You know when you walk into a dark bar on a Saturday night, and it’s packed so you become agitated at how long you need to wait for a drink, and it seems like the end of the world and your whole night becomes possibly entirely ruined? I can promise you that whoever is serving behind that bar is very probably having a worse night than you. The point of this article is to highlight the little moments which often occur in hospitality that people who have not worked in the industry may not know about. Take this article as an argument as to why everyone should have to spend a year working in this draining industry. Call it what you will, community service, a learning experience or just a job. Actually working in this industry makes you sensitive to the problems that can arise for other staff who work within it. This is a snapshot of the bad venues within the industry and should not reflect the good venues where owners take their responsibilities seriously and do not neglect their staff.
As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry on and off for five years, I can confidently say that there are highs and lows. Personally, I have met some great people over the years. Whether this is people I have worked with or customers I have served, I have had many wholesome interactions. Have you ever experienced the warmth and goo you feel when two elderly ladies are delighted with the afternoon tea you served them? They tip you 50p but that’s okay because one of them had pink hair and held your hand for a second. What about the little dog that comes in with its owner and you get to pet him and give him treats? You get to spend five minutes chatting about a dog’s name which takes you away from wiping a filthy table. These are just examples of the high points but I want to be clear, there are low points and when they are low, they can be rock bottom low.
One little experience I had very early on in my hospitality career has stuck with me to this day. When I was 17 years old, I started working in a garden centre café in my hometown. I was new to the industry and did not have a lot of experience or training, but I was willing to work hard and was a positive young girl. I had been walking around collecting dirty dishes on a tray to take back to the kitchen. With a very full tray, a woman snapped her fingers at me and signalled for me to come over. As I walked towards her, she began to shove some tea plates and cups on my tray. I told her the tray was already heavy and that I could not manage to carry any more dishes. She looked at me with disgust and said, “Surely you can manage a few more items”. As I was so young at the time and quite shy, I believed that the woman knew better and allowed her to shove the extra plates onto the tray. As she did this, I placed the tray on the table so I could pick it up in a more secure way that would give it more support. Whilst the woman proceeded to stack even more dishes on my tray, she knocked over a jug of milk which spilled everywhere. She looked at me and demanded I immediately go get something to clear it up. I went to do this and picked up the tray in the process. The tray slipped on the spilt milk and fell out of my arms and off the table landing on the floor. The woman swore at me and proceeded to complain about me to my manager. I may have been an inexperienced teenage server, however, I should never have had to receive that kind of treatment from the woman I was trying to help. She probably does not even realise how impactful her words and actions were on me at the time. Her actions screamed that she had never worked in hospitality and just wanted to humiliate me. If she had experience in the industry, she would have had more understanding and patience, I would like to think. This story gives a new meaning to “no use crying over spilt milk”. That woman has been my mind’s number one enemy since 2018, I have not forgotten that tuna baguette-ordering woman who literally treated me like dirt and shattered my confidence.
This is only a tiny example of one time when I was treated badly. There are the drunks who don’t know when to stop drinking and get angry or violent with the staff. There are the touchy-feely people who think that if they are paying for their food and drink, the server is obliged to put up with their groping. There are people who smile at you and then leave a stinking review just because they feel pissed off that day. I do not expect people to come in and have a great knowledge of the industry. They do not need to speak the same language as me in this context. I do, however, believe that everyone should spend a year working in hospitality to experience what it is like to always have a boss. You’re the manager? You still have to please the nasty woman on table 6. However, in the long run, this treatment toughens us and teaches us that we should never mistreat hospitality workers.. They are probably dealing with an extreme amount of stress that has built up during that one shift they have been working. They are probably extremely underpaid for the effort they put in. Think again before you leave that nasty review about your waitress forgetting to get you fresh cutlery between courses. She is probably getting pulled from all directions.
Don’t get me wrong. There are good employers in the hospitality industry but there are also bad and when they are bad, they can be awful. Examples of this are not paying a decent wage and not giving out contracts. Regularly workers are sent home early which means they don’t get paid for a full shift if the venue isn’t busy. Training is basic in some places and youngsters are released into the mayhem to try and please customers who are looking for value for money, not only in the food and drink they consume, but also in the service they receive from a young inexperienced waiter. Please, please, next time your patience runs out, stop and think of the impact your complaint will have on the overworked, underpaid and badly trained staff.
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