If you’ve ever worked in the hospitality industry, the term Back of the House means something to you. To those not in the know, Back of the House refers to the behind the scenes areas where all of the magic happens. The kitchens and prep areas where beautiful food is prepared, where dishes are washed, where serving items and decor are stored and made ready to use, to create the magic of an event or dining experience.
When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I worked as a banquet server. I started off at a very middle of the road conference hotel, and later was encouraged by co-workers to apply at some better places. One holiday season, I was hired by the Hotel Del Coronado, a lovely seaside Victorian resort hotel, famed as the location of several well known Marilyn Monroe movies, and which hosted many elegant events.
The hotel was under restoration at the time (during our orientation, it was stressed that we were to phrase this accurately to guests as a restoration rather than renovation, the distinction being significant, apparently, to the marketing of the hotel).
The hotel boasted some very lovely event spaces and ballrooms – the Crown Room is known for having hosted prominent political dignitaries. All of the areas guest could access were lovely and elegant, some being, as it were, restored to previous splendor.
The back of the house….not so much. I was initially shocked at how shabby the back of the house areas were. Old, faded, chipped paint, cracked tiles. None of the facade we shared with our guests translated to the behind the scenes work spaces. Functional, for the most part, they were. Attractive, they were not. If you’ve ever lived or spent time in an older house, you’ll know what I mean when I say that even layers of fresh paint in some areas couldn’t cover up years of grime and wear and bumps and scars. The true history of the space was readily apparent in those walls and corners.
This makes me think of the facade many of us present to the world, and how imperfect our personal back of the house areas can be. But in many ways, this is where all the work happens and where the real magic comes from, where the real gold is mined.
Somehow, in my growing up, I made the determination that my flaws were bigger, or worse, than those of the average person. Why else did everyone else seem to have it so together, while I felt so awkward, inelegant and clueless about the things so many seemed to know about? I was and am an intense overthinker – how could I possibly stack up and have something worthy to offer, compared to so many people who just act and move forward with ease?
Not long ago, someone I had recently met remarked upon what they considered my poise. I laughed aloud (still laughing at this,really). Can I really have outgrown that utterly awkward ugly-duckling self I have identified with for so long? And then someone I consider accomplished, elegant, and inspiring, let me have a peep into their “back of the house” and whoa! Come to find out, in many ways, so similar to mine. At this point, at the ripe old age of my current ripe old age, that shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it was, and it made me think about my perception of myself, and think that maybe it’s time to rethink it once again. Maybe we all should.
More than anything, what I’ve started to recognize how important it is to show up and just live, warts and all. There’s so much to do – we have so much to give, and so little time, really. Self-acceptance is an interesting journey – I myself have made some massively foolish life choices, with my head in the sand and guided more by my heart than said head. But here I am “poised” and ready for the next chapter. Join me?
PS – A scene from my current, actual house. Ahem.