This article isn’t about food but about my current internship (related to the food industry), and it’s a pretty big one. I’m working as an intern in the restaurant of the 5* hotel Le Méridien in Taipei (an originally French hotel bought over by the American Starwood) a few weeks ago. This is actually my first time working in a restaurant, and working abroad. What’s fun is that i really notice differences in the way French and Taiwanese people work, but also the way they eat, and i can see that what might seem to be a simple job is actually pretty demanding on a physical level.
- Concerning the restaurant:
It’s a buffet restaurant that does breakfast (6:30am-10am), lunch (11:30am-2pm), tea time (3pm-5pm) and diner(6pm-9:30pm). It’s pretty famous in Taipei since usually you need to make a reservation between 1 and 2 months before getting a table. I’m doing the morning shift from 7am to 3pm, so I only know about breakfast and lunch so far. Usually we have around 190 guests for breakfast (but since the slot is pretty wide, we don’t have all the guests at the same time), and 220 for lunch and everyone at the same time this time. So yeah, it’s pretty big.
The breakfast food is mainly western food, from waffles, pastries, viennoiseries, fruits, cereals to bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes, to more chinese food like noodles, rice soup…teas, coffes and fresh orange juice (they changed from several juices to only fresh orange juice when I arrived).
The lunch food then is also western food, with home-made pizza, pasta, breads, seafood, salads, fruits, beef, cakes, crêpes, Japanese food with sushi, sashimi, tempura, to chinese food with again soups, dumplings, noodles, pork…
The tea time is also in big part salted (which might surprise in France) again with sushi, pizza…
When we work in the restaurant, we divide it in 3 distincts parts, mainly used for ore convinience and for breakfast: A area, B area and C/Mao (-cat in chinese)area and outside the restaurant, the S area. One area is exclusively for the hotel customers. Then each table as a number to be able to recognize each table, from 1-5 up to 33, and sometimes you have another letter after the number. So basically, you can have A3, A13, A23, B44a, B44b…for each table. Once you’re set in one area, you never go to another or even look at it, even if it’s just the next table. That’s not your territory. We usually change are twice a day, but sometimes you stay in one area for the whole day.
- Differences in the way Taiwanese and French people eat:
Ok, that was quite a shock to me at first. I had to get accusted to several things
– First, the Taiwanese eat A LOT. You can count nearly 10 plates for each customer. Usually in French we prefer quantity over quality, but here Taiwanese people will rush on the buffet, will come back to their seat with several plates. Quite unbelievable, and they’re still slim.
– Secondly, they share food. I knew that, so I wasn’t that surprised but we don’t do that in Europe. For example, they’ll take one piece of meat, but they will be 2 or 3 people to share it.
– Thirdly, they don’t know how to use knives. That’s pretty disturbing. They will just use a fork like a chopstick and eat one piece of the food, cutting it with their teeth, the main part of their food still on the fork. Hum… Not really “ragoutant” as we would say in French.
– Forthly, and that really surprised(and still do, that’s behind understanding to me), they can eat sweet and desserts before their main dish. For example, they’ll start with an ice-cream and then try the sashimi. Or even worse, they mix desserts and main food. Like a crêpe with berries jam with their beef. My stomac still gets cramps when it sees that.
– The worse guests are the Mainland China guests (especially the old generation) and the best are the Japanese (I would say espcially 20 to 40 years old women). Why? Some people from Mainland China (and I say some, of course not all are like that), just put all the food they don’t eat on the table. Like the shells of the seafood, some meat bones….Taiwanese also do that sometimes with desserts. And then you have to clean it with only a small cloth. That’s really disgusting when the all table is full of waste. Trust me. And the Japanese on the other hand are totally clean. We had like 12 women guests eating at a table, and we nearly didn’t had to clean the table after. Loved them for that.
– I’ve never seen so far any Taiwanese ask for an espresso. They prefer cappuccino or latte, they find espresso a way too sour.
– They either waste a lot or eat their plate to the last grain of rice. As with chopsticks you can be a way more precise about what you eat (you can litterally eat rice one grain by one), some customer really act like this you when you pick up the plate, you have to make sure that there is no more food, nothing, nada left.
– Taiwanese also barelly eat water. They don’t like it. Juices, soda, tea, as you want, but water? Not even a glass. Fortunately for us employees since we only need to serve water (so one glass when the arrive at the table, and that’s it most of the time).
– People often ask to change seats. Even though they know that the restaurant is always fully booked, they still asked. More than in France. Or it also happens that people that don’t have reservation want to have a seat, while they also know that’s always booked.
– The bags. We don’t have that neither in Europe so i needed some time to get used to this, but when customers have a bag, we have a special chair only for their bags that weput next to the table and then we cover the bag (with a cover, of course). I think that especially girl must not like this cover since i noticed that a lot of them like to show off their “chanel, vuitton…) and other luxury accessories (like sunglasses inside the restaurant. “Of course my dear, the lightbulb is a wayyyyyy too strong for my eyeees”).
– There are a lot more big groups eating together than in France. It’s common to see big families or friends of 6,7,8 people everydays, or even 22 people. (invidualism against groups civilisation…)
– Oh, and Asian call pastries “breads”. No wonder they say that they gain a lot of weight in France after eating breads. If they only eat bun and croissants and other sweet things while calling them bread, they sure won’t loose weight. That’s quite fun.
- Differences about French and Taiwanese people at work:
Hum, you can laugh about this while comparing one of the country that work the less in the world and one of the fastest growing economy…
– Number of hours a day: France=7h, Taiwan=8h (for a similar job coz working hours in still depends on your job in France and in Taiwan i asked some people, they told me it’s usually 9 hours)
– Break in one day: France= 1h30, Taiwan= 30mn
– Day-offs each month without holiday: France= 7/9 days, Taiwan= 7/8days
It seems like it’s not a lot, but if you start calcualting, basically, if we take this month, July 2012, I would work 154 hours in France, while here I work 184 hours, meaning 30 hours more, meaning a little more than 4 days more than in France.
– People eat their luch while watching tv. Surprising to me. Lunch time is usually a moment to talk with others in France, but here no, because you only have 30mn (you don’t eat, you swallow your food) and the tv is on all the time, so you just watch it.
– We have a small meeting everyday and Taiwanese always have a small notebook with them where they write down everything that their manager says. Or i saw some other intern starting, they wrote down everything that their were told. I don’t know, i never even thought about that, because to me, waitress, like seller is a job that you learn on the field, while practising, not by writing.
– The other employees are really like a big family and everyone, really everyone goes along with each other and chat. When an intern starts, usually they go quite slowly to let him/her adapt to the environment. I really like that, it suits best my personnality and it’s easier to get motivated by starting by easy things, get a little more confidence to then progress. I don’t know if it’s only the hotel culture or if it’s like this everywhere, but it’s nice.
– The morning meeting is before the working hours. Meaning, i start at 7am, but the meeting is at 6:50am (not 1mn late). You’re also expected to stay longer. And, trainings are outside your working hours too. For example, today, I had a training about coffees, from 3:45pm to 4:40pm. Got out of the hotel at 5pm. Yeah, that’s definetely not in France that you would see that.
– Also during meetings, people don’t ask questions or criticize things or what the managers say. When i worked in H&M, we usually asked questions, everyone used to share their thoughts about how to talk to a customer or how to sell…but here nobody does. They reply to “tests” managers ask them, but that’s all. There’s no real exchange/discussion about what is said. For example, concerning the fact that during breakfast we changed from several juices that the guests go to take to only orange juice served, nobody asked questions. I was the only one who went to asked after I talk to my collegues which didn’t know why and also found it weird. Then the managers told me it was because it was fresh juice, some other Meridien hotels do the same abroad, and that usually people take orange juice over other juices. Once explained, that it’s for uniformize the breakfast through all the hotel and that’s for the quality of the product, then it’s easier to accept it. I think that interactions and communication lack a little when it comes to sharing ideas from the lower to the higher level.
- So in the end, what’s the job?
There are a lot of things i never thought about before. For example, when we arrive, a part of us will put fork, knife and the fork/knife support in a nakpin. Why? Because it’s then quicker to prepare a table when a customer arrives. So someone has to fold all the napkins, but also wipe all the glasses on the table. Wipe the tables, change the sugars (white/brown) from the breakfast cofee or tea to the toothpicks for lunch (and when you have more than 55 tables, that takes some time). Then prepare the exact number of napkin/fork/knife for each booked table, do the setting,
there is water+lemon in the pitchers, fill then once emptied
there are 4 brown sugar/4 white sugar, 6 sugar free packs in each breakfast table setting,
there are 5 toothpicks in each lunch table setting,
all the baby settings are ready,
there is enough paper napkins and 4 and 4 wet towels in the lunch setting (for seafood)
count all the used napkins and each 10 make a knot (that’s my favorite job, i’m pretty quick at this one usually around 20 mn for more than 400 napkins)
your station is clean. As you have too many guests to go to the kitchen each time, you pill up the plates in a specific area, where you also select the wastes (for pigs, and for the trash can). So at the end of each service, you need to wash your station for it to be ready for the next service, which includes: glasses support, napkins support, 4 cutlery supports, clean trashcans, the napkin box, clean clothes
during the service:
take the plates, drinks, glasses
take orders for the “soufflé”
place and bring them to their table, move the napkin to show that somebody is at the table
ask for coffee/tea for the breakfast and place a little token that says coffee or tea to help the one in charge of the preparing the drinks
prepare coffees or teas
place the wet towels/paper napkins
give a support bag
wait for the customers with clasped hands in the front (important: NOT in the back, as i always do and get scold), without moving. I hate this when i have to do it for 3 hours in the morning. It hurts like hell and you only wish for guests to come so that you can move. I’m pretty sure they do it on purpose so that we see guests as our life savior and welcome them warmly. I’m sure of it!
Clean the plates during the service, because there are so many plates that you need to transport them several times to the kitchen (like 10 times in 2:30hours).
same with the cutlery, since we also select them into plastics, fork/knifes, small bowls and metallic ustensils, and glasses (guys usually take care of glasses and bowls and other stuff because it’s pretty heavy, and then you need to empty the glasses)
transport trash to the kitchen
give the bill
take the money (of course, we’re not giving food)
give the satisfaction test and take it back after
talking to the guest while hearing what the employees are saying through talkie-walkie (AND in Chinese, please! that i can’t master it)
try to talk and communicate with your fellow members (coz most of them speak only Chinese, and with my 1 year of real practise…like numbers between 14, 4, 44, C4 (this one doesn’t exist anymore!!) C11 (shisi, si, sishisi, Csi and Cshiyi), like just to ask, “in which area are you going?” = “Ni qu na qu?” with he first “qu” going down and the second going up, it’s really not easy.
take account of customers remarks (especially the “where are the toilets please?”, one of the first sentence that i recognized because everyone asks it)
thanks guests for coming and saying hello and good bye (not always the case in France)
clean the salt and pepper, see if they are well in line with the one from the other tables
that the baby chairs are at the right place, with baby set (a lot of babies in restaurants here: at least 4 for each service, and we say that Taiwan as a low birth rate?!)
stow the non-used coffee cups and look if they’re well-cleaned
put a coaster under each coffee and tea served
stow the coasters after each breakfast
ok, That’s some of what we have to do, that’s not everything. And, i’m not a runner, the ones that take care of the buffet (the names of each dish, the that there are enough plates…). It’s really interesting even for my personnal knowledge to know that there are actually so many things to do. But the most difficult thing is still the trail. I never used one before, and i still have troubles to pick a lot of plates at the same time. It actually hurts the anckle quite a lot since everything weight on it. As for now, i’m still at 13 glasses on one trail max, and 10 plates, but usually i’m still around 4/5 things on one trail. I have to do better if i want to have a chance to take all the plates of one table in one time…
So far i like quite a lot. That’s not a job i would do for life, but it’s great to get an understanding of the hospitality/restaurant industry.