Movies that show what it's really like to work in the hospitality industry
Whether you spend your days (or nights) toiling away in a hotel, restaurant, on a cruise ship, or at a country club, you know that providing guests with exemplary hospitality is hard work. And while Hollywood likes to include these venues, and the people who staff them, in its movies, they don’t always get it right. After all, how many hotel housekeepers have actually fallen in love with wealthy politicians while on the job? And how many concierges really sleep with their elderly hotel guests and find themselves accused of murder?
The next time you want to put up your feet and enjoy a Netflix binge, why not choose a film that – while still amusing, moving or inspiring – takes a more realistic look at what it takes to have a career in hospitality? In no particular order, here are ten movies that we think show what it’s really like to work in this diverse, exciting and rewarding industry.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)
Based on the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, this film, directed by John Madden, features a delightful ensemble cast of British favorites including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Bill Nighy. Though it is set in a crumbling yet picturesque hotel in India, which is owned by three brothers and employs only a tiny staff, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does an excellent job conveying the warmth, passion and commitment that are necessary in anyone who wants to succeed in hospitality. His brothers may want to demolish the property and sell the land, but Sonny, the enthusiastic young manager, wants nothing more than to see it – and the guests who visit it – thrive.
Four Rooms (1995)
A lot can happen in a hotel on New Year’s Eve, and this film, an anthology of four different tales by four different directors, uses physical comedy and plenty of sight gags to entertain viewers with the myriad variety of people one might encounter there. The plot follows bellhop Ted, played by Tim Roth, as he navigates his first night of work at the Mon Signor Hotel, a former grand old Hollywood establishment. And while it’s not often that a hospitality worker is asked to babysit a gangster’s children or procure ingredients for a coven of witches, more than one has found themselves witness to domestic disputes and wild wagers between guests as poor Ted does in Four Rooms.
Gosford Park (2001)
Set in an English country house in 1932, this film is a divine drama/comedy that perfectly illustrates the division that existed between the Upstairs Guests and Downstairs Staff during that period of history. As anyone who works in the hospitality industry knows, that division still exists (at least to some degree) in hotels and other establishments today. Directed by Robert Altman and written by Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park’s study of the British class system of the 30s is beautifully styles, superbly acted, and engrossingly entertaining. It will also make you feel thankful for even the snootiest guests you’ve dealt with today: at least they aren’t Lady Trentham.
Pretty Woman (1990)
If you haven’t seen this Gary Marshall hit staring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, you must have been living under a rock for the last 26 years. Much of this entertaining romantic comedy, which centers on the relationship that grows between Hollywood prostitute Vivian Ward and wealthy businessman Edward Lewis over the course of a single week, is set inside the opulent Beverly Hills Regent hotel. Though it’s a fantastical Cinderella story to say the least, Pretty Woman realistically shows a number of hotel employees – from the general manager to desk clerks, room service waiters and elevator operators – at work.
Grand Hotel (1932)
Featuring Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery, and directed by Edmund Goulding, the 1930s classic is set in Berlin’s poshest, most expensive hotel. Filled with interesting characters, it entertainingly illustrates the hustle and bustle of busy hospitality establishments as well as touches on the myriad reasons guests choose to visit. Plus, the art deco design is truly to die for.
Big Night (1996)
A heartfelt story of food, family and first-generation Italian immigrants, Big Night, directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, shows just how hard it is to open a restaurant in America. This romantic drama does a fabulous job portraying the tensions that can arise when chefs and co-owners are torn between keeping their establishment afloat and exercising their culinary genius. The film is a mouth-watering spectacle that will delight your senses, touch your heart, and make you fall in love with the passion and excitement of the kitchen – and timballo – all over again.
If you’re passionate about your craft, sometimes you must go your own way. This is what Los Angeles chef Carl Casper, played by Jon Favreau, learns in this crowd-pleasing ode to culinary joy. After an argument with a snooty critic results in a job loss, Casper buys a food truck and embarks on a cross-country spiritual journey that reignites his love for the restaurant industry. Stuffed with gorgeous scenes of food prep and plenty of the authentically vulgar talk commonly found in any professional kitchen, Chef is an enjoyable look at food, life, and the connections between them.
According to many chefs, this animated stand-out about a humble rat with a sophisticated palate and natural gift for cooking, does a better job of realistically portraying the energy and controlled chaos of the restaurant kitchen than any other film in recent memory. From the eccentric mix of characters you’ll find behind the scenes, and the often overwhelming amount of cleaning required, to how hard it is for a woman to get ahead as a sous chef, Disney’s Ratatouille will make you laugh, cry, and dream about the iconic dishes of your own childhood.
Mostly Martha (2001)
Filmed in Hamburg, Germany, and Italy, Mostly Martha is a film about a workaholic chef who has sacrificed her life outside the kitchen in order to succeed within it – something far too many professional cooks can relate to. Obsessed with her culinary craft, she occasionally gets into confrontations with customers, causing tension in her relationship with the restaurant’s owner. It’s only after she is forced to care for the child of her dead sister that she realizes the world may have more to offer her than the logic and precision of the kitchen alone.
Many professionals get their start in the hospitality industry in their teens, as does Dany Noonan, played by Michael O'Keefe, in this 1980s hit. A caddy who is desperate to earn enough money to go to college, Dany spends his summer at the upscale Bushwood Country Club, working as a server when he’s not carting the golf clubs of the rich and privileged around the green. Caddyshack is a comedy classic and a must-see for every hospitality worker who needs a good laugh.