Credit: Celtic Football Club

Working in hospitality at sports events is a sport in itself

By Natasha Coyle

Many students find themselves serving food and drink to wealthy Scots who will happily splash the cash for football and rugby matches. But what this clientele doesn’t realise is that it’s not just the players they’ve come to watch who are participating in a high-intensity sport.

Whilst there is a lot of negativity to be said about zero-hour contracts, for many students (me included), they’re quite handy. It gives me a degree of agency as to when I want to work to scrimp some extra cash to use as disposable income. The nature of these contracts can be desirable for students in a similar position whose workloads peak at different points of the year. Most people that I have encountered on my shifts at Celtic and Hampden all voice similar benefits to the contracts and the work offered by hospitality agencies.

But what we don’t always talk about is the work itself. Yes, aspects of it are mundane and I can certainly say that I will not be pursuing a career in the hospitality industry. Yet, as a lover of sport who often tries to pick up shifts at some of the biggest sporting grounds and events in Scotland, I didn’t find myself watching much of the matches during my (very brief) breaks. Instead, I found myself thinking about my aching muscles, tired feet, and all the other physical signs my body was giving me that I, like the professional athletes performing for the spectators, was participating in a high-intensity sport.

If you’ve never worked in hospitality of any kind, particularly match-day hospitality, let me paint the picture of what it’s like. You try to arrive early but inevitably your bus gets delayed or everyone arrives at the same time and you find yourself waiting in a long queue just to sign yourself in so you can, in fact, get paid the following week. If you’re not on a matchday contract, you’ll likely find yourself working in a different area of a stadium compared to your previous shift. Or, you could be brand new and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing! Not to fear, whether a rookie or pro, the sport you’re about to encounter when working in hospitality is a pretty level playing field.

You’ll be walking – a lot. The only difference in being a rookie versus a pro in this sport is that the pros have hardened skin on their feet from walking the distance of half-marathons from numerous eight-plus hour shifts. The rookie has to mentally prepare for blistered feet and sweat on their brow once the shift has begun. Sweat will cling to the back of your collar and you’ll be dying to snag the tie you’ve been given for the shift right off your neck. You’ll want to burn it, mentally cursing the last day you had to wear a tie for school. I would say I burnt my tie when I left school but I would be lying (instead, I won Teacher’s Pet at my Year 13 prom). I certainly couldn’t burn the tie after my shift, but that’s purely because the facilities outside Celtic Park are certainly not apt to do so.

I’ll often find myself milling about at the beginning of the shift before the guests arrive, trying to look busy. Anticipation builds: will my customers be clicking their fingers at me demanding service or be smiley and want to have a chat? The climaxing anticipation is the same feeling I get when I’m waiting to play my first match at a badminton tournament – I just want to get started, get in the flow, succeed, then go home. This is the politicking aspect of the sport which most people pass but not always with flying colours. If you politick well and keep the drinks coming, you might receive a generous tip. But whilst some customers will splash the cash on a £350 ticket to see a mid-season league match, their wallets may be firmly shut to you. The paycheque alone will have to do.

Once the anticipation is over, you’ll wish that the pace would lighten up. The number of times you’ll walk to and from the kitchen or bar will gradually make you dizzy and you’ll be counting down the minutes to your break. A huge plus about this sport is that there are usually delicious leftovers for you. This isn’t always consistent, though. Persist and be strong whether you’re a rookie or a pro.

You’ll certainly be carrying an assortment of objects. These will likely include dishes that are not round (because serving a piece of lightly toasted bread on a triangular dish certainly makes it feel like that £350 was worth spending) or a tray full of beers to take to that table of six who are determined to make the most of the ‘free bar’. People underestimate the complexity of the masterful tray-carrying technique. And just like good technique in racket sports, the technique for tray-carrying is all in the wrist, fingers, arms, and hand-eye coordination.

Training is key when wanting to perform at the highest level in any sport. Strength and conditioning training is crucial to the sport of hospitality: you’ll be lifting chairs and tables, pushing stock on a trolley, or indeed carrying it to and from a storeroom. By the end of the shift, your black trousers will be clinging to your legs, and sweat marks on your shirt contour the middle of your back and armpits.

Communication defines the success of the sport which is hospitality. Good communication is necessary not only for your team but also for your relationship with the customers. If they’re still waiting on that glass of champagne they missed because they were late to the drinks reception and you’ve run out of champagne and have to fetch more from the stock room, tell them. They’ll appreciate the communication, trust me. The best managers also talk to their casual staff. The worst managers expect staff, rookie or pro, to know everything and then moan and whine when something goes wrong after refusing to answer any questions you had. You can probably guess which manager gets the most out of their staff.

At the end of a long shift in hospitality, you want (and probably need) a long shower, your favourite takeaway, and to collapse on your bed. This is certainly what I feel after a long shift and a badminton tournament. During a shift, some of my colleagues discuss their nightly plans to go to a nightclub despite their blistered feet and aching arms. To those people, I truly salute them as soldiers. You go and spend your hard earnt cash. There’s nothing wrong with boosting the economy! I find that I sit and reflect on my performance, offering myself a match analysis whilst eating the pepperoni pizza I bought from Lidl.

Like playing sports, working in sports hospitality gives you a great deal of fulfilment. But unlike playing badminton, I will not be participating in the sport that is hospitality for the rest of my life.


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