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

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