waiter

Life in the Temp Lane

Full-time temp. Such a juxtaposition.

That sentence was just an excuse to squeeze the word “juxtaposition” into this blog. I try and use that word every day. That, and “moist”. But God knows how I’ll squeeze that into it.
But yeah. I’m a full-time temp. It’s not as crazy and hellish as it sounds. It’s actually really good fun. The things you do. The places you’ll go, the thing’s you’ll see! I’ve done everything from working weddings in gorgeous old country houses in the North Lakes, to working Beyoncé and Rihanna concerts.

Tonight, I’m working at the Imperial War Museum. I’ve done a few shifts there before, they’re nice. Lovely bosses and staff on shift, lots of smiling faces. I prefer Imperial War to city centre shifts because of how close it is to my house – 10-minute walk! Berkeley Scott know I like it there, and they know how easy it is for me to get to. So they tend to send me there when there’s a shift!

It can be weird when you first arrive for your shift. Being sent to different venues all the time means you have to get used to different procedures and travel routes. Pretty much everywhere involves signing in. Sometimes someone from the office is there; sometimes you take your own time-sheet; in one venue, there’s a finger scanner to sign you in! At Imperial War, you sign in with the security guards for health and safety, then drop your stuff and make your way upstairs to back of house where you sign in on a time sheet.
One of the things that makes it different at Imperial War, is how it’s pretty much always the same shift. There’s only one event space, and there’s only so many ways you can set a load of tables and a bar. It’s a world away from somewhere like Manchester Central, where you could find yourself doing anything from serving 50 convention worker’s tea and coffee, to serving a three-course meal to your share of two and a half thousand guests.

After setting a few tables with cutlery, side plates, teacups and glasses, it’s time to get ready for the stampede. The madness. The tidal wave. The two hundred guests arriving for a Christmas Party: work colleagues and spouses from some company you’ve never heard of, but apparently they’re “really big in their industry”. Sometimes I google them in the back. I googled them this time. Apparently, they make air conditioning units. Sounds like a fun crowd. But you’ll be surprised.

After the thrilling drinks reception, we head into food service. 9 times out of 10, if you work a food service you’ll find yourself serving snake-style. This basically means you and your fellow food waiting people keep churning out the plates of food, going to the next available seat as you work together to fill the room up with Chicken Croquettes and Pumpkin Soup.
Clearing was always the thing I struggled to figure out when I first started. Carrying up to eight plates on one hand….no, one wrist – THAT’S a skill. Of course, nowhere will ever force you to do something you’re not able to do. Managers are managers, no matter where you are. They all want to make sure you’re alright. Took me ages to get used to it. But there’s less pressure at Imperial War because they sent out groups of waiting staff to each table, so you all clear as a team. Love it!

I always like to think of starter plates as the warm-up lap. You test your tyres, make sure your brakes are alright and warm up your engines. When the main course comes, you put your foot down and shiz gets real! First, you shuffle your way along “the pass”, where chef’s plate up a mini Christmas dinner one component at a time. A quick wipe of misplaced-gravy, and BOOM, you launch yourself down the corridor, trying to keep up with the other racers/ wait staff. A few blind corners and bends and BANG, you’re in the room. The gentle rumble of the chit-chat among the guests combines with the lights and projections overhead.

The lighting projections at the Imperial War are like nothing you’ve ever seen – SO clever! QUICK. Where are you going? Maintain your focus. The plates need to reach their guests. The napkins you’re using to protect your fingers from the heat of the plates are about as useful as a chocolate thermometer. You hold back the tears. Ah – found the goal. The person in charge of dropping the plates. The one who points. The one who makes sure no-one is missed. Gandalf the Navy. You head towards them, dodging chair legs, handbags, jackets, and the drunken stumbles of that one guest who swears they didn’t pre-drink before they came.

You then have some of the only customer interaction you get all night. You put a plate down from over their shoulder. They say “thank you”. You say “thank you”. Why did you just say “thank you”? Force of habit. Oops. Need to stop doing that. And then BANG, you find your way back to the kitchen and do that whole process another 15 times until you run out of people to serve. Once food service is out the way, they have their awards or speeches or some form of entertainment that doesn’t involve queuing at the bar. Now it’s my favourite part: we get to eat!
Tonight is a good night because tonight we are getting a little treat….chef has made us some food. I’d get married at the Imperial War Museum just for this dessert. It’s literally a cube of chocolate. It’s incredible. I googled it and according to the recipe website, the method “requires more effort”. I love it. Okay, feel a bit sick now. Worth it.
Break time is good because you get to catch up and have a laugh with the people you’re working with. I’ve always found it weird how having about 400 colleagues at work doesn’t stop you making friends. You always get the same characters popping up.

Jake Common