When people ask me what I do, I always have difficulty giving an answer. I could say that I’m a barista, but that’s really only a slice of the pie of what I do. I could say that I work in a cafe, which I do, but I don’t feel that like really encapsulates everything I do. All too often, I get people saying to me, “what do you do?” and I feel like saying, “I work here! Can’t you see that?” but most people assume that if you’re working an a cafe and not doing something else, namely university, you must be wasting your life.
For whatever reason, people love to look down on people who work in hospitality (unless you’re a chef, then you’re cool). Some people just love the idea of someone waiting on them so much that they forget that the person serving them is a human being with feelings, who takes pride in how they do their job and gets disheartened by their patronising comments.
So I work in a cafe. Yes, this much is true. A small, family-owned cafe nestled away in a small village about ten minutes away from where I live. The area is mostly inhabited by older people who have lived there forever and in their eyes, you have to have at least three generations of family buried in the cemetery there before you qualify to call yourself a local. We get stable owners, mums and dads from the public school next door or the preschool a few doors down, students from the Veterinary University down the road, early morning tradespeople on their way to work, church groups, visitors from the local retirement home, and the occasional passerby who just happened to stumble upon us.
I’m one of the few staff at the cafe who is not part of the family, (even though by this point I sort of feel as though I am) and I’m the longest serving non-related staff member. I was fortunate enough that the family who owned the cafe took a chance on a girl like me with no experience who needed a job and I’ve now been there for three years. But when people ask me what I do, I feel like saying that I work in a cafe isn’t good enough.
I make coffee, complete with pretty latte art and I cook food from time to time. I plate everything to make sure it looks nicely presented. I clean everything and try to keep the place looking immaculate. I try my best to never let a customer leave without feeling welcomed and well looked after. Most weeks I’m there from Wednesday to Saturday and I work long days, some days from open at 7am to closing at 4pm. I serve people all day, often on my own, keeping the customers happy and getting them what they want in a fast and efficient manner, juggling take-aways, coffees, milkshakes, food, etc, etc, etc. When we’re quiet, I’ll be cleaning away making sure the place is spick and span. And I work hard. So when people ask me what I do and I say I work in a cafe and they look at me like I’m not doing enough, it makes me mad.
I’ve learned a lot working in hospitality. It can be the worst some days. Some days I come home and don’t want to speak to anyone. But other days it can be so rewarding. There’s nothing like seeing the smiling face of a nice regular customer to brighten up a bad day at work. It’s rewarding to have people say the coffee you made them was delicious or that their food was wonderful. I’ve learned a lot about working in hospitality and could easy manage a cafe myself if I wanted to. Hell, I could own my own if I chose to.
Don’t look down on hospitality workers. We work long hours and long days. We’re on our feet constantly, always smiling and being cheerful, even when we feel like crying and having a meltdown. Where would you get your yummy food or great coffee if we all decided we were too good to work in cafes?