What’s it Like Working for the Walnut Room at Christmas?

One of the great Chicago traditions is a visit to the Walnut Room at Christmas. The former Marshall Field’s Department Store, now Macy’s, is famous for its holiday traditions, like the store window displays and, of course, dining at the Walnut Room. Set on the 7th floor of Macy’s flagship store on State Street, the historic department store restaurant has walls covered with wood imported from Russia and chandeliers from Austria. Countless Chicagoans have dined beneath the massive Christmas tree over the generations.

We visit Field’s during the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour and Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys. But that wasn’t enough! We wanted to get the inside perspective on this famous tradition. What’s the inside experience for the employees of the Walnut Room at this hectic time of year?

Happily, one of my former students, William Carney, is a manager at the Walnut Room. He was kind enough to take some time out from the chaos that is the Walnut Room at Christmas in order to answer some question for me.
the walnut room at christmas crowd people busy
Up to 10,000 people per day visit The Walnut Room at Christmas. Image: Alex Bean

When Does the Rush Start for The Walnut Room at Christmas?

Alex: Let’s start with the basics, when does the holiday season rush really begin at the Walnut Room?
William: The Christmas season usually kicks off after Thanksgiving starting with Black Friday.
Alex: How much busier are you during the holidays? Is there a headcount, or any thing like that, which goes soaring?
William: During the regular year it is much slower, we seat about 500 hundred people during the regular season and for Christmas about 10,000! (Author’s note: holy cow!) We do have loyal seasonal workers who come every year to make Macy’s “Magic”. We hire about 300 people alone for The Walnut Room.
the walnut room at christmas tree 2016
Visiting the Walnut Room at Christmas has been a tradition for generations. Image: Alex Bean

The Famous Christmas Tree

Alex: The tree is the highlight of the visit for many. Do customers get seated by it at random or is it by request?
William: If someone wants a table by the tree, we do have a separate “tree line” if the restaurant is full by the time you reach the front door. When you get to the front you will let me know how many in your party, if you will like a table by the tree and I will tell you whether or not the Tree Room is full. If it’s full, you have the option of waiting for one to open up, [by standing] in the tree line.
Alex: What’s the longest someone stood in line to wait for a table by the tree?
William: We love to joke how everyone wants to wait for the tree. I had a guest wait two hours for a table and I got a table really close to the tree for her and she said it wasn’t close enough and waited another hour! The longest I’ve seen somebody wait was 5 hours! She was 92! She likes the same table every year.

Favorite Memories from The Walnut Room at Christmas

Alex: What’s your favorite memory or story from working at the Walnut Room during the holidays?

William: My favorite memory is last year, I had a table that had a terrible time due to kitchen errors and food delay. I invited them to come back anytime with their family and dinner will be on me. She came up to me before she left and said she lost her father-in-law a few days ago and he loved the Walnut Room and this is really special to them. She thanked me and gave me a huge hug! It made me remember why I love the Walnut Room so much.

Alex: Finally, what’s the story with the piano player? Is that a regular employee or someone they bring in just for the season?

William: She was a regular guest who wanted to entertain her favorite people at the Walnut Room.

The Walnut Room at Christmas tree crowd 8th floor looking down
Shoppers and gawkers look down on The Walnut Room from above. Image: Alex Bean

Once again, our thanks to William for taking the time to answer our questions.

Don’t forget you can visit the Walnut Room with us (and enjoy a drink there) on the annual Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys.

Happy Holidays!

-Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

be a



Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!