The Yorker Archives: Waitressing

Looking for work to fund your shoe habit? Need to fit it around your lectures, and not swallow up any spare time? With so many restaurants hidden behind corners in York, waiting could just be the perfect part time job for students.

It’s quite difficult to describe working as a waitress in general terms; time spent working in an all-you-can-eat buffet is another experience entirely to working in a pub-grub type eatery, and a world away from working silver service. Having worked in two completely different style restaurants (a fairly classy Chinese restaurant-come-takeaway and now a charming and much more sophisticated Modern European affair), I’d say there are only a handful of standard waitressing experiences.
First of all, the hours. They can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your outlook. Working evening shifts means it’s guaranteed you’ll never have to pull a sicky from a lecture (or vice versa). However, it does mean you might be too tired for that 9.15. Shifts tend to be flexible, some restaurants closing up early depending on how busy they are. Be warned of the place that stays open until a given time regardless of whether you have any customers in, though- an empty restaurant translates to Ultimate Boredom. Extra shifts are usually available at the weekend; and as we all know, very little happens in York at the weekend, so this is ideal really.
The job can be demanding, something that may genuinely come as a bit of a surprise. How hard is it to take someone their roast dinner, after all? Well, throw in three other tables waiting for their starters, one table waiting to place their order, a couple of old women wanting to know if the chef will do mash without any butter, a young couple on their first date accidentally smashing a wine glass, and someone else kicking off because his medium-rare beef has been served slightly too medium for his liking. It’s a very high-pressure environment, so be prepared for a handful of stressful moments of despair. Don’t worry, though, if you make a mistake, most customers are very understanding. I speak from experience; when I dropped a plateful of linguini in front of a table, I thought I was going to be sacked on the spot- instead the customer laughed and told me not to apologise, she was still full from the starter and was happy to wait a while longer.
It’s not all stress, drama and complaints though. 99% of the time, customers are charming, and just want to get on with having their tea. You make some friends with people you’d never expect. Especially in such a touristy place as York, you meet all manner of people, and form little bonds with the regulars. In most restaurants, waiting staff will be a similar age to you, and aren’t necessarily people you would meet otherwise- I work with people who went to York St John, which is brilliant for a bit of Uni rivalry!
The money isn’t to be sniffed at, either. Though for the most part you’ll be getting by on minimum wage, there is the wonderful blessing of tips. Obviously the tips depend completely on the style of restaurant you’re in, and the quality of the service you provide; but however you look at it, it’s definitely a bonus.
Personally, the pros outweigh any cons for me. If you’re happiest when you have lots of small tasks to do, an array of people to get to know, and aren’t (excessively) clumsy, then this is the job for you. It can take some getting used to, balancing twenty wine glasses on a tray with one hand and taking someone’s coffee order with the other, but it’s a high-energy atmosphere that really prepares you for most pressured, customer-oriented work atmospheres, and gets top marks for being fed left-overs at the end of a shift!

FIRST PUBLISHED: http://theyorker.co.uk/lifestyle/workand%20careers/10748


The Yorker Archives- Single’s Valentines Day!

The fourteenth of February. Are you spending it loved up in an Italian restaurant? Or having a cosy night in with a soppy film and an early night with your partner? Travelling across the country to run into the arms of your loved one at the other end of the train journey? No? Well, you’re in the right place.

If you’re planning on spending the night sulking, doing your best Bridget Jones impression, or pretending that the significance of this day simply doesn’t exist, then (ironically) you are not alone. Valentine’s Day divides people into two distinct kinds- couples and singles. The couples are -ahem- spoken for tonight, the singles are at a loose end.
But instead of falling asleep hugging your pillow, drunk on wine and loneliness, make this night that little bit less tragic by making it your own Anti-Valentine’s Day.
Step One: Avoid the centre of York. Restaurants will be choc-a-bloc with couples, as will bars. During the day, you won’t be able to cross the street without weaving in between legions of hand-holding shoppers. Don’t dream of going to clubs; tonight’s the night for desperation in Willow. Unless you’re happy to spend the night being eyed up by people who are out completely alone on the day designed for lovers- give this one a miss.
Step Two: Don’t wear anything pink. Simple, this one. If you wear pink, then you’ll blend straight into the background, against all the lucid fuchsia cards and decorations.
Step Three: Don’t turn on the TV. Another simple one. Watching The Notebook, or some Wedding Special, is a dangerous path to take on V-Day. One minute you’re enjoying your standard Eastenderspub brawl, the next you’re being subject to proposals and sickly sweet love proclamations. Instead, crack out the least romantic film you have; Might I suggest Creep, or Hostel, or something equally terrifying/angry.
Step Four: Do not get drunk. Although it may seem like an easy way to avoid anything loved-up (vodka is, after all, the simplest way to wipe a night from existence), in reality, you just end up whining about how forever alone you are. Or worse, on the phone to your ex, screaming the lyrics to an Adele song. I’m trying to get you through this day dignity intact, so trust me on this one.
Step Five: Distract yourself. Maybe get your mates round? Surely you have some single friends. Maybe tackle that essay you’ve been putting off all week, or finally do all the washing you’ve accumulated over the term. You could even bake a tonne of cupcakes, and only give the out to single friends. Ha.
If all else fails, just make the most of the snow by pelting snowballs at people who look too damn happy. Not that you’re bitter. Not at all.
(First published by The Yorker at http://www.theyorker.co.uk/lifestyle/theknow/10435)

Newcastle; A Wide-Eyed Review of an Intense Nightlife

This past weekend, I ventured (even more) up North for my fourth ever visit to Toon. Being a student, and as I was staying with friends at Newcastle University, this was never going to be a trip drenched in high-brow culture, five star rooms, fine cuisine and finer wine. Much more likely was the “Skool Disco” themed bar crawl, student halls covered in cider spills and Dubstep Night posters, and a late night McDonlads after a round or two of alcopops…

But then, who says the height of sophistication is the height of fun? Certainly not Newcastle, in any case.

Kicking off my trip with a two hour train delay (without a book to keep me preoccupied- huge oversight on my part), I was already freezing. Pacing the platform in York to avoid freezing solid in the wind was good preparation for the inevitably bitter Newcastle weather, and was just the first opportunity that weekend for me to scold myself for not owning what my mum would call a “proper coat”.

Once I’d eventually pulled into the station and met my friend, we walked back to her university halls. We immediately started getting ready for a night of drinking games & trip into the city centre to experience the infamous Toon nightlife. Originally we intended to go to Digital, possibly Newcastle’s most famous club, but the (at least) hour long queue dampened our spirits a little bit, and having already turned down a night at the Student’s Union, we opted to go to Powerhouse instead.

Easily amused by a flashing dancefloor.
Being a student in a city where the nightlife is humble, and the peak of most wild evenings is generally spent in The Willow; a former Chinese restaurant’s function room which serves free prawn crackers all night and plays Rod Stewart in between Pixie Lott and Nero hits; walking into any club in Newcastle can be a little overwhelming at first.

For a starter, I’m yet to go into a club in the North-East that isn’t massive. On another (entirely unrelated) note; I’m yet to spend a night in a North-East club without getting lost at any point. The first time I ever went into Riverside, it took me a good half an hour to find the rest of the people I’d gone in with. Perdu is aptly named.

Easily amused by unusual lampshades…
The clientele was a mixture of locals and students, the music was your standard chart & club hits, and the drinks were a little overpriced for my pauper/student budget. Exactly what you’d expect from a Saturday night on the tiles. What was new to me, however, was the sheer size of the crowd, and the extravagance of the venue itself. Flashing dance floor, enormous and bizarre light shades, and enough podiums and platforms for everyone to have a go at being centre stage. I was impressed.

The second night was a student bar crawl, cringingly called “Carnage” (bit too much of a “Gap Yah” term for my liking, but the branding isn’t really up to me). It’s a notorious event among students, and tickets (t-shirts) are hotly sought after in the hours leading up to the event. Although it officially began in Players Bar at 8pm, most students hadn’t recovered from the previous night’s hangover by then, and were still customising their Carnage t-shirts into something related to its school kid fancy dress theme.

As a side note, how weird is dressing up as a school pupil when you’re only just at University yourself? Many Uni students will have only been out of school uniforms for a summer, or at the most for two years whilst at college. It’s a bit like doing a beach themed fancy dress a week after you get back from a holiday on the coast. Whatever, Carnage needed an obligatory theme- and having already previously used up “Cops & Robbers”, “Sexy Santas” and “Nympho Nurses & Dirty Doctors”, the Ann Summers catalogue they seemingly use to decide on a costuming premise was probably looking a bit battered. Not that the women of Newcastle had any difficulty in providing all kinds of imaginative ways to turn up wearing a compulsory t-shirt ticket and very little else, all within the theme’s limits.

Vast crowd in Liquid
Finally, loaded with 3D glasses and drawn on freckles, we gave Tiger Tiger a miss and headed straight next door to another unfeasibly enormous bar, Sam Jacks. Was pleasantly surprised at the price of a double vodka cranberry, so decided to order another one at the following bar to be met with a disappointingly higher price in Bambu. Another Bambu related complaint- the entry stamp took severe and repeated scrubbing for several hours before disappearing. Loved the oversized discoball, loved the balcony from the upstairs bar area overlooking the downstairs dancefloor. That is, until the spectators watching the dancing realised how hilarious it would be to spill a little of their drink to watch the dancers’ outraged reaction. Other than these (admittedly minor) complaints, this bar/club didn’t fail to impress.


Once we’d had enough of it here, we headed to the final destination, Liquid. I’ve been to the franchised club before, once before on a similar event the year previous in Newcastle, and in the Halifax version when I’m a bit closer to home. Liquid Newcastle dwarfs Liquid Halifax, though you can clearly see the similarities in the décor and style of the clubs. Not as edgy as other Newcastle nightlife venues, it’s probably my least favourite club I’ve visited so far in the Toon, but it still makes an impression- if only due to its sheer size and labyrinth of routes to and from the smoking terraces, bars and toilets.

The nightlife in Newcastle is definitely a major attraction. With so much competition so many different demographics to excite, and such a notorious reputation as the party capital of the North, the clubs and bars really strive to stand out, in an off-hand and impossibly cool way. Rather than being home to several massive and soulless venues, most place has real character and soul, in a way many other cities’ clubs omit. A Toon night out mightn’t have any class, but it certainly has its own unique style.


Degrees of Awkwardness.

Working as a waitress in a restaurant with an excruciatingly slow debit card reader means you frequently become a host of small talk. My favourite waitressing-chatter is to ask where the customers are from. Then, wherever they tell you, you have a failsafe response; “Oh, not far then”. The genius of this standardised reply is a) if the place they are from is genuinely not that far away, and you have just made a correct observation; or b) if it is far away, you have just made a joke. Congratulations.

Sometimes the fact that I am a student gets dragged into the exchange. Which I don’t mind, but there is one question I dread. And not solely from customers, or any polite small-talking strangers.  Family and acquaintances too. Actually, I don’t doubt that every other clueless undergraduate has to stifle their cringing when they are asked the one question innocently designed to flatten any self-esteem:

 “So what are you going to do with that?”

I envy other students. The ones studying law or midwifery or accountancy. The ones whose degrees line up with what people expect from a three year course, the ones whose degrees have a purpose in the eyes of strangers. Not because I think their degrees are any more valuable than my own, or because I think all students studying medicine are going to become General Practitioners, but because they don’t have to come up with stumbling justifications of their education in these very situations. When an engineering student tells someone that this is what they are studying, people assume he wants to be an engineer. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, he might want to become a poet or a nightclub manager, WHO CARES. The point is, he completely sidesteps this horrible uncomfortable question.

When a “languages and linguistics” student tells someone what they’re studying, it’s a different story. These strangers DEMAND to know what you plan on DOING with your life, as though it’s their birth given right to question the validity of any degree they haven’t heard of. I splutter and mumble and basically panic. “I DON’T KNOW YET, SORRY” flashes like a beacon in my mind, but I’m not telling a STRANGER that. They’ll think I’m doing my degree as an excuse to live in halls for a bit. But I can’t tell an outright lie to someone I’ve just met, so I need to come up with something plausible, something that seems important and impossible to do without this very degree. Fast.

And it’s difficult.

Students of art history, Hispanic studies, geophysics, and philosophy; I feel your pain. We rationalize our choice of education so often we may as well rehearse our reasons before we leave the house each morning. Barefaced lying to distant family members. Having your parents completely incorrectly explain to their friends what your degree consists of, and not correcting them for the sake of an easier life.

I tried lying once, faking an intention to become a speech therapist. However, that one backfired, as I was instantly questioned on why this particular stranger’s son just COULDN’T get over his stammer, and do I have any advice? Which obviously, I didn’t. So now that stranger not only thinks I’m personally useless, but that the whole field of linguistics is useless in relation to helping her son’s stammer. Great. Won’t be using that one again.

In the end, after a great deal of spluttering and a little indignation on my part, I offer up something vague about “communicating with people” and shuffle off. Yes, I know it does little for justifying three years spent agonizing over Phoneme Boundaries or X’ Theory, but by this point there’s usually another table who need my attention, so I can cheerfully whizz off to them anyway. Thank God.