Civilians, Boiling Liquid, And The Klutz

14th January 2021

The hardest part about hospitality is consistency. The best cafe workers can stay steadfast and mindful, even when the cafe is packed, customers are complaining, the docket orders are gushing out of the machine, and they have to stop every 15 minutes, scatter to the bathroom and throw up, as I did one morning.

Hospitality employees who don't drink are rarer than a vegan butcher. Bosses know this. So they don’t mind if you’re hungover, as long as you can smile and not break anything. When I worked after a big night, I wasn't great at masking my underlying desire to die, but I could always keep a steady hand and I never smashed a glass, unlike one lady I worked with.

She—let’s call her Lauren—was famous for bumping into things (static objects, mostly) and her hands shook when she picked up fragile dining wear. Over her stint there, she broke trays of glass and ceramics and, despite her clumsiness, she never apologised. In a blase' way, she'd just chuckle to herself and shrug, sweeping the shards of the floor. She did this when she was fresh and lucid too. I fretted the day she was hungover.

When that day came, she was 30 minutes late and she rocked up halfway during the morning rush. Typically, she didn't excuse herself. She just threw on an apron and, as her arms flailed in the air, knocked the paper cups off the machine. “Just take out the coffees,” I snapped. I was steaming milk and there was a cluster of hot drinks getting cold on the counter.

“Where they going?”

“Table 5.”

“Where’s table 5 again?” she said, despite having worked there a year.

“Outside,” I said, chucking milk in cups. She nodded and walked outside, in the wrong direction. She went out the back, not the front where the customers sat. She returned.

“Where?” she said.

“Geeze. Out the front!” She sprinted out and the coffees in her hands spilled over the rim. Meanwhile, I was calling out names for takeaways. “Thanks, Sarah! Sarah! Sarah! Sarah, your coffee is here.”

Finally Lauren returned. “Excuse me,” she said to customers lining up as she squeezed through them. She could have just walked around, I thought. But whatever.

Maybe she correctly realised I was losing patience with her for she didn’t ask where the next coffees were going. Instead she picked up two cappuccinos. She backed away from the bench while reading the docket which noted the table number.

As she did this, the customer Sarah came into view. She was walking to the bench, too, near Lauren, and I thought, "Oh no."

Sarah reached for her takeaway and Lauren pivoted around and, in slow motion, like in the movies, the cappuccinos magnificently collided with Sarah’s linen dress.

Next second, Sarah stood incredulous, drenched in chocolate powder and espresso-stained milk. Her expression mirrored the head-rotating clowns at the local fair. To make matters worse, Lauren picked up a dirty Chux cloth and began dabbing Sarah’s forehead with it, unbeknown to the fact that I’d just used the very same cloth to clean the coagulated mouldy milk off the fridge.

At first, Sarah remained still, presumably paralysed by shock. But she finally swiped the cloth away. "Yuck," she said. Then she looked down and began screaming, “Ahh. My dress! My dress!”

The scene was hard to watch and the fiasco would've gone on had the manager not stepped in and offered Sarah free coffees for life. Lauren had disappeared by now and the staff began bitching about her. "What a klutz," they said. "And she didn't even say sorry."

"Now hold on," I said. "She will definitely apologise. You watch."

Upon returning, Lauren straightened out her new apron with her palms, picked up a flat white, and leant in. "Psss," she said.

I lifted my eyebrows at my colleagues as if to say, "See? Told you she'd apologise."

Holding the flat white at an angle, Lauren thumbed her finger in the direction of the exit. "How was that woman?" she said. "Talk about an over-reaction."

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