Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front- and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments. In this festive edition, we talk to a 22-year-old fast food restaurant employee from London about what it's like to work on Christmas day.
I get up early—I mean, seriously early. There's no transport on Christmas Day and I don't own a bike, so I have walk. It's fine. I get up at, like, 5 AM and walk. It's nice, actually. It feels almost like you're the only person on the planet. The quiet is my very own gift. Or, that's what my mum says. London's silent on Christmas morning, sort of like that zombie film when that dude is wandering around and the whole of Britain is dead. (Editor's Note: he may be referring to 28 Days Later.)
I like to imagine the world has ended. It's a comforting feeling—when you know you're going to spend the next eight hours doing nothing but standing in front of an empty till, waiting for the boss to feel guilty and let you go home early, you may as well imagine you're the last person alive. Mostly I miss my mum and my little brother, but it's only one day a year. It's not like I can't just see them the next day. We're not really that into Christmas, to be honest with you, which is why I work it. I don't mind that much. It's voluntary.
The place I work is [a well known fast food chain], but it's impossible to tell which store will be open on Christmas Day. It's not illegal. It's down to the manager of each store. I know people who've never had to work on Christmas and I know people who never haven't. One guy—let's call him John—reckons he's worked Christmas Day five years in a row. I've only been at this outlet for two and to be fair to John, he worked the 25th last year. Maybe he's not full of shit, but it does make me wonder what his home life is like. He's well into his Jason Mraz and karaoke, so he's a nice bloke.
When I get in, I'm expected to do the normal morning routines: making sure the condiments are filled up, the tables are clean, that nobody has passed out in the toilets. Normally I have a smoke outside, immerse myself in the silence. Then the others arrive—headphones on, jackets up to the neck. We have a coffee, have a laugh. We're all in this together.
I like to imagine the world has ended. It's a comforting feeling—when you know you're going to spend the next eight hours doing nothing but standing in front of an empty till, waiting for the boss to feel guilty and let you go home early.
There are six people who work on Christmas, which isn't many but at the same time, there really isn't that much to do. You'd be surprised how few people are sad enough to come in. The days are dull. We drink a bit, if we can. We take it in water bottles and stuff. It can get messy—some of us don't drink, usually, so it can hit pretty hard. I'm not much of a drinker, but some of the others get really done. Rules sort of feel less strict. Like we're not being watched as much, you know?
One girl I work with isn't Christian and her family don't celebrate Christmas, so she likes to come in for the extra pay. There's a few other kids we work with during the week but they don't come in on Christmas. Maybe it's a religious thing. I dunno. People have their reasons and it's not my place, like, to ask them why they do this or that.
The customers are a widespread. You've got loners and drunks and people with nowhere else to go. Sometimes, you just let them stay—I mean, they're not going to put each other off. But then there are doctors and nurses, too, throughout the day. Some people who work in the hotels nearby who just want a change of scene. You'd be surprised. The only difference from a normal day, I'd guess, is that there aren't loads of tourists queuing up and getting their order wrong.
Last year, this couple came in with their two kids and ordered more food than I can remember. They're were pretty happy, which is fine, but it made me sad.
The orders are the usual. We have the festive specials and stuff like that, but you can never guess what people want. Some people come in just for coffee. I get the feeling some people come in simply to experience what it's like in our place on Christmas: it's not worth it, man. Stay home and keep warm. Eat some turkey, you know?
It's all eerily quiet, until the families come. That happens, and it's really weird. Last year, this couple came in with their two kids and ordered more food than I can remember. They're were pretty happy, which is fine, but it made me sad. I kinda feel our restaurant isn't where you should spend Christmas Day—even if you're not into it—but I work here, so I think the phrase is "Kids in glass houses ..." I dunno. I know I wouldn't take my kids here. It's weird having to wish everyone "Merry Christmas" though, when I guess a lot of people don't want to be reminded. I mean, if it's merry, what are you doing here?
Best thing about Christmas Day is that we get to play our own music some of the time. We spin some good stuff when it's empty: Stormzy, Frank Ocean—stuff like that. It makes the time pass faster. The speaker system we've got is actually pretty good and you really notice it when the place is quiet.
But mostly, Christmas Day at our place is just like a normal day—except easier work. And that's why I do it, at least.
As told to David Whelan.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2015.