A former Cubana Airlines flight attendant who immigrated to Canada in 1995, Ronald Cruz knew he enjoyed customer service, but didn’t know a great deal about the tourism industry in Canada. Still, once he decided to pursue a career in hospitality, he was certain of one thing: “I wanted to work for the best hotel in town.”
After much thought and research, Cruz determined the Pan Pacific Hotel in Downtown Vancouver was the perfect fit. “It was a fine-dining hotel, and everything was top of the line,” he says. As soon as he had his working papers, he managed to land a job as a banquet server. “I didn’t know anything about banquets, but I knew it would be the right place to start.”
Cruz began to learn the job’s myriad details: how to set up rooms for corporate meetings, weddings, buffets, receptions and VIP functions; how to serve meals in a large-scale group setting; and how to quickly turn the same room over for the next function. “It’s a great job if you’re finishing school and want a good first step into food & beverage services,” he says. “If you’re a good banquet server, you would make a great restaurant server, because you have to learn the technique for carrying 10 plates without using a tray.” Cruz’s hard work paid off. Over the course of his employment at the Pan Pacific, he was twice promoted — first as lead server, then as banquet captain.
After four years at the Pan Pacific, Cruz moved to the Fairmont Vancouver Airport as a banquet captain. The hotel had recently opened, and Cruz and a fellow captain had carte blanche to create the banquet department, devising its standard operating procedures. “We built the manuals, based on my experience at the Pan Pacific,” says Cruz, who was eventually promoted to outlet manager, a role that required him to run both banquets and room service. “It was great, because I got to see beyond the banqueting wall.” Eventually, he became the hotel’s F&B manager, responsible for four outlets: banquets, Globe@YVR restaurant, Jetside Bar lounge, and room service.
Working for Fairmont has allowed Cruz to work internationally. He was on the pre-opening team of a Fairmont property in Cancun, helped out during a labour disruption in San Francisco, and replaced an ailing banquet manager at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, BC. Finally, in 2009, partly motivated by the desire for stability, Cruz assumed his current position as banquet manager at the new Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver. Reporting to him are an assistant banquet manager, two captains and a staff of approximately 40 colleagues.
Utilizing his wealth of experience, he put together the banquet service manual; however, he refers to it as an “ongoing manual — it will never be finished. You keep changing it to make everything run better.” He routinely puts in 10 to 12-hour days and knows that every shift will present some unanticipated issues. “What I like best — the biggest challenge — is to prioritize what is really needed at this point without forgetting what is needed later. You have to be smart and creative.” At peak times, he may borrow banquet staff from other Fairmont properties; but realizing those hotels may be busy as well, he has also cross-trained members of his hotel’s steward and housekeeping teams to help out.
Whenever possible, he has availed himself of Fairmont’s in-house management seminars, and he pays forward his educational good fortune by visiting schools and community colleges, speaking to young tourism and hospitality students. He admits to being somewhat dismayed by their unrealistic expectations. “Kids today want to be a general manager without knowing how to be a server.” There is only one secret to success, he says, and indeed, it’s no secret: “Work hard. Never give up. Always stay focused on your goals. And don’t expect people to just give you what you want.”