When my family asks me how my new job is going, I often respond with the words “I could write a book about what goes on here.”
About a year ago I came across this meme during my internet wanderings:
It was only a few months before I began my internship in the kitchen, and I thought to myself, “It can’t possibly be like that.”
But I’m here to tell you; it is.
In France, working in the restaurant-hospitality business is known as being en service; literally “in service” and in fact, we are servants of a sort. Servants to the omnipresent Chef who watches and sees all. Servants to the clients, servants to the vacation periods and holidays that descend upon us with their last-minute preparations. The days are long, 12 hours if I’m lucky and while a few of you out there might be saying “I work a 12 hour day,” you probably don’t do it all on your feet with a smile permanently fixed on your lips while keeping track of sixteen different tasks you have on hand and your boss muttering orders in your ear.
If you do: my sympathies.
Maybe it sounds like I’m complaining. Maybe it sounds like I don’t like being la chef de rang. Neither are true. But to say that the job is high stress is an understatement.
So what do the head chefs, the commis chefs, the maître d’hôte, and the servers do at the end of the day?
I’ve seen my colleagues put away magnums of wine before dinner service commences, the Chef and his 4 friends drink 8 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of champagne. One morning a commis arrived and downed a pint of beer before he’d even turned on the ovens. I myself have stumbled home at 6 am after an all-nighter, swearing that I have to stop partying like I’m 21 and act my age, only to go out the next week and start all over again. This is a typical work week. All done in the name of bad coping skills in the face of emotional and physical exhaustion.
On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of camaraderie you find with your colleagues. It’s impossible to work with people you don’t get along with, for as one of my colleagues put it: we spend more time with each other than we do with anyone else. So you learn a lot about tolerance, a lot about patience, and a lot about how to have an argument one night only to turn up the next day and give your boss an affectionate peck on the cheek.
And you learn to deal with the fatigue, the stress, the aching “smile” muscles, how to balance your personal life with your work life when your career takes up 90% of your waking hours. It’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past three months, falling into bed in between shifts barely finding time to call my husband in Toulon let alone do the things that bring me pleasure. I can’t promise that I have it all figured out, especially with a city-wide festival coming up in one month and tourism season starting right after. I can’t promise I’ll be blogging regularly, but I’m hoping that I can start sharing food, wine, and stories here once again.
There was the woman who thought it was perfectly acceptable to bring her aggressive dog into a crowded restaurant, for instance. Or the day a head chef decided I should do a strip tease on the bar which resulted in my all-male colleagues chanting à poil* until Chef walked in and asked what the heck was going on. Or how many of our clients believe I’m married to the maître d’hôte for some inexplicable reason.
Like I said, I could write a book…
*à poil = get naked