My Short Foray into Event Staffing
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
I hated it, but at least I got to serve Kate Middleton the main course.
One evening, I got to work a high profile charity event at the National Portrait Gallery. I saw so many people that night that I knew and it was thrilling to be at the same event as them.
I served wine to Christian Louboutin, whose name none of my family recognized even though he’s a very famous shoe designer. I’m pretty sure Kate Moss was there, though I didn’t directly see her.
At the main table, I cleared a plate from David Beckham and sitting next to him was his wife, Victoria. Liam Payne walked by me twice, looking right out of a GQ magazine. I saw Princess Beatrice mingling with the guests downstairs.
And then, I strategically placed myself in the line of servers so that I could serve the main course to Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge (Princess Kate Middleton). I was reminded to do everything exactly correct before walking in the room, but other than that, I wasn’t exactly briefed.
She was so beautiful, so thin, and so perfectly done up with a dazzling smile.
I placed it down in front of her, she looked up at me, smiled at me, and said “thank you”.
I might not have been as excited as my flatmate who loves the royal family, would have been, but it was so surreal and lovely.
Last year, I was looking for a job to have as I finished up my first year at University. I casually looked most of second semester but hadn’t really found anything until the third semester of the year, the month during testing.
My friend who loves the royals was working for an event staffing company and she recommended me. I signed up, went in for training, and was cleared to start working shifts.
I’ve decided not to include the name of this company, though if you talk to me I’m sure I’ve mentioned it. I signed some kind of confidentiality at the beginning of my employment and I forget exactly what that included, so better safe than sorry.
One of the good things about working event staffing is that it’s very flexible with whatever time table you have. At this company, I would go online and apply for a shift they had listed if I was free for those hours. They would approve me and I’d be good to go.
That’s about where the positive points end. Except for getting to serve a few famous people, of course.
Oh, and I’d get a sandwich if I was on shift for dinner. That’s a plus.
I quickly found that I hated event staffing. It was so boring, the long hours on my feet were tiring, and the company wasn’t exactly kind to us. It felt degrading to serve these people for hours then fade into the background until they needed a refill.
Back in the kitchens was nothing like the beautiful display all the workers put on for the guest. That wasn't the surprise, but just what happened was. I had a unique view into what was happening behind the scenes.
And, of course, I didn’t expect the job to be easy and I didn’t expect “backstage” to be impeccable.
But I was horrified by the amount of plastic waste and food waste there was every single night.
All the plates and cutlery would come in several plastic packagings, the table cloths and runners would all come in plastic from the cleaners, and everything would come packaged together in plastic. I watched, and helped, as bundles and bundles of plastic was taken off perfectly clean items and discarded. I knew that this happened every time an event like this was held, which was nearly every day.
At the end of every meal course and every event, we’d have to clean up and discard any food not finished. I scraped hundreds of full plates into the garbage. It made me sick to know that much food was going to waste.
I remember after one event, I threw out full loaves of bread. And at another, almost no one at a full table touched an appetizer, so I had to bin perfectly good meals. Most of the time, we were forbidden from touching the food, so even if it hadn’t been touched, it would be going to waste.
I know everything can’t be fully sustainable and that in today’s world, it’s sometimes hard to even be eco-friendly. And some industries create more waste than others.
But actually seeing it was really hard to wrap my head around. Knowing that all that plastic just in front of me was just going to end up in a landfill, knowing that there were hungry homeless on the streets of London and yet we were bagging good food, it made me very uncomfortable.
This company also didn’t treat their employees very well. It’s not uncommon for students in London to work sucky jobs and in some ways it’s a rite of passage.
But the managers we worked with day in and day out were rarely kind. If we sat for a moment or checked our phone, we were yelled at to get back up. If we looked around for the next task to do, we were often accused of doing nothing.
One night, I had to borrow one of the company’s shirts because my shirt’s collar wouldn’t fit a tie. After they lost my shirt, the manager on shift suggested that I go home without a shirt if I couldn’t find my own. It wasn’t outright, but I was appalled.
My friend has dozens of other terrible stories, specifically from this company.
I still am technically signed on to this event staffing company. I wanted to stay on their rooster in case I desperately needed money again. At least I would have something. But I’ve stopped working for them since the ten or so shifts I worked back in May.
While I look back on most of my experience with disdain, there are a few really cool things that I got to do.
I got to work events such as the Wallace Collection, my favorite tea house in London. I worked a number of different museums and trusts. I even got to work one evening at Kensington Palace, though it was only a random business event.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I worked the National Portrait Gallery one night and saw Christian Louboutin, Kate Moss, David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, Louis Tomlinson, Princess Beatrice, and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.
The next day my Mom sent me loads of screenshots of American tabloids featuring pictures of all those people at the event the night before entering and leaving the gallery. She texted with it “you were there!!”
I’m not going to lie, seeing all these people and getting to see what goes on behind the scenes at these amazing venues was really interesting. But I didn’t want to stay. I stopped signing up for shifts at the end of May when I left the UK for the summer.
My friend still works for them, though she’s taken on two other jobs and only signs up for shifts at this first company when she absolutely has to. She didn’t like them either and I’m really glad to say that her other companies treat her much better.
She’s way more determined and stronger than I am because she’s still able to do event staffing. I never want to go back.
I now have a job working at King’s, my university. I’m a student telephone fundraiser, which means that I’m the annoying person that calls you up from your old university asking for money.
It’s actually a really lovely job and I’ve gotten to talk with people from all over the world about King’s College London, London life, and the cities they live in now. I’m sure I’ll write about it at some point.
I never want to work in event staffing again but I haven’t fully quit my job just in case I ever need a way to get some money, I can always suck it up and sign up for a shift. It was horrifying but educational to see everything that happened behind the scenes.
So treat any event staffers you meet well, please.