There are fewer things in life more soul-crushing than the service industry in Ireland. It is the backbone of most college students’ finance, and it is the actual backbone of the Irish economy. I think that everyone should work in the service sector at least once in their life, perhaps like a bizarre form of national service. Why though? Because it is difficult in a way that other jobs aren’t; because it is still classified as ‘unskilled labour’. That classification could not be further from the truth. Anyone who has worked a restaurant, bar or café will tell you about the plethora of things one must master at a very young age, for exploitative wages and conditions.
Every bar worker knows that there is an art to pulling pints, making cocktails, cleaning glasses, taking money, and doing so quickly, all the while drunk patrons scream like drunk toddlers. Every member of the waiting staff in restaurants knows the menu off by heart and must recite it regularly for rude tourists who are greatly offended when the menu doesn’t involve some form of chicken nuggets and chips because they don’t know what Duck L’orange is (and they will protest loudly regardless). Every barista knows the pain of having to bang out a few dozen coffees per hour for hyper aggressive and impatient people who think they are the only ones whose job matters more if they have a coffee beforehand.
This experience has bred a generation of people hellbent on escaping this industry into a sector where they aren’t expected to work every weekend for peanuts and can get a decent night’s sleep without the fear of the dreaded closing shift followed by an opening shift.
I was a chef in a small restaurant in Lahinch. I was 19 when I started as a washup, and about nine months later I had to manage the kitchen as an acting Head Chef when my superior took his annual leave. 19 years old. I had done time on every station, had to learn every recipe, and had memorized the order book for our suppliers because we lost a lot of staff due to the seasonal nature of the service. It was intense and traumatic at times as well as exhausting, but it taught me some valuable lessons. It taught me how to work with a diverse group of people from all over the world, how to budget, how to clean like a machine, and how to service over 100 breakfasts per hour while incredibly hungover.
It is the universal experience among working middle class people, and everyone should endure it once for two reasons: to show how we have sold out this country to the tourism industry, while our youth succumb to horrible wages and conditions to keep the yanks fed and watered; and to make every person realize how hard it is to get everything right – to give their waiter a little sympathy before you scream at them for forgetting your garlic mayo.