Fries, Coke and a PHD: The normal life of a food attendant

17 May

Pat myself on the back, I’ve just completed my first week of work at a really nice United Kingdom food chain. It’s called PRET A MANGER. For my Québec readers, the lack of diacritical marks, or accents as you common folk call them, is of course done in ignorance, not to mention that all those capitals are probably giving the French language a heart attack. But hey, at least they wouldn’t have to translate their name THAT much, if they expanded to Québec, but I digress. Really it’s a chain in line with Subway or Tim Hortons with a pinch of Grocery store finesse. They make tons of sandwiches fresh every morning, you choose what you want, get served in seconds, and anything leftover, in theory, goes to the poor. I must admit, being  a stickler for details by day, and a rant artist by night, I am truly impressed by how things are run, not to mention I’m getting a new perspective and a ton of ideas for my Sandwich saga.

What has truly impressed me so far though, has not been the concept, or the food, or the general feel (although all very interesting). What has really impressed me, has been the people I work with.

Fries Coke PHD

Besides having worked at Subway restaurants, I have also worked in two other kitchens, once as a camp cook, and for several months as a ‘Nouveau’ Italian cook. I say ‘Nouveau’ because if I called it classical my Italian girlfriend would get more pissed then a francophone reading ‘Prêt à manger’ spelt without any diacritical marks. What I’ve learnt working in kitchens, is that they attract not only characters but some of the hardest working people I know.

In Montreal I worked with a Sri Lankan fellow, that not only made a mean Pizza, but did it fast, effectively, and without any assistants whatsoever. He’d crank out thirty to forty handmade pizzas in under an hour, all with what seemed like 19 different toppings, always cooking four simultaneously at any given moment in a 700˚ F wood oven, and all tasting delicious. On top of that, if anyone called in sick, he could replace them in a second, knowing the menu like the back of his hand. I was always quite impressed, but what impressed me even more (if that’s even possible) was that this was one of three jobs he had, all of which to support his young family. Oh, and did I mention he had a degree in engineering back home?

Oily face, stained visor, farm of pimples, two rows of shining metal teeth chains, squeaky voice, and a constant plumber butt on display; if you just imagined your stereotypical fast food attendant then you wouldn’t be that far off from the great imagination of the vast majority. But having worked in fast food I can tell you this is maybe 2o% of the workforce, unfortunately when you have a bad experience because of that awkward teen, that’s the memory that stays with you, that haunts your greasy fry dreams at night. But the reality is most people have found themselves in this occupation, got comfortable and good at it, and now they’re doing it for a living.

Well having worked in London now, it seems like there are thousands of these individuals. For whatever reason, no one’s given them a corporate opportunity, or their knowledge of the Native language isn’t sufficient, or they just plain love the buzz of a busy kitchen, but either way I’ve never met so many hard working, way overeducated sandwich makers. They can crank out 6 different types of sandwiches in less than 60 minutes, each involving at least 7 steps, between bread, sauce, meat, veggie, slice, pack, and put away. They clean their stations at least 8 times, measuring careful amounts of ingredients, for a total of 150 sandwiches each per hour. Think about that next time it takes you 30 min to put together a simple ham and cheese lunch. The worst part is they make it look simple, easy, and despite the madness each item looks beautiful and tastes equally delicious. Then of course I find out they’re from Poland, or Hungary, or Italy, they have an education that would make my University professor squirm with uneasiness, AND they’re doing this for minimum wage.

I, having worked in an office, sometimes only a third as much as these guys, and getting paid three times as much, have just been given a deeper appreciation for those in the service industry. It’s definitely a vocation, and the people that do it are mad, brave, and damn hard workers. So next time you’re patiently waiting in line because your Panini hasn’t reached optimal grilled status. Take a breath, smile and just be grateful. I’m not trying to make any political comments or grand statements but simply put, if the roles were switched, and you were behind the counter, well you might just have a panic attack for something as seemingly simple as making at sandwich.

Peace and happy living,



2 Responses to “Fries, Coke and a PHD: The normal life of a food attendant”

  1. Anon May 18, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    They’ve had Pret a Manger in Montreal for a while now!

    • dduroc May 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Super cool, do you know where? Because I couldn’t find it on google, the chain I’m talking about is

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