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  • Nadezhda Macey

Hospo & ur mother & dog

Words and images by: Nadezhda Macey (she/her)

Everyone and their mother and their dog has worked hospo, and if you haven’t, I’m a little suspicious. If you work hospo you’ve likely got worthy qualities and you’re also considering when to quit. The rigorous work ethic of the service industry is applicable anywhere from a film set to a law firm to a kindergarten, but it burns you out like no other. 

No matter your restaurant or bar, it’s love/hate. Working nights, I’d be at Uni from my 9am lecture then walk straight down the hill to work 4 ‘til late. I went to sleep and dreamt of the order I forgot to put through, the jug of water I didn’t bring to Table 12. Mundane bad dreams, working through the night and waking up ready to leave the shift, then back to Uni, then do it all over again. You’re exhausted, you’re dealing with older people who don’t respect you (“I want to speak to your manager!”, “That’s me.”). You’re busy every Friday night and who—from kitchen to FoH—doesn’t have a nicotine addiction?

But there’s also so much joy. When the night's running smoothly and you pause, looking out at a restaurant you’re running, 72 seats of 50-somethings. The new, unexpected friendships—a 17-year-old dishie, chefs with floury hands thinking up nicknames for FoH; 30-year-olds with boyish grins and hot olives as treats. You’re bonded over that hellish rush yesterday, that cup of filter coffee, that staff meal, that Turkish song Cormac blasts after the last customers leave. 

BoH & FoH are very separate during shifts, but before and after the sections blur. I’d finish prep early and wander bored into the kitchen to chop onions, Jonty peering through his fingers at my knife skills. My favourite was trying a new dish in the early evening — today’s special slid hot over the pass, expectant eyes watching your first bite. “I knew it! It’s missing something. Acid!?” It tasted great to me. 

Always short on staff meant chefs quitting, then working the grill every other week. Or, my younger siblings filling in shifts. This was endless amusement for everyone else —watching us trying to stifle our bickering on the floor. I’d ask, as shift manager, for my little sister to polish the cutlery, or set a table, and get “don’t tell me what to do” in response. But it’s impressive to see the care and responsibility of young people serving those older. People forget their age—you often want to march out to the obnoxious man by the window and remind him “You’re 50 being nasty to a 16 yo. Really?” 

Each night you tell stories, saying the beginning sentence ten times. I stand at the front desk, waiting for bookings and secretly counting the tip jar, “staff hummus fund,” contents. Ash stands with me for a second and I get a snippet of what happened at last week's party. The bell dings, we startle, bring hot bread and muhammara to Table 5, then turn to the bar for the punchline; “They slept together?!” You’re gossiping up and down the restaurant one moment, then stressed, heads down as 7pm hits and half of Wellington arrives.

I met Cormac on my first shift when I started as a dishie. He was engaged in one of his hour-long bits, something about wearing a cape and claws and swooping through the restaurant. He was a constant—there for my first shift and my last, and now a close friend. Get into it folks. You have to rely on each other so often at work, you start to do it outside too. 

Last Valentine’s Day I stood with him polishing glasses, crouching behind the bar for bites of osmalieh—ricotta, rose petal, and simple syrup sticking to the tongue. We watched over a full house of couples, imagining backstories for each one, “Oh they’re definitely fighting.” I told him about my failed romance, no Valentine's flowers for me this year. Cormac pouted his bottom lip, but with a look genuinely sad. Your workmates follow your romances and dramas from the beginning, invested in unmet side characters.

I laughed at this face, stacked the waiting hot dishes up my arm, and walked out between the tables. Cormac changed the mixtape, the song, again. I was banned after putting on my everything playlist for set up, only remembering when taking an order and British drill started playing. Ash turned to me wide-eyed, “both hands on the back when I tap it…” echoing through the restaurant. 

Even if you don’t need the money, you should work hospo. It teaches you about the food you’re eating, the people preparing it. You won’t look at a waiter or a chef the same way, or stop saying “behind”.  It’s a rite of passage: vaping by the bins in the rain, mopping the floors to Bladee before someone’s 21st, arriving hours late. Girls really do just wanna have fun, and an early close.


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