Let Me Give You A Tip…


It is a well-known fact that ski season jobs are poorly paid. This runs from chalet host up to resort manager. It is also well-known that the staff at the bottom of the food chain (me, for example) hope to be able to make enough tips to be able to survive on (in this context, read ‘survival’ as ability to purchase cases of Kronenberg bottled beer and the occasional tube of toothpaste). So, some staff might work harder to solicit these tips, they might go that extra mile for the guests to improve the chances of being recognised (financially, that is, because as one seasoned employee puts it ‘compliments do not buy beer’).

The recognition happens on transfer day.

Transfer day is a curious experience. One batch of humans are shipped out of resort to be replaced by another batch. To do this staff rise at 5:00 and over 12 hours turn over the chalet and settle in the new humans. What surprised me about transfer day was the hugging. Guests hugging staff, virtual strangers embracing the people who have looked after them for seven days. I was hugged. And afterwards, once all the guests had been loaded and moved off, I stood at the bus stop thinking, ‘how strange, how nice’ while my colleagues disappeared.

When I returned to my chalets there was no sign of either chef, both repeat seasonnaires. Then after five minutes they both reappeared, having (so it turned out) checked every room for tips. One chef proudly announced 150 euro, while the other had zero.

I took care of both chalets, had dined with the guests in each chalet and I had formed opinions of them too. It was interesting how those changed when the financial judgement had been passed. It leaves a complex taste in your mouth reflecting on your efforts over the previous week.

The point is though, it is not an exact science. Your effort does not necessarily match the eventual reward, which one of the other chefs discovered to his disappointment. All week he devoted himself to this family, not only cooking for them but allowing them wine long after the food had been cleared away, boarding with them, drinking with them, advising them, changing the menu for them. Nothing was too much trouble. Their wish was his command, they were always right. It could have been sickening but he did it with style (mostly, although I almost choked on my coffee when they left the chalet, offering to turn their Christmas CD off on the way out the door only to hear his response: ‘no don’t worry, I actually find it rather soothing.’ He doesn’t). On the last night they were singing his praises, they would come back to this resort again and again, if only they knew he’d be there to serve them. So, I could see why he’d be confident of a large reward, after all, that is what a tip recognises, personal service. Only in the end, it didn’t happen. From 11 people he received 33 euros.

He felt dirty, used, taken advantage of, a slightly naive girl, the victim of a one night stand. By the time the bus had pulled away from the snow crusted lay-by his treasured guests, his dining buddies, had become scum and worse.

It does beg the question: how do you know? And how far would you go?

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