What It’s Like Working a 13-Hour Kitchen Shift on Christmas Day

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In the food & beverage industry, you’re required to work through most major holidays and celebrations. These tend to be the busiest days of the year.

One of the busiest days for all restaurants is Christmas Day.

Last Christmas, I was working at an Italian restaurant. My shift started at 11 a.m. and finished only at midnight.

That’s right – it was a 13-hour shift.

From preparing for service, to the actual service period, here’s what I had to go through – recapped by the hour.

11 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.: A Race Against Time

The second I arrive, I’m already breezing through the kitchen.

The takeaway orders are in the dozens, and the kitchen staff must prepare enough food for the dine-in crowd too.

Food prep is demanding even with enough workers. But it was particularly difficult that day since a few workers arrived to work an hour late.

Some were late because they had family matters to attend to, while others just couldn’t wake up on time.

For prep, we must cut vegetables and potatoes, season and slow cook the meats, and make sure the portions of pasta are ready – whether or not we have enough people.

4.30 p.m. – 5 p.m.: A Short Break

It’s two hours before the first reservation arrives, and one and a half hours before the first takeaway order must be sent out.

We take a break so we don’t burn out for the upcoming work load – and this includes having an early meal.

For us in the kitchen area, every second counts. We’re not allowed to take our time enjoying our food. We finish everything quickly and continue working.

While we’re eating, my other colleagues and I discuss what has and what hasn’t been done. We take the last bites of our food and get right back into the kitchen.

5 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.: Making Sure all the Takeaway Orders are Out

Christmas is always the busiest time for our restaurant. For one thing, there’s always a high order for Christmas takeaways.

My crew and I make sure that all the takeaway orders are sent out properly, without compromising the quality of the food.

From the roasted turkeys and chickens to the 500-gram Linguini Aglio Olio, everything must be up to standard.

The most difficult part was when there were six orders due – all at the same time.

It got to a point where I was basically working on instinct. Everything happened so fast that I had no time to process what’s next. All I knew was that I needed to get everything on my side done.

Thankfully, all the pieces fell into place. We were clearing out the orders on time, even with our head chef busy on the other side cutting meats.

With the last order out, the entire kitchen crew already looked exhausted – but that was only half of the job.

Next, we had to worry about rush hour.

6.30 p.m. – 9.45 p.m.: Rush Hour

(Source: 123RF.com)

Rush hour is when the restaurant opens for dinner, and customers start pouring in.

Cracking my knuckles and doing a few stretches, I put on my earphones and play some music. I need to calm my nerves before the first order comes through.

After all, it’s not easy prepping food for over 70+ people at once.

The first order arrives, and even before our head chef is done reading out table 9’s order, another slip comes through the ordering machine.

One chef is heating up the grill, one is getting the packed poultry out, and I’m there to receive and season the meats, while our helper gets all the plates ready.

The appetisers for table 14 come through; six orders of mushroom soup. The kitchen helper rushes to get those out ASAP, while the other chefs and I start cooking the first order.

But we don’t work fast enough. Eventually, the orders start to pile up – sharing platters, meat dishes, plates of pasta and soups – all coming through at once.

The pressure mounts, but no one buckles – everything must go out on time.

Although overwhelmed, orders pass from my work station to the next. The finishing touches – setting up the sides and sauces for the dishes – are completed.

We start to gain traction. The bell rings, letting the wait staff know that the food is ready to go out.

I remember thinking to myself at one point, “This is going better than I thought”.

As the clock pushes past 9 p.m., we’re still moving like mad dogs getting all orders out on time, but we’ve got a good rhythm going on.

Finally, after three hours of nonstop cooking, the last order is sent out.

A wave of victory floods the kitchen. I yell out in joy as high-fives are passed around.

Our boss personally congratulates us all on a job well done. That’s as good as it gets with him.

10 p.m. – 12 a.m.: The Shutdown.

As sweet as it was to finish a dinner service, there’s still much left to do.

After a quick smoke break, all of us head back into the kitchen. We see what we need to prepare for tomorrow, and plan the time to come in for work.

Spoiler alert: it’s a lot. But we tell ourselves it needs to be done – no complaints.

Once we finish with that, we get started on cleaning up the kitchen. We clear the tables, remove the used utensils, and make sure everything is packed away.

Then we scrub the grill, and clean the floors.

After most of the cleaning is done, we cook again – this time for our annual Christmas Dinner.

Yes, a 12 a.m. midnight meal on 26th of December is our Christmas dinner.

An entire roasted turkey, some portions of pasta (cooked by yours truly), lasagna, and some Christmas drinks are all set up for us to indulge.

Then we strap down and enjoy a well-deserved meal for a hard day’s work.

For more articles like these, read If Malaysian Waiters Were Honest, Here’s What We Would Say to Our Customers, and Customer Etiquette: 4 Do’s and Don’ts According to a Server.

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Gregory Wong
An aspiring writer from Kuching. Opinionative, cynical, always hungry (figuratively and literally), and always searching for more meaning in life.
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