Monday, November 17, 2014

Cafeteria, Tongue-Tummy-Tied

By Madhur Prashant, Humber Alumna and International Student Ambassador

Have you ever been in-charge of a large amount of food that is, ironically, not for you? 
Have you seen it disappear bit by bit while you struggle with a growling tummy? 

I have. 

When your job is to manage delectable food lest it land into unknown, undeserving tummies, including yours, you know it’s not going to be easy. Cafeteria is never boring and work here is never an ‘I-need-my-space’ kind. You have to work with shining and soiled plates, and trays and serving spoons. Your not-a-million dollar-smile must always be present, regardless of the gurgle and acid reflux in your belly. Your workspace may seem intriguing. A counter with sizzling food will be your desk. Disposable cutlery and Styrofoam plates will be your stationery. Gluttonous tummies and salivating tongues your irate customers. 

With minimum wage in hand, I have ‘managed’ food and everything about it.

At the Cash Counter

Sizzling toppings over soft and cheesy pizza slices, crispy spiced potatoes sinking in dense chicken gravy, with molten cheese dripping on the sides, and steaming chocolate croissant with layers glistening under warm flowing butter - at the cash desk you will see good-looking food disappear very quickly.

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

If you are strong-bellied but with a weak-heart, you must learn to control, lest the aromas intoxicate and frustrate you and weaken your arithmetic ability. 

At the Food Counter

This one’s tough. Here, you must learn to detach and let go. This position requires self-control. The very delectable, enticing varieties will fill up and disappear in moments. While waiting to serve at the counter, your eyes will remain fixed at the beauties. Tantalizing images of you romancing your food will haunt till you fall asleep. You’ll play with it and pick it up as if putting it on your invisible plate. Then, with a broken heart you'll drop it all into the dish. 

Your imagination will run wild until that one day when the same aromatic beauties will cease to entice you. You’ll buy once, twice or even thrice, but who really has the money or tummy to spare on restaurant food every day? The long days of self-control will finally turn you into a side dish, like a string of boiled bean, bland and boring. 

If you are observant like me, you’ll notice a variety of customers walk up to your counter with vivid expressions. 

The confused ones, who will take more time to decide what to eat than use it to savour it in the end.

The fools, like me, will walk with eyes stuck on food, as if that’s the only high point of their day. Food to such people is more than just an aroma, calorie and nutrition. 

The aggressors, who will charge at you like you are an obstacle. They’ll demand and won’t hesitate to expect a little more than allotted. You’ll curse them inside and smile outside. It’s not easy then to say, ‘That’s more than for what you paid!’ 

On the fashion front, you will have to don unflattering aprons and hair nets. I remember when I once pushed back my hair net for a better view of my hair, until glaring eyes of my boss pricked my hopes.

Cafeteria is a fast-paced workplace with almost everyone on their toes. From chefs preparing fresh breakfast, lunch, dinner and other varieties, to dish-washing guys sifting through dirty dishes and leftovers, life here is far from boring. 

The nature of your work will depend on your role here, and generally, you'll have to pick and learn all trades. You may serve food, handle cash, make pizza, clean floors or do other jobs.

However, it offers an excellent customer-service training and strengthens teamwork skills. Discipline is a must and so is cleanliness. No scratching yourself, twisting your hair, fidgeting with your nose, or wiping your mouth clean after a steal. Remember, if not your boss, your customer will keep an eye on you.

Whatever I have described here is based on my experience over a decade ago. At Saint Mary's University, life as an undergraduate student was still ancient compared to what it is now. You may find work in the cafeteria utterly uplifting. For me, it was just a means to earn my bread with some butter on the top. 

No job is easy. And this one is certainly not, considering my strong infatuation with all things pleasurable.

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