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.
In the restaurant world, everyone works on New Year's Eve. The rule is that if you're in London, then you're working—even if it has nothing to do with what you're trained in. I got out of working New Year once, but only because I had a really big fight with the general manager, who didn't like me and put me to work in the cloakroom as a weird "punishment."
It's tough working in restaurants around this time, especially when you're watching other people have their parties. That's pretty rubbish. (Watching coats is even bleaker, though.) But the past week has been quite fun —the restaurant has loud music and we're encouraged to have the occasional drink with the customers and stuff. I imagine it'll be a lot of fun, but intense. We stay open later and only start closing up once the customers leave, but the restaurant stays open as long as people are there and ordering. We wouldn't ever chuck people out, so I have no idea how late it'll stay open until on January 1.
We do some special menus for Christmas and New Year, which does mean extra work. You just end up making a lot more, and have to do it a lot quicker. I don't know if people eat more at this time of year, but they definitely drink more. The bar's really busy. I don't think people eat that much more at Christmas—they don't have a magically bigger appetite—but they certainly order more. Prepping hours on NYE will be as normal, starting at 7 or 8 AM, and we're going to do special foods on the night, maybe a bit more luxurious than usual.
It's really mental on busy nights like NYE, but it's always really mental because it's fully booked every night and it's a tiny restaurant. It's not a really lairy Christmas-party kind of venue – it would be kind of weird if it was lads on tour invading the restaurant. It would be a bit off-key.
The hours are long, but when you work in a restaurant you just accept that you're going to be working on New Year's Eve. I do think people mind that it's a standard part of the work, but it's just a choice you make with this job. Part of this year I've really struggled, because my hours are so long and I've missed out on a lot socially. I've spoken about it with my managers and my colleagues, but they say that's just the sacrifice you make when you become a chef—it's something that happens and you just accept it and it gets easier once you get used to it. Because it's a fairly open kitchen, you're not too separated from the vibe in the restaurant.
Work is pretty full-on, and quite a testosterone-driven place. I once fell asleep in a crate of vegetables; yesterday I did a 16-hour shift, but it's often 17 or 18 hours. It's such a tiny restaurant that people are constantly stressed out by the lack of space—all our pots are kept up or downstairs and we're always in the basement fetching stuff, so we end up doing lots of cardio. My arms are toned as fuck. There's everybody shouting at you; there are 600-degree ovens that you can't squeeze past without getting burnt, and knuckles sizzling on the outside of the ovens. On New Year's Eve it's like that, but twice as intense. But there's such a strong almost family atmosphere in the restaurant because we all spend so much time together. Loads of people are dating each other.
There was a lot of crying yesterday, because one of my colleagues burnt herself on the josper oven, which is insanely hot, and she got so mad that she screamed at me out of nowhere, and I burst into tears and she stormed out, and I was crying into the meat I was preparing. So you get a lot of abuse, just because of how stressful the environment is.
I have come to accept it a bit, but missing out on NYE on top of birthdays and other nights is a bit of a disappointment. But all the staff are in it together, so you just make the most of it as a group.
As told to Helen Nianias. This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in December, 2014.