It doesn’t take long to remind me of one of the reasons I like America. You just have to go out for breakfast and you’re immediately given a comprehensive experience of what the “Land of the Free” is all about.
Politeness – straight away a friendly greeting. Next come endless choices – sit at the counter and talk to another diner, sit in the window with a view of the sidewalk, sit at the back wall quietly out of view, or sit at the centre tables and watch everyone entering – you decide – decisions this early in the morning are never easy.
No sooner do you get sat down than you have a glass of iced water and the offer of coffee – regular or decaf? There are lots of other options but coffee is the assumed default choice.
In the USA, it’s hot, it’s there straight away and you are offered a refill almost as soon as you have taken your first sip. More refills will follow at five minute intervals throughout your stay.
Now you come to the supreme challenge – choosing your meal from the 1,000 items on the menu. An alphabet of fruit juices – apple, blackcurrant, cranberry, damson, elderberry – I am sure it goes up to Zebraberry juice.
Then we go to the corn flakes, bran flakes, oat flakes, rice crispies of my childhood, and granola of my Disney visits with hot milk, cold milk, low fat milk, semi-skimmed milk, skimmed milk – it’s amazing what cows can produce these days. Now we come to chickens and eggs – one egg, two eggs or three eggs – boiled, poached, scrambled, fried – sunny side up or easy over. P.S. – all the yolks are perfectly cooked and runny, not like the rubbery, greasy hard yolked eggs we only seem to be able to make in UK motorway service stations. Bacon – American thin and crispy – English just the way we are used to – Canadian more like gammon. They don’t usually have Indonesian bacon but I’d bet they would get it for you if you are prepared to wait.
Fifteen varieties of sausage, mushrooms and beans all follow. Then there are the “sides” – upsides, down sides, insides and outsides – onion rings, corn, hash browns, corned beef hash – it never stops. This is like third-degree interrogation – everything you say is written down and used in evidence later.
Forget the rest – we haven’t even got to the omelets nor the pancakes. Pancakes for breakfast ! Next thing you know they will be offering me maple syrup. How on earth do they eat this sweet and savoury combination – maybe they just get mixed up with all the questions, and don’t remember what they have ordered? You have to be a quiz champion to order breakfast in America, but when it arrives it is uniquely yours – no two customers can conceivably ever make the same choice.
I forgot to mention the bread, white or brown is the most difficult choice you’re faced with in the UK. No, here you get white bread, wholemeal, rye, sour dough, granary, whole grain, croissants – you need to come back another day to hear the rest of the list.
Meanwhile, check out the upside down sauce (ketchup) bottle an obvious way of avoiding all that shaking and splashes on your shirt – so why didn’t we think of it ?
So what has this got to do with Grumblesmiles?
Well this was just a small diner in New York – one of many. The food was excellent, the service first class and it all cost less than £10 a head to set you up for the day. The diner had enough tables for about 100 people but only 20 or so were there – although it was a public holiday. This small restaurant employed at least 8 people – 3 waiters all turned out in black trousers, white shirts, pads and pens in their pockets – one guy at the counter and four more I can see in the kitchen. Most are no doubt on minimum wage and depend on tips to make up their pay but this one little operation creates a lot of employment, and by the way at least half the staff were over 60. Maybe this is a portent of the future pattern of employment in England. A low wage economy and people working well beyond current pension age.
One of my first jobs when I as young was as a part-time waiter in a pub restaurant. Wages were low but the tips were good if you were polite and attentive to customers’ needs. I learned a lot from meeting and talking to all sorts of people and gained a lot of confidence. Confidence building and reassurance that they are still able to make a valued contribution is something many retired people need as well as the opportunity to phase themselves gradually into not working full-time. The pin-money to top up small pensions is an added bonus.
I think the Government should look at how it could stimulate significant growth in the service sector by removing tax and beaurocratic barriers to low paid part-time work.
Who out there has had experience in this sector ?
Is it a good idea or is it demeaning to older people?