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The restaurant saga


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We worked on a French campsite one summer, and some of the images from this saga are very close to things that happened there.Gilbert, the chef, produced great food, but his episodes of drinking got worse and worse. He'd had his own restaurant in the past, but drank himself out of it. His wife and child came to visit each weekend; they had stayed in their previous town to give the child some continuity of school, friends etc. But it wasn't enough; the campsite owners and their 2 children had to take over eventually; not such good food, but much more reliable!

Looking forward to more tales from the campsite, Dave.  [:)]

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Next morning I was in early to clean up the previous nights mess. All

done and I was sitting on the terrace with a coke, when C strolled

in. He wasn't hungover, but still actually drunk from the previous

evening. He never said a word, just put on his whites and made to

start in the kitchen. No way, there was no way this chap was going to

work here, and I told him so. His behaviour had been bad for a long

time and the night before was the final straw. He reckoned he couldn't

remember any of the events of the previous night. He sat down with a

coffee and I called the solicitor I had used to draw up the contracts

and told him I had fired C and what should I do regarding paperwork?

“You can't fire him”

And he was right.

From a legal point of view, if I were to fire C there and then, I

would then have to pay him his full salary to the end of the season

and he would also be entitled to everything else he had been promised

for the season, ie rent-free accommodation. Even though the previous

nights behaviour was gross misconduct in my eyes, as a seasonal

worker outside his trial period, he was pretty much untouchable. I

called a friend of a friend who is also a solicitor and she confirmed

this. She would want to see the specifics of the contract to be

certain, but generally speaking, things were as the first solicitor

had said.

How very French.

All the faffing on the phone had taken a lot of the morning and when

A arrived, we got stuck into prepping for the lunch service on our

own. C wandered off, and made a reappearance mid afternoon, looking

like death due to a hefty hangover. He had gone to the hotel at

lunchtime, where they had refused him more alcohol** and he had then

found out the whole village was talking about the previous evening.

We sat down for a long talk and the net result was him writing his

resignation on a sheet of paper right there. Part of me was worried

that what I said to him could be seen as constructive dismissal, but

another part did not give a damn, with the remaining portion hoping

that C had the decency to accept the consequences for what he had

done. Fortunately, he did. I made it perfectly clear that I had no

legal right to fire him without costing myself a lot of money, but

that I would not stand to work with him. He got the message and was

close to tears as he wrote out his letter. I did and still do feel

sorry for him – when sober, he is a really nice guy...funny, smart,

well read, a genuinely interesting chap – he has good talent and

does his job well, but drink just made him too unpredictable. He

talked half-heartedly about getting more help, but to be honest,

whilst I would like to be able to help him and would like to see him

straightened out, my first ever season running a busy restaurant was

jut not the time nor the place to be doing so.

** it was not until much later that I found out that after stomping

out that night, he had gone to the hotel bar, where he tried to drink

the pastis he had hoached from my place. After being refused entry

with it, he had flung the bottle and the carafe into the gutter, and

gone inside. Due to his state, they refused to sell him more booze

and he seemingly kicked up a real scene, badmouthing me and the

restaurant to anyone who would listen – which was everyone in the

room, obviously! He had to be man-handled out of the place, where his

drinking buddy, their kitchen assistant, managed to clam him down

outside and get him to go home.

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It was not until after the season that I found out that C's previous

employer, who I had checked for the reference he had given, was a

good pal of his, who knew about his drinking but as a drunk himself,

thought his behaviour to be fine.

With new Help Wanted ads in place, A and I got stuck into running the

kitchen between us. A took over pizza duty and part of the grill work

and I did the rest. We could manage – just – but found it

exhausting and our lack of experience meant errors sometimes slipped

through which would hold things up. We really wanted a third person

in the kitchen who could be counted on, even if they only did the

pizza side of things, this would help out massively. The problem was

we were part way though the season and any seasonal workers either

already had work, or were unemployed for good reason. Also against us

was the location. The village is isolated and not many people would

want to relocate here for the summer, even with accommodation

provided. In the meantime, I had taken on a girl called C, who was a

university student originally from the area and on holiday for the

summer. She had come recommended as a good worker and a quick

learner. She had no experience in a kitchen, but worked very well as

a barmaid serving aperitifs and making the deserts (we offer a wide

range of fancy ice-cream puddings....peach melba, banana split

etc.....massive things with loads of ice cream flavours, skoosh cream

and flavoured syrops all piled high in the cups) I found her to be

very attractive too, and seemingly she was flirting a lot with me.

However, I am a complete doofus and never spot this kind of thing

until it's too late! We spent a few evenings together, but nothing

serious happened. She has offered to come back for next season and I

really hope she does.

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Hi Dave

Have just read the whole "saga" absolutely rivetting|   You really should do a book out of it, far better than some I have read.

I  live in the Loire but would love to visit your restaurant - perhaps you could do a Living France Forum users day| 

At least you can never be bored|  Awaiting the next episode.


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[quote user="dave21478"]

 I found her to be very attractive too, and seemingly she was flirting a lot with me. However, I am a complete doofus and never spot this kind of thing until it's too late! We spent a few evenings together, but nothing serious happened. She has offered to come back for next season and I really hope she does.


When you write the book, and believe me you must!  That should be in the final chapter , a bit like a cliff-hanger on a soap opera, it will make people hungry for the follow up book.

I am hungry for the next episode.

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With a new wanted ad up, applications started to trickle in, ranging

from the mediocre to the downright shocking. Seriously...if you were

making first contact for a job offer, would you send an email written

entirely phonetically? Text-speak amongst UK teenagers makes my head

spin, but trying to decipher it in French was just too much.

Amongst the chaff, there were a couple of grains of wheat. Sophie had

experience running a pizza truck and was ok with relocation. We

talked on the phone a few times and she seemed confident, so I

invited her up for a meet. She arrived mid-morning so I showed her

around, showed her the house etc and she was smitten – as an

athletic type into mountain biking etc, there was a lot for her to do

here, and she liked the house too. She agreed to do a couple of days

work as a trial, so we set up for the lunch time serving.

Meanwhile, I had also had contact from two other chaps, A and L. I

was perfectly clear to them that someone else had pipped them to the

post, but was on trial, and if they were willing I would contact them

in order of their applications should things not work out with


The first orders came in and she got stuck in well enough, and once

the pizzas were done, she started packing up.....”hang on a sec, we

are only just starting.” She was quite shocked at the numbers we

did, having been used to working in much smaller quantities in her

pizza truck. She reckoned she would pick it up quickly, but I had

some doubts. She was a bit ditzy, and despite her reassurances,

seemed a tad out of her depth. In the afternoon lull, she promised

she could pick up the speed needed to get larger numbers done. That

evening, we had close to 70 people in, which was becoming a standard

figure for the evenings, so those who ordered pizza coupled with the

takeaway pizzas too left her with 40-odd pizzas to do. She was

floundering and the quality went right down, with her throwing

minimal amounts of ingredients on each one until I started to help

her out.

The following day was a repeat performance and I had seen enough. For

small quantities, she took her time and crafted exquisite pizzas, but

once the orders started stacking up, she could not handle the

pressure, and more worryingly to me – would not admit as much. I am

certain that with practice she could become adept at what we needed,

but I simply did not have the time for this – I needed someone who

could jump right in and be left to work autonomously at the

quantities we were selling. I told her as much an whilst she was

upset, she took it with good grace.

I contacted A, the other chap who had applied and spoke to him. He

had recently sold on his own restaurant and was just looking to make

a bit of money over the summer until he started a new enterprise

later in the year. He was perhaps over-qualified, but I reckoned his

experience would be helpful. However, he had doubts himself. He had

looked the village up online and found it to be quite far from where

he lived. As a married man with a young family, he did not want to

stay in the provided house, but would travel home each night, however

the distance was quite high. He came round one day for a talk and to

see the place, and straight away – and apologetically – said he

couldn't do it. Whilst the distance looked just about manageable on

Google maps, the reality of the narrow, twisty, poor quality roads

here meant the commute was just more than he was willing to do. I was

disappointed, but not much else I could do. He was a nice chap though

and told me that if I found myself really in the sh*t, he could come

and help out for a day or two. This was reassuring, as we were soon

to be entering the period of the summer balls and the big nights,

village fetes etc. so his words were a small relief to me.

Next on the list was L. An older chap who had done lots of seasonal

work. He was willing to relocate and would bring his wife with him to

the provided house.

They tuned up very late for the meeting I had arranged. I showed him

around, showed him the house etc. All the while him and his wife were

muttering to each other out of my earshot. I was just about to start

setting up for his trial period when one of the supplier reps came

round. L said he would pop down to the tabac for a packet of cigs and

would be back when I was finished with the rep. The fucker never came

back – never even had the decency to say no thanks or give any kind

of explanation – Him and his wife just disappeared, and they

refused to answer the telephone for the rest of the day. What a twat!

Fair enough if he did not want to work here, all he had to do was say

so, but to go through the motions and then just slink away without a

word was pretty low behaviour!

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With June finished, A and myself took stock. The weather was very

changeable and this has a direct impact on our numbers. Good weather

saw averages for lunchtime up to 30 or 40, with evenings at 70 or 80

people, however, a cold snap or a few days of rain would see these

numbers slashed dramatically.

As July heated up, so did the crepe

sales, and so did the hormone levels of the acne-riddled teenage boys

from the campsite. The girl selling ice creams and crepes in the

afternoons took to wearing just shorts and a bikini top on many days.

She enjoyed the attention, the boys enjoyed the view and I

enjoyed the profits!

I found out that empty champagne bottles make the ideal salad

dressing dispensers.

We have a load of different salads dishes on the menu and pretty much

every other dish has a small amount of salad with it too, so loads of

salad dressing was used over the course of the season. Not keen on

bought ones, I made my own very simple dressing.....olive oil, cider

vinegar and soy sauce. I had been mixing it up in old wine bottles

and dispensing it from these bottles as required with a thumb over

the end to limit the flow. Since these ingredients tend to separate

out, it needs to be shaken up before each serving and as a result the

bottles became very slippy. Being too vigorous with the shaking at

busy times when dressing half a dozen plate and a few salads at once

would result in the bottle slipping out my hand and flying across the

kitchen. After the second time I picked up the broken pieces and

mopped up the mess, I hit gold.....the next empty bottle I grabbed

had contained champagne and the wee lip around the neck where the

wire cage holds the cork in place meant it would not slip out of my

hand in use......perfect.

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The girl from the Pizza truck sounds about par for the course for all the baraques à frites/pizzas/kebabs we have around here, fast food they aint, luckily for the poor blighters who run the proper establishments opposite their encampments with all the loyer and charges that that entails.

I once waited for more than 45 minutes for a kebab before giving up and going to see Mehmet at the Bosphor Grill  (which is the classiest restaurant that this trou de cul de monde ville can offer) who at least has some understanding of the concept of fast food.

It seems to be the unbreakeable law that the ratio of staff to customers is in inverse exponential proportion to the time you have to wait watching them dick around acheiving not very much at all. The best example is the restauration organised by volunteers at any of the local fétes or rédéries, one prson asks you what you want, tells the person next to you who writes out a ticket, gives it to the person next to her that takes the money except she has to ask P2 what the price should be, who in turn has to ask P1, they all start debating the subject etc etc.............

Then on to the similarly overmanned and catastrophically organised counter where they cook and serve the food for a similar but even longer experience, I am sure you get the picture, once during my long wait  in the queue with a hundred hungry and patient French people I tried to count how many people were actually involved in serving only about 4 vaiations, merguez, saucisse, steak haché with frites and:or en americain, a lot less variety than the average take away, it was impossible because they were in a constant flux but there were at least 15 at any one time who took at least 5 times longer to do what Mehmet achieves on his own, and he by comparison with his counterparts in the UK is refreshingly laid back and unstressed.

And a lot poorer to boot!!!

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In the fete staffing, you forgot to mention the obligatory mardy teenager who can't add up 3 servings at €2.50 without a calculator.

I know the pace of life here is slower than UK generally, but even Mcdonalds is painfully slow here in France. I find the chicken burger is the least toxic of their offerings, so on the rare occasions I find myself there, its what I order and I have never had to wait less than 4 or 5 minutes for it.

When I worked in UK, the workshop was on an industrial estate with he usual smattering of greasy burger vans and one enterprising chinese girl doing chinese takeaway from a van. This girl was in there alone, working at least 3 or 4 different woks at once,a rice cooker, noodles etc, taking the orders, dealing with the money, plus fetching tins of juice etc from the fridge all at the same time for huge crowds that formed long but fast moving queues every lunch time. Her organisation and coordination skills were fantastic.

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Macdonalds, yes thats another culture shock, I did a case study on their business model when I was studying for an MBA.

Apart from minor regional menu differences they all work to the same model including the franchises, you can eat a MacDo anywhere in the world, close your eyes and open them again and you would not be able to tell what country you were in, except France that is. 

I foolishly offered to go with a pal to Bricodepot at 7am on promo day to help him empty the racks of the trendy oak veneered doors that were on arrivage, I am not normally an early riser and that is putting it mildly.

He promised to stand me breakfast as there was a brand new Macdo drive thru just completed  beside Brico depot Arras on a main commuter axe serving the centre of Arras and the autoroute to Lille and Belgium.

Do you know how long we had to wait before they opened for breakfast?

5 hours! They start at 11 am!!!!

We decided to return to knowing that the only place open to eat in the local town would be Macdonalds, I knew that even they didnt do anything resembling a normal MacDo breakfast, youy have to go to Amiens for that  although they would do a crepe with egg in it (given 24 hours notice!). Tthis Macdonalds is the only one in the area, as I said the only place open to eat before lunchtime in an area that has 250000 UK visitors per year alone, we discovered that they too dont open till 11am!

We had a good old moan about the French work ethic, he is French by the way, he works as a salesman for new houses when he isnt building his own, near the B-D we had visited there is a small lottissement of new houses that remain exactly as they were 5 years ago, in fact they are all show houses for local building companies but they dont have anyone working there, you have to make an appointment to have a viewing.

Jean Marc being an enterprising type who also happened to be working a flanker on long term sickness benefit at the time, (bad back couldnt commute etc, although quite capable of building 2 houses)  approached all of the builders trying to sell them the (to them) revolutionary idea of having a permanence at their show homes over the weekends when families are most likely to buy (he has done loads of expositions in the past and made lost of sales that way).

He offered to work for nothing, just to touch a "correct" commision on sales, not one of the companies were interested, they didnt believe it would work and frankly didnt want the bother, all these show houses still stand empty and neglected like after a nuclear holocaust, I have never once seen customers being showed around, they are right on the edge of Arras and I often muse that they would make a great squat for a large group of like minded people.

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Updates are slow at the moment as I am currently spending my evenings on the dining room floor with a big pile of cogs and bearings that used to be a Fourtrak gearbox.

Typically, it ran perfectly all summer and as soon as the weather looks like it may justify four wheel drive, this thing decides that reverse is no longer necessary.

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Well, the gearbox is back together and refitted but I can't test drive it yet as the cast exhaust manifold has a crack in it. I know of another fourtrak in a breakers, but its 2 hours drive away - next time I am in the area I will check it out.....if it is no use, I will try to weld this one.


I gave up trying to find a replacement chef – searching for one

partway through the season left me sifting through the dregs, with

all the decent seasonal workers already in employment.

A and myself restructured the kitchen work and after trying out a few

different combinations over a couple of nights, we settled on A doing

the pizzas and part of the grill work, with me doing the rest of the

grill orders, salads, plate prep and the chip fryers. We got into

the swing of thing and managed to cope between us.

Numbers climbed steadily through July and we were now well over

double our expected numbers pretty much every night.

The campers coming to the area for a couple of weeks provided a

steady stream of new customers, but to my delight, the locals also

came regularly – Word had spread throughout the area that the food

was good, the portions were large and the prices were correct.

Considering I had no experience of this sort of work before, I was

very proud indeed when the compliments came back to the kitchen.

Takeaway pizza was very popular in the evenings, and lunchtimes saw a

lot of demand for portions of chips to take away too. I started

stocking croque kebabs and croque monsieurs....nasty frozen things,

but there was a massive demand for them at lunchtimes for people to

eat on the go.

I had taken on an extra waitress to help the existing ones, and

things were ticking along just nicely.

My only real bugbear this period was due to the alcohol licence we

had. Whilst we could serve beers, wines, and spirits, they were ONLY

for those who were eating a full meal in house. Once the heat of July

came into full force, there was a constant stream of people turning

up asking for a beer, or other alcoholic drink to quaff on the

terrace in the shade......We just had no right to sell them what they

wanted and they had to leave disappointed. We even had to refuse to

sell them a couple of the fancy ice cream puddings from the menu as

they contained either vodka or jet27 (mint flavoured booze). I had

asked the Marie at the start of the season about upgrading the

licence, to be told that the cost was huge and may not be granted

anyway due to many and various reasons. Given the amount of custom

that was turned away this summer, I think this will need serious

thought for next year.

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  • 3 weeks later...
My apologies, but I am currently moving house and my new humble abode requires a hellish amount of work to become livable and I aim to do as much as I can before the end of February when I have to leave the old place, so time for writing has been put on hold for now.

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  • 2 months later...
The house move is now complete and although there is rennovation work still to be done (and a toilet that flushes with hot water to consider!) I now find myself with some free time again.

Not a huge amount more to say about it all really - the rest of the

season slipped past pretty quickly with a surprisingly low number of

incidents to report. One of the waitresses went off on long-term sick

and we never saw her again, but I managed to press-gang a replacement

into service to take up the gap.

She was a girl in her early twenties and while her work had been

fine, her attitude wasnt fantastic. She had always dropped hints

about her having serious trouble with her ladies-area plumbing

requiring frequent doctors visits, so a few days off was not a

massive surprise. However with no word after a week, I was concerned.

Her brother ( a kid of about 15) was strangely reluctant to talk. He

was often passing and just told me to take it up with her, but would

neither confirm nor deny her being ill.

I set aside the wages she was owed and that was that.

It was February when I next heard from her. Well, not from her

exactly, but from an employment tribunal acting on her behalf!

I had done everything by the book though – had her owed wages set

aside and had tried contacting her by phone – no response, and by

signed-for letters, which I kept copies of along with the

confirmation slips saying she had received them. The chap I spoke to

was very sympathetic and I think fully realised that rather than my

fault, he was dealing with a silly wee girlie who was trying it on.

The case was for withholding her wages, and the evidence I forwarded

to the chap knocked it on the head straight away. He arranged for her

to come and visit me, making her do the travelling. She collected her

cheque, mumbled some rubbish about trying to contact me and not

getting a reply, then with a sulky shrug of her shoulders she left.

She wont be coming back next season.

A and myself worked our tits off in the kitchen, but were able to

cope, but only just and at the expense of complete exhaustion. Able

to cope if we had to, we were more relaxed about the next season –

If things went wrong with the chef, we knew we could manage

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At the end of August, the holidays finished and the campsite emptied

at an astonishing rate. The tourists left and the locals went back to

their jobs. Within a matter of days we went from flat-out to sitting

on the terrace sipping the odd G&T and wandering what to do with


We closed at the end of the first week of September, but the work

continued. First off was a series of gruelling sessions for A with

the accountant as they struggled to get some sense out of the


Meanwhile I hit the kitchens for a deep clean.

We had kept the place well maintained, but a steady buildup over the

season had left it in need of a good few days solid work to get it

back into shape. So, with the equipment stripped out, I moved in with

a bidon of degreaser and a pressure washer. Fortunately, the place is

built in a manner that allows this – tiled floors sloping to

central drains, everything else tiled or stainless steel, I was able

to blast half the kitchen clean in a few hours. The rest took more

time the old fashioned way – bucket of soapy water, a scourer

and a cloth.

I sorted the remaining stock, looking for what would keep till the

following season and what would pass its sell-by date before – the

latter was divvied up amongst the staff.

Kitchen cleaned, tables stacked, stock stored, terrace scrubbed, we

closed the doors and walked away – tired but happy with a season

well done.

The result from the accountant took a long time to come through.

After all the sums, the verdict was a modest profit. We had invested

a lot at the beginning of the season, so were not expecting a lot,

but the result was very satisfying.

Now, all we had to do was get ready to do it all over again.....

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Season two, Step one – find a chef to do the pizzas.

So, an ad was duly placed online and at the job centre. The job

centre turned up loads of applications from allsorts, but none from

anything resembling a pizza chef. The online ad got a few replies and

I spoke to an italian chap ( a real italian, not like the arab

italian from last season!)on the phone. In his 40`s and very

experienced, but very biased towards italian food. I met him in a

town half-way between us and he seemed fine, so we made arrangements

for him to come to the resto at a later date to see the place.

The day arrived, and he was due at 2pm. 2.30 and no sign, I called

his mobile, for it to be answered by his girlfriend/wife. “he is on

his way” I was assured, but had forgotten to take his phone with


3:00 passed and I called again. She told me he was on his way, but

had no idea when he would get there. His car had not started that

morning so he had taken the bus to a nearby city, intending to get

the bus to my village. There is no proper bus service to this

village. I asked at the tourist office and after some peering at

timetables and eventually a phone call to the bus company, it was

revealed that the only bus that day arrived at 6pm. There was no

return service. I went home.

I later received an email that evening from him telling me that after

realising the bus was a no-go, he had tried to hitch-hike, but only

got a few miles up the road before giving up and heading back home.

This asshole is supposed to be a competant adult, yet couldnt get

himself 50 miles? More to the point, couldnt have found a phone box

or used the phone in the bus station bar to let me know what was

happening? Impressed, I was not.

While I had a few other interviews to do the next week, I received an

email from him asking if I was still interested as he really needed

to find a placement for the summer. Well, it was worth a shot so I

set an appointment, making it clear it was his one and only chance to

impress me.. He never showed up, and never called either.


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