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It doesn’t have to be inhuman

It’s only a pub but the tourists don’t understand that so one of the staff is having to play maître d’. But it’s beginning to get to him.

After one particularly frustrating conversation with a party of ten who don’t understand why there isn’t a table big enough to take them he retreats behind the bar.

Concealed behind a pillar he lets his shoulders slump and at once a colleague rushes over to ask if he’s OK. They share a few muttered words. The second lad takes the first lad’s face in his hands, looks him in the eye, and says: “You’ve got this, mate.” They both laugh, play fight for a moment, and then the maître d’ comes out swinging, ready to go again.

In another pub, quiet and a little gloomy, a particular song begins to play and one of the bar staff instantly darts into the cupboard to turn it up. His two colleagues throw their hands in the air in celebration and the three of them dance together as they clean glasses and wipe the counter.

Elsewhere, a barman takes an order for food before the kitchen has opened and says, hand slapped to his head, “I’m sorry, I’ve fucked up.” The chef replies, “No problem, bruv. I’ll make it happen.” He presents a fist to be bumped and adds, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!”

At shift change in another pub, two members of bar staff have a brief handover, running through the beers that are on and other bits of admin. “It’s funny how we never actually get to work together,” she says wistfully as he picks up his rucksack, ready to leave. “Well, I might stay for a half to keep you company, then, while it’s quiet,” he replies. She looks delighted.

In one pub the garden has to close at 10 pm or they’ll lose their licence. A barman, wiry and youthful, is trying to chase customers inside, prevent new ones appearing, and clear the tables. A bouncer, about twice the barman’s weight, twice his age, and several inches taller, appears. He blocks the door. Once smokers get the message and stop trying to barge through, the bouncer starts clearing glasses and jars of mustard, too. They get the job done by 9:59 and the door is bolted. “Thanks, man.” “You’re very welcome, brother.”

On a busy night, standing room only, in a pub in the suburbs, pints of Guinness are lined up, half filled, while a distracted barman deals with a complicated order. “Do you want me to finish them for you?” asks a colleague discreetly. He nods, frantic and grateful, and she winks, flicks up a thumb, picks up where he left off.

And they glide around each other like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, despite there being hours left on the shift.

3 replies on “It doesn’t have to be inhuman”

This ticks so many boxes for me, both from my time working in pubs, and watching the almost intimate interactions between staff and staff and customers in my favourite pubs.

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