Working in a restaurant and/or hotel: guests rarely see the behind the scene activities.

A few years ago being part of a food and beverage team in a hotel was something interesting, exciting and tiring – all at the same time.

A hotel with:

  • 54 bedrooms,
  • 2 function rooms (2 x 20 seats),
  • a terrace (40 seats),
  • a restaurant (70 seats),

was a vibrant experience.

Working various shifts: breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as preparing function spaces for either dinner parties or conferences…an attention to details job!

So what is actually happening before, during and after the service in the life of a hotel? Nothing stops – it is go go go at 100% as soon as you step in to start your daily work. There is no time for a break by the coffee machine or to read the paper between two meals.

Let’s take an example of how an evening dinner is prepared, served and cleaned.

The team doing evenings usually starts around 4pm. Helping the morning staff (who usually does breakfast & lunch) to wrap-up the last guests, polish the cutlery and clean the entire restaurant (floor, tables, collect glasses).

It has to look perfect for the next arrivals of guests who booked a table.

By 6pm the restaurant is ready for the 7pm service – room service trays have been collected, the lounge and function rooms are also ready for some parties. The barman is in charge of re-stocking the bar in order to be able to serve up to 160 people for the night. That means lemon slices, lime, ice cubes, clean glasses, coffee, cups, saucers, spoons, the eventual double cream for Irish Coffee, cucumbers for Hendrick’s Gin…and the list goes on.

It is a social job but very anti-social hours.

The staff has about 20 minutes for a quick food break mainly made of jacket potatoes or pasta with cheese, ham or baked beans – rarely anything from the actual restaurant menu…it would be too expensive to have lamb, pork or bream to feed everyone. Everything is on a budget – it is all about financial planning to make as much money as possible and limit waste. The remaining time is dedicated to a briefing concerning the “catch of the day” the novelties and/or special dish.

Guests start then to come in for their dinner and expect to be perfect from the service and food knowledge point of view to the quality of the dish they order.

By 11pm the kitchen has served all main courses. However, the restaurant is still buzzing. Some clients want a dessert, a coffee and an after drink.

By midnight, it is all done. But the staff who started in the afternoon is still there, serving their sections/stations which could count up to 40 guests.

The cleaning of the place can last until 1.30am to 2.00am – as at 6am it all starts again for breakfast. tables have to be ready with all the crockery.

It is a real team work with a lot of effort, concentration and passion. If the personnel is not committed it can’t work. But when all orders are coming in the kitchen, it is important that the waiter/waitress takes the right meal to the right table: it is almost like a ballet – it needs to be synchronized. But, the positive energy is so high that sometimes a simple look is enough and it all works – no need to talk.

It is a live situation with no room for mistake. Everyone can see what you are doing in the restaurant and your body language can show exactly the state of play. It is similar of being on a stage. People are looking at you permanently.

When it all stops, a few hours are needed to unwind and bedtime can be around 3.30am. Unfortunately, there is also the issue when a member of staff is off sick. The well managed rota is not applicable. At that particular moment everyone can be required to work different hours: doing breakfast / dinner – or lunch/dinner with 5 hours rest to make sure the service goes well for the image of the business. But what about the wellbeing of the person. Working long hours can be stressful, tiring and the biological ends up slightly jetlagged. Eating breakfast when it is time for lunch or having an equivalent lunch meal at 3am is certainly not that good.

Despite of having stopped working in a hotel, eating even just a sandwich for lunch is rare – the metabolism seems to have changed so much that my body doesn’ feel the need of food intake.

What is pleasant about such job? It is the fact that working can be a social experience as you are actually working with people who are out for a great meal.

The main reward: the tips given by your guests and having met some interesting characters whilst on duty.  But this doesn’t happen without any efforts. But when counting what is in your back pocket at the end of the service, it could actually double your monthly salary. That extra income (tax free) can be used for various purchase or just be put aside for a sipp. It is important to think for the future and to have sufficient cash when it is retirement time.

Overall, catering is another and different world. It gives you confidence, food and drink knowledge, but it is usually only a short slice of your life because it is so demanding – unless you are running your own business and employing a dedicated and passionate team to deal with the daily adrenaline.