Friday, 19 August 2011

Surviving Boot Camp: A Waitress' guide

Catering, hospitality, service: whatever you want to call it, working full time in a café, bar or restaurant is all consuming. Not only are the hours spent in a shift exhausting physically, mentally (and sometimes emotionally) due to the immediacy of your tasks but the pattern of work is changeable, erratic and requires weekends, early mornings, late nights or all three. The nature of the work required is a lot more intense than what might be considered “normal” office jobs, and it is not unusual to feel as if your whole life is spent waiting tables.

Not only is working in a busy eating or drinking establishment like multi-tasking boot camp and shuttling around like a discombobulated house fly, but the kind of relationship and interaction you have with your colleagues and managers is very different – a lot more personal. In more corporate or office settings, teamwork tasks are a daily feature, but this teamwork does not involve brushing past and bumping into other sweating coworkers and bellowing over the coffee machine.

While there is no disputing or refuting the fact that waitressing is manual labour, if the right ingredients are there, then working in such an environment is a wonderful and fun alternative to warming a chair and getting mesmerised by computer glare for eight hours a day. These hard to come by gourmet ingredients are:

-       Kind, fun managers who you get on with and who care about you and the business. These are best found in a small, independent establishment, owned by said managers.
-       A place worth visiting as well as worth working in. Environment is extremely important, regardless of your job. Would you want to spend time in this place if you were passing by?
-       Colleagues you get on with, at least during work time. Depending on personality requirements, a small number of employees makes for a working environment you feel at home in and a working environment in which you feel valued.
-      Food and drink provided. There seems a lot of variety in how much or how little free food or drink is provided by different cafes and restaurants. An alcoholic staff drink at the end of the day goes a long, long way and keeps the blues at bay.
-       A place whose products and practice you care about. If you don’t feel connected with what you are selling, motivation plummets. And how will you be able to sell anything if you can’t generate enthusiasm.
-       It sounds insignificant, but being able to wear your own clothes makes a huge difference. It makes you feel more relaxed, not to mention being infinitely more comfortable. Essential when running about like aforementioned discombobulated housefly.

Even if all these are in place (as they are at the wonderful Jacob’s & Field, where I currently reside), a busy brunch shift can at times seem unending and insurmountable. The trick is to build in little things to look forward to and keep morale up. Here are my ways of dealing and getting through:

-       Caffeine. In the form of tea and Diet Coke. Coffee is also an option but due to its psychoactive effects on me, I stick to the first two.
-       Sugar. In the form of fruit juices, cake and bananas. Anything that can be picked at: you won’t have time to enjoy your snack in one sitting.
-       Iced water. Hydrating and cooling.
-       Diet Coke.
-       The Loo break. A moment of calm, quiet and solitude.
-       Keep busy. Time will go faster.
-       Diet Coke.
-       Washing up, polishing glasses. Another moment of relative calm, quiet and solitude, when you need to escape customer interaction for a while.
-       Concentrate on the task in hand. Taking on board everything that needs doing and everything that will be done over a seven to twelve hour shift will only frighten you. However, your memory needs to be well oiled and in operation for all that multi tasking.
-       People watch. Working in a restaurant, bar or café gives you the opportunity to do something endlessly interesting. Entertain yourself by imagining what customers get up to in their spare time and what scandal might surround them. Entertain these thoughts in thought only while they are still within earshot.
-       Smile in the face of rudeness. Anger and aggression melt away to compliance if you are polite and friendly. Nothing throws people off course more than a smile when they were expecting an argument.

Post-shift restoration:

-       Feet up against the wall. Lie on the floor, with your feet up the wall. Make sure your buttocks are as close to the wall as possible. Breathe slowly and deeply for a while. This takes a huge amount of pressure off tired and overused legs. Stay here for anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes. Put on some music of your choice or listen to a sound meditation to take the calm a bit deeper. Spotify has reams of sound meditations to choose from.

-       Yoga. As gentle or as intense as desired. A day of standing and running – and in my case, cycling – stores a lot of tension in the body. Release it.

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