Good morning/afternoon/evening/dead of night/none of the above (delete as applicable).
It’s still December, and as people like to do, I’ve decided to put out a couple of end-of-year lists.
I know, right? Super fun!
And as last time I delved deep into the top 5 worst experiences in hospo, it’s only fair that I look back on the times where things seemed not so dark. The kind of times where I was reminded why I loved hospo so damn much.
So, if you like the sound of satisfied customers, perfect latte art, or food safety compliant child birth, please, read on and nestle in for the POS company blog equivalent of that scene in Elf where James Caan believes in Santa again.
Number five is a bit of a blanket experience, and it’s watching people’s faces when they tasted something I’d made.
Now, I know this might sound a bit sappy, but I’m a sappy guy so I just don’t care. I love seeing people enjoy the food I cook.
And I’m not talking about your friends & family (although I do also enjoy it when they like my cooking), they kind of have to say whatever plate of food you’ve just put in front of them is delicious.
I’m talking about paying customers who owe me no such gratitude.
On the odd occasion where I had a second to survey my lands (the front of house), I’d always try and gauge how much everybody was enjoying themselves.
Their reactions ranged from deadpan poker-faces as they picked away at a pastry and scrolled through their feeds, to the more mid-ranged, relaxed diner (or just a person eating their food in a normal way), all the way up to the slightly annoying (although well intentioned) vocal diner who’d exclaim how each mouthful was the best food they’d ever had.
And right in between the normal guy and the extrovert was the sweet spot. This was the diner who’d take a bite and close their eyes as they savoured each mouthful. Perhaps they’d tell their friend to try some too? They’d always take a photo, and I didn’t mind that, but I could tell they truly enjoyed what I’d cooked.
Sometimes they’d tell me as I cleared their plates, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they’d even order seconds in what I can only imagine was a devil-may-care attitude to their daily calorie intake, and I salute them for that mindset.
But these people were the ones who kept me realising the incredible satisfaction that working in hospo can conjure, and it was a feeling that felt brand new every time.
Number four was the day my son was born
Before you call the council food safety people, let me clarify that at no point was there a live birth in my cafe.
My wife had gone into labour late on Friday night, and as the cafe was our only source of income at the time, I had to leave her in hospital to go and work. This was a very hazy time for me as my adrenaline took over and clouded my senses.
I was equally nervous, excited, tired, and energetic. In short, I was an absolute mess.
Saturday’s shift came and went without the birth, and there was a night spent ferrying my wife between the hospital and home as she wasn’t quite at the point where the baby was ready to pop out (I know, it confused us too).
Sunday morning rolled around and I dropped my wife at the hospital on my way to the cafe.
I wrote up a sign on a chalkboard which read, “The kitchen may close at any time so that Graeme can be at the birth of his son”, and put it on the counter for all to see.
And it was on that Sunday morning around 11am that I got the call and I frantically finished off whatever meal I was cooking (because I’m a professional guys, come on).
A life in hospo had me preparing for an onslaught of abuse from the public because they couldn’t get their eggs on toast, but the abuse never came, only love.
My customers, who had read my sign when they came in, rallied around me. I was hugged to within an inch of my life by every person in the place. I was given a Hollywood send off as I raced out of the door and ran the 1km to the hospital.
Looking back, it was this moment that made me appreciate what owning a community cafe could be about. I was one of them and a part of all of their lives. We were family, and that family was about to gain another member.
Number three was when I poured my first rosetta
Now, compared to the last one, this experience might seem a bit shallow, but hear me out.
Latte art is hard.
Most people, when shown by somebody who cares about their craft, can steam and texture milk in a relatively short amount of time. Some might be able to get the hang of dialing in their coffee and therefore be able to pull a decent shot too.
But no matter how much you think you have command over your milk, nothing can prepare you for just how difficult it is to pour good latte art.
You spend the best part of a year trying to understand the dynamics of the milk. How it interacts with the espresso, how to keep it underneath the crema, and how to judge the right time to pour the art.
You look at the more experienced baristas, and they make it look so easy. The levels of nonchalance on display are sickening and serve only as a reminder of how far you’ve yet to come.
Your evenings are spent scouring YouTube for every tutorial in the hopes that one of them might let slip a dirty secret known only to the chosen few who wield the power of the latte art masters, but they don’t. They too are filled with baristas wildly more experienced than you who just go over the same points as the last guy and rub salt into your ever-stinging wounds.
And then, one day, after tens of thousands of coffees, the stars align, and it happens.
The steady stream of alabaster-white begins to form a familiar pattern on top of the crema. You remind yourself to contain your excitement; you’ve been here before and gone down in flames! But this time, you’re cool. You remind yourself to push in slightly, and allow a wry smile as the milk curls around the edge of the cup. You remember to pull away and give the jug a delicate jiggle to create the ‘leaves’, and then you have the steely presence of mind to execute a final swipe through, and it’s glorious.
You marvel at your creation; the bountiful culmination of so many month’s hard work. Instinctively, your phone is in your hand. This is a moment that deserves to be preserved for generations to come. They must see this masterpiece.
This is a rush that cannot be understated, and I’m perfectly fine admitting to it being in my top 5.
Number two was the first time I saw my name in the press
Nowadays, all I have to do to see my name published online is write a blog and scroll down to just below the main picture, and there it is.
But there’s limited pleasure in that.
Nothing like the first review.
And I’m not talking about a Google review from some disgruntled member of the public who doesn’t understand the correlation between wait time in the line and wait time for their coffee. I’m talking about a review published by a reputable organisation, and written by a qualified professional.
For years I’d been the coffee guy, behind the machine rain, hail, or shine. When my employers were reviewed, they might have mentioned my name a couple of times, and I was always in photographs, but it was never about me.
And so, a couple of months after we opened, I was asked whether I would like to be written up in Broadsheet.
Naturally, being the narcissist that I am, I jumped at the opportunity.
The day came, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous preparing a meal. For some reason I had it in my head that I’d suddenly lost all ability to poach an egg, or make the same toastie I’d made thousands of times before.
I carried out my food in shaking hands, and sat down to chat with my interviewer.
I can’t quite remember what I’d said, but there were photos taken, and food eaten, and then relief as we said goodbye.
And then the article came out.
Being written about is a strange feeling. It’s got a kind-of shameful pride about it. There’s the part of you that naturally feels good about seeing your own name, and then the part that drags you back to earth. I could probably do with a little more of that last part, if I’m being honest.
But it felt like after years of putting in shifts, I was finally getting some recognition. To see somebody whose job it is to eat food not only choose to eat yours, but write favourably about it is a wonderful feeling, regardless of how self-absorbed I may seem.
Number one is the general feeling of gratitude I felt for my customers
It’s no secret that me and my customers didn’t always see eye-to-eye all of the time. Towards the end of my tenure working the front lines, I admit to cutting a fairly inhospitable figure, and I apologise if you were ever on the receiving end of any of my famous scowls.
Please know that it was never personal, I was just burnt out.
In truth, I actually loved my customers. They paid for everything in my life.
And I know that they didn’t have to do this. It would be all too easy in such a saturated market for them to simply choose another place to get their coffee or their lunch. Lord knows there were plenty of places with better customer service than mine, but still they came.
And it was on the occasions that I actually sat back and thought about it that I’d begin to feel a little fuzzy inside.
You see, out of all of the places they could have chosen, they chose me. I’ll never fully understand their reasons, but they did, time and time again!
I know that when I’m going somewhere for a coffee or a bite, it’s a very personal decision. The last thing I want is a disappointing experience, and so I figured this is how the majority of people go about their decisions too.
And that was it for me.
The thought that when they were deciding where they would meet up with a long-lost friend, or breakfast with their parents, or even an awkward first date, they trusted that my place would be the perfect setting.
It honestly warms my heart to this day, and I am forever grateful to everyone who walked through my doors over the years.
A holiday message from me to you
I’d like to finish off by thanking you for reading Beyond The Pass this year. If you’d have told me a year ago that somebody would be paying me to rant about my hospo career every other week, I’d have had you committed, but here we are.
And whilst I know I can err on the side of negativity, I’m hopeful that you can see the humour in most of it, and I hope you understand that I’m a dramatic guy, and it was never as bad as I make it out to be.
Finally, I’d like to wish you all a wonderful holiday season, whatever you may be doing. This past year has been testing and I hope you can take advantage of some well-earned time off to catch up with loved ones, or if you’re working through, take advantage of some well-earned knock off drinks with your team. You deserve it.
And if you’re after a good last minute gift idea, I’ve always found that an affordable POS system is a great stocking filler, but I’ll leave that at your discretion.
I’ll be back in the new year with more of…well…erm…me, and I hope you all keep safe.
Thanks again for reading & see you next year!