“Sit down, Sir, sit down, we serve everybody in here.”
Two blog posts in the space of five days (I hear you all think to yourselves), yes, I have finally rediscovered my blog writing consistency! Thank you all for tuning in once again, especially to those from the Middle East (according to wordpress.com I have a few Saudi Arabian fans), it’s great knowing that there are so many people interested in the economic powerhouse that is Göβweinstein. In keeping with the transition to Spring, we have prepared ourselves here at Gasthof Stern, armed and primed for the summer already. As of 3 o’clock this afternoon, the outdoor seating / table arrangements (not just some, but all), have been set up. Christian and I might have been cursing the awkwardness and heaviness of the tables and chairs whilst we were removing them from the barn this morning, but now it’s done, it won’t have to be done again for a while. It’s March 12th but we’re all set for summer here at the hotel, so if you’re brave enough or mad enough (whichever way you want to interpret it), come and take a seat outside!
Recently I’ve been thinking, considering I’ve been here for 6 months now, that it would probably be quite entertaining (and maybe even helpful!) if I were to impart a few words of advice to you guys about following a potential career in gastronomy. Being 3/4’s of the way through my year abroad, I think I can justify my claim to use the invaluable tool that is ‘hindsight.’ So, for those who were considering working in the restaurant / hotel business (and those that are here for the ride), here are a few “heads up…”
1 – WASHING UP IS SIMILAR TO THE CONCEPT OF TIME; IT DOESN’T STOP.
The evening before I left for Germany, way back in September, my sister gave me a home-made good luck card. It was a very artistic card that suggested that I’d be doing a lot of washing up at the hotel, which, of course, I laughed off. Naively. At home, unashamedly, I’d always tried getting away with washing up, letting mum get on with it 99% of the time (which now I am ashamed of). Of course, it doesn’t help that I am, as you would say, bottom of the food chain at Gasthof Stern (being the newest employee). Furthermore, matters are intensified because the hotel is very, very popular from April – December. I tell you now, that image that you can see above ISN’T EVEN THE BEGINNING. It doesn’t matter whether you turn up at 9am to work, 3pm, or 11 in the evening, you will INVARIABLY be greeted by the sight of dirty dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, etc, etc. There are three periods of the day when there is a high volume of washing up (mainly due to the number of customers): breakfast, lunch, and dinner (pretty self-explanatory). In between these, you have to eat yourself. But you can’t leave your dirty dishes around, oh no, this is a hotel, it needs to be kept clean! I can tell you now that there is no better feeling in the world, than the feeling when the washing up is finished. You’ve just spent 2 hours, as a team, mucking in on the washing up, drying, clearing away. At first the place looked like it had been hit by a bomb (I mean an atomic bomb), then you work your hardest to get the place clean again. Then slowly, like cramp kicking in, comes the feeling, I BEAT THE WASHING UP, I BEAT EVERY DIRTY DISH, LOOK AT THIS SPARKLING CLEAN KITCHEN. To me, that feeling encapsulates euphoria. The problem is, this euphoria is very, very short lived. Before you know it (approximately 12 minutes later), there’s another pile of dirty saucepans. All of that hard work, gone. And so the cycle goes…
CONCLUSION: If you like wearing marigolds, splashing around with washing up liquid, or having wrinkly hands for a few hours after work, then go get a job at a restaurant! If you have even the slightest prejudice against anything that I’ve just mentioned, I’d stop reading now.
2 – WORKING IN GASTRONOMY CAN BE COMPARED TO BEING A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER.
The problem with working in hospitality, is that not everybody has their breakfast at 10am, lunches between 12 and 1pm, dinner at half-six, and goes to bed around midnight, just like me (if only people were all the same!). No, it differs from person to person, family to family. What makes things even harder, is that there are 7 billion people inhabiting this planet. For this reason alone, it is extremely demanding to work in the line of gastronomy (and that’s coming from a waiter’s point of view), to run a hotel like Bernd and Heike, is even more pressure. Especially during the Spring and Summer months, people are simply coming into Gasthof Stern, all, the, time…
This is why I’m using the comparison to a professional footballer; it goes as follows: A bit like a footballer, the main part of a hotel owner’s career like Bernd’s takes place between the ages of 20 – 50 (ok, footballers generally retire a little bit earlier than 50). Youth, vitality, and maturity, are key to prolonging a footballer’s career, as the level of physical exertion is very high. This is the same for running a hotel, but remember to add the mental and spiritual exertion on top! You reach your peak during your later twenties and early thirties, and as you move to your early – mid thirties, you develop into one of the ‘older heads’ of the team, somebody there with experience to keep the ship steady. Think of Paul Scholes of Manchester United, he’s not the youngest that’s for sure, and hence he’s not the quickest, but he’s an experienced old head, whose wisdom and know-how is key to the team’s midfield. This is a bit like Bernd I guess (and most hotel owners for that matter), he may not be as quick as me at washing up nowadays, or be able to pour as many beers simultaneously as Christian, but his knowledge and know how is much higher than ours. That’s why he’s the boss! In their later thirties, a footballer normally retires, and sometimes goes onto coaching or management. Again, this is a bit like gastronomy. Bernd’s dad, the famous Lutz Vogl, hung up his boots when he was in his forties, passing on the day to day running of the hotel to a then very young (early 20’s) Bernd and Heike. Lutz however, is now the “Senior Chef” (Senior Boss), which automatically makes him superior to everybody else because he’s the OLDEST! He does though, play a much smaller role in running the hotel nowadays (why wouldn’t you when you’re retired!), but is more like an overseer. Just like Bobby Charlton of Manchester United, despite his more limited role, he is ever-present ;).
The stress and demand of running a hotel means that the main chunk of your career, just like a footballer, takes place in your younger years. It simply isn’t your normal 9-5 job! I guess the exception to the rule may be however, in the Middle East. This is where I can start to see the real benefits of Ramadan in the Islamic faith (I personally do not enjoy going hungry). How fortunate for all the restaurant owners in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. You can pretty much guarantee that nobody is going to be dining at the restaurant during the day because all the Muslims are fasting (that’s of course if nobody is breaking the rules!), and you’re hardly going to keep the restaurant open between 11pm and 6am, hence you might as well close for the month altogether! One whole month of rest bite, absolutely glorious!
CONCLUSION: If you expect to be coming home every day at 5pm, just in time for the 6 o’clock news, with weekends off to go to Lakeside Shopping Centre and Bas Vegas, I wouldn’t read any further.
3 – EVERYBODY HAS GOT TO START AT THE BOTTOM
Bernd told me a story once. When he was just starting out in the hotel / restaurant business, probably around the same age as me, he spent one whole year just washing up. He’s not even exaggerating! The restaurant that he worked for was so big, that all he did for 365 days was wash up. The most heartbreaking thing though, was that at the end of every day, despite having the wrinkliest hands ever from spending half of his time under water, was that when he went home, there was still washing up to do!
It’s only natural in this line of business :). I am the newest employee, hence I am at the bottom of the food chain. I’m not complaining because we all get treated really well, so don’t take it the wrong way! But yes, I must confess, I have done a lot more of the, shall we say, “hands on” work of late, than the likes of Christian and Stefan ;). Yes, I admit, I’ve done my fair share of washing up! And oh, before I forget, it was “officially” my job to be snow-clearer this year during the colder months (I’m sure you can remember all of my photos of the snow!). Christian claims that snow-clearing was his job last year, but what made his year worse than mine, was that the level of snow was much higher, hence more work. I can empathise with him to be honest, because I can distinctly remember how quickly the novelty of snow fall vanished once I’d cleared the street of snow a couple of times. Once I’d lost my English innocence, “oh it’s snowing, how wonderful, we never get any snow!,” I started to learn a lot more about the world ;). And before I forget, I definitely carried out 75% of the outdoor seating / table arrangements, whilst Christian arguably took out a measly 25%!
CONCLUSION:If you’re not willing to work from the bottom up, or don’t have any thick skin at all, then don’t bother reading any further.
4 – NEVER MAKE THE CHEF / COOK YOUR ENEMY.
I have learnt that it is always a big advantage to be good friends with the cooks. Me personally, I LOVE food. Football, my girlfriend, and food, they’re my top three passions (not necessarily in the correct order!). Anyway, the cooks really have kept my stomach very content during these 6 months, and on a full stomach, Kit is always very happy. There’s no better sight here in the hotel, when you can see either Ingo, Heike or Wolfgang preparing your dinner, and during a hard day’s work, there’s no better feeling than devouring a nice hot meal. For that reason, I advice you all to stay cosy with the people in the kitchen!
The more they like you, generally the bigger portion of food you’re going to get, the more often they will sneakily pass you a desert, or serve you before everybody else ;). It’s quite simple really, it’s a bit like the old concept of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I haven’t yet scratched Ingo’s back in the literal sense of the meaning, but it doesn’t do any harm to laugh extra hard at the jokes that the cooks make, tell them every now and then how pretty they are, pour them beer on regular occasions. It works in both directions, it really does! Apart from that, the cooks here at the hotel are generally really, really cool. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve never seen Wolfgang or Ingo stressed at work, which is quite amazing considering the amount of work that goes on in the kitchen. I would bet, that if I gave Wolf and Ingo 100 orders all at once, told them they had twenty minutes to serve every the dish, whilst pointing a gun at them, shouting “YOU SLOW AND INEFFICIENT GERMANS,” that the worse they would do would be to let out a sigh. Not that I’d ever do that of course, because I love Ingo and Wolfgang :).
CONCLUSION: If you don’t like men in white suits and white hats, don’t bother reading any further.
5 – THE MOST ANNOYING PERSON AT WORK IS THE TELEPHONE.
If I ever needed to go to a psychiatrist, it would probably be to explain to him that I can’t get the sound of ringing telephones out of my head. He would then likely say to me, that in fact it wasn’t a problem with me, simply, there were lots of phones genuinely ringing. It really does drive you insane how often the phone rings at work, mostly with people inquiring about things that they could just as easily find out about on the internet or by other means. The last thing you want to hear after just dealing with an unhappy customer, 30 food orders, and a million other tasks, is a ringing phone. It has now got to the point, that I wouldn’t blame a blind man for thinking that he was in a call centre.
I tell you now, during my last week at Gasthof Stern, if the phone keeps on ringing, then at some point I’m just going to pick it up and shout “FUCK OFF!”
CONCLUSION: If you have a lack of patience, don’t bother reading any further.
Working at Gasthof Stern has been one of the best experiences of my life, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change any of it. There are so many perks to working in a job like this, the family, the friendship, the free food and drink, the security. It really is like a big family here, and we can always rely on each other when the going gets tough. For all of my ranting, I really do advise it to anybody who is thinking of doing anything like this, because it’s an experience not to be missed!