At the bells I was cleaning vomit off a wall - true stories from a bar worker on Hogmanay

Covid guidelines or no, Hogmanay can be a nightmare shift to work for hospitality servers – so please, tip and be kind.

By Rachel Mackie
Friday, 31st December 2021, 11:58 am

The most wonderful time of the year

Ah the festive season – Christmas, New Year, snow, presents, copious amounts of booze and mince pies...bliss eh?

Apparently the news never stops, so like many workers in many professions, we here at the paper have to say whether we prefer to work Christmas or New Year, just to make it fair.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Edinburgh hospitality: A message to all those celebrating this Hogmanay

I, as I always have done, chose to take Christmas off and work Hogmanay and New Year’s Day, because I love Christmas and I hate New Year.

I worked in hospitality for a decade, of course I hate New Year.

When I worked right in the Edinburgh city centre, I remember a huge Facebook planned fight in the pub next door, blood and chairs flying everywhere.

Incidentally, I could write a book about this fight – about the bouncer who took a bar stool to the back of the head, to the woman caught on the ground and repeatedly kicked by two men, to one of those men subsequently having his head smashed into the puggy and the amount of blood everywhere. It took days to clean up and the pub to reopen.

Then there was the bar up near the University, where, when the bells were ringing, rather than singing Auld Lang Syne, I was using a mop to clean vomit off a wall as a jolly patron failed to make it to the loos in time.

It was the same night a customer tried to smash one of the windows using his fists, and then a chair for reasons beyond my understanding. We were able to stop him and bustle him out the pub, but not with out him scratching my arm to shreds and landing some bruises on my colleague.

The most memorable

But the Hogmanay that sticks with me the most was when I was working in a rather pretty pub in the west end of Princes Street.

We were slammed, all day. Fully booked for dinner (this was pre-Covid by quite a few years) and two deep at the bar most of the night.

Only three of us on shift – classic.

No breaks, no dinner, no cigarettes, just working straight through for almost 12 hours, which unfortunately is pretty standard in that industry. Minimum wage as well.

We had a popular brand of crisps in a tube behind the bar (am I allowed to say sour cream Pringles? Other crisps are available) and some chocolate to keep our sugar up throughout the shift.

A large group of twenty somethings leaned over the bar around 9 pm and stole both.

I rushed over to stop them, but was too late to prevent the food crashing to the ground and spilling on the floor as the group started laughing and jostling with them.

"That was our tea actually” I snapped as they laughed and turned their backs.

"Happy bloody new year to you too” I muttered.

A venue a few doors down had decided to host post bells party, and dramatically over sold their tickets, predictably leading to all surrounding bars getting even busier.

And everyone. Was. Furious.

Read More

Read More
Here are the 10 best toy shops in Edinburgh for Chistmas presents and stocking f...

Unable to get into the party they’d paid for? Fine. Their Hogmanay ruined? Possibly. Our fault? No.

But it may as well have been given the abuse we subsequently took.

Sworn at, screamed at, fights breaking out, and I know it doesn’t seem quite as severe, but not a single please or thank you the whole night.

“What, are you on your period or something?” sneered one particularly cliched lad, with slightly more colourful language, after I told him he wasn’t allowed to minesweep (the practise of taking other people’s abandoned drinks and getting wasted.)

I would have given anything to have had a witty response, something quick and sassy, rather than blinking tears out of my eyes and turning away.

It was past 4 am before we had cleaned up all the broken glass and debris, cleaned everything behind the bar and restocked, emotionally beaten with blistered, aching feet.

We had brought some beer with us to crack open when we finished to celebrate, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to.

I don’t know why this one sticks in my mind the most, it wasn’t better or worse than any of the others I worked.

I think it was the feeling of being utterly destroyed that I remember, so dispirited and broken. A real low.

The moral of the story...

I don’t write this for sympathy (well, I do a bit) but mostly it’s to encourage people to remember to be kind.

A very simple message really.

I know Covid restrictions means that this Hogmanay won’t be as busy as the nights that I worked, but that won’t make it easier for the staff.

They have to enforce these restrictions to people desperate to drink and party and forget.

Restrictions they didn’t impose.

Whatever your thoughts on the new guidance, what ever you think of the government, either Scottish or UK, whatever you think of Boris and his seemingly endless Christmas parties, this is not the fault of the bar staff.

Playing up in pubs and restaurants, kicking off at your server for asking you to wear a mask isn’t going to help anything or anyone.

It’s just going to ruin someone’s night, and probably your own too.

Be understanding, be kind and tip, tip, tip.

The staff deserve it.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.