It’s December already.
And whilst I could pretend to be shocked (December? Already? Where did that come from? Etc.), that would be a lie.
You see, I love December.
For starters, it’s Christmas time, and I love Christmas more than anybody I know to the extent that you could find me proudly watching Muppet’s Christmas Carol, or listening to Fairytale Of New York any time from about June onwards. And don’t bother razzing me about it, I simply don’t care.
The shops are buzzing too.
Honestly, when else does a high street look prettier than in December? There’s twinkling lights everywhere, every pub is packed with an endless parade of Christmas work drinks, and even if you hate the late rush for buying presents, there’s solace to be found in the siege mentality such a frantic rush creates as you see your fellow strugglers suffering alongside you.
And as we enter the final month of the year, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and put out a couple of end-of-year lists of my own, to keep in line with the industry.
So, with that in mind, I’ll dispense with the bad news first.
May I present my top 5 worst experiences in hospo!
I know, I know! I’m always moaning on here, but believe me when I tell you that I’ll endeavor to make this as light-hearted as possible, and that next time I’ll do my top 5 best experiences.
Anyway, on with the show!
Coming in at number 5 is the time I was fired with no warning a week before my wedding
Okay, a little bit of background info here seems necessary.
I was working in corporate hospo in a fairly big venue near where I was living at the time which is about 20km south of Sydney CBD. I’d been there for about three years, and had worked my way up to a management role looking after the bistro.
And guys, I was always working.
Typical of the industry at that time (and still quite a bit now), I was on a full-time, 38 hours per week contract but I actually pulled closer to 60 hours per week and got paid zero over time. They knew I needed the job, so they felt pretty confident I wouldn’t rock the boat every time my roster came out.
I never really said “no” to anything, and I ran my team very smoothly.
But I was moving closer to the city and, naturally, didn’t want to commute 40km each day and get home around 3am on a weekend, so I started to look for work closer to where I was going to be living.
Well, the higher-ups at my job couldn’t believe I’d do something so logical, so beneficial to my own well-being. How dare I leave on my own accord!
For this, I was to be made an example of.
And so, as I put in my 2 weeks annual leave to get married (the only leave I’d ever put in in 3 years), my boss sat me down on my final shift for what I assumed would be some words of encouragement and kindness ahead of my big day, and he told me to consider my leave as my 2 week’s notice and that I was fired (after the shift, of course).
It rocked me a little, I’m not going to lie. Thoughts about how I was going to pay rent began to race through my head, and the shame and embarrassment of having to tell my bride-to-be that I’d lost my job a week before the wedding tore me apart.
The joy I felt when that venue was bought by a larger group and my old boss was given the ol’ heave-ho himself is still something that keeps me warm at nights.
Number 4 – the only time I’ve worked on Christmas Day
Let me start by saying that I have no issues with working on Christmas Day. My wife’s family are German and so have their celebrations on Christmas Eve. Because of this, Christmas Day has always been a bit of a non-event.
So, when I learned I would have to work on Christmas Day, I wasn’t too fussed.
I was an Area Manager for a cafe chain at this point, and I figured if my staff had to give up their Christmas to come into work, I’d happily do the same.
It all started out well. I was working the coffee machine in our Surry Hills location with another barista, and there were a couple of floor staff and a 3-man kitchen team.
I didn’t know if we’d have too many customers, but it turned out that a lot of people were looking for somewhere to sit down with a coffee and some food that wasn’t a Woolies ham and some uninspiring prawns, so we were pretty packed.
And then the phone started ringing.
The other two locations that were open were struggling and it was my fault, apparently.
In the lead-up to this day, I’d made extra efforts to ensure that every location was stocked up, they had enough change (this was back when cash existed), and their POS was set up with a special Christmas Day screen complete with surcharges so that transactions could flow as smoothly as possible.
Now, I don’t know if my boss was just stressed out, but I was his number 1 enemy that day.
If a staff member accidentally entered the wrong thing in the POS, even though I wasn’t there it was my fault. The kitchen is taking too long to make food, again in one of the locations I wasn’t at, it was my fault.
I could barely make 2 coffees before my phone rang again and I copped another earful for the most molehill of mountains.
Then I was told to go and get stock from one location because another had run out.
And so began my day of criss-crossing the Inner West collecting and delivering unnecessary stock at the whim of a stressed out owner. All the while, they’d be barking down the phone at me for non-existent problems and blaming me for anything from lids not fitting on the takeaway cups properly (they did, they always did) to the fall of Communism and breaking up of the USSR.
That day obviously left a sour taste in both mine and my bosses mouths, and we parted ways soon after.
Number 3 – crying in my car
This one is a bit distressing to write because it represents a sort of rock bottom for me.
It was a particularly busy Saturday shift in my own cafe. We’d had a full house since we’d opened the doors, and even had to break out the waiting list on a couple of occasions.
I was working the kitchen that day, and it was the day I learned the importance of a menu that can be made quickly.
Usually on the weekend shifts you’d have an hour, maximum two where your docket rail was full and you barely had time to think.
The rush didn’t seem to end. Order upon order kept flooding in and the wait time for food skyrocketed. Where usually you’d wait about ten minutes for your food, it was now nearer thirty. And all the while, tables full of eager customers were giving me daggers.
And it’s not as if they couldn’t see me, it was an open kitchen. They could see the panic in my eyes and my frantic arms flailing all over the place as I failed to keep up.
They treated me as if I’d been sitting on the bench top scrolling through my phone all shift.
Every time I ran food out, another table would stop me and offer their latest round of abuse as to how long their food was taking. I’d apologise and point out how busy it was, but to them it didn’t matter.
And the abuse ranged from dirty looks to flat out calling me “a disgrace” as they walked out.
By the end of the rush, I was shaken and needed to get out of there.
I sat in my car in the laneway and cried for about 15 minutes before I felt guilty for leaving the staff alone to deal with my awful customers.
The only comfort I could take was the knowledge that I didn’t have to worry about rent that week.
Number 2 – is there anybody out there?
Sorry about that last one, it was a touch heavy, I know.
But this one isn’t heavy at all. In fact, it isn’t really anything.
Remember that corporate job I had where I worked about 20 hours unpaid overtime a week? Well, a good bulk of my contracted hours were actually where I was rostered on alone. Most of these were day shifts in the middle of the week, but there was the occasional evening shift and this story comes from one of those.
This venue was big. I’m talking 1200 capacity big, and on the weekends, we’d hit that capacity quite early and the place was rocking.
To accommodate these crowds, there was a defacto nightclub section where, again, on the weekends it would be shoulder to shoulder full of young, sweaty things rubbing against each other to whatever god awful noise Rhianna, or the Black Eyed Peas, or some other tone-deaf dancers had put out a couple of years before.
But in the week, it was all just empty space. The big wigs in the office demanded that every bar be open at all times regardless of trade, and who else to man an empty bar but the guy who never says “no”?
I kept radioing my boss in the office to see if he wanted me to close it up early and move me to another bar with actual people in it, but he insisted that if even one person wanted to buy a drink from me, they should have that option.
Isn’t that the dumbest, most ‘I’ve never worked in hospo before’ thing you’ve ever heard?
I was bored. I couldn’t check my phone because it was one of those places where you weren’t allowed to have it on you on shift. There were no tvs for me to watch because it was primarily a nightclub. And the music was this terrible lo-fi mix of the most mind-numbingly forgettable, inoffensive garbage that was somehow both ignorable yet impossible to ignore.
And the shift was 6 hours long.
Not a soul came to visit me that evening. I cleaned every table about 20 times, prepped everything I could and organised anything that needed organising, but it was futile.
I think I was more exhausted after that shift than any of the busy ones. It was like some kind of bizarre new torture method, and that’s why it’s on my list.
Number 1 – my dumbest rostering mistake
Let me preface by saying, this might not seem like the worst thing to happen to me on this list, but it affected one of my team and I still feel terrible about it to this day.
Right, we’re back in the cafes. I’m Area Manager, and it’s part of my job to write the rosters. I’d usually write them as early as possible to give the staff enough time to organise their lives, but this particular week, for some reason, I hadn’t.
This week was also the weekend of my Sunday league football team’s grand final, so that might have been playing on my mind a little too.
You’ll be glad to learn that we won that day (shout out LPFC) and that Sunday night’s celebrations were observed into the early hours of the morning, I think, I can’t really remember.
What I can remember is waking up on the Monday morning to the realisation that I hadn’t done any rosters for that week, and that we opened in 20 minutes.
In my ridiculously hungover state, I dragged myself up and raced into work where I put together one of the worst rosters you’re likely to see. I also broke a personal rule of mine where I’ll never give myself the day off if my suffering is self-inflicted. And so, with my day off scheduled, I sent the rosters out at about 6:55am (we opened at 7).
Predictably, the staff I’d put on to open that day were not there for 7. I knew this would happen, and had resigned myself to sticking around as long as I had to until they showed up.
I served a couple of customers who must have wondered how this homeless-looking alcoholic was able to get a job, and I imagine quietly praising the cafe for being such progessive employers.
I went outside to the street to get some much-needed fresh air and I saw her: my opener storming towards me.
I playfully apologised (I was still drunk and so couldn’t really read the room too well), and the look of fire in her eyes, and discontempt for myself still haunts me.
“Just go,” she barked at me, and I was so defeated that I did, knowing that the right thing to do would be to let her go home instead and for me to suffer the consequences I had brought upon myself.
Usually this staff member was the happiest person I knew. Always patient, always smiling, and overwhelmingly kind. That’s what made this such a bad day.
I hated seeing her upset, even more so knowing that I caused it. I hated that I’d been the source of such anger for one of my team.
It was months before I could feel some forgiveness from her, and that’s why this is number 1.
Because for all of the grief a customer is capable of piling onto me, it’s just so much worse when it comes from a friend.
If you’re reading this, Jess I’m still very sorry for being an idiot and I’m very happy we’re friends again.
And there you have it, my top 5 worst experiences in hospo.
As promised, next time will be better as I dig into my top 5 best experiences, but until then, stay safe, keep smiling, and if you see the chef in a cafe trying to pull out hair that hasn’t been there for many years already, give them a hug, they probably need it.