Pleasures of the Flesh: The joys of Hospitality
Australian model/artist Rose Ashton (pictured, above left) is also a kickass hospitality manager. Here, she and her colleagues tell stories of benevolence, camaraderie, hard work, sex and… bestiality? Blimey:
I have worked in hospitality in every capacity for over ten years. I have concurrent careers in arts and entertainment, but by far and away the job with the best stories and some of the best humans I’ve met are the ones that have stemmed from hospo.
I have always felt that there needs to be a few more voices for the industry to help alleviate some of the stigmas that are so easily attached from both sides of the table. Currently (when I’m not painting or travelling for modelling and art) I supervise the floor of the coolest little Japanese bar and restaurant that I have ever been to, Mamasan in Bondi Beach, Sydney.
One of my favourite encounters with guests in the restaurant is at the beginning of their booking after I hand over the menus and they say, “can we have some water for the table.” I smile and wonder how thirsty tables really are.
Of all the jobs I have had, and there have been and currently are many – hospitality is by FAR the most rewarding one. It pays the worst, had the longest hours and at times can make me cry – but I haven’t loved anything else as I love the service of guests and all that entails.
Over a bottle of bottle of wine I talked to a restaurant manager friend of mine, Elliot (pictured, right), who has worked in various facets of our great industry. Starting as a dishwasher at 15, working through the kitchen to the floor and the bar and back and forth from waitering, barista-ing, bartending and then becoming a qualified Sommelier before transitioning into management where he stands now. Like me, a career in hospitality wasn’t where he saw his life going.
“When I was 20 years old, working in the kitchen a chef, I looked up and saw a 30-something waiter and laughed. I thought that would be a terrible thing to be doing at that age. …. Here I am. 32 in a month. And I love where I am. What I do is different every single day but yet still has a comfortability that doesn’t change.”
Christian (pictured, below) is a bar manager who has worked both bar and floor for ten years. He started out simply to supplement his university studies, but realised that what supplemented his studies actually nourishes him more than the careers he saw himself attaining with a degree. “In the wise words of Dolly Parton, ‘When you find something you’re good at , and you accept that – that’s when you’ll succeed’” He’s a clever boy. What’s the hook for Christian?? “The booze the food and the women..ha ha ha. Nah – making someone something that they will be thinking about.” A drink. A dish. A moment.
People who attain a deep sense of satisfaction from making other people happy. From feeding them, and watering them and providing not only a service, but a space and a vibe that allows them to have a memorable experience without even realising how much selfless energy goes into the construction and execution of that. A true understanding of the senses. And the instincts required to tantalise them for our guests – often without them knowing.
“The thing I love about working in hospitality is knowing how to give hospitality. Knowing how to recognise when someone is giving it too. It’s a good skill in life, very good. Know when someone is going out of their way, and appreciate it. It’s not the money… haha. It’s definitely not for the money.” Elliot is bang on.
It’s a different currency we work for. It’s the currency of spirit. Of benevolence.
So I asked Elliot, what of stigma? Of the idea that hospitality is just a ‘fall back job’. “Well that does exist for some people, but not for people who are any good at it.”
I couldn’t agree more. Inadvertently it became a career for me, but I’ve loved it more than any other, and hated it more than any other too. Without experiencing that stigma in my own ego though, I would never have understood the strange love I will always have for it.
Humour, as in any industry really, is the key to getting through the tough shifts, maintaining strong relationships with the people you spend more time with than anyone else, that you work alongside day and night.
Inevitably there are some people who suffer for it – generally they are the newbies. The green thumbs, the newest to the families. Generally, the glassies.
At my restaurant, we generally find a peak service time to demand that the sweaty little guy polishing the glasses HAS to go to the kitchen and ask the head chef for the ‘banana peeler’. One got yelled at by five chefs who had no fucking idea or concern for what he was asking for, the boy was too scared to go back to the bar five deep with customers and big boy bartenders empty-handed so he took some noble initiative and came back with a vegetable peeler and a broken spirit. He stuck it out for the rest of the shift, emotionally unstable and the brunt of our jokes for the rest of the night.
I was made to wear a ridiculous hat all service once for being half an hour late. I was never late again. Humiliation and humour knows no boundaries in hospo.
My dear friend Oliver, now a chef in one of Sydney’s finest restaurants, remembers a similar joke in a nightclub he worked in back in New Zealand earlier in his career. “We used to send people that just started to go to the other nightclub we were in cahoots with to get the “Ice mixture” We’d be busy, and peaking our service and we’d be like ‘DUDE!! WE NEED ICE MIXTURE STAT!! GO GET IT FROM ACROSS THE ROAD NOW! One actually came back with a bag full of water.”
Chilli on the rim of the coffee cup works well. Fish Sauce is multi-functional. And then there’s always the good old ecstasy in the bosses macchiato that I really shouldn’t tell you about.
And then there is the sex. The dark, sexy side of hospitality
Inevitably there are always affairs, crushes, emotions and all kinds of salacious behaviours involved in a group of young virile employees who serve food and booze together 80 hours a week. Some unions last forever – some are the dirty little secrets of management and employees, and some just the result of the Christmas party that can’t stop at just a festive one night stand.
So what happens at a hospo Christmas party? Oliver’s Christmas party goes a little something like this. “Ok so what happens is, you go out, you take a lot of cocaine and you drink a lot and then the older women at work take advantage of you. I’m 23. My Christmas fling was at least double that. Yes, and then afterwards they treat you like some sort of sex object, sending you disgusting messages about pleasures of the flesh and dirty desires they have, things they want to do to you – and then they grope you in the workplace.” He says this all with a smile and a sense of achievement, believe me.
Do we ever have sex in the workplace?? Fuck yes we do. Everyone I know in the industry has done it. But fear not. Cos we hospos are damn good at cleaning up and re-sanitising that bar you’re sitting at, and that table you are eating from, and that bench where our fearless head chefs prepare the other pleasures of the flesh that you enjoy.
What happens in the kitchen? What happens behind the scenes Oliver? “A lot of things that should probably be illegal. A lot of things that are close to bestiality and necrophilia… Dead animals. I don’t know, I mean as soon as you give certain chefs a dead animal, things may become sexual. It’s quite weird. Ive got some pretty good pictures of cute little pigs bums that I will send you if you like.” YES PLEASE …
Then there are some people who just don’t fit in, who don’t get it and have no business working in hospo – try as they might. One girl who “refused” to clean the bathrooms was a prime example. Another who twirled her hair (which was out and free to fall in as much food as possible) and said she was doing nothing as she looked a the ceiling and our Friday night dinner service started to explode was another dear, sweet individual who would be much better suited to a nice easy job in a park, doing nothing.
I don’t mean to big note myself by putting these poor girls down; I simply would like to highlight the importance of ‘aces in places’.
Aces in places is a term that I’ll never forget being told by my first manager in my first and favourite service job at Hungry Jacks (That’s Burger King to you non-Aussies – Ed) when I was 15. I wanted to know why I wasn’t allowed to make the burgers on this particular day as I very much enjoyed the art of Whopper construction (there should be 21 grams of lettuce on the Whopper, FYI) Jacqueline smiled sweetly and said, “Rose, remember aces in places.” It took me a moment to realise what she meant. But I’ve never forgotten it. I may be an ace, but customer service is most certainly my place.
She was so right. The Italian bartender I employed once who didn’t understand that you need to stand facing the customer and not the back bar did not seem to be acing his place. As I fired him he kind of got it though. When I was told he had been seen later that day staring out at the ocean in the rain with a confused and angry Italian vibe, I hope he was reflecting on my advice that hospitality simply isn’t for everyone.
Firing people in the industry is just like gardening. Weed out the pests and the aces can blossom as they should, and the garden blooms, and the guests have a better time. I fired a girl once who was as useful to the venue as a bad attitude is to a happy person. It was a tough one that, cos she proceeded to tell me that her boyfriend had dumped her and she’d been kicked out of her apartment by her disgruntled flatmate. I though to myself, yes – I’d believe that. But I smiled and said, “Oh no I’m so sorry. You’re still fired though.”
Don’t get me wrong, I can be a super nice manager – you’ve just got to be worth it. I managed a fancy bar a few years ago, and the owners would only let me employ models. Now, I am a model, but I’m also a career hospo, and that’s not an overly common slashie. So I hired these babes and I’d take them out on excursions to bars to see how real waitresses waitressed, and then we’d get our nails done – that was nice manager Rose. One day I realised these babes didn’t know the first thing about wine, so I had a little training for them. “Now who knows how to open wine here ladies?” I asked, ambitiously. Silence. Then a little manicured hand was raised. “I do.” “Wonderful, Rebecca, please demonstrate for the girls with this bottle how you open the wine for a guest.” Silence. “Oh” she sighed… “You mean wine with a cork? I can’t do that.”
I implore you to remember that if you ever have the inkling that maybe a cushy bar or restaurant job is on the cards. Nothing worse than wasting time training people who just don’t cut the mustard. And worse, who don’t ENJOY it. Rebecca enjoyed it, so I kept her and trained the shit out of her and the others, and they were a killer team in the end. But if you’re not going to smile and say thank you to me for my time with you then fuck off and work at the mall.
See the key to life, in my books – is happiness. If you aren’t HAPPY to serve people, to wait on them and to ensure they have a great time in the bar or restaurant you work in then don’t fucking do it man. It’s a waste, and a dishonour to one of the oldest and most beautiful industries in the world. Get a job somewhere else, for God’s sake.
When I was away in Mexico and Salt Lake City (writing that fabulous article about my beloved Mormons that I hope you’ve read), I missed it. I missed my restaurant, my colleagues, and even some of my customers. I was so excited to get back to it, and I look forward to going to work there every day. It’s the ceremony of service, the smiles on the faces of the guests as they enjoy their dinner and their drinks and their company. It’s the rush and the thrill and the challenge of executing a busy dinner service and 300 covers with five staff and a maniacal turning of tables. It’s the buzz at the end of the night as you guests leave wobbly and full, some more in love with their partner than they were, some feeling more celebrated by their friends.
It’s bringing people together over food to have FUN to SMILE and to be HAPPY that drives me back to the industry again and again.
It gives me a sense of satisfaction and confidence like nothing else.
No matter the stigma attached to service. I advocate that you should pay attention to what makes you happy, no matter what people think – because there is no more valuable currency in this world than joy.
Words by Rose Ashton.