This year’s gone so fast! Where did 2022 go? Etc.
Yep, it’s December again, and for us hospo folk that can mean only one thing: absolute chaos.
It’s a special time of year where everybody simultaneously has zero dollars in their bank account yet manages to spend the GDP of a small nation each time they leave the house.
The added stress that such a financial paradox creates often leads to one of two things: a hedonistic approach to socialising where everyone in the bar (staff included) are like family and not a cup shall run dry on your watch! Or, everything is bleak and miserable and “bah, humbug” to anybody with a smile on their face because, as Dickens put it, “what reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
And we hospitality people are right in the middle of it all, whether we like it or not, and it’s at times like these that a little “good will toward men” can go a long way to ensuring a December shift doesn’t turn us all into a bunch of old Scrooges.
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I think I said this last December, but I love Christmas, unashamedly. I get very into it, even going as far as to buy a real tree for my cafe and create numerous playlists depending on the mood (classical Christmas, modern festive hits, Christmas crooners, you name it).
It’s probably the only time where I could get by on festive cheer alone, regardless of how in the weeds I was or how rude the general public were towards me. I simply didn’t care. As long as I had the smell of a slowly dying pine tree in my nose and the sounds of a gruff-throated Bob Dylan singing about Christmas in my ear I could conquer anything. Seriously, Dylan has a Christmas album and it’s so sloppy and phoned-in, it’s everything to me, check it out.
Realising that not everybody on-shift shared my festive motivation, I did operate on a few core principles.
Keep it Christmas
This is a pretty simple one.
Once the decorations and the tree go up, from open to close everything should be Christmassy.
The tunes should never waiver away from anything less than sleigh bells in the percussion and vague hints of fat gentlemen working his elves to the bone in the lyrics.
And before you say it, I know that 8 straight hours of Christmas music every day for the best part of a month is agony for most, but remember that you can break it up with the aforementioned Bob Dylan, who proves that Christmas songs don’t have to sound Christmassy at all, beyond the vocals sounding like they were sung by a haggard, old mall Santa with a pack-a-day habit.
Treat your staff well
I mean, you should always treat your staff well, but treat them extra-well around Christmas because they deserve it.
They could be out, partaking in the festivities with friends and family, but they’re not. They’re here, with you and your dumb Santa hat and your polka-style Christmas songs (track 10), and they need the extra love.
Not to mention the barrage of trade coming their way and growing each day as we approach the 25th.
I always made sure that my staff had enough time off around Christmas to actually enjoy it. If this meant me working a little bit more, so be it. After all, that would simply mean there were less wages to pay at a time when more money was coming in, proving that even Ebenezer Scrooge’s love of ruthless capitalism is festive.
But don’t go any further down the Scroogian path; try to organise some sort of staff party and make sure you pay for it. It doesn’t have to be huge, but charging for a staff party would defeat the morale-building purpose of having one.
I’ll be home for Christmas (track 5)
Your customers, no matter how much they’d deny it, still see you as a local amenity. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
Know how I know? Because, every year I’d close up shop for a few weeks over Christmas and New Year’s to spend time with my family and have a little break after a busy month. And every year the cafe’s Instagram inbox was full of customers moaning that they rocked up for their 3rd cafe brunch that week, only to find the doors closed.
I’d put up a sign at the till every year with our Christmas opening hours and every year the people would ignore it and moan to me about it.
Did I care? Not really.
My staff had worked just as hard as I had, and they deserved a little break too. One of them (whom I won’t name, out of love) managed to stitch me up every year by booking off the last day of trade to go on holiday. Every year! Do you know how tricky it is to source a one-off barista who won’t ruin your reputation with shoddy coffee?
If my regular guy would have hung around an extra day, he’d have realised that this final shift was more party than work. The 1st drink would be cracked at around 10, we’d get slammed for an hour or so, and then I’d start to get a little tipsy and decide to close early. Then we’d go out and keep drinking.
I did this every year.
O come, all ye faithful (track 8)
I’ll end this year with a story about how getting your Christmas wish of having more customers can backfire spectacularly.
Picture the scene: it’s about 8:30 am on December 23rd (our last day of trade before Christmas) in my tiny cafe. Things are ticking over nicely, but I expected it to be busier. We weren’t dead, there were people on every table bar the big one in the back room (a 6 top). Nevermind, I thought, just as well because there was only myself (on coffee), and the relatively new girl (on food).
One of the locals pops in and tells us he has family staying with him, and asks if we could sit 10 people for breakfast? I tell him (with a festive smile), that whilst we’d love to, we only have a 6 seats available, and even then it’s a push with only 2 of us on.
He thanked me and left and I thought the matter was finished. It was not.
About 10 minutes later, he returns with 12 people all up, and the worst case of selective amnesia I’ve ever encountered. I explained to him (again), that we didn’t have the room (I should’ve used the phrase “no room at the inn”, hindsight is a curse!) for 10, let alone 12, and that he’d have a more enjoyable time elsewhere where they can cater for them.This fell on the deafest ears in existence as he beckoned his troops and they caused havoc in our cafe. Every table was disturbed as they tried to find enough seats to cram around a table designed for half as many people. No sooner had they managed to break the record for most idiots around an Eames extender, did they expect table service.
Did I mention that the chef was new?
These guys tried their darndest to butcher and alter every single item on the menu. I honestly think that they saw the menu items as an ingredients list and chose to create their own.
This was all happening as we were trying to serve other customers too.
This group managed to close the kitchen by 9:30 in the morning, meaning no food for anybody else.
They paid up and left an almighty mess behind, along with a couple of completely destroyed workers. I closed the doors, put up the “sold out” sign, and we collapsed onto the couches with a glass of well-deserved wine each.
So, this December if you’re told that there’s no room at the inn (remembered it that time), please take heed and move on, for everyone, and have yourself a merry little Christmas (track 9).
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