When I worked in a cafe, a memory

Just a memory.

When I was in my early 20s I had a job as a waitress and server at a café on the beach. These days maybe I’d have the grand tile of Barista, as I did use the coffee machine and could make frothy milk and hot chocolates with the best of them, but then I was a waitress.

In the early days I was constantly burned, from the tiny splashes of scalding water from the steam machine, and from the drips from the boiling water. My hands, initially covered in small blisters gradually hardened so that after a month I could splosh hot tea across them and barely wince, leaving no scars. I became tough.

In the first week on the job my boss explained we didn’t have a ‘lunch hour’ but rather a ‘break’, during which time we could eat a meal (free) from the menu, but it transpired the choices were actually very limited and to a maximum price of about £4. In reality it meant I had sausage, beans and chips most days, one sausage only, and I was always hungry. Lunch lasted 20 minutes, any longer and he’d want to know why it was taking you so long.

Hours were 8am until closing, which could be anywhere up until 7pm. Pay was good though, well above the minimum wage.

I enjoyed meeting the regular customers, took pride in remembering their orders and favourites. I learned to rotate the cakes so that if you had a cake early in the day it would be one of yesterday’s. I learned to clean cabinets, counters and coffee machines, to flush the pipes well so no one was poisoned. I learned to find work to do in quiet times so that I wasn’t shouted at. I polished shining tables and refilled salt and vinegar dispensers. I swept the steps.

I filled the ‘Mr Whippy’ style ice cream machine with the industrial ‘gloop’ that when frozen became ice cream. I learned to fill a cone so that the ice cream stood tall and held a flake. I swirled the ice creams I made for the excited children with a flourish, added sauce and sprinkles and watched as they left to run to the beach, arms dripping with vanilla streaks.

I stood all day, I waited tables and learned to carry three fully laden plates along my arm. I learned how to pile dirty plates so that a tray could carry the detritus of 10 patrons. Tea pots, jugs, cups, plates, all scooped and stacked and taken back to the bustling kitchen to the dishwasher.

In the middle of the summer I sunburned my chest very badly. Wearing a low cut top while waiting tables outside on the hottest week of the year, no sun cream (I was young, no one wore sun cream) was not the brightest plan and I had blisters on my skins for a while.

At the end of the summer, tougher, and tired, I left. The tips were not split and I never saw any of the ones I earned. Am I bitter? No not really, it was life, a summers job where I earned good money and was expected to work hard for it. I learned a lot. And I paid the rent.

The café is still there. Sometimes I pop in for a coffee. I’m always nice to the staff.