Saturday 1 December 2018

Staff Shortages

by Jane Howson

                                                             a wine

“Shall I do the same as last year?  Afternoon tea in the clubhouse with M&S sandwiches and a selection of their cakes. The Lemon Drizzle cake went down well,” Annette asked.

There was a tangible silence and I heard myself filling it with the words I would later regret. “I don’t mind booking a venue for a sit down lunch if that’s what everyone would prefer,” I said secretly, hoping they would elect to go for the afternoon tea. “Shall we have a show of hands as to everyone’s preferences?” How had I managed to have taken over the arrangements for the Christmas lunch, I had no idea. One minute Annette was in charge now she was happily stepping back and letting me get on with it.

“Right, Hands up everyone who would like a sit down lunch.” I asked. Every hand shot up. It was obviously a much better option than sitting in the clubhouse on a cold December day with no atmosphere, opening packs of sandwiches and doing the washing up afterwards. No choice really to being served a three course dinner with wine and ending with tea, coffee and a mince pie.  “Well that’s decided then,” I said with forced cheerfulness. “I’ll be on to it tonight.”

Kevin couldn’t believe it when I told him. “Something else you have got to make time for, as if you don’t do enough already,” he complained.

“It’s hardly a mammoth task,” I replied unconvincingly, “I just have to find somewhere to fit 32 people, midweek at lunchtime. There won’t be a problem.”

Famous last words. I spent literally a whole afternoon ringing round all the popular hotels, pubs and restaurants. A lot were fully booked already, some could not fit in that number of people and some were far too far away to expect people to travel. In the end I was able to book at The Red Mount Manor which seemed to fit all criteria. The date they gave me was the first day they started the Christmas lunch menu and it would have to be in a room they didn’t normally use for dinners as the usual dining room was under reconstruction and would not be ready by then. The deposit was £20 with the remaining £9 to be paid on the day. The time agreed was 1pm. It all sounded fine. I explained that I would not know the exact numbers as I would have to put a list on the Club Noticeboard but I would be back to them within the week. Forgetting, of course, that not many members would be going up to the clubhouse in November as there was no play from October to April. Some met on the first Sunday of the month for a social gathering and there was a whist drive on a Friday, involving a small number of the members. There was no other choice, I would have to ring round.

I spent an evening doing just that. Some were out so I left messages. Some said they would pass messages on to others they were seeing. Two couldn’t do the date. Some wanted to see the menu first so I ran through it with them and said I would put the menu on the noticeboard for people to tick their choices so the restaurant was prepared ahead. The question of how they could get the deposit to me was another problem and in the end it was decided they would have to send me a cheque. These were ladies who did not do internet banking and when I questioned the captain as to why there was no website I could put the information on she replied “No one would read it.”

In the end I was able to ring the Red Mount Manor with numbers and paid the deposit on my card, hoping I would receive the 32 £20’s fairly quickly.  Most were obliging. My doormat was strewn with envelopes pushed through the door with cheques inside or cash. Some paid for others who lived further away. So in the end I was reimbursed. There was one small alteration when it was realised someone had got left out so the restaurant had to be rung again and the numbers altered, the menu read over the phone to the late entry and the deposit sorted out. Then the irritating dropping out of two people less than a fortnight before the event, rendering the final number at 31. I thought everything had been sorted when I received a phone call from the Captain of the club.

“I am so sorry, Sheila and I have suddenly realised we will be on our way back from a bowling weekend in Norfolk on the day of the Christmas dinner. They have to drop people off on route so it takes hours. Can we alter the time to allow us to get home, get changed and get to the Venue?” She asked.

 This meant making numerous phone calls, something I was now getting weary of. The time was changed to 2pm – only because we have no one following you until 6pm, they emphasised barely disguising their annoyance.

The day eventually arrived. Some were late, one lady did not arrive at all and no one could get hold of her so we had to cancel one place so at 2pm 30 of us took our places at the long refectory tables in a back room of the Red Mount. The tables were bedecked with stiff white cloths, Christmas table decorations, a paper serviette with a holly pattern and the obligatory Christmas Crackers.  There was some consternation about who was sitting where, next to who and a few complaints of, “ I always sit with Jean and Alison etc but it got sorted and we were at last all seated except for Brenda who had taken a last minute opportunity to go to the toilet – my bladder isn’t what it was, she explained.
It wasn’t until we were all in our seats that I remembered the £9 we all had to pay on the day. This resulted in a hurried announcement and a lot of confusion as the ladies fumbled for their hand bags and purses. To my horror, they did not produce cheques or bank cards, but cash. Worse still most were demanding change for £10 notes or were using coinage of a  small denomination – using up all the bits and pieces you gather in your purse – they explained. Hence I was left with an embarrassing pile of money in front of me. I gathered this all in and staggered to the reception desk where they said they would deal with it. 

Most of the ladies had forgotten what they had ordered but I had guessed this might be the case and had printed off a couple of copies of the menu selections. These went round the table, accompanied by mumblings of, “I don’t know why I ordered that, I don’t even like soup.” “I’m sure I didn’t tick that.” 

Crackers were duly pulled. The captain gave out several messages and we waited, with the droning of Christmas music in the background; and we waited and waited. At 3pm I got up and found a member of staff who apologised and said due to a staff shortage there had been a delay but the starters were on their way. Miraculously, these appeared with the soups, followed by the prawn cocktails and finally the pate. The inevitable happened. One of the soups was not claimed and there were two pates short. Lists were checked. One lady had started on the wrong choice, another insisted she would not make do with the soup and would wait for the pate another decided she would prefer prawns if they could find some more in the kitchen. By 3.30pm most had finished their starter and the main course was arriving before they had cleared off the starter plates. I then realised the lady who was insisting on pate still had not received it. I alerted the kitchen who apologised again, repeated the same story of a shortage of staff and her pate was duly delivered as the others were tucking into their mains having pushed their used dishes to one side. I stopped a waitress and suggested they clear away the dirty plates and before she could reiterate the staff shortage excuse I stopped her with, “Yes, I know!” The lady with the late pate finished and sat back expectantly for her next course. She waited and waited and nothing appeared. Again I was on my feet attempting to find a member of staff to point this out to. This was no easy task and I ended up at reception who then informed me that the deposits were short. I said this wasn’t possible as everyone had paid. She produced a complicated looking form that I was too het up to read properly, I said we would be demanding money back from them soon if they didn’t sort out Joan’s missing mains and stomped back to finish my salmon, to find Joan in conversation with a red faced waitress of about 16 who was holding a plate of quickly congealing Turkey and all the trimmings. Joan was in full rant about having too much turkey at Christmas and she had specifically avoided that choice and could she have her beef choice please.  The waitress was then joined by another member of staff, who looked about 18 who explained that this would take some time, what about the salmon as this would be quicker. Joan begrudgingly agreed to this. Some ladies had ordered more wine and all the mains had been consumed and Joan was still sitting there waiting for the elusive fish dish. I felt exhausted with the problem but again rose to find a member of staff. Again I was met with “It is on its way, due to staff sh….” I glared at the young member of staff.
Joan received her mains just as the first of the dessert choices arrived. Joan shouted at the girls putting the various dessert choices on the tables that she would keep hers next to her as she might never see it again.  She then vacuumed up her salmon in an attempt to catch up, resulting in painful indigestion and Rennies having to be procured from Daphne, Who always kept them in her bag for emergencies. 

At that moment I was approached by another member of staff, “Could I have a quick word with you at reception, madam?”

Again I left my seat, Again I trailed to reception to be told that they were very sorry for the confusion, but a recount had revealed that the balance for the meals I had given them was correct, but had I not realised that they wanted the 12.5% service charge included with the payment?

I looked at him in disbelief. “Firstly, I was never informed of that and secondly do you really expect tips after the atrocious service you have given us today and thirdly I would like a full refund for the lady whose starter did not arrive until the mains did and then her mains did not arrive at all so you had to prepare her another one and that did not arrive until the desserts did! She might as well have been having a meal on her own in another room!” I was aware of other customers looking at me and was glad. I hoped it would put them off. The manager took a few moments to recover himself. “I can only apologise again, I have never witnessed anything like this before. I am standing in today as deputy manager. The manager will be back tomorrow but I will recommend the refund immediately to your account and can only repeat how sorry we are.”

I turned and stormed back to the dining room entering just as a waitress tripped, spilling a raspberry and meringue sundae down the back of Sandra who jumped up (as quickly as her hip replacement would let her) screaming. There was pandemonium as everyone tried to help at once with napkins and tissues and sympathy.

I calmly went to my seat, picked up my bag and my own untouched sundae; walked over to Sandra, placed this before her, reassured her that I would get the hotel to foot the dry cleaning bill and walked out of the dining room just as the ladies at the top table could be heard bemoaning the fact that they were sure there was supposed to be a choice of tea or coffee with mince pies and nothing had arrived. The reply rang in my ears as I found my car  to make my escape. “Sorry, madam It will be here shortly. Staff…..”   I turned on the engine and accelerated out of the car park.

About the author 

Janet Howson taught Drama and English for 35 years in various comprehensive schools in East Anglia. She now has time to write and is enjoying it immensely. At the moment she is writing a novel and hopes to turn it into a script. She is also attempting short stories and relighting her love of writing poetry. 

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