I’ve done many waitressing jobs in my time. I used them, like many students, to fund my Bachelor’s degree, to fund my internships, then to fund my Master’s degree. Then somewhere along the way, between a bad economy and a waitressing career that demanded more from me than the (unpaid) jobs I was working at to establish myself, I became a career waitress. And I loathed it. But I got on with it.
So I decided to travel with the job; and soon enough found myself settling in Cape Town, with a job as a food runner in a restaurant with one of the most iconic views in the world…
Ahhh. Finally, I loved my job. I didn’t even have to take food orders! How easy this would be, how simple, how stress free, how breezy, how… Wait…
Be aware of the hazardous head chef
DING DING DING! We respond to a bell in this job. If one does not jump at the sound of said bell, one will be immediately sacked. If one slips, wobbles, talks too loudly, talks too quietly, smiles too much, smiles too little, walks too hunched, walks too straight, then a subsequent disciplinary will be given in the corridor of doom.
You must also never, ever call Chef anything but ‘Chef.’ To call him by his first name is sinful; whereas to say it confidently in the manner of calling a knighted person ‘Sir’, is a great move and will instantly turn around a bad mood. He might even sneak you a chip over the pass!
If chef asks you a question, never reply. Unless he asks you why you haven’t replied. Then, even then, maybe don’t reply. Oh, and never ever cry in front of Chef. It will be the worst thing you ever do.
Every message Chef tells you to give to customers, you must never, ever give. For example: ‘We lost their order, it’s all over. I hate my job. Tell them to go home. I hate you. I hate them. Go home. Right. Let’s get their order in the bloody oven. NOW!’ is turned into, ‘Oh, hello there. There will be a slight delay of five minutes on your order, can we apologise for this by offering you some complimentary coffees at the end of your meal?’ Never listen to Chef, but never let him know you’re not listening either, or there will be implications of death.
Be aware of hazardous seagulls
Who knew that my archenemy would one day be the Cape Town seagull? Everything Finding Nemo tells you is true. It even feels like they’re shouting at you. They plop down on the tables, chairs, umbrellas around you, one by one by one, and then they watch and when they’re ready, they attack… en masse. They know that the people wearing the dark uniforms are the food runners and they know the people wearing the bright shorts and t-shirts with those big sticks that take selfies and do the peace sign are the food owners and accidental food abandoners. They are an evolved and very evil breed of bird.
My first experience happened one beautiful Saturday morning; I was carrying a coffee to a table and suddenly I had feathers flapping about my face and beaks pecking at my cheeks. I was repulsed as I suppose it is of comparison to rubbing a rat on your own face, but I felt more embarrassed that this has happened in front of 50 odd customers. This was only the beginning.
The next week, I was carrying three steaks out to a table – one rare, one medium/well and one blue, but not too cold. ‘Do you know how much time and effort and attention and meticulous care has gone into this order?!’ I am told or asked or something by Chef. ‘I-I-can imagine…’ I stutter. What else can I say? DING DING DING, ‘Stop bloody talking and take the bloody steaks out to the bloody fussy idiots! And tell them to never bloody well come back here again!’ I reply with the military style: ‘YES CHEF!’ and as calmly as possible, carry the three plates out to the said bloody fussy idiots, with absolutely no intention of telling them anything but what a lovely choice they had made.
You can imagine my horror then, when with a single swoop, a seagull steals a whole 32oz rump steak off one of the plates, bone and all! He even got most of the garnish! (I swear the steak weighs as much as the bird.) Nobody will believe me. Even the man who the steak belonged to, who saw the whole thing happen, does not believe me. How am I going to explain that a $40 steak, literally flew off the plate? I try, I fail, I am in disgrace for the rest of the shift.
Be aware of the hazardous sun
It’s no lie that Cape Town is hot. If you forget your suncream in the summer, you can forget your dignity, your complexion and your good health for the next few days. Half of this restaurant is outside. But fear not, work have an industrial sized tub of the white stuff, so you can slather your face with the paint, like you’re going into battle.
DING DING DING! ‘Take this food out! Now! Why’ve you got white paint on your face?! Why soldier, why?!’
‘I, er, I’m quite fair skinned and don’t want to get sunb-‘
‘Stop talking in my kitchen! Did I say you could talk?!’
‘Well you asked…’
‘Stop talking! Take this food out now! Get that paint off your face! What are you doing?! I said take the food out! Take that paint of first! Do it! Now!’
I hurriedly wipe my face on the sleeve of my black shirt and rush the food out. I now look like a paint decorator. ‘YES CHEF!’
It’s all character building.