Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Another new blogger joins the fold...this time, a Bartender..

The dichotomy between craft and diplomacy, and the levels of pay and treatment – Part One by "Giovannino"

“Hell, you should be selling Bugattis!"*

I smile at what is a compliment from the group of off-duty business types around the table. That’s a new one, although being fairly good at this job, I do get compliments from guests: “Why aren’t you in charge?, “We’ve had so much fun!”, “You’ve made today so special…”

It is these comments that can make your day. Of course, there are other ones too, the worst being the perennial “I’m so glad we got the only English waiter…” or “We haven’t seen an English person all day…”

I usually try to keep it light, as shouting “Really? Define English you ignorant prick!” would probably not go down too well. “London is a world city” said with a smile, or “Well if they wanted the job, they would apply…” keep smiling, always keep smiling.

Working in Hotels Restaurants and Bars in London is like travelling the world without going through customs. Your guests come from every corner of the planet, with every religion, every creed, every positive and negative human trait exposed. You can easily build up a prejudice towards, say the Saudis who come in August, the vacationing Americans or the Russians who come to splurge around Christmas time. To be honest, after a few years your mind is either wide open or very closed indeed. And then there are your fellow workers …

“Bienvenuto alla Republica di Bar!” Welcome to the Republic of The Bar – that was my first introduction to working in London Five Stars. My new job was in one of the most prestigious Bars in one of the worlds most famous hotels, lets just call it The Splendide. I was the first Brit to work there in a decade, and, in the way of things, almost everyone else was Italian. I learned quickly how to count, order and swear like a Roman. I discovered the true art of making Coffee, I also found out the difference between Genova and Napoli, and how the accent of Palermo is different to Messina. My name was Italianised to Giovannino – little John.

All this for half what I had been earning outside London, just £8,000 a year. There was no service charge, but the tips, both cash and credit cards were phenomenal, and all administered with the Bar, with a clear points system, and HMG getting its percentage (tips are taxed as “unearned income” in the UK, although I have yet to find anyone from a Tax Office willing to swap jobs for a week…). Everything went into the pot, and at the end of the month we all came out alright. The first six months were very hard, as I adjusted to the levels of service and workload required, but I was truly learning a craft – although one that is at best still defined as “semi-skilled” by people who rate these things.

“Semi-skilled” my arse. Let me see you manage a station of twelve tables on a busy Thursday night, when you have a queue at the door, the Bar is four deep already and that Hen party has just ordered eight Mojitos. The German businessmen on table six are trying to buy a drink for the two ladies on table five, believing that they are escorts (they aren’t, and we don’t allow this, so I will have to inform the ladies, and also politely decline for them, leaving no hard feelings). A Hollywood star is sitting in the middle of this, and I would love to move him to an alcove, just so he gets some privacy, but the alcove won’t be free for at least ten minutes, and everybody wants it…

 …We are heaving- with that glorious mix of young and old, of The City and Westminster, Old money, New money and Once in a Lifetime guests here for that special occasion – a Birthday, an Anniversary, or just because they can, just this once, know luxury. And EVERYONE should be treated as if they are the star. A famous writer scowls on as he drinks his Champagne with his Aristocratic writer wife – don’t worry, he always scowls, Mr Grumpy, both egalitarian and snob.

After what seems like a lifetime, but in reality is only three hours, we start to wind down. 

As we close the bar – mopping up, polishing, filling in the orders for tomorrow and cashing up, a tall distinguished gentleman walks in, looking for a nightcap. He is actually the Lord Chancellor, the highest most powerful legal official in the land. However he is not staying in the Hotel: “I am terribly sorry milord, but we can only serve Hotel residents at this time” with a smile “Ah, quite so…”

                                       No Michael, no drink for you.

Or was it no drink for YOU Charles Falconer?

 or was it you Lord Irvine, Blair's first employer and the initiator of the proliferation of Zero Hours Contracts in the UK?

Either way, no special treatment when it comes to Hotel rules

This man once had lunch at The Ivy (so the rumour service has it), and had such a good time that at six in the evening he complained about the lack of food, and had to be reminded that he had eaten it already, four hours previously. Within two years, the licensing laws are relaxed. No skill was required at all this evening. You’re welcome.

 The Republic of The Bar indeed…

 *A Bugatti is a sports car


  1. Hi, Olga! It's really outraging that people do not value your work. I was just astonished to read such gruesome details about the shouts and VIP claims. It's rude and unforgiven. I'm working as an editor and know that clients are "always right", but you should defend yourself or just quit it.
    With much understanding and hope for the better,

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