If there’s anything I’ve learned from my years spent in this wonderful country, it’s this: Australians love a public holiday.
And right you should.
It’s guilt-free time off with all of your friends. It’s an event that promises equal parts debauchery and revitalisation. When else can a nation unite with the common goal of seeing just how much of their hard-earned money they can squander in the pursuit of hedonism than the hallowed long weekend?
These were the thoughts going through my mind each and every time I found myself completely overwhelmed with guests come one of these three or four day events.
Because for us folk in hospitality, a long weekend is usually none of these things. It’s usually a daunting “x” on our calendar; a countdown to some war-like event where there will be few survivors.
And the month of April is D-Day.
My relationship with long weekends has been varied though, depending on where exactly in hospitality I was working and also where exactly geographically I was working too.
My worst experiences came when I was working in corporate hospo in the suburbs around where I’m living at the moment, although this was many years ago and nearer to the beginning of my hospo career than the end.
Corporate hospitality venues, in case you’re not sure what I mean, are those soulless places owned by some blissfully oblivious hotel group where the only thing that matters is the pokie room, the adjacent TAB and, it seems, the blandest, most sterile version of an atmosphere imaginable.
And the place I was working was no different.
For many of them, a long weekend is an opportunity to host some sort of tragic event complete with set menus, and bookings, and on occasion a hefty helping of tone-deafness (think a room of stuffed shirts brainstorming a Cinco de Mayo event where their knowledge of Mexican culture doesn’t extend too far past a bucket of Coronas and an Old El Paso sachet).
Come Easter long weekend, we were almost forced to work open ‘til close offering table service to a clientele whose idea of class was buying a ticket to an Easter long weekend event in our venue.
The Yellowglen flowed freely and a million punnets of perfectly good strawberries were sent to drown in the bottom of a cheap champagne flute, all before 11am. This meant that come sundown, the tables and chairs that we’d so carefully set out the night before became damp testaments to a situation that had gotten wildly out of hand.
For us workers, the reminder that head office had extended our opening hours on the Sunday from 10pm to 1am rubbed so much salt into our wounds that we began to dry brine.
Not even a goodwill knock-off beer could take the edge off, and the looming spectre of the approaching Anzac Day long weekend stood laughing at us on the horizon.
There was one year where I didn’t work the long weekend, only it didn’t really work out for me either.
This time around, it was a bit of a freak event. You see, Easter and Anzac Day collided, and that gave the holy grail of long weekends to an eager Australian public.
If I remember correctly, because Anzac Day fell on the weekend, and that weekend day was already a public holiday due to Easter, Australia was in danger of losing an extra day off, and that simply could not happen!
So, they just tacked it onto either the Thursday before Good Friday, or the Tuesday after Easter Monday, and we all had a five-day weekend. Brilliant, right?
It would have been, had I not been paid by the hour and worked at a place that decided to close for the long weekend.
And me, being the idiot that you should know I am by now, didn’t do the smart thing and lay low to save enough money for rent. No, I decided that after years of being on the other side of the bar I was now going to rip it up with the rest of the animals and promptly ran out of money after two days.
Things did improve once I moved a little closer to the city and into the cafe life, although only slightly.
This is because hungover people need coffee and eggs for breakfast, and the opportunity to while away the hours in a cafe setting is just too much to pass up. And because they’re hungover, breakfast also extends to about 3pm, so the crowds just kept coming all day.
These were the record days that I’d go on to tell anybody unfortunate enough to be stuck with me on a coffee machine for the next few years. I’d scoff at their minuscule 10kg days and raise them another 10!
And I thought that this was just how it was on long weekends over here. Crowds in the day, crowds in the night, no matter where you were.
Of course, as I often am, I was wrong.
My own cafe was tucked away, nestled within a pocket of residential zoning—an island oasis for anybody who craved jaded customer service, good coffee and indoor plants. This meant one crucial thing: less foot traffic.
Everywhere I’d worked previously was either on a busy street or had enough going on around it to entice the good people away from those busy streets. Mine, on the other hand, was located around where they finally staggered home in the early hours. At least it was in our 1st year.
After that, the property market boomed and all of the share houses around us were snapped up by the wealthy middle-class families that wanted to live close enough to enjoy King Street’s delights, but not close enough for King Street’s demons to reach them.
And do you know what these families like to do on a long weekend? They like to get out of the city and spend some time at their 2nd property down/up the coast (delete unattainable real estate as applicable).
I knew this because a lot of them would ask if we hospitality workers had similar plans for the long weekend. The look of sheer horror on their faces when we told them that cafe workers in their 20’s or 30’s generally couldn’t afford one property, let alone multiple, was a stark reminder that although we inhabited the same places, we walked completely different paths.
What had always been a guaranteed win for me suddenly became a bit of a problem.
The area surrounding my cafe became a ghost town whenever there was a long weekend, and especially at Easter. The extra staff I had rostered on to help manage the extra trade became the most expensive cleaning buddies in the history of cleaning buddies (except maybe crime scene cleaners; I expect their hourly rate would be astronomical).
This year will be my first Easter out of hospitality in fifteen years, and I’ve got some mixed feelings about the whole thing.
There’s a part of me that swells with anxiety as my mind prepares for a relentless onslaught of drunkards either wanting their fill in the evening or their remedy come morning, like some leftover survival instinct—a relic from another time.
Another part of me is excited at the prospect of being able to do something—anything—with my time off, although because this is all new to me, this part is completely without direction and is bouncing from idea to idea like a pinball.
One thing is certain though: for all of the stress, the abuse, the money earned and the money squandered, I wouldn’t change a thing.