On one of my internal career moves around the supermarket I work for, I worked for about two years in the cafe. We used to have a job rota, I smile here at the memory of listing one of my jobs on my CV… “maintaining a clean and healthy eating environment and operating dishwashing machinery” (cleaning tables and washing dishes).
I pulled the early shift, I was almost always up before the sun and in the cafe by 6am cooking up the bacon, sausages, and other delicacies which make up a good old fashioned English breakfast. The next member of staff started at 7am to help set things up and the full morning staff arrived for 8am to open the cafe.
Once 8am arrived, we would all move into position on the rota. One person on the till, one on coffees, one on hot food, another on cooking, and finally one on tables. We made a good team, we were a motley bunch, everyone had their strengths… And their weaknesses… And we all looked after each other.
I remember I didn’t like to work on the till position, not because of the money responsibility, or the customer contact, I didn’t like it because of the air conditioning. Because of the hot food and cooking, the thermostat on the air-con was always turned down quite low and one of the air vents was just above the till. Sitting on the chair next to the till I would be permanently in a cold draft… You can imagine, my “Rheumatism” used to object strongly. After I had spent a cold morning sitting in a draft, I would spend the rest of the day like a granny with my legs wrapped in a wooly blanket to avoid taking more pain killers.
I used to laugh at some of the other ladies, the ones who were “those women” at “that” time of life. The ones with the hot flushes, who used to avoid working on hot food at all costs. But of course, also the ones who were always happy to swap with me on the till.
“Hot food” consisted of a giant hotplate in front of you with hot cupboards underneath, and two small hotplates behind you to cook fried eggs on. As the name suggests, it was hot, busy and hot, but I used to stand in close against the heated cupboard to let the heat seep right into my bones, and I don’t remember a time when my right hand was so comfortable as when plating up breakfasts under the heated lamps. We were a very popular cafe, and there would be a constant queue of people wanting breakfast until 11am when breakfast stopped and you changed over to the lunch menu.
“Coffees” was one position I liked, it was relatively easy really, but you always caught the brunt of a grumpy customer. I used to make it a mission to listen to the customers complaints at hot food and change their mood as I made their drinks and sent them off to the till.
I remember once a very grumpy gentleman complaining about how bad the service was and saying that the service wasn’t a patch on that he had just received on his holiday in America. By the time he was taking his breakfast and coffee to the till, he was so busy telling me about his holiday that he forgot to complain about the service, which was usually very good anyway.
“Cooking”, wasn’t real cooking really, can you imagine how bad everything would have tasted if I’d have really had to cook it? I don’t like my cooking, so I wouldn’t inflict it on anybody else. Breakfast was prepped on large trays the day before and ready for me to just take out of the fridge and put into the oven on a timer and lunches came as giant ready meals, defrosted overnight and heated through in a giant microwave. The difficult part of the cooking job on the rota was the timing, keeping the breakfast supplied while preparing the lunch menu to be ready for the change over at eleven o’clock.
“Tables”. If we had a shortage of staff at anytime, and were able to borrow someone from the main shop, this is where they worked so as there was almost always a shortage of staff, we didn’t get to work in this position often. It was a busy part of the cafe, clearing and cleaning tables, putting dishes through the giant dishwasher, making sure cups etc were in place for coffees, filling up sugars and condiments, and if you were really lucky, chatting a little to customers as you worked too.
I remember one old couple, they came in every morning without fail. They would buy one pot of tea with two cups and ask for a pot of water too, then they would sit with their teas until they’d read all the papers in the cafe and say goodbye to everyone before they left… Until the next morning.
The regulars felt a bit like an extended family… There was “Three toast man”, as soon as we spotted him in the queue we would put on more toast ready, and “Mr Grumpy”, who no amount of smalltalk could stop him complaining at something as he reached the till.
This is where I first learned about putting marmalade on my bacon. We used to sell bacon or sausage baps, just a soft white roll with two bits of bacon or two sausages in it, then you would collect butter from the till, or squirt it with ketchup as you reached your table. We sold little jars of jam to go with the toast and one day a young lady bought some marmalade with her bacon roll. I jokingly asked her if that was for her bacon and almost couldn’t believe my ears when she said yes… Why had I not thought of this before!
Strawberry jam in cheddar cheese sandwiches, raisins with grated cheese, bramble jelly with philadelphia, these are quite normal in my world, but bacon with marmalade, that was a new one on me.
On my next tea-break, I bought a bacon roll and a pot of marmalade to try… Wonderful, but I did learn not to empty the whole jar of marmalade into my roll because as the jam gets hot it melts… And dribbles down your chin.
I enjoyed my time at the cafe. It was a cheap and cheerful cafe, but the food was good, and the quality and hygiene to a standard where you would often see the staff quite happy to eat alongside the customers. I was in the cafe for about two years before circumstances changed and when the supermarket out-sourced it to another company, I took another sideways step onto another department.
Today’s breakfast photo comes from another cafe which I’m always happy to recommend… “Peter’s Eats“, in “Llanberis“, perfect fuel for a day of walking in Snowdonia. .
Hi Sallyann. I immediately thought of your love of coffee and Costa before I read the post. Sounds like a good place to work. Where did you go from there?
Hi Judith, I went to stock control in the main store from the cafe, but there were too many “playground politics” on days and it felt like I’d landed in a war zone so I didn’t last very long before I scurried back to nights. I eventually ended up back on stock control on nights, but in the merchandising department… Almost my dream job, but I gave that up to transfer to a small store…. And my Semi-retirement by the seaside. 😊 😊 😊
Hallysann, I’ve really enjoyed reading this, in fact I’ve read it several times over – and not just because I’m a Full-English-eating FATman!!! Its fascinating to hear what goes on behind the scenes in a cafe. Thank you for this. 🙂 🙂 🙂
You’re welcome A. I enjoyed remembering this, I was thinking of, being one of “those women” at that age myself now, how difficult it is to cool off when trying to keep warm at the same time because of the rheumatism, and the cafe memories left me with a smile.
I’ll remember the cafe easier now with a blog post to help recall it. 😊 😊 😊 .
Yes, I think that’s a thing about making posts about places/events in the past, they do help us to remember, both in terms of creating the post and of it being there to be re-read at any time. Wonderful post! 🙂
Pingback: Supermarketeer. | Photographic Memories