(Editor's Note: During the "4 Seasons" series, we are following four workers in different jobs in the spring, summer, fall and winter. By the end of the year, we should have a better understanding of how the seasons affect work life in the Olympic Region, at least for these individuals.)
LAKE PLACID - The dozens of restaurants in Lake Placid aren't just for eating. For many workers, such as The Cottage Supervisor Valerie Hastings, they are a source of income, and she is on the front lines of offering tourists the warm, northern hospitality special to the Adirondacks.
So what's her workplace been like this past month?
Valerie Hastings, is the supervisor at The Cottage restaurant in Lake Placid. She is not related to Rob Hastings, owner of the Rivermede Farm in Keene Valley, who we featured in the 4 Seasons story in the March 7 issue. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
"March is busy," Hastings said. "I think a lot of people are coming into town. For the restaurant industry, the snow has definitely helped this year."
Weather can make or break a season for many businesses in a resort town such as this. For Hastings, her job is most challenging during the slower season, typically April through mid-May. And when the ski season ends early in March, as it has a tendency to do, it can extend that grueling slow season. This year, however, winter won't quit. And with 99 percent of the terrain at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center still open this past week, business has been brisk at The Cottage.
"There are definitely a lot of people here this weekend," Hastings said. "People are still coming up to ski. Last year, they weren't. Weather definitely plays a huge role. ... I was bartending on Monday, and half my bar, people were coming up to visit to go skiing."
Hastings spoke to the Lake Placid News in the dining room of The Cottage on Friday, March 21, officially the first full day of spring. Looking out the window, it was snowing.
"People are either really excited or really upset," Hastings said about the snow. "People from out of town really like it, and I think a lot of people who are local want the sun and warm weather now."
Hastings is 33 years old, and she does a little bit of everything at The Cottage: hosting, bartending, serving and, of course, supervising. She helps her boss, General Manager Lisa Randall, with the beverage inventory, ordering and invoices. Generally, she tries to make sure everything runs smoothly on the floor.
A 1999 graduate of the Saranac Lake High School, Hastings earned a bachelor's degree from Keuka College. Her major was business administration, and her minor was hospitality. She never had a restaurant job while growing up in Saranac Lake, and, as a college freshman, business and hospitality weren't on her radar.
"When I went to college, I started out in education," Hastings said. "I did an internship in a school, and kids were not for me. Then I switched halfway through."
Hastings took some business classes and liked it. With a degree in hand, she found a business job after graduation but quickly found it wasn't for her.
"I did accounting when I first graduated from college, and I did not like being put behind a desk," Hastings said. "So part time, I waitressed and then they were looking for a supervisor, and I got promoted. From there, I just kind of got drawn in."
Before The Cottage hired her two-and-a-half years ago, Hastings managed two restaurants in Boston. She moved back to the Adirondacks to be closer to family. Now she lives in Saranac Lake with her two children - a 4-month-old and a 5-year-old - and her husband, Tim Fink, who works at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. Having a husband and wife in the restaurant business could be a deal breaker for some couples, as shifts can be erratic, but Hastings counts her blessings.
"For us, I think it works because we balance it better," Hastings said. "We still have the same days off together, so that's nice. ... We only need a sitter twice a week. Other than that, we're home with the kids. So that's kind of nice not to have to use daycare."
A typical work week for Hastings is Friday to Tuesday, and she sometimes works a double on Saturdays so she can get Sundays off to be with the kids.
"It's busiest on the weekends, so that's when you're needed," Hastings said.
Not only has the snow kept The Cottage busy this winter, but the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi have drawn crowds to the restaurant, which is part of the Mirror Lake Inn property owned by Ed and Lisa Weibrecht. Their son, Andrew, earned a silver medal in the super-giant slalom event Feb. 16 at Sochi. That night, The Cottage hosted a party in Andrew's honor. Then on March 16, Lake Placid celebrated the accomplishments of 12 Olympians by holding a parade, which began at the Olympic Center and ended at The Cottage with speeches, fireworks and an Olympian meet-and-greet. Hastings was at both events.
"To see locals and people from out of town, how excited they were for the Olympians, it was really neat, and it brought in really happy people all night long," Hastings said.
What's her secret to a successful day at the restaurant?
"I think it's making sure you're set up and ready to go before you open the door," Hastings said.
As for recent changes in the tourism industry, Hastings said technology - specifically customer-driven testimonial websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor - have made hospitality managers pay closer attention to customer service.
"Ten years ago, you didn't have to worry," Hastings said. "If somebody left and was unhappy, hopefully they would just tell you and you could fix it. But now, everything's on the Internet. You can't get away from it. ... I think, more than ever, it's more important to focus on what you have going on in your restaurant to make sure people are happy and people have a great experience ... and if they post something online, it's going to be something positive and not negative because that's going to reach out to thousands of people."