2023 Contest

Making Work Visible

City University of New York / Labor Arts

Thomas Sestak

Non-Fiction  Second PlaceThomas Sestak Operations Management, Baruch College
Untapped New York: Top 10 Secrets of Douglaston, Queens, Photograph by Noah Sheidlower
My First Job

Ever since I was fourteen, I knew I wanted to work. The idea of earning my own money and not relying on my mother to give me some cash was perfect. In middle school I was aware that the legal age to get your working papers was fourteen, so I would picture jobs I thought I would do. Ball boy at the US Open, camp counselor, and tutor were all jobs I started to apply for when I found an opportunity, but as time went on I realized it was hard to get a job at a younger age. So my dream of working as soon as possible started to fade, and then on top of all that Covid hit the world after I turned fifteen. Now fast forward to 2021 where I’m sixteen years old and still unemployed which wasn’t close to my goal at all. Soon after I found myself at my cousins’ graduation party when I got a call from one of my good friends who was already employed, and he offered me a job at the country club where he worked. I was finally going to have a job and at a place where I’m able to work with two of my good friends, but I had no idea what it would be like working in customer service.

On my first day of work as I’m walking up the stairs, I’m instantly amazed how beautiful the building was. There was a spiral staircase in the center, multiple “fancy” looking restaurant rooms, and a massive bar just down a small staircase where we were heading. I knew we worked in a snack bar, but I still didn’t see where it could be. As we headed towards the back of the building my two friends, out of nowhere, said “here it is” and pointed at a door. Instead of some luxurious massive kitchen I expected, it was a slim, tight space riddled with various cooking utensils I have never seen. As our shift went on and I met my new coworkers I was able to get to know their real personality, which would soon confuse me to see how they interacted with the members in the club. Later in the day my new boss came in and was showing me around the club and introducing me to certain tasks I would have to do such as supplying the tennis courts, delivering drinks, and how to set up the speakers. But on my tour one thing he kept emphasizing to me was to smile and wave whenever we passed by a member. This was the introduction into the world of customer service for me.

I quickly realized there was an almost silent language at a club like this. The member/worker relationships are extremely important at country clubs because the members expect a very inclusive environment. Little things like smiling, standing up at all times, and knowing about the members personal life felt very forced, but instilled in us from the beginning. As I continued to work there I realized I was becoming almost fluent in this “new language” as I started from taking orders in the snack bar to becoming a part-time bartender on mondays and tuesdays. As I dealt with more and more members I got to know them and their lives without them ever really asking about mine. I don’t want to prove that the members of country clubs are snobby and selfish, rather the image the club wants to uphold is integral in our work.

Although there were times where you had to act as the club wanted you to, there was a whole other side of my work experience I haven’t talked about, which is my relationships with the rest of the staff. The majority of the staff aside from me and my friends were of Central/South American heritage, and as someone who wants to become fluent in Spanish, they have significantly enhanced my understanding of the language. In high pressure settings like the kitchen where they all spoke Spanish, I was able to listen to how the kitchen operates. Not only did I improve my listening skills, but some of the chefs have taught me commonly used words/phrases, like “daselo a la cooch” which I have used way more times than I can count. By taking orders, delivering food, and even giving recommendations I better understood how hectic kitchen environments, like the ones you see on hell’s kitchen or masterchef, operate smoothly. I feel as if I can now deal with other people in a more patient manner, and also be able to keep up in a fast paced environment without slowing anybody else down.

Most of my time working was spent in the snack bar of my job. If you think about working at a snack bar, you would probably imagine a fun/laid back job where teenagers are working just to make minimum wage. Although that could be the case sometimes, there are many more aspects I did not expect when you are actually busy. Having a rush of members, cooking countless amounts of cheeseburgers and french fries, and putting the orders into the clubs online system became a lot of work in a short period of time. And with the importance of image, being slow or confused wasn’t an option. One thing I had to learn was how to take orders “blindly” which means not really knowing what the member wants, but acting like you do, and then taking it to another coworker to help. As time went on and we had more challenging events, I found myself having a tried and true method of efficiency which my coworkers were a part of too. The “Kids Day” event was the introduction to our new system of productivity, as it was the first time we encountered such a heavy amount of orders. There were usually two other people in the snack bar along with me, and they happened to be two of my good friends as I’ve mentioned before. So communicating between each other was already easy, but we never had to deal with one hundred orders in an hour. We figured out that we would divide into three different stations and focus on one thing solely for the next hour. I had to take the customers orders and run to the kitchen when we ran out of specific foods. Soon enough dealing with person after person, and running to the kitchen for food after food, it felt like a machine. And with many future events I was able to continue this new technique, and even teach it to new coworkers who joined me later in the year.

The last aspect of my job I believe to be the hardest role at a country club, and entails the most knowledge overall is the bartender. I started working as a bartender on Mondays and Tuesdays due to one of the bartenders quitting and the lack of commotion on those days.

Working at a bar requires you to become familiar with popular drinks, name brands, and even the club news when you are interacting with members. As a seventeen year old kid, I wasn’t really up to speed on any of these points. As my manager taught me the brands of drinks like casamigos, smirnoff, and Johnnie Walker and whether they were vodka, gins, or tequila I started to recognize labels and bottle shapes in other drinks. After a while of practicing on Mondays and Tuesdays with smaller and less frequent orders, I was moved to Thursday nights which were much more busy. The major detail overlooked as a bartender would be your ability to socialize with people, because sometimes people come to the bar just to talk. Being able to have conversations with the members has given me a lot of insight into their lives and I have recognized how interested they were in mine as well. As I talked to other coworkers I usually heard negative experiences with members, so it was refreshing to actually interact with them myself, without judging them off what I heard. Learning the new discourse of bartending has definitely made me more social and organized in high pressure situations, which I lacked before.

In hindsight, my time working at the Douglaston Club has taught me more than I would’ve thought about a “non-important minimum wage job”. The lessons I’ve been taught about communication, cooking, and service have not just impacted my work-life, but have given me meaningful relationships with coworkers and members I never expected. Learning a new discourse such as customer service has not only improved my skills in my position, but has given me insight into an aspect of life I never would have ventured through without guidance and receptiveness.