Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells – laughing all the way.

-bells

The Festive Season.

It’s not exactly festive from behind the apron, christmas time brings with it a myriad of challenges – the influx of tourists, large family dinners *just add alcohol and let the fun begin!*  Along with the infrequent diners who don’t get out much except for once of twice a year when they don’t make a booking and wonder why you don’t have a table for 12 on a saturday night at precisely 7pm. If you aren’t armed with a smile at these times and laugh about it then you would most certainly cry and end up bunkering down in the cool room to try to get away from it all.

Most of all it’s a busy time – which is best for waiter folk – except when casual staff take extended holidays at a moments notice & the whole team goes down with influenza simultaneously, then its super busy and super late the 13 hour days stretch into 16 and the restaurant floor changes each day to accommodate large bookings leaving poor waiters feeling like furniture removalists before the day has even begun. The divide between design and practicality will always be highlighted at moments like there *stone top tables look good – but fuck!, they are heavy*

I guess it’s a continuing game of plus ones more covers + more hours + more furniture moving + more hustle & less staff + more alcohol =  more family feuds & missing staff meal by three minutes before working until 1am in the morning…. it’s all fun and games till a middle-aged irate lawyer type decided to project her  pent-up aggression onto me about her failings of how to use the sensor taps in the bathroom – there’s ten minutes of my life I will never get back. PS. they weren’t “broken” or “blocked” – I checked after you left – water flowing freely from both taps.

I don’t mind if you are aggrieved because we have failed to meet the measure, or if indeed we have failed to pick up an error, under serviced you or sent out an invisible meal to you whilst your company enjoy’s their duck – but please don’t yell at me about the working sensors on the taps in the ladies loo’s, do I look like the designer to you? I mean, no waiter in their right mind would construct a restaurant the length of a football field, standing in the one spot is hard enough, we wouldn’t purposefully build a space where you need to do laps, this isn’t the biggest looser – how many fat waiters have you seen lately?

At christmas time people seems to operate in their own planet and ignore your advice and continually try to break the restaurant rules – making everything that much harder. They turn up late to their bookings, they increase in numbers, they ignore their out by times and generally disrespect the profession completely. If you turn up late to your booking and your waiter suggest that you order – they aren’t mucking around – that mean’s 50 other people are arriving in the next fifteen minutes and if you don’t order soon – they I’m afraid that your order will come out last.

And what’s with drinkers who want to hold onto their empty glasses?! there’s no wine in there – it’s just wasted space on the table and dirty  smudged glass with nuclear weapon lipstick  smeared around the rim – why are you giving me that face?  Oh, you want to hold on to your greasy empty glass – by all means go ahead – don’t look at me when there’s no space for the potatoes.

My job is only ever to make things easier  - and how you mock me in the festive season, during any given shift it feels like I am playing tug-o-war to get you to sit down and eat on time – it’s all about you, don’t you get that – I don’t want you to have the special because it’s expensive *truffles are expensive num nut*- I want you to have it because I tried it an hour ago and you’ll regret not ordering it when your wife won’t share it with you because it is that good. No no, it’s fine don’t have the truffles – why don’t you have the steak well done with no sauce and no salt and no oil – I can tell you don’t get out much. Merry Christmas meat man, your wife is going to torture you with story of having that dish for weeks.

Sure have your Kris Kringle at the table knocking over all the set glassware, but don’t leave your wrapping all over the floor like this is a some sort of local government subsidised child care centre – this is a restaurant and people will be coming into dine within 15 minutes of you leaving – show some respect.

The list goes on and on – oh the things people will do at this merry jolly time – jingle bells, jingle bells – laughing all the way.

Customers are from Mars, Waiters are from Venus.

It never ceases to amaze me that people go out to dine and stare through their waiter as if they were a mere annoyance in their evening out. I can have whole evenings with tables where there is no eye contact and even after pulling out my tricks I can’t even catch half a smile. I mean if your that miserable with your life, then why go outside at all??? Why pay all that money and put on your best cat’s bum expression, when you could do it at home for free?

Despite what you may think about our illustrious profession, waiters have feelings too and when on a busy saturday night you disregard  their knowledge and all in all refuse to acknowledge their presence, knowledge and good humour – well, to be perfectly honest with you – my heart hurts. The part of the job that appeals to waiter folk apart from the late night vino’s and kitchen trash talk and cocaine benders is that rather than being bound in a box you might call an office. Waiters are apart of a family run circus that entertains you, until after a few hours – you bid us farewell (until next time) leaving utterly satisfied. The appeal of the job, the love it and hate it that encompasses the whole spectacle is you. Ask any waiter around town and most will confess to you they love people.

So when people dine out with their best cat’s bum expression in their own bubble of hate – you can see that waiters are easily offended. Getting into a bad relationship with your waiter at the start of the evening isn’t advisable.  What I mean is getting into a bad relationship with your waiter can be dire, after all for those few hours they have the ability to control almost everything that goes into your mouth – don’t be shocked it’s true and I know you’ve never really thought of it that way, but it’s true.

On the upside if you engage their waiter they can assist you and direct you to make  appropriate choices for the evening and steer you away from the popular but seriously boring dishes on the menu. Working 16 hour days with one meal break means a lot of hours in the workday of hungry thirsty – so your waiter will be armed with knowledge about what their kitchen excels at. Your waiter can save you from the overpriced done to death Sauvignon Blanc and take you on a journey a little down the road until your laughing and swaying singing about Albarino, having already planned your next trip to Spain.

We’re only here to help you and I don’t think that we are really asking for much… a little eye contact, half a smile and some active listening – you think it’s funny – but you would be shocked and amazed how many meals are had without any of the above. We have little sympathy for you when after ignoring our suggestions and disregarding our advice you carry on like a pork chop at the end of your night because you didn’t get what you wanted. When the waiter explains to you that it is a soup – that’s not chinese for steak – when they say it’s a soup – it’s a soup.

* Lack of listening skills

I love you but you fucking make me crazy sometimes. Customers are from Mars, Waiters are from Venus.

How did you get here?

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With the advent of master chef, iron chef, the cook and the chef, food safari, two fat ladies and various other foodie porn shows – most people are informed about the food part at least. However, occasionally a diner pops up (like a deer in the headlights) and you wonder how did you get here? 

Like the time I spent working in a Japanese restaurant.

A causal two call me over to the table to ask what is sashimi? I patiently explain that sashimi is raw fish, and so they order sashimi with a disproportionate amount of fried foods that white people in Japanese restaurants tend to have sorted food love affairs with.

The sashimi goes out to the table – Again the casual two call me over to the table I’m so sorry, we didn’t realize that the fish was going to be raw (aka. not listening) would you mind asking the chef to cook it a bit for us, we don’t eat raw fish. At the point internal waiter thoughts are – a) how did you get here? & b) get out! Externally represented by *sigh* coupled with a carefully disguised eye roll.

Asking a Japanese chef to cook sashimi is like heading into the kitchen handing over a samurai sword then bending over whilst stating – ‘chef, I think it’s a good idea if you cut my head off’.

 Let’s just say that the chef was less than amused.

Wise up for your food safari’s and please take the time to listen to your friendly waiter – you might not believe me, but we’re here to help you.

 

 

some fun run

This morning I headed out to my local and called my girlfriend on route to a) Check if she was awake yet  and b) Get her to roll out of bed for conversation, caffeine & uncontrollable spats of laughter.

She replied to my call by telling me that she had to go into work because it was going to be really busy “there was some fun run on”.

As I am an occasional renegade runner, I already knew that this morning was this cities marathon – held once a year when weird skinny guys in split shorts get to feel cool and ogle over each others fancy watches and brag about times. Please note: when they talk about “Sub 4’s” – they are not talking about a new vodka cocktail that was off the hook! No, they are exchanging times, as if running faster was a sign of manhood or a rite of passage: yawn. Let’s stop to think about this logically – Fun & Run – those two words aren’t even supposed to go together!

I do my best to avoid associating with these types and instead opt to run in the mountains away from people. As I spend every moment of my working life with them, it’s really essential to get some time to myself.

 Serenity now.

But “some fun run” was causing havoc at my local – the place was full of aliens, that have to be some of the most boring people I have ever come across. This is why as a hospitality “lifer” – I will always opt to try to head out on the town during the week. On the weekends (especially in this case of some fun run being on) your local gets overtaken by tourists usually from the suburbs (not that there is anything wrong with that). Whining about their comfortable miserable safe suburban existence. Did you hear that? I think I can hear the sound of violins.

Could I add – the table next to me were commenting that the local coffee at the French bakery – wasn’t as good as the coffee that they had in France. Let’s review – you are no longer in France – of course the coffee isn’t as good as it was in France. Seriously?

One of the waiters came over to fill me in “some marathon was on this morning… So they are not very hungry because they just ran a marathon but they are really thirsty – I’ll have some toast with preserves but no butter – and could I have some more water?  Followed up by the customary skinny decaf latte order with the chocolate cake chaser – can you heat that up for me with some extra cream?

That’s right – load up on the free water bitches, complain about your life, bore me senseless and combine your neurosis with some chocolate cake and extra cream.

Ps. You’re sitting in my seat.

 

Political Warfare

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The great divide of political warfare in hospitality is marked out by a thin blue line that run’s across the kitchen entrance that signifies the border crossing – the established, well-worn territorial front that has been passed down from generation to generation of would be chef’s and waiters.

The relationship between front and back if fraught with difficulties, “challenges” if you prefer. Mainly because although they need to live together peacefully under one roof and the fact of the matter is that this “marriage” as it were was arranged. The finest chefs have been hand-picked to work with the best waiters in town and inevitably ego’s clash, some of the good guys end up on the wrong side of the tracks, the village idiot appears messing everything up and the prom queen is lifted safely up onto her pedestal. The political warfare that follows is the reality of crossing the thin blue line across the kitchen floor.

Unfortunately, the political warfare in a restaurant can pull you down until you feel as though you have fallen asleep and woken up in junior high at the bottom with the bottom feeder fish jostling for some sort of identity and recognition in this fickle world. As we can all vaguely remember, being popular doesn’t always equate to being smart and sometimes being too smart works against you. Moreover, what you need to strive for it just the right amount of calculated beautiful stupid assisted by some well executed party tricks to make it home each day in one piece without the battle wounds.

Admittedly I was never very good at this back in junior high – so it’s no wonder that I struggle with the political warfare and popularity contests even though I am now in my thirties and had long ago dismissed the promise of any idea that I would play games in order to win the approval of others. For those of you that might be wondering – no, I am not the size of a house and I do not live alone with six cats. I am just like you but I have firm values about fighting a fair fight – this being my problem.

Usually the world doesn’t fight a fair fight, as I am reminded when my head chef behaves like a disgruntled child dropping sarcastic comments at a rate that makes me think that secretly he has missed his calling as a day time television talk show host.  Did I mention that this was not for any particular reason, except that he appears to feel that he isn’t getting his way and of course if things don’t go his way the world might as well stop turning (because in his mind, it has). So with all of this I am thrust back into junior high, except this time I am not cool or hip or skilfully invisible – it’s much, much worse than that…. what happened to me since the awkward day’s of junior high is that somehow without really knowing it or without every really knowing how or why – I grew up.

With this said, when Chef blow’s raspberries at me because they missed the allergy on table #71 (it must be my fault – as I am the closest waiter still walking) – then of course it must be my fault and redemption will be served. And as I cross that thin blue line out into the dining room I think to myself, seriously is that all you’ve got?  Right now your making Dora the explorer look tough. I bite my tongue and endure the pre-school politics, as I leave the kitchen the lobsters get thrown into the pot and the lid goes on.

 Kitchen: 1                                     Waiter: 0

Diets.

The modern world is a myriad of paranoid; self obsessed wonder kids – that appear to be more interested in a shiny veneer rather than a staple diet.

“Carbs?, only poor people eat carbs!”

A catch cry that made me almost burst out laughing in the middle of dinner service the other night. As sad as it seems, it is true for a certain demographic of the population, if you hadn’t noticed high protein is the new black.

And in our ever-sensitive modern world – the dietary trends and strange foodie requests are growing wilder and wilder. That will often leave a poor waiter and the chef behind the pass wondering – why does it have to be so hard? In the old day’s it used to just be the vegetarians walking the plank staring down into the icy cold blue ocean. In the modern dining room the deadlocked hippies and dietary freaks have won the support of eco-friendly bicycle riding, eyes looking up at you through thick rimmed glasses, tattooed hipsters and skinny bitches, searching the room for a mirror to see their own reflection, the world over.

Now we add to our list of dietaries. Lacto-ovo vegetarians (cow lovers who will eat eggs but no chicken), vegans (bee friendly advocates), no dairy-lactose (mad cow haters), fructose (those with uncontrollable fears of apples, pears, onions, legumes, honey but not the bee and various other random items), gluten-free (obsessive wheat protesters), pescitarians (pests who are lovers of the sea), balanced out by the no Shellfish kids and the no Nuts freaks (if you give them a nut accidentally, be warned they will press charges for attempted  murder) along with other non-labeled customers – who are watching their weight and claim countless allergies. Please note: to the trained waiters eye, weight watchers can be identified as fussy eaters a.k.a. pains in the ass.

There is a distinct difference between an allergy and an eating diorama. Occasionally a new “allergy” gets thrown into the mix – I swear some folks must grow up inside bio-dynamic-organic bubbles, with the amount of things that they are allergic to.

Grass, Citrus, Butter, Fennel, Pepper, Chili, Capsicum, Sesame, Potatoes, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Offal – turns out you can be allergic to almost anything these days. As hospitality professionals we are well versed in the latest allergies and dietary trends that take the world over, but sometimes one pops up and we are left with an information pamphlet trying to work out how to feed you in a reasonable time-frame and try not to kill you.

For those of you who are unaware – a nightshade plants allergy means avoiding

  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • paprika, cayenne pepper & tabasco sauce
  • ground cherries
  • plus a handful of some other more uncommon items

And on my lucky night of nights I was presented with a vegetarian with a nightshade plant allergy –Seriously? Yes. I try frantically to work out what I can feed you over the next five courses & I also have quiet questions about why you bother to go outside at all. I am compassionate and understand that this is not your fault, but  at this point I really miss the meat and three veg guy that usually comes in early on Friday nights.

I heard that last week, poor Dave (Mr. meat and three veg) collapsed on the treadmill after having a sip of a high fructose corn syrup drink – you try to do the right thing in the world and look what happens… we feel for you buddy and we will have your sirloin with a side of potatoes, mustard and horseradish on the side waiting for you just as soon as you get back onto your feet.

As for the rest of you  - I will look after you and work tirelessly in the middle of a swatch buckling service to make sure that we don’t kill you, that you never see carbs, that the fish don’t look at you or bite you and that every ounce of creativity is squeezed out of my kitchen until you feel utterly satisfied. But because we have been on our game, and deal with the never-ending rubik’s cube of your foodie anxieties – let it be known you have been put on notice.

Know your selected allergy or preference back-to-front, because if you happen to get it wrong - we will see straight through you.

Where it is humanly possible

  • Don’t cry vegetarian and proceed to order the tuna special
  • Don’t order the scallop no butter – wearing a vegan hat and leather boots mind you – justifying it with the proclamation that mollusks don’t have feelings
  • Don’t order the fish grilled with oil no butter, with a side salad and no dressing and then eat half the cheese soufflé at the table (ordered for everyone to share)

We would never say anything, but - you people are making me crazy!

your worst nightmare.

Some nights are dream nights, everyone loves you and the team gleams with perfection. And other nights are a waiter’s worst nightmare, hell services in bullshit-suck-city.

What can go wrong will go wrong and add people into the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster that makes working in a roller-skating diner wearing stupid funny little hat seem like a safe, plausible, attractive & brilliant idea.

Last night I had one of those nightmare nights, everything started out fine (which is usually the case) the usual Saturday afternoon mayhem with the longtime set in lunchtime drinkers that get offended when you ask them to vacate their lunch tables clutching glasses of water whilst ordering their  7th scotch and soda as a remedy to carry them on into the night sky.

My section was in the back corner of the restaurant that wasn’t hard to manage – all of the tables curved around in a circle and were all within backhand reach – a handy realisation when people (being people) do stupid things. Not that any self-respecting waiter would do that – but at times it’s nice to visualize these things for your own sanity.

It was a busy Saturday service will all of the tables booked at 5pm running out the door at 7pm to be turned over and re-sat at precisely 7:15pm – Magic, this stuff makes Houdini look boring.

The first mishap of the night occurred when my lovely well to do cultural couple ordered the special of the night – a lovely pumpkin mouse fashioned inside a chocolate snail finished with candied basil leaves – oh la la indeed! The problem was that when the soup arrived for Mrs. Smith – Mr. Smiths aforementioned special failed to arrive at the table (alarm bells sound).

At that moment I was stuck at another table discussing the finer points of cheese & when I reached the kitchen to check on my missing special for Mr. Smith. . . .Armageddon.

Sometimes the very worst things that happen for people wearing starchy white aprons are the things that we have absolutely no control over… I ask, “Where is the special for table 15?”

“What? There was no special for table 15..” (you could hear a pin drop right now) as the many eye’s at the pass search the dockets on the rail realize – tonight the restaurant god’s were against us and the broken evil eye had cursed us all with bad luck all the way from the acropolis & beyond – for although the special was in the computer, this curse meant the special missing from table 15, was NOT printing meaning: creek – no paddle with the clock ticking (insert your own colorful expletives here).

The kitchen kick up into fifth gear and in the time that manager walks to table and quietly soothes, and proceeds to run around the floor like a headless chicken trying to establish how many “invisible” specials have been sold – 3 minutes & 22 seconds later – special appears at the table, crisis averted.

Then I encounter a table with one customer that embodies “that guy”. For those of you that are unaware you never want to be identified as “that guy” in a restaurant.

“That guy” does not follow the order of things and generally upsets the flow of service – for example by putting his knife and fork together – although he hasn’t finished eating his corner of char-grilled octopus left on the plate.

The problem here is not that he had not finished his corner of char-grilled octopus – the problem was that he has signaled to his waiter (knife and fork together) that he was finished. This being said when you re-act like I have taken your mother’s breast milk from you as I reach to clear your plate (signalled with knife and fork together). My body takes over and although I smile at you with my best waiter smile (ps. my face actually hurts from smiling so much) my eye’s glaze over and my mind question’s the fortitude of my illustrious dining room career. Although I smile and put your plate gently back on the table – the internal waiter thoughts are – “really, your knife and fork were together on the plate, didn’t your mother teach you anything or did you grow up the in jungle?” Where possible, be advised try not to be “that guy”.

Just as I’d finished dealing with “that guy” & friends – I deliver two fish and one vegetarian delight to table 52. And before I finish my presentation of that table’s dishes – cover one squeals – does this fish have bones in it?! Cover two and I have the same thoughts, quickly exchanging knowing glances, and dryly explain in unison– it’s a whole fish, yes it does have bones in it.

Now I’m stuck dealing with a man who has metaphorically dropped his ice cream onto the pavement and is about to let out an almighty scream. Waiter rescue #101 – when a customer is about to hissy fit about the food – which they have ordered without knowing what exactly they were ordering, avoid re-entering the kitchen with the food from that table if you value your life.

In this instance command all your powers of persuasion to remedy the poor poppet, because intellectually making aero-plane noises and spoon-feeding someone is a much better option than re-entering the kitchen with the food that has just been sent out to the table in the middle of a busy Saturday night service.

So at table 52, I diffuse the oncoming tantrum, by grabbing a knife and fork and filleting the fish at the table. Turn’s out I did learn a few things whilst I was working in Greece apart from the how to drink ouzo in the morning and learning a neat vocabulary of surprisingly useful kitchen swear words. Crisis averted.

From this point I walk back to my corner and turn to my right to serve one of the last tables for the evening.  Well do to – cultured- spending well – drinking bottles of wine that I would choose for myself (if I could afford them) on my nights on the town.  Let alone five of them after a bottle of verve clicquot as a warm up, post customary pre-dinner cocktails.

This table plays by the restaurant rules, which make my job somewhat more pleasant – although they demand the service that they have become accustomed to and amend dishes to their precise specifications. For the next couple of hours I am reminded that at times being a waiter feels as though I have run away from home to join the circus. As I eloquently jump through hoops and give a great performance in the center of the ring.

So after taming a few loins, dealing with “that guy,” pulling out my finest fish filleting skills learnt on the island of Spetses, feeling the raft of the restaurant gods and running around like a merry  little firefighter putting out fires (all crisis’s averted), quite frankly I’m exhausted.

We all know there will be nights like these – the nice part of this industry is that eventually the customer’s leave and the nightmare service ends. With the door closing behind me, I’m heading home to fall asleep with my shoes on, to dream about chocolate pumpkin snails and ouzo chasers watching the circus in Greece and, wake up to do it all again tomorrow.

Thank you, Goodnight.

 

One Meal Policy

 

 

Hospitality has a long-standing one meal policy – which might seem absurd to all of you that keep 9-5 hours, consistently get 8 hours of regular sleep and uphold a three meal a day standard.

But with one service stacked onto another often – one meal is a luxury in the industry – I know that some of you out there are questioning how does that happen. It’s simple really it all start’s with a standard 13 hour back to back where after standing on one feet fending off members of the public (both bizarre and wonderful), that one feels a great sense of entitlement to the “Knock Off”. An old school hospitality tradition where after slaving away in the kitchen and running around tables all day and all night, the business which has become all-consuming of your life – grants you the tasty reward of one everlasting drink.

The problem is that it never is just one drink and faster than you can finish your glass bright eye’s has convinced everyone it’s a brilliant idea to have shots and before you know it my 2am finish has turned into 5am. And although I am in a post work happy cloud – I am not completely stupid – so it looks like my car is sleeping over. Eventually bright eyes and I make our way outside onto the street, avoiding all possible contact with the crazy morning runners in the dawn – hail cabs, get home and fall into bed (hopefully with your shoes off). Briefly, before getting up a few hours later.

Feeling too tired or too hung over or a mixture of both – a snap decision is made to skip breakfast and head straight to work. When arriving at work, I am quick to offer up my first-born child to the young man in the bar that has the power of the coffee. After a double espresso we turn the space over in a little under an hour and make it look like nothing ever happened. There is definitely an element of the work that is very much like ground-hog day – everyday it’s the same story – make it looked like nothing ever happened, it’s really just the messy mothers, cashed up foodies and crackpot’s that change from day-to-day.

So with the sands through the hourglass it’s time for service. And we roll out into lunch with an outrageous table that resemble Patsy and Eddie and true to form these ladies are absolutely fabulous. Meanwhile, across the room bright eyes is salivating and making eyes the b grade-who’s he-that guy – footballer, conveniently timed when his “girlfriend” is in the bathroom.

Orders are taken, food goes out, bills get paid – much to bright eye’s delight – the ex footballer man leaves his number in the bill folder for her. And we turn the tables as if nothing ever happened, then we head into the kitchen for our one meal.

Today, we peer over into the pot to discover, surprise! It’s another mystery meat stew  (a particular favourite this month). With food in hand we race down to the loading dock to inhale our feast amidst the growing cigarette butt memorial, behind the stinky fish bin from the asian place down stairs, before racing upstairs in three and a half minutes for tonight’s briefing, mmm…heartburn – Delicious.

Bad loves, drugs and eternal insomnia.

In many hospitality careers, there will be periods where one might question their future in the industry and for a brief moment consider giving up, moving on, or worse still leaving the industry altogether. Strangely this is harder to do than you might think.

One of my longtime friends in hospitality – proposed his theory to me: hospitality is like heroin and that if I did leave I would most certainly be back. Because even though the hours were long and the pay was just above the bread line, and the ongoing full-scale war with the kitchen was wearing particularly thin…on the other hand there were times when it was so good.

Where we would take the time to indulge in the  many spoils of the “false economy”, even though we could never afford to do so, we sampled the finest champagne and swilled vintage bordeaux like kings and casually ate truffles over eggs for dinner/breakfast/lunch (as per the hospitality one meal a day policy). We worked hard and we played harder. On the job after a spasmodic kamikaze yelling match, we would casually return to our respective corners and the slate would be wiped clean for the next service.

Like love gone bad: when it was good, it was so good that we could almost convince ourselves that is was worth staying. Like drugs and rock and roll, everyone would gather in tiny bars and re-tell stories about glory nights, omitting the faint recollection of suicide Tuesdays clutching coca-cola and a king size chocolate bar  (3pm) as if it was a vital life source. The eternal insomnia seems  manageable for the most part. After a time – you’ve been doing it for so long – that it becomes, just what you do.

And this is how we do it.