The hospitality industry is one I have truly grown up in; my parents both trained as chefs, its how they met, so it has been a part of my life since I was a child.
Growing up with parents in this industry meant I spent a lot of time in the arms of people other than my parents, mainly child minders. After all, restaurant and hotels are not a nine to five industry, they run morning and night, every day of the year. So it became normal for me to be the kid whose parents never turned up to her assemblies, plays or parents evenings. I told a lot of people it didn’t bother me, but I did, and its had a lasting effect on my relationships with my parents.
You also become used to not seeing your dad on christmas day because he leaves for work. Families always make it work, waking up extra early so you can open presents from santa with him before he heads off to work to make other peoples christmas day special. As I got older it became the whole family who was effected by christmas, when my mother brought a restaurant christmas day became a hassle of opening presents before cleaning up as quickly as possible before serving a whole load of other people their christmas dinner first before collapsing into sofas and beds at the end of the night to enjoy yours, the day almost over. My sisters sat at a table playing with some of their toys, their christmas tree being in the restaurant we lived in.
I really started to experience the grime of the hospitality industry when my parents opened their first restaurant. I was fourteen at the time, we sold everything and moved from our four bedroom house to a two bedroom flat attached to the restaurant my parents had just sold their soul too. We’re a family of five, me at 14, my sisters at 4 and 2 and my parents. The living room/ kitchenette became a bedroom for my parents and my sisters shared a room. I was very grateful for my own space, especially with the age gap, but we also lost that shared space you have in a family home and our bond suffered further for it.
There are many stories I could tell you from my teenage years, the two am bedtimes because the music was so loud you could feel the walls vibrate, falling asleep only to be woken up at two to help clean and rearrange the room for the morning events. Our family bathroom wall to wall with the bathrooms of the restaurant and theres nothing worse than brushing your teeth to the soundtrack of people having sex in the toilet next door, or having to empty their condoms out of the bin the next day. There’s been drug residue on the changing table, drunk people steal light shades for headgear (to be fair it looked like a hat), Teenagers smuggle in alcohol and weed, or get so drunk at their school prom they have to be taken home thirty minutes into the party. You clean up peoples vomit, blood and urine; all with a smile on your face.
I’ve dealt with con men, bailiffs and police. Witnessed weddings, breakups and brawls. Seen the cycle of life at christenings, retirements and wakes. Its hard work carrying fully beer kegs up stairs and hand washing hundreds of plates by hand. Working shifts at my job, then helping my parents and going to university. Being so thankful when you get enough tips so you can get the bus home, and doing all of this with a smile.
But I have also given up a lot; i’ve watched my friends at parties, while I serve them or clean up their glasses. I have had birthdays where my parents have had to cancel plans for dinner to work other peoples birthdays. Times where money was so hard we struggled to eat, when my mum would cry at night over the way customers spoke to her. Its a harsh industry and it can break people; you cry, go home with cuts, bruises and a loss of confidence, but you always give service with a smile.
I have an enormous amount of respect my parents for the hard work they have put into their jobs, they have worked 100 hour weeks and I have wondered so many times when my father is going to have a heart attack from working so hard. They have done that for me, and for my family, so that we can have everything we need; but it comes at a price, the loss of bonds with family and friends, missing events and sleepless nights. But you also come away with a great deal of patience, resilience and a great amount of respect for the people you order from in bars, restaurants and coffee shops.