12/14/2012 02:59:00 PM

Service Week: Restaurant Staffers Talk Working on the Holidays

We tend to think of the holidays as a sacred time to celebrate family and togetherness, but for all the people that go out to eat on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, there has to be someone in the kitchen and at the bar to serve them. Though working on holidays feels like some sort of taboo, it’s not always an unpleasant venture for staff.

“New Year’s is definitely my favorite holiday to work, because everyone is in a good mood and celebratory,” said Mimi Downen, who works at Marea. “Normally the guests are with people they enjoy being with, instead of the family members they are forced to dine with like on Thanksgiving and Christmas.”


Thanksgiving and Christmas brings a whole new crowd to the dining scene, but it’s also the time some restaurateurs give back to their staff. Take Thanksgiving, for example: at Eleven Madison Park, chef and co-owner Daniel Humm treats the 75 employees that work the holiday to the same $195 (or $320 with wine pairings) prix-fixe feast that the customers are having - Black Angus beef with seared foie gras, butter poached lobster, and pasta with truffle that they were serving, plus wine and beer.

At Brooklyn’s Fulton Grand, bartender Hilary Krishnan said likes working Thanksgiving because everyone brings in a little taste of their feast for her. As for Christmas, she said, “The people that are hanging out are the people who can’t go home or are working. You have known them all year and it’s like a merry band of misfits.”

There’s also a money incentive to working on a holiday. One six-hour shift bartending a private party on New Year’s Eve can easily bring in $500 to $700, and often guests tip more because of the giving spirit that people get during this time of year.

“Most holidays tend to be quite profitable,” said Downen, adding that while you make good money, it can also bring on “a sense of sadness witnessing people out with their families and friends and then missing those experiences.”

Of course, if you don’t have family nearby, that isn’t much of an issue, which is why George McNeese, co-owner of Do or Dine, doesn’t care whether he works on Thanksgiving or Christmas. “The only part of it that sucks is having almost every co-worker wanting to go on vacation at the same time,” he said.

There is of course another added bonus to working the holidays: it keeps things simple. “Working the holidays can also be a way to not stress about the holidays,” said Downen. “I always put a positive light on such, as I will be with people I like, making money, probably eating some good food, and not have to cook, clean up or plan a thing.”

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