With pay that barely scrapes minimum wage, let alone London living cost, and long, physical shifts at inconvenient hours, it’s a wonder anyone actually chooses to work in hospitality. Though it requires essentially no qualifications, it is not to be confused as an easy job. Upon returning to the UK to begin my gap year, I have also returned to working in hospitality, through which I gained a newfound respect for those that have put up with this for far longer than me. So, to hospitality’s heroes, the backbone of British brunching and boozing, thank you for your unwavering service to your queen and country.
Personally, I work in a pub as the second of three jobs and, actually, I really enjoy it – one of those gentrified gastropubs in Clapham, where yummy mummies order avo and poached eggs, with a bottle of prosecco on the side, it somehow retains that local boozer, rowdy-on-weekends energy that Britons seem to crave. The staff are great and (on paper) all I have to do is pour pints, collect glasses, and serve food – with a smile. However, this is easier said than done, especially when I finish working at a school at 3.45 pm and begin my bar shift at 5 pm, finishing at 11 pm (on a school night). No, it’s not rocket science, but it can be physically and emotionally draining when you are trying to provide tip-top customer service on less than 5 hours sleep. And the reality is that a large proportion of those working in hospitality are doing it ‘on the side’ per say, picking up shifts in addition to full time jobs, studying, or looking after their kids. There is little time to spare for eating or sleeping in between paying the bills, let alone time to kick back and neck a few pints. So, try to be a little more understanding if we accidentally give you normal tonic instead of slimline, but the fact of the matter is that we’re all tired, and that double G&T you just ordered costs more than my hourly wage…
Whilst the weekend warriors get to spend Friday through Sunday as they please, blowing off steam from a stressful week at the office, the hospitality crowd spend theirs serving, cleaning and diffusing barfights – excuse me if I don’t join the usual ‘TGIF’ rejoice. When you hungover yuppies crawl in begging for a Bloody Mary and Sunday brunch, remember those of us who stayed up later than you, cleaning up your mess, yet were still expected to be at work bright and early on Sunday morn. Complaints of horrendous hangovers fall on the deaf ears of those who would kill to be able to have Saturday night off to go out and get a little messy. Not that messy though, I’d like to think I would never spill that much of my food all over the floor, or smash 3 glasses consecutively, and I definitely wouldn’t be caught throwing up in the ladies after one too many vodka-lime-sodas – as some customers seem to think is acceptable behaviour just because its past 5 o’clock on Friday. I guess the advantage of being excluded from this periodic 3-day frenzy, is that Monday’s don’t seem so bad when you work a 7-day week.
Not to mention, Monday is payday, although even the cheapest glass of wine at my work costs more than I earn in an hour… Thankfully, to account for the insignificance of minimum wage, there are a small proportion of customers that tip, or at the very least leave their change. Especially when it comes to table service – I have essentially been your waitress/servant/bitch for the past hour or so, the least you can do is leave me a couple of quid for being so understanding when you changed your order three times, or clicked at me to get my attention for more drinks. No tip? Ok fine, I’ll whack the 12.5% ‘discretionary’ service charge on your bill at the end, which you probably won’t dispute because you don’t work in a pub; in fact, you’re probably on £55k a year. Maybe that will teach you some manners. I spend 7 hours a day teaching 5 year olds to say please and thank you, so it surprises me how often adults feel they are exempt from using such phrases. How much effort does it really take to say “cheers” when I hand over your pint? Remembering to say “3 Estrellas please” takes one second extra, hardly significant when you’ve been waiting at the bar to be served for at least 15 minutes (and who knows, that extra second might save you some spit in your beer).
The customers that do treat you like an actual human being (as opposed to a drink-serving, plate-clearing, glass-collecting robot) are few and far between, but they make your day. When working unsociable hours means you rarely get to see your friends and family, having some good old amicable banter with customers might just stop you from going insane. Success within hospitality is facilitated by what is essentially glorified flirting – not actually flirting, but being warm, perhaps a little cheeky. It’s a fine line though, before certain patrons mistake you doing your job as an invitation to make a move: please stop winking at me over your ales, it’s not endearing and you’re old enough to be my dad. As frustrating as this can be (picture a balding, pot-bellied bloke slurring his words as he asks for your number), it is hilarious from a sober perspective and there’s a small part of me that begins to pity my male colleagues, who are far less likely to be offered free drinks. Accepting these accentuates my downfalls as a ‘feminist’.
At the end of the day, I suppose it would be foolish to hope that all customers will suddenly start tipping me twice as much, or stop getting so ridiculously drunk that we have to get security to forcibly remove them from the pub. And, I should clarify, I am most certainly not trying to eulogize myself. I’m a waitress/bartender: nothing more, nothing less. I don’t save lives, I pour pints. I guess I can only aspire that someone, anyone, might read this and reconsider how they treat hospitality staff, maybe even order an Aperol Spritz with a please.