Introducing a new column, Spotlight Shift, where we shine a light on the people that keep our hotels running––shift workers! The idea came up after getting an amazing email from Cara Salinas, who works in reservations at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World® Resort, about how much she loves reading hertelier and learning from other women. Her thoughtful note piqued my curiosity about her journey into hospitality, her hopes, and her aspirations....so without further ado, here's herstory.
How did you get into hospitality?
My parents took me and my siblings on a vacation to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville when I was about 15. We stayed at the Inn there which was rather new at the time. I remember being stunned by its pristine beauty and seemingly flawless service. Up until then, I hadn't experienced hospitality to that caliber. I remember thinking to myself that I would love to work at a place so luxurious.
Do you feel your Hispanic heritage helped draw you to hospitality?
My Hispanic heritage has influenced my approach to hospitality in a more secondary way. I'm a third-generation American; I am the product of the sacrifice that my Bolivian grandparents made when they moved to America with a baby and very little cash in hand. In so many ways, I don't think they could've fathomed the freedom and sense of personal sovereignty I've been able to cultivate as a woman in this time we live in. Regardless of the differences between my own lifestyle and the generations before me, the heart of hospitality doesn't really change. I easily harken back to the stories my father would share about how my abuelita made friends in an unfamiliar country - with food and a welcoming home.
Are you fluent in Spanish? Do you speak any other languages?
I speak fluent Spanglish - haha. It's a work in progress, but I can at least connect with our Spanish-speaking guests.
After graduating from UCF you had a brief stint as a florist and then started at the Four Seasons as a barista. Why did you switch jobs?
My job working at the florist was extremely rigorous. It was one of those roles where you're placed with many new tasks you've never done, and with no true blueprint on how to handle them. It was my first professional gig and as an executive assistant there I played many roles: answering phones, preparing flowers, delivering orders, driving the van and setting up multi day events alone, planning logistics for corporate events, designing floral displays for weddings, processing retail orders, taking photos of our product for inventory, and even delivering the boss's personal mail. It was through a floral delivery to Four Seasons Orlando that I first experienced the splendor of its immaculate grounds and lobby. I left the florist when I realized I would not receive fair support or guidance from my boss. I applied for a barista position at Four Seasons after a particularly rough day and started working there about 15 days later.
Did you like being a barista?
I loved being a barista. I fondly remember much of it: the adrenaline of morning rushes, the crackle of grinding fresh coffee beans, and the calm of opening the shop at 5 am with a sunrise view over the lake and nature preserve. Our coffee and gelato shop, Lickety Split, is right next to our lobby entrance, so it's often the first stop our guests make after checking in at the front desk. It's easy to put a smile on someone's face when they realize they've found their spot for a caffeine and sugar fix. Being a barista was a perfect place for me to begin my career in hotels.
Related reading: Simone Ispahani, Founder + CEO of Social Brew: Coffee with Cause
What is the most popular coffee order?
Probably a latte. Hot or cold, sweetened or boosted with an extra shot - it's a versatile staple.
What is the coffee order that baristas least like to make?
Baristas who are trained in traditional coffee drinks will always dislike making non-traditional macchiato and iced cappuccino.
For the last five years, you’ve been working in reservations. What drew you to that department and what do you love about it?
I actually didn't choose to go into reservations initially! In truth, I wasn't interested in a role that wasn't guest-facing. I had first been passed up for a front desk and a concierge position one after the other, in favor of applicants that had previous experience. Management then offered me the reservations role, which I reluctantly accepted. For some reason, I was predisposed to believe that I wouldn't be able to connect with our guests in the same way if they couldn't see me in front of them. I was so wrong! I quickly fell in love with the office team and what the role had to offer. Our reservations team is the "brain" of our entire operation, where we communicate with all departments and make sure things get done. We proudly sell the majority of rooms over the phone on a consistent basis, and are usually the first point of contact for prospective guests who are calling us. Thus, we are the first people who are able to deliver that signature Four Seasons service, over the phone. After about a year and a half, I moved into a trainer role in the office, where I planned and led training for new hires in addition to my daily responsibilities. Additionally, I've had unique opportunities like traveling to other Four Seasons properties to support their teams on a short-term basis, which have further strengthened my resolve and leadership sensibilities.
What do you hope to do for your next role?
I'm not totally sure what my next role will look like. I'm like a lot of people in this post-pandemic environment who value their time to really live and create on their own terms. I hope to take a kind of sabbatical in a year or two and focus on myself, and see where my skills may be put to best use professionally. I know that I love being an ambassador for the Four Seasons brand, I believe we are among the best at doing what we do, and I enjoy upholding that effort.
Who have been your mentors?
I've had several mentors along my journey. Those who stand out to me now are those who seemed to have found their niche on their own terms. One of my assistant managers, Leana Alves, has always been unapologetically herself while remaining one of the most responsible people I know. I also think of Charles Fisher, who is the current General Manager of Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi. While he was the Resort Manager here in Orlando, I'll never forget when he first extended the offer to act as a mentor to me. He told me that in hospitality, you don't need to follow a set path to realize your career dreams. But, if you approach each assignment with an open perspective and focus on the guest, those opportunities will surely reveal themselves in time. We all learn differently and hospitality allows for that flexibility.
My mentor Charles Fisher told me that in hospitality, you don't need to follow a set path to realize your career dreams. But, if you approach each assignment with an open perspective and focus on the guest, those opportunities will surely reveal themselves in time.
Who inspires you most right now?
I am totally inspired by the younger generation entering the hospitality world. They have a wonderful sense of empathy that translates well to guest interactions and they come with a certain sense of personal responsibility where they don't prioritize working extensive long hours before their individual well-being.
What skills do you feel you’ve learned in this early part of your career that you hope to build on?
Working in Reservations along with picking up shifts in the Capa Steakhouse and the Lickety Split coffee shop has helped me draw connections between departments and spot areas of opportunity to support each of them. I would love the opportunity to build myself in a role where I remain connected to several departments instead of just one, perhaps in a role where I can support our executive office or sales teams.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself in one of a couple of avenues. Either supporting Four Seasons in a new role, in a new city or something totally opposite. I've been developing my event planning skills in planning these elaborate dinner parties, as well as practicing my food styling and marketing skills on the side. As a staunch creative and self-proclaimed busybody, I tend to easily adapt to various roles as long as I'm given some freedom to interpret the work in my own way, using my own voice.