights” rather than “my duty.” So many people have an overblown sense of entitlement when they go to work and have their priorities all mixed up, and that’s not good for your career. When I moved on from Platform 10 to work at a hotel, for instance, I was there to do a good job. I put in heaps of effort during every shift, and the Licensee who ran the place was very impressed. If you want to get ahead in life, don’t just do enough to coast by: get stuck in and really do your best.

Moving ahead

I had a chat with a receptionist at a major club, and she was nice enough to put in a good word for me. This resulted in an interview. I was sure to check the workplace out first to see if it was the sort of environment that I’d want to work in, After all, I’m not at the beginning of my journey anymore, and I have some idea of what I’m looking for in a job. As it turned out, this workplace needed some new people, and after a challenging interview I was “dropped into the mix,” so to speak. By day two, I’d already been asked if I wanted to be the Maitre D’ (in charge of the waiters and the seating of customers). My answer was obvious.

As the Maître D’, I want all my customers to have a great experience at the club. If, by some misadventure, they feel we’ve done anything to wreck their night out, then we’ll do something to try and win them back. Remember that people are a lot more likely to talk about their bad experiences at clubs than the good ones! No matter what happened to upset the customer, I’d put effort and resources into making sure they are happy by the time they leave.

The Gordon Ramsay Effect

I don’t find a need to swear and yell at the other workers. There’s a serious contrast between the media’s “Hell’s Kitchen” idea of hospitality, where these workplaces are all run by roaring predators who prey on people’s weaknesses, not to mention the widespread alcohol and drug use you hear about among hospitality workers. Unfortunately, there are definitely bosses out there who use aggro instead of people skills!

A few hot tips

It’s important to keep your presentation and attitude up to scratch. It’s important to maintain a pristine work environment, and it is essential to give very good service…ESPECIALLY when you are busy!

-John Sebessy spoke to Warren Heggarty

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