Since starting full-time work more than a decade ago, I carved out a comfortable career in the financial services sector, specifically in financial crime prevention.
Generally, if you work your way into a position that is interesting, challenging, pays well and has prospects for advancement, you should probably stick with it.
I did so for more than seven years, and who knows, I may return to it one day. Just not in the foreseeable future.
For the past couple of months, I have been part-timing at a local hotel and restaurant.
I bloody love the role. It’s high time I rambled about my time as a waiter and other aspects of the hospitality industry.
I worked at the Hilton for a few weeks in the summer of 2018 as a Food and Beverage Assistant – a glorified title for a waiter – and I enjoyed it immensely. Suited me to a T.
On your feet all the time, milling around and chirping in the mixing pot of migrant employees, being attentive and polite to customers.
Getting paid for physical activity, interesting conversations and good-naturedness is a no-brainer.
At the Hilton I worked 5pm until closing, which was anywhere between 1am and 5am, and every shift was busy, busy, busy.
Here in Guernsey, I have been working 4 to 5 hour shifts, mostly for functions and peak times. Corporate bashes, birthdays, Sunday lunches, Christmas parties and the like – 50 to 100 to 200 people seated as standard. In a short couple of months I’ve done a biker’s do, a flower-arranging convention, fundraisers, a special needs party, an OAP event – all sorts.
I am primarily a “wine waiter”.
I ask people what they would like to drink, I take them said drink, and I offer them more drink when said drink is drunk.
Aside from cleaning, food service, and odd-jobs, this is the meat and bones of the job.
There are rhythms to waitering.
For the longer Hilton shifts, there was the steady pace at the beginning of the evening, followed by a surge of customers and drinks and food orders, and just when it felt overwhelming, it ebbed to a lull, during which time we were dismissed to the kitchen to eat some grub cooked up by the shouty chef.
Here in Guernsey, doing shorter shifts, there’s a hint of a lull as the initial customers trickle in, then begins the deluge.
One must sprint-walk between orders, juggle tasks, struggle to recall orders from customers and requests from your colleagues and bosses.
It’s a blast. “Work” flies by in a flurried flash.
In this sprinty state, you have to screech to a polite halt and speak to customers in a deferent manner.
This can be challenging for at least two reasons.
First reason, you want everything said and done at 100mph from yourself and your colleagues, because you always, always have something else to do.
So, when a tipsy table motions you over mid-flight, orders some drinks, no wait, actually, can we have these instead, and no ice, and do you have this wine, and do you have this gin, but if you don’t, I’ll have this instead, maybe you could ask at the bar – and could you wait for Diedre’s order, she’s gone to the ladies room?
Which leads me neatly onto the second reason why customer service can be trying in this sprinty state.
Manners – or the lack thereof.
Waitering teaches you the invaluable might of good manners – which maketh man, if you were not aware.
If an order comes from a table treating you like some kind of plebby automaton, it becomes hard to be anything more than politely blunt, especially with umpteen other things to do in that moment.
With a polite and patient table – who can see the tray of drinks teetering in your hand and consider the 100 other customers around them – they are a joy to serve, albeit an awkward joy.
Genuinely grateful customers are always worth the trouble.
Waitering gives you an interesting vantage point on familial dynamics.
In the space of one shift, I remember two rather different families.
One family had three children all on tablets, barely communicating with each other. I tried to engage them by offering drinks directly, but their parents ordered on their behalf.
Another family allowed their three or four children to go play, a rather dangerous proposition unsupervised at a hotel, but play they did after they finished their meals.
They were running about the empty corridors together, giving each other piggy-backs, playing hide-and-seek, whilst the adults nattered at the table; it was great to see.
I told the adults their children reflected well on them as parents.
Sunday seshers! I have the utmost respect for the breed of human that gets liberally sloshed at Sunday lunch with nary a thought for the morrow. They are invariably chirpy, easy to please and fun to talk to. Life is short, have another one.
Oldies, I love the oldies. The older generation, for the most part, have manners and patience. It’s probably why they have survived this long.
One old boy at an Age Concern event made a big thing about giving me a tip – one of only two tips I’ve yet received – which amounted to something like three quid. I was made up with it
Now I mention it, the other tip I received was at a Christmas party organised for various services for those with mental and physical disabilities. That was a raucous event.
One of the partygoers was tasked with selling raffle tickets, and I couldn’t resist buying a couple as he was so enthusiastic and excited by the responsibility.
I passed my tickets onto one of the younger lads at a table – I didn’t want to be seen winning the prizes of the disabled at their raffle – and, bless the young lad’s heart, at the end of the evening he tipped me. We’re talking coppers and the odd silver penny here, but clearly worth much more than that.
Revellers, revellers. Love a good dancer. At a lad-dee-dah Great Gatsby themed fundraiser ball, amongst the penguin-suited men awkwardly shuffling on the dance floor, I saw one big-wig dancing away magnificently. Corr blimey, could he dance. Some skill, but more importantly, not a care given.
(At that Great Gatsby do, I served a non-executive director of a private equity company to which I once provided MLCO and MLRO services. He looked somewhat confused.)
The best dancers?
To be found at the aforementioned Christmas party. Seeing the multitude of humans, none of whom gave a flying pie what anybody else there was thinking, dancing away to such bangers as “Dancing Queen” and “Let It Go” from the film Frozen – by far and away the most heartwarming thing I saw over Christmas.
Some Hilton customers deserve special mention. The gaggles of cackling hags who on Sundays would abuse the bottomless prosecco deal, when you can order as much as you can drink within a given period. Drunk, entitled, penny-pinching middle-aged women – Karens, in modern parlance – are not fun customers.
I’ve been blessed with competent, fun and interesting colleagues at both roles.
At the hotel, all the full-time waitering staff are in the same boat: away from home and living in staff accommodation at the hotel. There is a sense of camaraderie.
Most are Portuguese or Romanian, there are a couple of Bengalis, a Bulgarian, a Latvian, a Ukrainian, and only one other Guernseyman.
This makes me somewhat of an exotic waiter, actually being from the island of Guernsey. It seems to shock the older clientele, who are often interested to ask where the staff are from.
I have enormous respect for immigrant workers, rocking over here, “stealing our jobs”, working long hours for low pay with little holiday in a foreign country, speaking English as their second or third language. It takes balls.
Brass balls, in fact, for those staff who hardly even speak English! In the laundry room there are labels for the various shelves, and translations underneath them written in Portuguese. Mad, when you think about it.
A side note, or side question: of the 500 or more humans in Guernsey receiving unemployment benefits, what stops them getting a job in hospitality?
There are plenty. I was hardly even interviewed, and I started the week after I made contact without providing a single document. (It has been two months since I applied for a role with the States and I’m yet to start.)
Surely some of these 500 are capable for such work?
Perhaps some are seeking such roles but the hospitality sector has eluded them.
Maybe the hospitality sector has racist hiring policies.
Perhaps the prospect of working for minimum wage and losing benefits is off-putting.
Nah. Racist hiring policies, I reckon.
My managers have all been extremely competent humans, in both finance and hospitality.
In hospitality, all are experienced enough to seem serene and sanguine, even if everything seems like it’s going to hell in a handbasket.
One of my current boss-men said something that resonated with me:
“You just have to remember, every problem has its solution.”
Of course, this is utter codswallop, in a sense. But as a management heuristic, and a way to live life generally, it is a winner. It is a kind of Noble Lie, a glittering and gorgeous half-truth we should honour and cherish and live by.
I was blessed by having a mentor in my former financial services role with the same sort of philosophy, and can-do-no-matter-what attitude. He had heaps of life experience, in more serious ‘real-life’ roles and situations.
People with a lack of life experience take their jobs and the problems thereof too seriously, whereas people with a chilled, bigger-picture mentality work better – and are happier.
This is the same demeanour I brought to management myself. Whilst your colleagues are losing the plot, keep hold of yours, staying steady and steering a course out of trouble.
Panic gets you nowhere fast – other than southwards – be it in finance, hospitality, or whatever.
Panic is infectious. So is calm.
Anyhow, I digress, which is apt for this self-stated ramble I suppose.
I will soon be ceasing work as a waiter and starting a new role – about which, more later – and I will leave on great terms with the hotel, and I may well do the odd shift if they are in need of me and I am able.
At the Hilton, though I would argue things ended mutually, things didn’t end smoothly.
I once had a big beard. A great, ginger, bushy and unkempt thing I left to grow for about half a decade, with little more than a trim of the moustache – trimmed so I could eat more of my food and less of my facial hair.
I persuaded two of my nieces I store food and other perishables in my beard. One was a mere 2 years old, the other 5 years old, which would be old enough to know better – unless it was feasibly true.
The Hilton asked that I trim the beard down to their fascist standard, and I assented, with absolutely no intention of honouring the commitment and capitulating to the fascist grooming policy.
I worked several shifts without hearing anything of it, and when the matter was raised again I said I was just waiting to find the time to get a trim – complete tosh. This kept them off my back and beard for a few more shifts.
Eventually, the big dog behind the desk upstairs – a detestably good-looking and clean-shaven man, who delegated the task of reprimanding me to a delightful young lady a couple of years younger than I – he decided enough was enough.
I was told, in no uncertain terms, the beard comes off or I was off.
And so it was, that I made the right decision, which fortuitously resulted in me securing a better paid and more enjoyable job erecting and collapsing tents for weddings and festivals for two kick-ass lesbian entrepreneurs.
Another ramble for another time, perhaps.