Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front- and back-of-house about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments. Today, we find out what it's like to work 17-hour shifts alongside your spouse in a busy restaurant.
I started working with my husband because if I didn't, we'd never see each other.
By the time I became a nurse, he was a partner in his dad's Italian restaurant doing really long hours. Because I was focused on my career too, for a while it wasn't really a problem. But as his dad got closer to retirement age, my husband took on even more of the workload. I'd be starting my shift at 6 AM and finishing in the afternoon, just as he was going out the door. He'd often get back just a couple of hours before I was leaving again. So I started doing the odd Sunday to help out and so we could see each other, but I soon realised I actually really liked it.
Working in restaurants is a sociable job. I have a glass of wine most evenings and a lot of the customers have become friends. Some of them have known us since we were younger and even came to our wedding. I'm now 39, but in a lot of ways, we're the same couple we were at the start, though running the restaurant together has had a huge effect on our relationship. I think it's actually made us stronger, although it's because we spend our time off apart that I reckon we've survived this long.
When we bought my husband's dad out, I took on a lot more responsibilities. I now prep all the food, making everything from the soups, breads, pizzas, lasagnas, ribs, and all the sweets. Then come 5 PM, I run up stairs and do front-of-house with my husband. We did try prepping the food together, but we always got in each other's way. On one occasion I got so riled up I said: "I'm prepping on table 11 as I can't stand being in the same room as you." Because he's Italian, he always thinks he knows best and still has something to teach me.
"On one occasion I got so riled up I said: 'I'm prepping on table 11 as I can't stand being in the same room as you.'"
Nowadays my husband does all the shopping and cleaning. He was the main chef, but eventually couldn't deal with the stress anymore and we trained up two young lads. One of them has been with us since he was 14 and he's worked his way up to head chef at 25. When his mum kicked him out, he came to live with us. I'm really proud he's managed to stick at the job and of how far he's come. After we renovated the upstairs of the restaurant, they both moved in but we don't charge them any rent. They've sort of become our surrogate sons, especially since we don't have any children ourselves.
The sad thing is, my husband's family tend to look down on how we do things now, maybe as a result of the age difference between us, which was a problem at the start. We met when I was 15 and he was 25, and for a long time they didn't really respect me. Because it's a family restaurant I think they also expected us to employ some of my husband's nephews and nieces, and when his brothers and sisters come in, they treat it as their place, going behind the bar and helping themselves to drinks. There have been a few occasions where I've gotten so annoyed I've walked out and driven round the block to cool off, especially when my husband doesn't take my side. But I do get where he's coming from. It was his dad's business first and that's how they still see it.
Even though I tend to do more of the stressful jobs these days, it can get competitive between us on front-of-house. I have my customers and my husband has his, and he doesn't mind having a laugh at my expense. Recently he watched me make a cappuccino for one of his older ladies. "How do you expect me to drink that?" she asked. Turns out I made it in a sugar bowl instead of a cup, but he didn't say anything, then wouldn't let me live it down all night. If we've had a bit to drink the competition can turn into a sort of foreplay, though we never do anything in the restaurant!
I suppose it's because our house is so undomesticated that we've managed to keep the passion alive. Because we spend so much time at work, it really is like going back to a hotel. We never have any food in and I even forget to buy milk most weeks. Sometimes I do think we're like strangers because we have separate friends and hobbies, but we take two long holidays a year where we catch up properly. We have a "no shop talk" rule, which is good at the start, but by the end, I'm often itching to get back to the restaurant. It's where we're happiest.
As told to Kamila Rymajdo.