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The restaurant saga


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Staff problems proved to be a recurring theme through this second

season. Still in need of a pizza chef, I finally got a reply from the

sensible-sounding J.L. We met for an interview and he seemed ok. Ex

army, a bit of a macho type for my liking, but his cooking

credentials seemed good. He had owned his own pizza and pasta joint

near Bordeaux for several years and was now working seasons, having

just finished a winter at some ski resort. I told him all about the

job, the duties, the place and the accommodation, which he seemed

happy with.

We set another date for him to come up and view the place, get a feel

for the area etc. He turned up well on time and seemed happy. I

offered him the position. He had a few requests for some smaller bits

of equipment, which I noted to order and that was that.

A would be in the kitchen as last year doing salads and grills, JL

would be doing the pizzas and grills too, and I would be general

front of house again – also doing bar work and deserts.

With that sorted out, the search began for serving staff.

Over the past off-season I had had several requests and some C.V's

from locals looking for work. Some of them could even read and write,

but finding someone I was comfortable with was hard work. A big part

of the problem here is that the town is very divided. Religion,

politics....whatever excuse is relevant for the specific argument

infact... Truth is, half the town simply dont like the other half, so

locals working here means possibly alienating a lot of clients. Its a


I settled on N, after a lot of thought. Late thirties, mother and

housewife, she drives the school bus and while plenty of people are

willing to bad-mouth her, She seemed liked by plenty too. Bubbly

personality and an ability to small talk to anyone made people feel

at ease around her.

The second waiter was harder to find, until a friend threw up a good

idea.....why not ask at a nearby (hours drive away) catering and

hostelry college? So I did, and got to meet K. Just a few weeks short

of his 18th birthday, well travelled, pleasant,

respectable looking and willing to relocate to the campsite for the


After last season, I had decided that a dedicated dish-washer would

be a better idea than expecting everyone else to do a part, so S was

hired. A schizophrenic ex junky, a party-holic and completely

outrageous looks for a farming community – facial piercings,

tattoos and crazy hair colours. Why? Well, despite appearances, he is

a really nice chap, is now 100% off the drink and drugs (apart from

his medications) plus I know his mum quite well and knew that if he

didnt tow the line, she would put the fear of God / beat some sense

into him. After some talking, he also agreed to work on the sweeties

and drinks hatch, selling to the campers.

So, with the team in place, we were ready for action.

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The problem I had was convincing JL how busy we were going to be. The

start of the season is a very slow, steady affair. No tourists and

not too many locals to start with mean that at best, we were doing 20

or so meals each evening. He seemed to think he was onto a cushy

number with little work. Simply telling him that numbers would

increase by a factor of 4 or 5 had little effect.

The first “big” day was a local fair that sees the village

streets closed off and various stands set up. Having learned from

last year, we were not offering the full menu but a set dish, and

expecting 100 people at lunch and maybe the same again in the

evening. The locals like basic food, so steak and chips was the meal offered.

With no pizzas to do, JL found himself manning the chip fryers and

seemed to be making a meal of it. My confidence was not high.

A and myself had words that night.... “finding his feet”,

“building his confidence”, “getting used to the place”,

“getting used to us”..... were the sort of phrases we were coming

out with, desperately hoping they would turn out to be true.

When doing his pizzas, he prepares a load of dough in the morning and

then separates it into little balls which he stores in the fridge. He

then rolls out each base by hand with a rolling pin as they are

needed. He took his time with the ingredients too and while the end

result was good, he just was not moving fast enough.

“It will be fine” he kept saying.

Last year, we stopped doing the takeaway pizzas during the evening

service as we just couldnt cope with the demand. JL seemed certain

that he could manage the takeaways as well as the pizzas for those

sitting down at the same time. I kept reminding him that he was not

there JUST to do pizzas, but to work the grill and help out A too,

and that going by last year, about a third of all people sitting down

to eat will order a pizza.

“It will be fine”

A asked me aside one day.....on a good night later in the season, we

can easily serve 80 to 90 people on the terrace. Counting a third as

pizzas, that would be 30 or so. Plus perhaps 20 takeaways each night.

He would be looking at 50 pizzas per evening, plus a fair number at

lunch time too. Last years figures supported this.


“So, when he makes his dough in the morning, he does enough for 30



Would it be fine?

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Telling JL to prepare for larger numbers was part of my daily task

list. He just didnt believe me though.

His other negative traits were showing up more and more too. Macho

arrogance is one thing I can not be arsed with. He was full of it. I

am sure you know someone like this....anything you have done,

anywhere you have been, anything you have seen, he has already been

there, done that, seen it all, before you, faster than you, cheaper

than you, better than you.... Where I come from, people like this

generally earn the nickname “fiveskin”. Why fiveskin? Well, if

you told him you have a foreskin, he just has to go one better.......

He also had habit of just talking over everyone and simply not

listening to anything. Didnt matter what it was, he rarely listened

to anyone telling him anything.

Following the hassles last year with the un-fireable drunk chef, we

had been more careful with the wording of the contracts this year. We

were still early in the season and JL was still on a trial period. I

told him outright one evening that I was not happy with the way

things were shaping up and was going to extend his trial period. He

upped his game a little from then on.

“It will be fine”

I hoped so.

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K celebrated his 18th birthday in the usual style, and

once an “adult” was able to get onto full duties. (minors are not

allowed to serve alcohol, work sundays and various other laws that

greatly restrict their employability in this sort of trade)

Over the course of the season, he proved again and again and again to

be a real asset to the team. I heard nothing but compliments about

him from the clients and everyone liked him. Polite, presentable,

discreet, able to chat...he did very well. He is studying hostelry at

college with an aim to become a top Maitre'd at a posh restaurant and

his long-term goal is to open his own restaurant in the USA. I

reckon that he is more than capable and really wish him luck in the

long term. Its so bloody rare to see the kind of motivation and

determination he has in other kids his own age.

It was always a pleasure to watch him working. He had an ability to

judge whether the diners wanted to chat or if they just wanted

service and to be left alone. Able to small talk about anything, he

is very articulate and quite well travelled too. He was also very

discreet, keeping an eye on all his tables and always ready with more

bread or water, topping up while the diners barely noticed.

Staying in the campsite for the summer meant that due to his good

looks, he as never short of female company either!

At the end of this season, we talking about the possibility of him

coming back next year. He was genuinely keen to do so, but obviously

unable to commit to anything. I made it clear that if he wanted to

come back, he would be very welcome, but understood fully if he had a

better offer elsewhere.

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S proved to be another asset too. I had reservations about employing

him due to his past and his mental health, but his mother assured me

he was up to it, and she is someone whos word I trust.

Turned out to have been needless worry – he was great. Funny,

always laughing and a completely un-crushable spirit meant he always

had a joke or a story to tell. Work-wise, he lacked initiative to

start something on his own, but if given a job or a list, he would

happily crack on with it as best he could.

He was initially just to be the dish-washer, but he was so damn fast

at it, I got him helping out elsewhere during quite moments at the

wash station. The dishes are hardly a challenge – scrape off the

remains, rinse, stack on the tray, shove it in the machine, press the

button, wait 3 minutes**, dry them, stack them. He was hardly being

taxed, so was happy to do other stuff. Having worked in a bar in the

past, he was able to serve drinks, he had basic kitchen prep

experience so was able to help out there too, and I extended his

hours to have him working on the terrace during the afternoons, when

people just turn up for drinks or ice creams.

Having been un-employed for a long time previously, he was unused to

longer hours and towards the end of the season, he started to flag a

little, but certainly nothing major. I would be happy to take him

back on next year.

** A 3 minute cycle.....why the hell does my home machine take two

and a half hours to do the same thing? Even the “eco” quick

setting on mine is 45 minutes long. Sure, the pro machine is 380v and

probably sucks a far bit of power in that 3 minutes, but surely its

less than over 2 hours of power used by a domestic machine?

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As is the local style here ( a bunch of back-stabbing, whinging,

complainers) I received an anonymous letter about N. It informed me

that she had been treasurer of a PTA style association, but had been

strongly recommended to resign the post when accounting

irregularities came to light ie loads of cash went missing. The

letter ended advising me not to let her near the till.

I did some digging and found that the letter was fully accurate. She

had little contact with the cash anyway, so I was not too worried. I

did have other problems with her though.

Her voice. She is like a Female version of Brian Blessed – always

talking at full volume, there were times when she sounded like a

human fog-horn. She also liked to be noticed.....if there was

attention being paid anywhere, she instantly nudged into the centre

of whatever was happening. Her ear-splitting voice meant that people

ALWAYS noticed her and whatever she was doing. For example, every now

and then a group of diners would be celebrating someones birthday.

They would usually ask us to arrange a cake (or bring their own) and

it was ALWAYS her, even if it was not her table to serve, who would

barge into the organisation, messing with the candles, dimming the

lights, carrying the cake, getting people to sing etc. She just

craves being at the centre of events.

She had a way of asking for things too.... “Two coffees and the

bill for table 7 please”, when said in her style often sounded like

an order rather than request, plus her near-shouting made sure that

everyone within several feet would hear her. Quite a large number of

people, locals and tourists alike, actually believe that she was the

boss and myself and A merely staff. She was certainly quick to take

any praise too, whether it was aimed at her or not.

Things reached a peak one night when a group of local-ish thugs

turned up. You know the types....teenagers with bad attitudes and

foul mouths, all riding their little 50cc dirt bikes with excessively

loud exhausts......They always make me laugh. Their Hard-men image

might carry a little weight here in rural nowhere, but in any decent

sized town, they would be ridiculed.

Anyway, a group of 6 arrived and asked for a round of beers. Firstly,

I dont have a licence to sell alcohol like that, you can only have

drinks if you have a meal on the premesis, so I refused them. I would

also wager strongly that none of them would be 18 either, but that

was a moot point due to the licence. Not too happy, they asked to

speak to the boss.

“doesnt matter who you ask, nobody here will serve you beer”

“just let us speak to your boss”


one of them cut in “Yeah, go and fetch N....She will serve us.”

“No, she wont and why do you want to talk to her?”

“Just get the boss, N, she will sort this out”

“N, the boss? You mean N the waitress? She cant come just

now, she is cleaning the toilets” -By a happy coincidence, this was

actually true!

There was some shuffling and muttering between them and I got the

full story....Seemingly one of N`s sons occasionally hangs around

with this lot, and they know her through him. She had told them she

was the owner of the restaurant and had promised to sell them beers.

Obviously, I would never get the truth from N,but was happy to put

these guys right about her status here. Its one thing to let people assume things, but to actively lie about it is a little more serious.

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The other problem was her turning people away when there was no

reason to apart from her being too lazy to work.

On busy-ish nights, I found out that she was seeing people arriving

and rather than letting them sit down, she would tell them the tables

were full, or the kitchen was closing and turn them away.

I am pretty sure she used her image of authority to her own advantage

doing this. Thing is....she has no concept of how often I am there.

She works a few hours at lunchtimes and a few hours for the evening

service, so she sees the customers in this time and that is that. She

failed to appreciate that myself or occasionally A are usually there

from 7.30am, all day, every day and see the customers, especially the

campers an awful lot more than her. It used to enrage her when she

would greet people for dinner in a slightly formal way, having met

them a couple of times, and I would go out and greet them informally,

bisous and handshakes etc having had them round every morning of the

week for coffee at opening time. It was like this that I found out

about her refusing people. A couple of campers who would come every

morning for coffee and a chat said that it was a pity they couldnt

eat the previous night due to the tables all being reserved. We hadnt

been that busy and it all came out about N. She was caught out like

this a few times through the season, but no amount of tellings or

warnings would get through to her, they would just trigger one of her

epic huffs.

Everyone has bad moods, but I have never seen the point of a

prolonged sulk. She could sulk like a child for days on end, hardly

saying a word to anyone.

Frankly, it was bliss!

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I would like to take a moment to describe JL's chosen mode of

vehicular transport.

Im not one to criticise others for their choice of car but

Jesus....this guy needs to get some dignity.

A V8 Landrover Discovery is not the most economical runnabout I can

think of, especially with an auto box. Couple that to a suspension

lift that is less “extra clearance for off-road” and more

“wannabe Bigfoot”, enormous wide alloys with large balloon

off-road tyres and enough ropes, chains, winch and suchlike hanging

on the bumpers to make it look like an extra in Mad Max. Matt black

paint did nothing to blend it into the scenery either. JL was

constantly bemoaning the cost of fuel, but with a car like that, I

had little sympathy for him. We could certainly hear him arriving

too....it was a toss-up between the humming of the agressive off-road

tyre treads and the straight-through exhausts to be the loudest. The

little details made me laugh too....a Confederate flag flying from

the radio aerial...his french reg number stamped into Louisiana US

plates, and the stereo constantly playing either ACDC or the kind of

Good Ol Boys banjo music that normally plays during a car chase in an

80`s road movie.

Yee Haw.

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Problem was.......he couldnt cook very well.

He spent a lot of the day preparing his ingredients for the pizzas,

and was going through vast amounts of veg like peppers and onions.

Turned out that he was chopping them, soaking in olive oil and

stewing them to hell in the microwave. He was actually managing to go

through a whole tray of peppers every 3 or 4 days, despite only

having 1 pizza on the menu that used them. The peppers were just

cooked away to nothing. It awakened memories of my childhood – my

mother was a terrible cook and everything, especially veg, was boiled

to hell leaving an unidentifiable sludge that had to be choked down.

Outside of his pizzas, I very quickly found out that while he talked

a good recipe (and which Frenchman doesnt?!) he didnt have the

faintest idea how to realise any of them.

We were still pretty quiet, with the season still in its infancy, so

A was doing most of the kitchen work and he was doing the pizzas. His

few attempts at the grill were not a success as he simply has no idea

of different cooking times for medium, rare etc etc.

Admittedly, his pizzas were pretty good, but one day he suggested

cooking a fresh ducks breast in the microwave. Something had to be


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Weekday lunchtimes, we offer a cheap menu for workers – 3 courses,

wine and coffee for €12. They dont get a choice though, if they

dont like the dish, they have to order from the normal menu at full

price. This proved popular last year, and had other benefits in the

kitchen. The main dish would often be whatever we cooked for the

staff to eat – often pasta bakes or a stew etc. It also allowed us

to get rid of foods that were approaching their use-by date and

needed to be shifted.

Still quite early in the season, A took a couple of lunchtimes off.

This left JL on his own, and floundering. Despite only having a

couple of tables for this first days midday serving, he struggled to

cope and I ended up taking over A's role in the kitchen while JL

retreated to the safety of his bloody pizzas.

More and more he was spending all his time on them and doing nothing

to help A. if there were a queue of orders, rather than do them one

by one with A, he would look ahead through them and pick out the

pizzas and get them done, making it impossible to synchronise the

other plates. He just didnt have a clue.

The second day was the decider. A regular labourer popped round mid

morning to tell us he would be there lunch time with an apprentice.

I told JL to prepare a main dish for them, and to make enough to feed

the staff that evening.


“Anything – you are the chef, remember”

“but what will I cook?”

“You have a kichen full of ingredients – you decide. You know the

kind of things we normally do for the workers menu – just cook


“I will do them pizzas”

“pizzas are never on this menu, besides this guy doesnt like them”

“He hasnt tasted MY pizzas yet”

“look, just cook them something”

About 11 oclock, he had nothing ready, and still didnt know what to

do. I asked him about all the wonderful recipes he kept talking

about, to get a mumbled reply about not having the right ingredients.

I the end I told him to cook them pasta carbonara and some sausage as

we had loads to use up. Enough for the two labourers who had

reserved, allow for a few more incase any others turn up and enough

for the waiting staff that evening, so maybe 7 to 10 portions of


Bear in mind, JL claimed to have run his own restaurant specialising

in pizzas and pasta.

15 minutes later I went back into the kitchen to find him with the

biggest pot we have on the stove full to the brim with boiling water.

(this is a bloody big pot – probably 20 inches in diameter and over

2 feet deep!) He was just about to tip in a 5kg bag of pasta.

For ten portions.

The time had come.

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So we had the talk the next day. I listed all the problems I had with

his work, and awaited his comments.

He took the criticism in stony silence, then blurted out “So what,

do you want me to quit? Is that it?”

“Well, yes I do actually.”

“oh. Right. Well, I quit, then!”

And he did. So, with the high season just about to start, we were

once again without a pizza chef. Over the past few days, I had

contacted the jobcentre and asked them for a chef. Their offerings

were feeble, leaving us no choice. I would move into the kitchen,

replacing JL doing pizzas, A would continue on salads etc and we

would both do the grill work. Another waitress would be hired to do

tables and drinks and deserts etc.

A and myself knew that we could cope with this after last season left

us in the same boat, but it had been very hard, exhausting work.

Would a second season be easier? We hoped so, as things were about

get busy.

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We were to find out pretty quickly. JL left on a thursday, after a

week of bad weather. Friday brightened up and the forecast for the

weekend was for hot, sunny weather. Reservations started coming in

thick and fast for saturday night.

Meanwhile, I was rummaging in the pizza fridge.

The pizza workspace is a marble worktop built over an industrial

fridge with cupboards and large drawers. For a supposedly organised

chap with a military background and experience running his own

restaurant, it was a bloody mess. It was rammed to capacity (Its a

very large fridge) with loads of stock boxes. These are

standard-sized plastic boxes in a couple of different volumes for

ingredients that are designed to fit into the racking in professional

fridges. A had been complaining about these boxes being in short

supply, and I found out why – they were all rammed into this

fridge. Old stuff pushed to the back and left to rot, new stuff

unlabelled and often duplicated two, three or even four times....no

wonder the shopping bills had been so high – most of it was being

wasted by JL.

I like organising things – it appeals to my nature for some reason,

so I soon had it ship-shape.

The friday was a quiet day allowing me to find my feet with the

pizzas, however everything coming out the second oven was

over-cooked. I had recently bought a fancy infra-red thermometer

thing, and a bit of trial and error with the knobs revealed that the

thermostat was not working at all and the oven was permanantly set to


The ovens came with the restaurant and are the property of the Marie,

so I am reluctant to poke around inside them myself, so I called the

repair people.

“Yeah, sounds like it needs a new 'stat” he said, stating the


“how much is a replacement and do you have anything in stock?”

He actually made that noise sucking a through his teeth!

“Be about “250€ all in. Busy though – cant do anything till

the middle of next week”

Screw that. By chance, a few days earlier some chap had visited and

left a card touting for business, servicing and repairing equipment

so I gave them a call.

“ok, I will be there in about 20 minutes”

“wha? But....errr....yeah, great ok.” I was very surprised by

rapid service.

He turned up and had a poke about and confirmed a dead 'stat. I asked

how long it would take to get a replacement.

“pffff, will sort it out for you now”

He came back from his van with a big box of bits n bobs and found a

thermostat that would fit. Secondhand, but removed from a working

oven, seemingly. Fitted up and working, he presented me with a €50

bill, including the call-out charge. Its clear who will be getting my

business from now on.

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K had been taking reservations all day Friday for Saturday evening,

and the phone kept ringing on the saturday afternoon too.

Two more.....table for 6 reserved.......another 3...... it was going

to be a busy night.

By mid afternoon we were at 85 reservations. This was to be my busy

first night doing pizzas. As well as diners, there were also 20 or so

takeaways reserved, and would be more turning up in the evening.

JL had – unsurprisingly – proved completely unable to manage

takeaways during the service, despite his promises He just couldnt

work fast enough. As a result, we had stopped takeaways at 7.30, when

the main service starts, and re-start them if there is demand after

the bulk of the service is completed.

To say I was nervous was an understatement.

It went ok though. Infact, it was one of our busiest nights, having a

total of 106 diners sitting down. I coped ok with the pizzas, but

relied a lot on A doing the grill work as I was not yet fast enough

to do my full share of the grills. I felt guilty about this, but A

was delighted – even the little I had done was way more than JL had

ever contributed.

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