Going to university is expensive but trying to gain extra money to support yourself during your studies can be difficult. Students who live away from home move around the country each term and therefore need flexible work, many looking to zero hour contracts. I was in this position last summer and after hearing of my friend's job as a part-time waitress, I thought it seemed like an easy option to gain experience and money.
I now work for an events company as a member of waiting staff and get sent to various venues to provide whatever services are needed. The events I work at are often high-profile occasions with celebrity and royal guests - people who expect the best and are prepared to pay for it. Unfortunately, the people who work these jobs, at least the people at the bottom of the ladder, never see the money. Workers who are under the age of twenty-one start by earning just over £5 an hour which I found even more insulting when I learnt that the legs of lamb I was serving at a particular event were worth £1000 each.
Waiting staff are expected to work long hours with minimal breaks, my first shift was seventeen hours long with a ten minute break for a sandwich. During the day I asked the people who were working with me if it was even legal for us to get so little down-time and I was told that I could ask but I would probably be fired. When working with clients, it is not in your best interest to ask questions or have an opinion. I learned this when someone I worked with was sent home after trying to deal with a bread shortage by suggesting that we hand out rolls instead of leaving a basket on four of the six tables. Another worker was screamed at and called "an incompetent bitch" for setting a table with a fork a few mm too high but that's just another day at the office.
An even darker side to the industry is the prejudice that many workers experience. Gender roles are enforced on most jobs as female employees work as waiting staff while men are put behind the bar. As women, we are expected to put up with bum pinching from drunk guests and occasionally sober managers. Racial prejudice is also not uncommon - one person told me that she had been called a racially abusive term by an external manager but that when she complained, she was told "that's just how the manager is". Guests have been known to refuse service from staff members with ethnic backgrounds and because the customer is always right, these employees have had to apologise for who they are and find someone else to help.
These incidents are just a few from a long list of negative experiences that I have had working in the service industry but everything in front of the guests is done with a smile because that is part of the job. As the elite compete over who can throw the most exuberant party, workers seem to become part of the capitalist crossfire.
Unfortunately, it is the vulnerable that are being exploited; staff members are a mixture of students, young creatives looking for work and people who have come to the UK looking for more. I once spent the weekend working with a woman who was trying to save the money for a plane ticket to go back to Romania but was finding it nigh on impossible while having to pay her extortionate rent. The zero hour contract means that staff can be cancelled from a shift at any time but if we cancel without 48 hours notice, money is docked from our pay - no matter the reason for absence. For those who are relying on money to pay rent, it can be a very stressful and difficult lifestyle.
Many readers may attend events with hired waiting staff, which is of course nothing to feel guilty about, a lot of the time I wish that I could be a guest at the parties I work at. All I can ask for is a little consideration because it makes my job so much more bearable when guests treat me with some respect. So please, don't shout at me for something that clearly isn't my fault - I can't do anything about the fact that the colour of the walls clashes with your dress or that I 'look embarrassed' when I refuse to let you take me for dinner for the tenth time. Then again, I'm sure that no reader would act in such a way because when it comes down to it, I'm just asking that you remember that I am a human being and not just a smiling table.