Is this the impossible job?

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Originally published in Volume III, Issue 11 on 24th April 1997 by Garrett May.

There isn’t a person in this college who doesn’t have a horror story about the restaurant. Would you want to be the manager of the maligned place in UCD. Garrett May met the woman who is.

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I don’t know why seagulls don’t land on the restaurant roof, or why their chicken burgers are tangy? A lot of people don’t know that the restaurant employs a prize winning chef. The average punter has never heard of their “open prawn sandwich” or enjoyed their freshly squeezed orange juice (killed on the premises I’m told). Only a lucky handful of students know that their toilet paper os the softest on campus. But no-one, not even the staff, know why they serve celery with everything, maybe to keep the seagulls away?

Sadie McCourt of the clan McCourt manages the day to day operations of the culinary giant. The restaurant employs over sixty people, half of which are students, seats 748 on the third floor, bakes over 1000 cakes, fresh, from scratch and peels two tons of spuds, and about the same in celery each day. Sadie has been dishing out dinners for the last twenty seven years and explained to me that her philosophy is variety of choice (boiled or satéed celery) and low cost (raw celery).

“We employ about 30 to 35 students depending on out needs”, although their numbers seem to diminish rapidly around exam times, essay deadlines and are practically non-existent after the freshers ball. Not famed for their reliability, Sadie continues to employ students and insists on paying them the same rate as the rest of staff, bless her. “Middle aged housewives used to make up the backbone of the catering business, but they’re becoming harder to find due to recent employment trends.”

“The restaurant is badly in need of refurbishment, it hasn’t had a face lift in over twenty seven years, we still use the same ovens, the same steel countertops, that were installed with the building. At the moment, our year-to-year maintenance is aimed at keeping the building within safety and fire regulations. The college has promised us 2.2 million, but we’re not holding our breath.

Indeed Sadie had not taken a breath for what seemed like ten minutes. Her job is a mixture of that of Montgomery Burns, the Swedish chef from the muppet show, and a kind of celery obsessed Else from Home and Away. “We’ve had the odd complaint from students about staff (odd as in seldom, not “strange there’s no seagulls on the roof” odd), but mostly the ones who complain are the ones who sit there all day and try to deal drugs. We watch them for a while, sitting there, pretending to drink coffee and eat lunch, they sit in the same place for hours talking to their drug friends. “Alice usually goes over with a brush and sweeps around them until they leave”, a tactic successfully used by the Gardai in flushing out known criminals such as The General, The Tosser and the notorious Hamburgler.

“It doesn’t stop there, you have to watch the queue on the stairs all the time, as a lot of queue skipping goes on. People will ‘hold’ a place in the queue for their friends, who simply sidle up, and jump in, skipping the honest queuers behind them. It’s not everyone who does this, just a few bad apples, who ruin it for everyone.” I must say I had no idea that the restaurant was such a den of inequity, a magnet of immoral activity.

This moral decay has a huge ramifications. “We’ve had to substitute plastic stirrers for the stainless steel teaspoons”, Sadie regrets. “They just walked out the door, along with the knives, forks, salt cellars, pepper canisters, ashtrays and all manner the delph.” Strangely there are always little piles of celery left by mistake at the end of the day. I’d replace the spoons if I thought I’d get three months out of them, but the last batch I bought didn’t last three week”, Sadie sighs exasperated. “At least a couple of years ago, at the end of term, people would leave plastic bags in with all the cutlery they had stolen during the year. Nowadays, no-one comes forward, not even to volunteer information on those missing seagulls.

We have a serious problem with theft as well. People walk off without paying for their trays of food. Don’t worry Sadie, eventually those thieves will pay dearly for their crimes. The toilet paper, as I’ve said is second only to the bar, with the toilets themselves having the added advantages of doors as well as seats.

Sadie realises that the new student centre will attract attention away from the restaurant but she does not expect their high turnover to fall. “Snack are the way to go, as students tend to eat their main meals at home in the evening instead of here in the afternoon.” Hmm, funny that Sadie.

The enduring popularity of the pizzas, and baked potatoes will push the menu in that direction. Meanwhile downstairs the quest for the square potato continues, the search for the naturally battered four legged chicken is closer to success than you think, and the chefs strive to create the perfect celery accomplishment (a black refuse sac).

Whatever criticism is levelled at the food, Sadie McCourt’s sustained commitment and dedication will never lend to ridicule. Quality invariably suffers at the hands if mass production and with the restaurant’s impending refurbishment the food can only improve.

 

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