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DECEMBER 2014: The failed romance; and some tips for how to have successful Christmas fun, that doesn't piss off your waiter (works the rest of the year too)

My Dickensian romantic dreams go into overdrive and then shatter as December draws on, and no snow arrives. As a person of the commonwealth/ postcolonial spaces of New Zealand and Malaysia, England is a place created from fairytales. It is through literature that I learnt about England, and December is the ultimate time for the British fantasy - the lights of Oxford Street, the cold air, the christmas trees and mulled wine. All the things I had been reading about in Dickens, in Enid Blyton, in the adventures of Milly Molly Mandy and Little Friend Susan where suppose to blossom and come true.

I arrived in London in September 2001 and the year after, my sister came to visit me at christmas. She was 18, and I was 21. And it snowed. I was living on St Johns Street in Angel, Rachel and I bought a tree and dragged it home, through the 2ft of snow. And so, London, that’s what you did to me - showed me what was possible and let me down time and time again.

London in summer is a place of my creation, I had only thought about summer in England in terms of Swallows and Amazons, but at the age of 20 I was looking for slightly more salacious adventures than pottering about on a boat, and so London in summer was place I learnt and experienced on my own terms. I hadn’t read much about Brick Lane so hanging out with my Red Stripe beer on the pavement outside Big Chill didn’t break with any pre-conceptions. But, December. December is always a time for magic. December is for romance… and so, I wait every year for the snow to fall. 

I think the waiting gets me through, to be honest, because December is always a marathon. Basically, what I am trying to say, is December is a time of highs and lows. Excitement and disappointment; it is nostalgic and consumerism. Decadence and desire that plays with your heart strings, and this December I was thrown back into Christmas time restaurant work. The life of hospitality in December reflects these highs and lows - you’re excited about christmas, but you’re worked off your feet and don't have time to really enjoy the Oxford Street lights; you are excited about the money you can earn, but then you fast get over the amount of bullshit you have to deal with to get there; you have guests that just want to enjoy yourself, which reminds you why chose to work in restaurants, and then there’s the 2am finishes and the 10am starts…

I love hospitality, I love front of house, which is why I can never quite leave it. And the reason: it is because I am a flirt. I am an all inclusive, indiscriminate flirt - old, young, male, female, I will wink and smile and bat my eyelashes at you. I never wink in real life, but serving food and drink I seem to develop a twitch. Now, in December as any other time, I would love nothing more than to spend time fluttering my lashes and telling you all about why I love that particular pinot noir - because it reminds me of home - but I just don't have the time. This time of year is when restaurants have triple the amount of people to look after.

And in December people manage to turn on their worst and their best behaviour, rules go out the window and desire and expense accounts take over with a flow of arrogance and charm. 

I know that you’re with a group of people who you normally see when sober, during the hours of 9am - 5pm, and so getting supremely drunk is the perfect way to communicate that isn’t passively aggressively pushing for an extension on a deadline. I also really want you to have a good time, because if you have a good time, so do I! If you have a good time then we get to laugh together, we can smile at one another, I can blow you a kiss as you leave and wink when you tell me how good the dessert is. So please, don't be a dick, have patience, have faith, and look around you.

So here are my six top tips if you’re going out at christmas time, it will make your time wonderful and you wont piss of the restaurant staff - win, win. Works for a work party, for social gatherings or even a romantic date (list was developed in consultation with more experienced hospitality people that myself!):

1. Make executive decisions.
Or appoint someone to make them. This is the person guests need to let know if they have issues (need to leave early, are a vegetarian etc.) This person can be the communicator with the waiter.

2. Have a budget.
Tell your waiter your budget. They will know their wine list and can help chose the best beverages to fit your budget. (At christmas I would suggest that you budget for a pre-dinner drink and bottle of wine per person - some will drink more, some less, and some will drink beer, but if you take that as your financial guide, you should be ok). This way the alcohol can keep flowing without any hassle and you shouldn’t hit budget early. Your waiter will tell you before you hit your budget and you can decide whether to keep spending or stop.

3. Tell the restaurant about dietary requirements BEFOREHAND. 
This day and age it’s easy! Send an email around to your friends/colleagues when you make the booking. Tell the restaurant. The sooner the better. But if all else fails, tell them as soon as you get to the restaurant. Chefs are run off their feet at this time of year too, and the more time they have to prepare for you, the better culinary experience you will have. Chefs want you to love their food - help them, let you, love it. 

4. Smile. And tip. 
If you smile, your waiter will smile, and then they’ll want to serve you! And you will get great service. And then you will want to tip. The tips waiters get in December determine where they can afford to go on their holidays in Jan or Feb (hospitality people don't go away over Christmas/New Years - they are working like mad so you can have fun; and in summer - ditto) Think about where you would like to go after working four, 70 hour weeks, on your feet, in a row. Good restaurants make their wait staff tip out the rest of the team, kitchen and bar, so it’s not just the waiters who benefit from nice tips.

5. Think of the other guests. 
People will most likely be coming after you. They also want to have a good experience. If you are late, you aren’t screwing over the restaurant. You are screwing over other people who want to have a nice christmas-y dinner, but can’t because you and your party turned up late and refused to sit down because you like the idea of a few cocktails before dinner - if you want cocktails, turn up on time!

6. And finally, don’t be a dick. 
Or as a dear friend said when I asked about top tips during December: “don’t be a fucking dick”. So, if you forget all of the above, at least remember this one.


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