I “waitressed” myself through college. It wasn’t an option. I am old enough to have gone to college when fees meant fees. Full bodied four figure sums handed over for an “education”. Financially my parents weren’t in a position to pay fees for me, but helped out whenever they could with other expenses. So through a fortuitous meeting with a friend while sweeping floors in Peter Marks for £30 a week, I landed myself an interview for a breakfast waitress in the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.
Waitressing is not glamorous, certainly not in this country. My Dad, in his wisdom, bought me a pair of uber solid doc martin shoes to get me started. It was a wise purchase. You are on your feet from morning to evening. I started on the breakfast shift, which will totally surprise anyone who knows me. Mornings are not for me, ever. Derry was the manager at the time, and showed me, and my other cohorts the ropes. He came was an old school waiter, and showed us how to properly carry plates, clear tables, and keep the customers happy. The menu wasn’t exactly complicated and I really enjoyed those first couple of months.
Then there was a shortage of staff for the “lunch”, and I was called up for a trial to the upstairs restaurant. It was called Truffles at the time. Noel Harmon was the manager, and Cathal the sommelier. And there I stayed. For years and years. The odd time I was drafted to banqueting for service. But Truffles was my home.
I learnt how to set a table, and more importantly clear a table. How to serve wine- how to taste wine! My favourite skill to use was the table side cooking- we use to cook steak Diane, Crêpes suzette, Cherry Jubilee- and the big tip bringer- Flambéed Irish Coffee. Our manager never refused a customer. I think he probably gave me very good lessons in customer service. So even if the kitchen was long closed, we’d still be able to serve food- garlic crab claws, steak and maybe the Irish Coffee for dessert. We worked long hours, very long, and often I’d catch about 4 hours sleep before being up for the breakfast shift. But that was what waitressing was all about. Silver service is a skill that will stay with me forever.
I cringe often when someone clears my table in a restaurant. I am very close to getting up and showing them how- if only to make their life easier!!!
One of the funniest experiences I had was with one of the private functions I was in charge of. The de Beers were having a private dinner. The ladies all arrived DRIPPING in diamonds, and this small man shuffled in beside me in a cardigan and jeans, he offered to help me serve, and I chatted away to him for ages. It was only at the end of the meal, when everyone got up to thank him, that I realised he WAS de Beer! Didn’t tip me in diamonds unfortunately…
Things I learnt:
- People have funny eating habits
- Very few people put their knife and fork together
- Someone will always complain after completely clearing their plate
- Waitressing involves multi-tasking
- Being a people person is a must
- Being on your feet all day is VERY tiring
- Meeting people in a restaurant social situation is very rewarding.
I very much value that time and education I got while receiving my “education”. All those habits have stood to me, especially the customer service. And I will always be grateful.