My assistant on the floor, Emily, is only about 20. She has an incredibly level head and a mathematical brain. Very unlike me. I only do people and words. I picked her out of a team of 80 because I clocked that she’s just exceptionally capable, organised and kind too. Yesterday she told me she’s got a fast track into KPMG. She’s going to change the world.
This is the hardest work I’ve ever done. By the end of the lunch shift there wasn’t a single manager that hadn’t found themselves with tears in their eyes. Aside from a small core group of young men and women, there are many new faces every day, and they all need training in the practical aspects of this work, and there’s no time, so half of them are baffled. There are many little details, but the work is in the details, because people who have paid huge amounts for a silver service are looking for ways to make their money back, particularly if they’ve lost on the horses.
Strangely, though, I enjoyed the service. It was ridiculously high pressure. I have no idea how I stayed positive and upbeat. But also, by sticking with my teams and training them up, my work on the floor is so much easier. I kept on arriving to troubleshoot potential concerns and discovering that one of my waiters has learnt enough that they’ve done it for me and done it well.
Obviously I still had to smile as people shouted at me about unpolished glassware. One man actively threatened me when I suggested that if all ten cakes were the same for afternoon tea then there would be no variety. I kept smiling and so did my team. Laura and Keegan arrived on the first day physically shy and awkward, unable to make eye contact, and in love with each other. I took a risk and kept them together, with Laura as head waiter. She was terrified of the guests on day one. By the beginning of day two she was looking them in the eye. By the end of day two she was upright, shining and making them laugh. And Keegan adores her and is constantly making sure she’s okay, while bussing trays with one arm behind his back like a waiter in a film. None of these kids are vocational restaurateurs. Very few people are these days. But all of them are growing through this work.
The service is tough but it’s fun (although one of the managers broke down yesterday because of the pressure and I doubt she’ll be back today). I love it BECAUSE it’s so damn hard. I got an on the spot job offer from two Irishmen who turned out to be The Comer Group. I’ll never take it. But they watched me on the floor, called me over and sat me down at the end of service. Nice to know I’ve still got it. The things I’ve turned down to keep acting. I shiver to contemplate it.
Especially when, finishing a tricky service, I watch all the agency workers clock off knowing that they have to go because they’re as tired as I am. and then having to relay all the placements with a tiny exhausted team, only to discover that there isn’t enough polished glass and silverware to cover all the tables.
I feel happy but utterly drained. My feet hurt and are a little bloody. But I’ve watched kids grow into adults. I’ve watched people understand concretely how they can be leaders, how they can use their natural abilities and just the truth of who they are to make an impact on any task. There’s satisfaction in properly hard work. And Laura and Keegan have worked until the end every day, sitting next to each other polishing cutlery after a hard service, and then rushing it out into the floor as a team.
Emily is going to change the world. That’s a hugely important destiny. All I can do is change people like Emily. But that’s important too.
Off to work again.