Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Broken Record

It's the night before New Year's Eve. We don't have too many bookings, but we get slammed with walk-ins. Everyone wants to sit outside. As soon as a table is seated inside and an outside table opens up, even though it's covered in debris of the last customers, the inevtiable question comes, can we sit out there? So, clear, re-set, pick everything up and move it. It's one of those nights where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Lost dockets. Moving tables. Wrong food delivered to the table. Extra pizzas. It's a landslide that can't be stopped, a force of nature with an energy all it's own.We're getting slammed on the floor - the pasta section doesn't seem too busy. The pizza docket rack is full to overflowing with dine-in orders and take-aways.

Eventually people leave and we are left with the mess. I send one waitress home. Marco and I clean up. There are endless trays of glasses and buckets of cutlery to polish. At the end of the night I pop the top of a pre-mixed vodka drink. The Owner and Manager pour a glass of wine. We consider the night - a mess all round. We're all exhausted. The Owner thanks me for tonight, saying that I did well. I give a sardonic laugh. But I appreciate the thought. It was a mess out there. But we managed.

While I wait to be picked up, the Manager, Marco and I are talking near the front door. The Owner calls The Manager back. Next minute they re-appear, surprised and happy. I sip my drink.

"We broke our record," The Owner says.
"We did 120 people last night, it didn't seem as busy tonight?"
"No, no, I mean money-wise - it was our best night ever. An increase of 15% on the previous record. And best of all, no customer was left waiting for longer than twenty minutes." He smiles.
"That's great," I say.

And I mean it. I'm happy for them. We have a good core team at the Palace. I like the place. I'll miss Marco when he leaves - he's a great waiter and a nice guy.

My lift pulls up. "OK, bye everyone!"
"Bye - go home and have a few drinks!"
"Cheers! See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow," they call back.

Same time, same place, we'll all be back to do the whole thing over again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Summer Begins

We head to the beach. The Man is on holidays now and will be home for five weeks. Bliss. We drive through town. There are people everywhere. Groups of teenagers outside the surf shop. Others linger on benches at the fish and chip shops. The cafes are overflowing. It's really here - the summer holiday season in full swing. Bay Beach is packed with families with young children. There are many other open ocean beaches - but with limited time (I'm working tonight) we choose Bay Beach so that I can swim in the ocean pool.

We find an elevated flat space of grass above the rocks that is mainly empty, and claim it for our own. It's hot. We head straight for the water. It's a shimmering turquoise colour and so clear I can see the rocks below the surface. I sit on on a rock wall near the pool for a few moments getting warm and enjoying the view. I watch a father and help his young son into the ocean pool, where they float and paddle. An uninterrupted strip of beach umbrellas creates a colourful arc across the bay. Families play frisbee and teenagers play football. Young children paddle in the surf under the watchful eyes of their parents. Teenagers try to surf on the flat water, using their body boards to catch the few waves that head towards shore. The lighthouse stands sentry over us all.

I slip into the water, swimming laps. It's cool and refreshing, not at all cold. I swim laps, slowly, enjoying the feeling of stretching my body. I know when I get to the restaurant tonight I will be glad that I took the time out and had the chance to cool off. While swimming I think of ideas for the restaurant - I don't know why. It has so much potential to do more than it does now.

Driving home, again I look at the traffic, the sudden flood of holiday-makers. The restaurant has been closed fo four days over Christmas. It's going to be busy tonight. Absolutely, wall-to-wall, no time to think, crazily busy. I know it. I can feel it in my bones.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Answer is No

Leaving early. At the Palace we have staggered start times. We also have a rule. The person who comes in early is the first one to leave.The person that comes in first generally does the most work - vacuuming and mopping the floor, setting up the stations, preparing for service. The person who starts later walks in, puts on an apron and starts working the floor. On busy nights, everyone stays until the end. Being able to leave early on occasion is a blessing. Sometimes, whatever the reason, all you want is to get the hell out.

We have two new waitresses. I am the only experienced member of staff left that is available this week. I am the early starter. I've worked fourteen shifts in sixteen days.I'm tired. It's getting busier. Holiday madness is about to ensue. It's hot and entering the kitchen is like walking into a furnace. I have new waitressing shoes and my feet are covered in blisters, with nasty flesh wounds on my heels. It hurts like hell.

Wednesday night, NW 1 starts late and wants to leave early. Reason? She has to start work at her day cafe at 7.30. I have to work back. Thursday night, NW 2 is supposed to start at 6.30 (quite late). She arrives late. It's dead in the restaurant. Not one customer before 7pm, and then only the ones with reservations. We get a few customers later, nothing one person can't handle. My feet are killing me. I am actually finding it hard to work. I can't move as fast as I normally do. I can take a lot. But this hurts. I want out.

I'm putting some polished cutlery away when NW 2 approaches me at the station."You know how you said you were going home early?"

"Yes?"

"What time are you leaving, I thought you were leaving at eight?"

"It's really up to The Manager, I just thought that if it was quiet they'd send me home then."

"Well, as you're still here, I thought I'd ask if I could go home early."

The look on my face must say it all. I can't believe what I'm hearing.

"It's my husband's birthday?" NW 2 pulls her shoulders up and tilts her head, in what I assume is a bid to elicit sympathy.

I keep working as the disbelieving stare penetrates her consciousness. The silence hangs between us. Finally it dawns on her she isn't going to get the response she wants."Unless you would prefer to be the one to leave early?" she says.

NW 2 has been on shift for approximately 90 minutes. It's only her third night here. She has already had one cigarette break. Now she wants to go home. I don't care whose fucking birthday it is. I don't care if you have to get up at 7am to go to your other job. That's your choice. It's not my problem. When you took this shift you committed to completing it. If you can't work for some reason or other, just say no. Then we'll call someone who does want the shift.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Toxic Shock

Caroline comes into the kitchen with an order. "I need to talk to you about this one," she says to the pizza chef. "It's a large half marinara and half vegetarian, but the wife is allergic to seafood, so when you cut it, you need to use a separate knife, and make sure no seafood gets onto the vege side at all."

"Err, okay," Nora replies.

I interrupt. "Did you suggest that it would be easier to order two small pizzas, one of each?"

"Yeah, I did," Caroline says. "But they don't want to."

"Why not?"

"Because it was going to cost them an extra dollar."

So, your wife is allergic to seafood, any trace of which could cause her to go into anaphylactic shock resulting in death, you go to all the trouble of instructing what the kitchen how to avoid contaminating her food, but you won't spend one lousy dollar to ensure your wife is safe? JERK!

Wine of the day: 2004 AH72 Cleanskin Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir
Oh, yes. Pinot is my favourite variety. And thanks to cleanskins, you can now buy it for only $10 a bottle! I might add that this particular bottle is as good as any pinot (and better than some) currently on the shelves for $20 - $30. This is smooth, elegant, clean, with a slight plum and berry flavour. Serve chilled.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Temperamental Chef

Oh, yes. How tiresome. How familiar. Every kitchen has one. At the Palace, it is the Pasta Chef. Get the fuck over it.

This person is the type who will huff and puff about every tiny mistake, because it is such an inconvenience to them to revisit the order. They will yell and scream abuse over the tiniest mistake, regardless of who is to blame - needless to say it is never the fault of the chef. Then comes the throwing and slamming of things in the kitchen, including throwing the meals at you as they are delivered for service. This is followed by the stage of bearing a grudge all night.

I have no time for this attitude. It is the emotional and intellectual equivalent of a two year old. I'm a professional. I know how how to do my job. Sometimes I make mistakes. It's bound to happen when there are one hundred customers and two staff. And when it does I accept it, apologise, and get on with my job. There is no need to yell and abuse staff over a simple mistake - thereby ruining the night for everyone else. The Owner wasn't uspset. The customer wasn't upset. So why the hell should you be so upset?

Oh, I forgot. You are God. You never made a mistake in your life. Everything you do is perfect. What would I know? I am only the waitress after all. There'd be no customers, no food, no restaurant, no tips, without you. Never mind that I am the one who has to cover for you when there is a problem in the kitchen. That I am a professional who has worked both sides of a restaurant, and I know how hard it is. It's busy. It's stressful. We all have to work together. So ditch the yelling, the attitude, the snatching, the throwing, the silence, the tantrums, the grudges, and treat your fellow co-workers with dignity and respect. You might just find that your job just got a whole lot easier.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Shifting

By some fluke I get Saturday off, but am on call just in case. At 5.30 the phone rings. Damn! But it is just Marco calling to find out whether I can cover his shifts on Monday and Tuesday next week, as he has to go to a funeral. Monday and Tuesday were formerly the domain of Junior Waitress. I do not like working these nights, as it tends to be quieter, which drives me nuts.

"I'll trade you," he says. I am not sure about this, as there is only person rostered on the weekend (still!) and it is extremely likely that by week's end we will both be working the weekend shifts together.

A quick mental calculation tells me if I take Marco's shifts I will be working six shifts in a row and therefore to get a night off would be an extremely desirable object.

"I can cover your shifts," I say. "And I'll definitely trade you for Friday." My prospects of seeing The Man at least once this week have just greatly improved. Might we actually be able to go out on a date?

"What's the rest of the week look like?" I ask.

"Well, only one person on, but that could change..."

"I know. Want to call in when you get back?"

"Yep. The New Girl is on Sunday..." Marco was scheduled to work with her last night as her trial and training.

"How did it go last night?"

"Well, The New Girl came in and she asked if she could have the night off to go to a Christmas party."

"What?! To leave early?"

"No, at the start of her shift."

"What??!! You're not serious!"

"Yeah," he says, with a disbelieving laugh. "She wanted the night off on her first shift! So I let her go early." He doesn't tell me how she worked out on shift.

"This is not looking good," I reply. The New Girl is supposed to be Marco's replacement. And we're an extra man down since JW was fired.

"No," he agrees.

I am suddenly confronted with the horrifying vision of being the only staff member on during peak season - working seven nights a week, every week for six weeks, getting swamped every time. Argh! If The New Girl doesn't work out, it is only Marco and me until Christmas, and then...only me.

It seems that despite the many applicants and walk-ins looking for work, it is nearly impossible to get experienced and reliable staff in this town. The New Girl already works day shift in another local cafe. So, experience she has, but reliability is essential. Who on earth asks for the night off when they haven't even officially been hired yet?

In the interest of training and retaining new staff, I have compiled a short list of what new applicants at the Palace should do on your first night.

1. Arrive on time (if not a few minutes early)
2. Look presentable
3. Be friendly and open to towards your potential fellow co-workers - listen when they tell you something, they are trying to help you learn
4. Waitressing is not rocket science. It's the same everywhere. However, you will still need to learn our systems, where things are, etc. You do not know everything about our restaurant yet.
5. Be friendly, polite, efficient, and do the best you can. No-one will mind if you make a few mistakes. If you do this, you will probably get offered the job.
6. If you do get offered the job, or another shift, you should accept it with thanks.In the event that you have some prior pressing commitment, then please advise. A social engagement will not necessarily fit into this category.We are seeking to establish the fact that you are reliable. You need to be available when we need you, we expect you to turn up when rostered and to come in at short notice if it is exceptionally busy or someone is ill.
7. Do not, under any circumstances, ask for time off on your first shift, prior to the commencement of the busiest period of the year.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Day Off of a Waitress

It’s my day off. The only one I am going to get this week, as I covered Junior Waitress’s shift last night. It’s HOT. After a week of storms, summer has arrived with full force. For the past two days, I wake to the sensation that a wall of heat has developed outside my window, bright light seeping through the blinds. Venturing outside I discover cloudless bright blue skies and shimmering heat.

What’s a waitress to do on her day off, with no pressing commitments, and such glorious weather? There is only one option – hit the beach. I pack my bag. Towel, sunscreen, hat, book, water, keys, money. I intend to spend the whole afternoon there, maybe visit a local cafe. I arrive at Bay Beach to find it fairly empty. The water is a glorious turquoise colour, the ocean pool is fresh and clear. I find a fairly isolated spot in the shade under a giant palm tree.

It’s so beautiful here. It is immediately cooler with the breeze from the ocean. For a while I just absorb the beauty of my surroundings. Bay Beach is set in a small inlet, at the base of a hill. It’s the smallest beach in Town on Sea, but also the most sheltered, so a lot of families come here. To the left, the bay curves around into a rock wall, I can see the lighthouse just over the other side. The hillside is covered with grass and palm trees. There are a few old fisherman’s shacks clinging to the side of the cliff. Somehow they have avoided development – they’d be worth a fortune now. The fact that they are there at all seems incredible – wooden shacks, cut into the hillside. The local pub also sits atop this hill. I can see a good lunchtime crowd through the windows. The whole rear of the pub is built of glass windows and doors to take advantage of the view below.

To the right the hill is more rocky, but as the rocks extend out into the ocean, it has created the little bay. The ocean pool has been cut into the bottom of the rocks and sits flat at the edge of the bay as the surf floods into it. As the outcrop sweeps higher, there are a few trees and grass – out of sight on the other side there is another beach, a carpark, holiday apartments and ocean view houses.

It astounds me still that I can come to this beautiful place on a weekday and find peace and quiet. It is not crowded. Of course, most locals would be working and school holidays have not yet started, although Town is noticeably busier. Today it is mostly young families at the beach. I watch as the parents help their children swim in the pool, I hear their squeals of delight as the cold waves wash over them as they paddle on the shore.

I lie down and close my eyes. All I can hear is the sound of the waves and the wind, feel the cool air washing over me. This is why I love it here. The ability to enjoy the natural environment, the clean air, not living in a city. I relax.

When I am warm enough, I get up and approach the ocean pool. I slowly walk down the stairs, getting used to the temperature. I love the feel of the ocean water on my skin, cold, refreshing, cleansing. I dive off the lower step into the water. I feel the shock of the cold water, but after a few fast strokes towards the ocean end of the pool, I can’t restrain a smile of joy as my body adjusts to the temperature. The cool water feels divine. I swim a few laps, slowly, enjoying it. Afterwards, I turn and float on my back. All I can see is the sky and all I can feel is the water. I close my eyes. There is just me in the water, and silence. I feel supported by the water, connected to nature. I feel the insignificance of one small human compared to nature. As I move my arms, I feel the connectedness of all things, I feel a part of nature. I float. There is nothing and no-one else. For a few moments, I am free.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Industrial Relations

I could write about last night's table of 33 in a t-shape in the centre of the restaurant, day-care Christmas party complete with red and green balloons, chocolate Santas and at least three SUV prams, but all I can think about is industrial relations.

They passed the bill! I can't believe it. Of course, that is probably being naive. I just really thought at least one of those fucking senators would have the guts to vote against the bill. For anyone reading this outside Australia, the industrial relations "reform" won't mean much to you. I don't have the energy to explain the whole thing right now - visit www.actu.asn.au or www.workchoices.gov.au (for the government spin in on it). Suffice to say that this piece of legislation will affect every worker in Australia, and strip back all their current conditions to just five basic conditions - and will be placed on individual contracts with the employer. Sure, doesn't sound so bad, does it. But in Australia we have these things called "awards". An award is what governs the conditions of employment. It contains the minimum pay rates, leave entitlements, etc etc etc. The new minimum wage as set by the government will be $12.75. The problem with this is that a lot of awards are above this wage.Awards will cease to apply. Secondly, penalty rates have been abolished. Penalty rates are overtime rates for nights and weekends, which people like nurses, retail workers, and of course, hospitality workers, depend on. Well, that's a very superficial description of some of the concepts. There are more. It gets worse. The right to bargain collectively - abolished, in breach of international law obligations. The government doesn't even have the ability (technically speaking) to do this. It has to use a constitutional power relating to corporations to do this. Bring on the High Court challenge.

Suffice to say it's a heinous piece of legislation designed by our loving prime minister to do two things : 1. limit the power of unions, and 2. cut wages. Welcome to the Americanisation of Australia. As if John Howard hadn't taken us far enough down this path already. The Australian Labour Party is a disgrace. Where was the opposition? Congratulations ACTU, you ran a fine campaign - I wish you could have done more.

The worst thing is that while it is stating the obvious to say that this legislation won't affect any of our precious politicians on their huge salaries, guaranteed super, and perks, it is quite clear that the majority of the people who voted for this bill do not understand it at all. When asked to explain technical aspects by journalists, not one could give a sufficient answer. And Barnaby Joyce my friend, you have missed the point. You can kiss your National Party ggodbye - they won't survive the next election. Unfair dismissal - great. We should have safeguards against that. But the opposition among the Australian public to these changes is about money. We're not idiots. The average is worried sick that their boss will reduce their pay to $12.75 an hour. And then how will they feed their kids/pay their mortgage/have time for the family? Most people in a service profession depend on the extra money we get for a Sunday shift to allow us to spend time at home on another day. There are so many social implications that will flow from this legislation, and that is what concerns me the most. People will be forced to take a second job or work more hours just to meet the obligations they have now. Obviously this will affect their personal relationships and wellbeing. But John Howard and big business don't care about that.

I am sure I am ranting.And this is only the most superficial glance at the issue. I find it sickening. I am saddened, depressed, and I despair for the future of this country.

And yes, I do know what I am talking about. Your local seaside waitress is a second year graduate law student.

Wine of the Day: De Bortoli Windy Peak Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2002
Ick.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oh, Blog Addiction

Two weeks ago, I had never read a blog in my life. Now, I spend quite some time every morning catching up with my favourite blogs and the adventures of their authors. Thank you very much, Waiter from Waiter Rant - if it weren't for you and your fellow bloggers, I am sure I would have at least one more productive hour in the day. Or...maybe I'd just be enjoying my coffee and reading the paper! The point is, there are some great blogs out there.

Recently I read a story in the paper about how media companies in Australia are planning to release at least five new celebrity magazines next year. Five? Surely we have enough of these already, without five more?
The managing director of News Magazines stated that celebrity mags are "a growing segment around the world. People can't get enough celebrity, and the more incarnations there are, the happier they are." Can't get enough celebrity? Oh, yes we can.

Personally I find readiing the real-life stories and adventures of ordinary people in some of the great blogs infinitely more interesting and entertaining, and certainly more life-affirming, than some made-up story based on the photo of of a C-list celebrity, or a half-naked rich American heiress and her dog.