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Sunday, August 2, 2009


Disclaimer: I have shamelessly stolen the image on the left from the internet. I apologise for my unethical web theft.

I feel like I've never met a waiter who didn't smoke, or they at least wished they did. When the last of civilised society have finally come to their senses and given up smoking, hospitality staff will be dragged kicking and screaming into the fresh air.

When you work in the service industry, being a smoker means one thing - more breaks - and in the service industry, breaks are pretty hard to come by. Sure it's expensive, it stinks, it gives you all kinds of cancer, but we almost all did it at one time or another.

Although I rarely smoke now, over the last 10 years I've waited a lot of tables, and smoked a lot of cigarettes. A cigarette break, or a "fiver" as they are affectionately known, is sometimes the only five minutes in an eight hour day to be alone. And if not alone, in the company of another smoking waiter for a bitch session about your section.

Hospitality staff can usually be broken up into two groups - smokers and non-smokers. While a part of me always envied those puritans who had never smoked a cigarette in their lives with their snow white skin and twinkling eyes, deep down I know they never had quite as much fun as us smokers. Now, while I am not trying to rationalise or advocate smoking, darn it, we were cooler, we were naughtier, we stayed out later and we partied harder. Sure, the groups sometimes mingled, we played nice, but deep down, we were never truly on the same page.

There would always be someone trying to quit, but it would never last. I think we all knew that none of us would successfully quit smoking until we had left the hospitality industry, myself included. You know you're addicted when it's practically snowing and you are still going outside to smoke. Winter was usually the time when most of us tried to quit. In summer no one tried to quit.

Half the problem was tips. It was easy to afford to smoke when you had pocket full of cash at the end of every shift. The other half of the problem was alcohol consumption. In almost every venue I have ever worked there was no such thing as going straight home after work without at least one drink. It was partially about the company, partially about taking the edge of a hard lifestyle, and mostly about having a laugh.

Man, I used to drag myself to my waitressing jobs hungover at least two days a week (and I was one of the well behaved ones) swearing I'd never smoke or drink again. It'd never last more than 24 hours. These days it does though, I actually behave like a grown up 90 per cent of the time, something I never though would happen. But still, on sunny Sunday afternoons in a beer garden I still smoke like a waitress. Okay, and sometimes on Friday nights too.


steve said...

I really enjoyed what you wrote. I so agree with your sentimets & you nailed what its like in the life. Keep writin'

Victor said...

I couldn't agree more with Steve. But, it is probably easier to kick off the habit living in Hobart than in Syd or Melb.

The sad thing is that as a customer, i would hate to be served by a smoker esp after a smoke and not washing the hands. This happened to us at believe it or not, Aria when it was newly opened. The waiter had such a bad foul smokey hands when he placed our plate on the table. That was when Matt was a less known chef at the time. We never went back!

Maggie said...

I agree about the smokey smell. I would always try to save my smoking break until late in the night after most customers had left, but I would also take whatever break I could get. There was always a lot of hand washing!

Anonymous said...

Seeing wait staff gasp desperately in doorways then serving reeking of smoke disgusts me-its a very bad look & one I would prefer not to see as a customer.

Maggie said...

Anon, I agree, it is a bad look. One that I would prefer not to see as a manager either.

Jennifer Noble said...

*Those were the days!!!!*--a la Edith Bunker at the piano, wailing that line during the theme song to 'All In The Family.'

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lemon curd said...

(God I hate commercial breaks!!)
Loved your post, I always tried to keep the smoke breaks under control, but gee you keep up with all the gossip in that smoking corner/doorway/alley/room/garden/carpark/balcony etc!
I remember once smoking under umbrellas in the pouring rain, balancing cigarette, coffee and texting mobile phone - and then back too it a minute later!