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Meg Russell discusses the benefits and pitfalls of working in the hospitality industry as a student, and how to make sure you’re getting the most out of your role.

Balancing studies and finances can be a constant source of stress for many students. Prioritising one is usually to the detriment of the other, and the differences in everyone’s situations can be demoralising. It can be frustrating and stressful, but even jobs unrelated to potential career paths develop key communication and team work skills; not to mention the fact that they’ll help fund nights out too. 

As someone who has worked in hospitality for much longer than they originally intended, my jaded initial response to anyone considering it is: run. But let’s hold that thought for a second. Hospitality is one of the many industries experiencing labour shortages at the moment. A complex mix of factors has led to this point, but there are some silver linings that come with it. 

If you’re a student looking to get your foot in the door, there are plenty of places absolutely desperate for staff. This means some employers have been forced to reassess conditions and pay, and you’re more likely to find places offering above minimum wage. Add tips into the mix, and you can get an okay-looking paycheck. The staff shortages also mean that lack of experience is unlikely to be an issue. 

Hospitality is a really diverse industry that covers everything from corporate or massive music and sports events, to your local pub or coffee shop. This makes it difficult to talk about in broad brush strokes, but it also means you can choose what might be the best fit for you. 

Most places will be flexible with hours, making it ideal to fit around classes. Generally, universities recommend working a maximum of 15-20 hours a week, and hospitality businesses are used to accommodating students’ schedules. It‘s also fairly easy to reduce your hours when you might have a busy week or two with deadlines. And, whilst it’s definitely not the case everywhere, a lot of places will allow you food on shift which can be helpful in cutting down food bills (and gets you out of some cooking, too). A post-shift pint isn’t unheard of either. If you find a place that’s a good fit for you, your colleagues will definitely become mates and you’ll not only have fun on shift, but outside of that, too. 

Sounds okay so far, right? I am jaded, yes, but hospitality can get a bad rep and there's a reason for that. I know plenty of places that genuinely care for their staff as much as their customers, but that is unfortunately not industry standard. 

The flexibility that can be so great, but on the flip side it can also mean nasty zero-hour contracts, resulting in a precarious and unpredictable income. It can mean extremely late nights that make lectures the next day exceedingly difficult. Many places don’t ensure staff get breaks, even on shifts that are more than ten hours long. Some places might offer higher pay, but minimum wage is still common and increasingly difficult to get by on.

Hospitality is an industry that relies on a young workforce, who are likely to be less aware of their rights as employees - and businesses will take advantage of that. It’s really important to know your rights: Unite has a hospitality branch that provides legal support to members, and I’d strongly recommend joining. 

For all my misgivings, I still work in hospitality. It can be stressful, customers can be painful, and like any job combined with studies, time management is important. On the flip side, there are aspects that make hospitality a great part-time job while you navigate university. I guess in the end, it’s not run; it’s weigh up your options and choose what’s best for you. 


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