Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Fairmont Banff Springs June 2018

For those of you that are following this blog but don’t know me I am Tom.  For the first part of my international year I choose the Fairmont Banff Springs Banff, Alberta, Canada. Like my colleague Derek I am also working as a pastry chef at this property. Banff is a town located in the heart of the Rockies in Banff National Park.
In order to get the job with the Fairmont there was quite a rigorous application process. We first met the talent acquisition manager in college where an informal interview was held to get a feel for what was on offer and what we were interested in. The second step was an online application, this was quite tedious. This was a general Fairmont application which asked questions based on strengths and weaknesses. The “results” of this let you know if you were eligible to work for the group or not. After this I had two further interviews, each one lasted approximately 45 minutes. Every aspect of my culinary and professional experience was looked at and lots of questions were asked looking forward into my career. Once I “passed” these interviews I received a job offer which I then accepted. This offer came the 20th of December. I then undertook the visa application. Fairmont give you a list of documents required in the application process. Ensure that you have these before starting the process as the time to submit documents is extremely short.  The possibility of a lot of change for new applicants next year is quite high as the Fairmont group is now part of Accor Hotels. Since we have arrived the Accor brand, mottos and polices have being introduced into the property.
Once my visa went through the final paperwork for Fairmont was filled out. This included the staff accommodation form. There are two types of accommodation offered to new colleagues. The first is a single room, shared bathroom, but no kitchen facilities. The second is a shared open plan room. In these there is either two or three people a bathroom and a kitchen/living room. I choose the single room because I like to have a bit of privacy. This turned out to be a good decision. There is a canteen that is open 24 hours and is actually the busiest outlet in terms off food production. There is a salad bar, soups, cereals for free. For dinners or fruit, you use your Fairmont card this is topped up by $4.00 every day. these four dollars is a Fairmont cost. The price of a dinner is $2.50 so you can get something else if you want. In January the staff canteen is going under a major renovation. The result of this renovation is going to be a saving of $1,000,000 per year. This could mean that the variety of food I have got could be signifyingly more than new colleagues next year.
For most hotels you say the kitchen, for the Banff springs it’s the kitchens. There are ten dining options in the hotel these are serviced by 8 kitchens. These range in variety from fine dining, French, German, Italian, Mexican, and casual. There are two banquet kitchens, a butcher shop, Garde manger (which is a cold prep kitchen) saucier and then the pastry shop. The pastry shop is the only 24-hour outlet with the exception of the in-room dining kitchen. There are many different shifts within the pastry shop which focus on the different areas. These include the overnight bakeshop, afternoon tea shift, outlets production, banquets production, amenity’s and functions and banquet plate up. I have already worked in all these sections.  Each shift in the hotel is scheduled for 8 hours 30 minutes. The 30 minutes is unpaid as its your break. If over time is required you are paid time and a half.
So, with only working for a third of the day you are left with a lot of downtime. What is there to
Canoeing on the Bow River August 2018
do in Banff you might ask? It really depends on the weather. If you think weather in Ireland is changeable never complain again. The temperature can reach mid thirty’s in the summer and drop to minus 30 in the winter. We had our first snowfall Aug 31. Banff is located in the heart of the Rockies. This opens doors to many different extreme adventure sports. Including hiking, climbing horse trails and many water sports. Most of these things have to be done in groups as there is lots of wildlife including bears, cougars, and coyotes. Bear spray is essential. Animals have the right of way in the national park. One day a black bear arrived into town. The area of town that it was in was completely closed off until the bear left. I have done a couple of hikes, white water rafting (which was extremely fun), visited some of the lakes and utilised the canoe passes provided by Fairmont for the bow river. The beauty of the area is outstanding and breath-taking. As staff we get great discounts on the gym membership. I bought the 6 month one for $330. I go almost every day and it’s a great way to keep you occupied. Especially the outdoor heated pool. We also get a 30% food and beverage discount in all the food outlets. As the winter season is approaching the activities that are going to be available are completely different. Winter sports are something I have never done before and am very excited to give them a try. Would it be an activity list if nightlife was not mentioned.  Banff is a tourist town filled with hotels pubs and restaurants. It can be very expensive to drink and eating Banff, but not if you follow the daily special. For example, Wednesday is wine day as one pub does half price wine. Sunday is local’s night so drink in most places is considerably cheaper. AVOID EATING OR DRINKING OUT FRIDAY and SATURDAY as I call these days rip the tourist off. Food and drink can be double the price it is on other nights.
Summit Tunnel Mountain June 2018
Although Banff life is for the most part good I have encountered some low points and issues. Money does not go far in Banff. So, I decided to get a second job. I had got a job as a kitchen steward at the Banff Gondola restaurant which is located on top of one of the mountains. This restaurant was owned by another large company and came with good pay the most flexible hours ever and good benefits. I worked for two weeks there and then I checked with Janine (Talent and Culture manager) as to if it was ok to have a second job. As it turned out I wasn’t. There were numerous issues with my work permit. I applied for the same work permit as Derek but we both had completely different visas. Both had issues for example mine lasted for one year and Derek’s was a two year. Janine yet again could not have been more helpful and straight away got on to service Canada because we had breached our permit. Service Canada took responsibility for the confusion and supplied us with a letter in case of any problems entering the country in the future. Saving money for the international college semester became a lot harder. Fairmont Banff Springs sponsored the work permit, so they are the only place you can work for. The main low point so far was the forest fires. These affected me quite a lot. The fires start almost every year. It limited what you could do in terms of most outdoor activities were out. The smoke from this blocked the sun for over a month. It was like living in a smouldering fire. The smoke was everywhere. There were days when even walking the 1km into town was not advised due to the health risk. It affected my eyes quite a lot as I wear contact lens.
Overall the experience so far has being generally positive. I have enjoyed overcoming the obstacle of working in such a huge establishment. At the moment if I was asked would I work in a large hotel again I would probably say no. I feel in some ways quality is lost in exchange for quantity. I am enjoying the outdoors and the different kind of activities it is allowing me to do. Canadians are extremely friendly and once they find out you are Irish they can’t wait to tell you about their Irish ancestors….

Canada Day July 2018


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