I work in a beer garden and this is how the first week back went
Chaotic is an understatement
For me and many other hospitality workers, the bells announcing the fine day of April 12th signified not only real life starting again, but the dreaded return to work and – let me tell you – it’s already been a rollercoaster ride.
After four months on miserable furlough pay and with precious little purpose in life, many of us were also naïve enough to think that going back to work would magically resolve and fill the big function shaped hole in our lives. While, to an extent, this may have been true, those quiet four months off also clouded our memories of how mad working in the hospitality industry can be.
Not having curfews, or substantial meal rules, has been a godsend this week, ensuring that we maintained even the slightest bit of hope and enjoyment at work. The ordering apps that many pubs have introduced have also really helped here. Thankfully, they’ve done bits, but one obstacle we can’t seem to tackle is really annoying customers.
I walked into my first shift having already been to a rooftop bar with friends, so was very much gassed about my new outdoor-bar lifestyle. Subsequently, for the first 20 minutes of the shift, I was riding one of the biggest highs of my life. Seeing a full and bustling beer garden made me emotional and everyone seemed so happy to be back.
It didn’t last long though. While the shift itself was fun and busy, my previous stamina and strength had seriously left my body and left me pretty incapable of carrying trays with more than two glasses of wine or running around for eight hours.
It’s a big wake-up call realising that we used to do this all the time and didn’t have any breakdowns about it (apart from those elite walk-in fridge moments), but this time around there’s just soooo many people that want to come to a beer garden after being away for so long. It puts a lot of pressure on us to do our jobs properly.
While most customers were lovely and just happy to be back, of course there were also pricks that simply didn’t understand what “global pandemic” or “rule of six” means, and why any of that should affect their big blow-out lads day with everyone they know, where they insist they only drink IPA but proceed to order G&Ts and honey tequila shots all afternoon.
If you’re thinking that this description of mid-20s Essex boys sounds oddly specific, it is because literally every single beer garden worker in London has met the copy and pasted version of them more times than they can count.
White men in general can be pretty exhausting. It only took a world-record-breaking 45 minutes for a group of men old enough to be my grandfather to start hitting on me during my first shift, thinking that I might just consider giving them my number. Their confidence is just so cute and naïve.
Work has also had other obstacles to overcome, like the fact that we can’t control the weather and people seem to think we can. While Britain has blessed us with some sun, it’s also very cold at night and not ideal for a pub visit where you can’t go inside.
Our pub has booths and sheltered spaces but with some very hit-and-miss heaters, so at a certain point when the sun goes down there is a crazed bitch-fight over who gets to move to warmer tables, and we always seem to be the ones to blame when they don’t get there first. Sorry Karen but you were the one who said you were okay in the cold xxxx
People also seem to think it’s an annual gals holiday to Ibiza and make the most out of the sunshine by ordering an Aperol Spritz and shrieking as loudly as they can. Obviously the first time a glass smashed and everyone cheered was a lovely moment, but when the whole garden starts cheering over some random girl’s pet dog Poppy, it takes a lot of strength not to wish death upon them.
Honestly, sometimes it feels like a zoo. Coming to work and observing the different gaggles of people that collectively assemble around the beer garden, it’s hard not to eavesdrop on everything and become invested in their lives. From our favourite “middle-class comment of the day” saga to putting money on how well a first date is going, I’ve just really missed being nosy when the customers don’t realise it.
Hands down the best thing about going back to work, though, is my team, and they seem to make all the stress worth it. After four months away from those weird universal hospitality jokes, I almost cried upon hearing the words “very nice Habibi”, and actually found joy in moaning with co-workers about life in general.
Being taken away from your own little weird work family for this long is pretty sad, but now that we’re back life is starting again more or less the same as it has always been. We all fall into our routines of turning up to work hungover, having a staff drink which turns into three at the end of the night and doing it all again the next day.
I’m definitely happy to be back, and while hospitality can feel like a very cruel mistress indeed she also blesses us with cold, overpriced pints on tap – it almost brings a tear to my eye.
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