When you tell people you’re a journalist they’ll often say: “Oh! Stressful. Deadlines and all of that...”
Deadlines indeed. By Jove, I’m staring down the barrel of one right now. But I can assure you that the stress of a print deadline is nothing compared to the stress of working in a restaurant.
As a waitress, I felt like the messenger who got shot for every mistake. Actually, most of the mistakes were mine. My most memorable stuff-up happened in fivestar place that specialised in dishes swimming in various forms of – I don’t know – jus. An accident waiting to happen, and not waiting long in my case. While reaching across the table, I sent a fountain of rich sauce down the silk lining of a man’s jacket which was hanging over his chair. I whisked it into the kitchen where the new dishwasher was even more clueless than I was. “Help!” I said, thinking he would grab a cloth and dab gingerly at the priceless garment. Instead he snatched it from my hands and – gasp – plunged it into his sink of dirty dishwater. The owner of that restaurant was a strung-out workaholic who didn’t like me at the best of times. This was the worst of times – she entered the kitchen to see two substandard employees staring at a designer sports coat floating in suds. “Who does that belong to?” she shrieked. “That guy,” I whispered, pointing to a happy-looking man in shirt sleeves, drinking wine and laughing with his friends.
I had to go out and tell the man that his jacket was... gone. I must say he was very gracious about having to leave without it on a cold Wellington night. He even left me a gigantic tip, having no doubt concluded that I wouldn’t be employed for long, which I wasn’t.
My next job was at a far less classy joint, specialising in pizzas. I really earned my wages there on the night I placed a pizza on a table and noticed that its toppings included the kitchen hand’s flicked off sticking plaster (complete with blood stain). I returned that pizza to the kitchen at the speed of light. I was the hero of the night, although I was ultimately fired from that job too.
The happy upshot of these tragic tales is that I never take good waiting staff for granted. And, reading today’s story about the new ownership of one of New Zealand’s most iconic restaurants, The French Cafe, I felt so grateful to be working here and not there.