My first morning
It was 7.30 am, already late for the first morning of my new job. The train was late…or I missed the train, I’m not really sure, I still haven’t fully got the hang of them yet. My eyes were bleary and I had a mild headache from being so tired; I was in Australia less than a week and was still severely jet lagged.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I’m currently sleeping on the floor of a sitting room and live with three Italians blokes, who are as Italian as Italians can be. They’re all chefs and work long shifts into the night. They bustle in through the front door anytime after 2am, roaring in Italian, Skyping their girlfriends while stirring up pots of pasta to devour before they retreat to their rooms.
My alarm went for 6am and I dragged myself off my floor bed, cursing my new European roomies. It was the first day of my new job in an Irish cafe. I use the term “Irish” loosely, as it’s really just a cafe run by two Indian fellas with a Full Irish Breakfast on the menu. Oh and a pot of Barry’s Tea for $7.
Learning the coffees
When I finally hopped on the train, I gathered myself and tried to think clearly: “Right. how am I going to blag my way through this?”. I’m meant to be the new waitress/barista in the cafe. The closest thing I’d ever got to waitressing was emptying the dishwasher for my Ma at home, and I only started drinking coffee about three seconds ago. I whipped out my phone and googled the difference between a Latte and Cappuccino – can’t be that hard right?
Oh how wrong I was. When I finally navigated my way to this tiny cafe, I summoned up my best Irish charm possible. “Mornin’ lads! How are ye’ all??”. Blank stares. “Set up the coffee machines please.”
Luckily my friend Natz was on hand to help. She bustled around the barista machine, speaking ninety miles an hour about the specific coffees, customer requests and different beans. I stood awkwardly in the background trying not to get in her way.
My first table
It was a quiet enough morning and by early afternoon I thought I’d got the general gist of it. I bagged up some courage and decided to go get ’em. I spotted a cute looking Aussie family walk through the door and I pounced. I seated them, dished out some Irish banter about the weather and got them menus and water. So far so good.
I gave them a few minutes to look at the menu and they were ready to order. They had theier cute little daughter with them, I’m guessing about three-years-old. I’ve always been good with babies.
“And what can I get the little princess??”, I cooed confidently. Silence….”He’s a boy.”
By now the other waitress had come in. She’s a pleasant girl from Taiwan and good at her job. If only her patience were as good as her waitressing. She quickly became agitated with my waitressing skills…or complete lack there of. She was frankly stunned that the Indian chaps had hired someone with absolutely no hospitality experience. I tried to impress her and tell her I was a journalist back home. For all she cared I could have been a rocket scientist with a 180 IQ, but if I couldn’t remember three large lattes – one soy, one decaf and one with extra foam, I was useless to her.
She tried in vain to show me how to carry three plates. I approached it confidently. I work out, I lift weights, this should be a breeze. Nope. Three big, round plates are awkward as hell, never mind when they’re piping hot and laden with food.
I quickly scrapped the idea of carrying three all at once. After my boo-boo calling the kid a girl, I didn’t want anymore mess-ups with this table. I took two plate-fulls from the chef and scurried towards my table. I instantly realised I’d made a rookie error. I grabbed one of the plates too far underneath and the bottom was rapidly scalding my fingertips.
In my haste to relieve my burning hand, I plowed towards the table as quickly as possible and thumped the dish down in front of the customer. His full Irish slid precariously on the plate and bean juice bounced into the air. Eyes watering and fingers tingling from the heat I mumbled “enjoy…”, before skulking off to the bathroom to tend to my wounds, and mend my shattered confidence.
The day was now well and truly underway and the Irish started to file in for their late morning/early lunch feed. It was Saturday morning, a the smell of booze off some of them was hilarious from he night before. I immediately felt more at ease when I heard the familiar accent. I started to relax and have a bit of craic with those around me. Until I felt a stern tap on my shoulder.
I turned around to find my new boss Bippin..or Pibbim…or Pinbin…I’m not really sure his accent is very strong and I felt too embarrassed to keep asking him to repeat his name. So far I just call him the boss. The boss wanted to have a word with me. In his Indian accent, he asked me grimly “have you ever waitressed before?!”
“Well..eh…yeah..eh when I was in school a while back. I’m just a little rusty”, I lied through my teeth. He then went on to tell me he only hired me because I am Irish and it’s an “Irish” cafe, so for now what I lack in ability I am to make up for in personality.
Grand. Not a bother. Chat to the customers, that’s all he wants, I can do that. I floated through the tables, flashing my smiles and putting on my thickest Irish accent possible. If I were any more obvious I’d be walking around in a GAA jersey, flatcap and wellies.
Another tap on my shoulder. The boss again. “You ar Ireesh! De costomers ar Ireesh! Talk about your coltural seemilarities!” He pointed toward a table of seven, very big, very hungover looking lads. “Oh Jesus,” I thought, “The last thing these fellas want is a chirpy blonde interrupting their hangover breakfast, while they’re talking about the night before, involving God knows what with God knows who”.
I shuffled over trying to come up with a way to casually start a conversation with a table of builders. I was at a loss. “Howaya lads! I don’t mean to interrupt but my job is basically on the line here”. That got their attention. “Is there a big lanky Indian fella eyeballing my at the mo?” All seven pairs of eyes glanced over my shoulder, followed by seven heads nodding in unison.
“Yeah he wants me to interact more with the customers and talk about our “cultural similarities””. There was a moment’s silence, then all the boys erupted in laughter, banging the table and patting me on the back. The laughter died down, followed by a “yeah he’s gone now you can relax”. Gotten love the Irish banter.
Coffee don’t care ’bout college
As the day rolled on, my latte-making skills were abysmal, and my waitressing even worse. In my haste to be an efficient waitress, I tried to clear a man’s plate while he was still eating. I picked up a latte, topped off with gorgeous foam art, and spilt it everywhere. I knocked over an industrial sized tin of hot chocolate in front of all the customers. I was moving at snail pace compared to the rest of the staff. It took me so long to carry coffees to tables, that by the time I arrived, the foam had disappeared and only a measly layer skimmed the top.
I always thought myself to be a well-rounded young person, who did well in school and studied hard in college. Four years of uni and two years in a newsroom later, I can’t even carry a plate of food or pour a decent cup of coffee. I quickly realised college degrees and good internships don’t mean much in the hospitality industry. It’s all about common sense, a good memory and the right personality.
Let’s hope my next few days go better, I’ve already enrolled in a barista course to improve my skills and I’m practicing carrying plates around the kitchen when no one is looking!