When I first arrived in the U.K. I had no permanent living space and no job. I came over with just my good intentions and some savings to get me through the first month or two. I needed to sort so many things out in a very small time-frame. For instance: I needed a National Insurance Number, a new phone number, a furnished room to let but most importantly; a source of income. I managed to sort all but the last, in just three weeks time.
I found a room in Fen Ditton, which lies just north of Cambridge, along the river Cam. Once I settled in there I started sending out job applications. One after the other, each with an elaborate cover letter and not a single reply from anything other than a machine, confirming my application was received and then another standard template stating I didn’t make the final cut. Discouraging, to say the least. But no reason for despair… Yet.
I widened my search. Expanded my filters and started looking into things I had never before imagined myself working on. But all online and all without even being able to speak to anyone directly. It wasn’t until I got on my bicycle to ride into Cambridge one day that I noticed a sign hanging in the village pub window: “Help Wanted. Experience preferred, Personality required.”
I walked in and showed as much personality as I could muster and they decided to give me a trial shift the coming Friday night. Because why test someone on a quiet shift, right? right…. I came in, did my best and about twenty minutes in the manager dropped: “Aren’t you a bit overqualified for this job?” Perhaps. But I knew that there was still so much I could learn from working here. Especially when it comes to people skills. Having the ability to approach people you have never met before, dealing with complaints in a calm yet decisive manner, keeping everybody happy, even when you’re really busy. All things I could learn right here and get in enough money to cover my rent and my food for the month. That was all I really needed.
As an added bonus, this position allowed me to get to know a lot of the locals as well. I was told that it is generally quite difficult to be accepted into the village but they took a liking to this dutch chap with his fancy glasses. Within two weeks we had people coming in, asking if I was on shift and being slightly disappointed when I wasn’t. This felt really good, to know that you have the ability to give people a nice evening out without worrying about the rest of the world for a bit and have a nice meal and a drink before heading back to their daily lives.
I learned more about different types of drink, food and most of all, people. Some people just want a nice burger and as long as there’s no hair on it, they’re mostly fine with whatever you bring them. So then the amazing things our chef dished out was always a welcome surprise. But then there are also some people who you could serve Michelin-level food on silver platters and would still find something to complain about. Learning how to deal with both in a respectful manner, knowing the balance between amicability and professionalism you need to show in each unique situation is a lot more difficult than most people would think. I knew this would be my challenge while I was here.
What I didn’t know was that you also learn to anticipate people’s behavior and movements. If you pay close attention you can read small cues indicating what people want next. Whether it’s if people are ready to order or that they would like some extra spoons to share a desert they ordered earlier. People like it when they don’t have to ask for everything, they like to be taken care of. Knowing what they want before they do is what makes you a great waiter/bartender. It’s what makes you a host. Someone people feel comfortable with and whom they know will take care of everything for them, even special requests.
The moment I realized I was getting the hang of it, was when my boss came to me and asked me if I ever checked trip-adviser at all. I didn’t so I told him that I would in future, thinking it was just something he wanted me to take up. But then he said that someone mentioned me on there specifically in a good review. That felt amazing. To know that you made someone’s stay memorable enough for them to go online and leave a review for the world to see. I’m not quite done learning here, but I am ready for the next challenge. So if you or anyone you know is looking for someone like me, please don’t hesitate to contact me.