on the road with moff

This edition I’d like to talk about the food and beverage operations of our clubs. Mention ‘Food and Beverage Manager’ these days and we think of stock control programmes, purchasing programmes, menu costing programmes, shrinkage programmes, Point of Sale (POS) programmes, maintenance programmes and so on.

It may surprise some to know that I actually began my career as a Food and Beverage Manager. The place was the Middle Pub Mullumbimby. As Manager I was responsible for unloading the truck which was parked on the main street, and lowering 18 gallon kegs into the cellar located below the footpath.

Invariably the truck would arrive at peak hour in Mullumbimby so the truck had to double park alongside some hippy van. Now getting the kegs off the truck could be an art. It entailed dropping the 18 gallon steel kegs from the truck onto a tyre strategically positioned so that when the keg bounced off the tyre it was supposed to land on the footpath. ‘Supposed to’ being the operative words.

When it landed on the footpath, there would be a roar from all the smart men sitting in the public bar watching and praying for a stuff up. When it went wrong the 18 gallon steel keg would bounce back onto the road and begin its ‘Cyclone Tracy’ type path down the main street which was generally met with a louder roar and untold volumes of advice on how to tackle the runaway.

Now remember that these things can weigh around 200 pounds, or 90 kilograms, not to mention the cost to the publican who could hurt you more than the keg falling on your toe. Dogs were regular victims, the odd pedestrian hippy (bringing even greater roars from the crowd), but generally the hubcaps of farmers’ utes or hippy combies were the unsuspecting victims.

Once the unruly pack of kegs – sometimes up to 50 – were safely herded onto the footpath, the trickier operation of lowering them below ground, through the trap door located in the middle of the footpath had to be undertaken.

Remember that this was before the days of Workplace Health and Safety and all the other bureaucratic bullshit we have to put up with now which was introduced to keep public servants in a job (but that’s a story for another edition!). You could only hope that spaced out hippies would see the open trapdoor in the middle of the footpath!

So you had to lower the kegs down into the underground cellar via a system of ropes and ramps that would make the ancient Egyptians quiver. If you were lucky you had someone down there ready to catch or attempt to stop the frequently unbalanced kegs. But usually you asked one of the smart men you weren’t too fond of to help on the promise of a couple of beers.

Okay, so the kegs are safely unloaded and cellared. Now when you walk into an old cellar, look up at the roof. You will see many pot holes, some great gaping holes, usually some skin, hair and bone and a few splatterings of red.

These 18 gallon monsters were not going to go down without a fight. They had been recalcitrant since they were loaded onto the truck at Grafton, and were determined to continue to be so. They had tried hard to avoid the tyre, carried on like the running of the bulls when coming off the truck, threw themselves down into the cellar, and still the fight was not over yet. They had to be speared, just like the poor Pamplona bulls.

Have a good look at an old cellarman – sorry, Food and Beverage Manager – and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There is bound to be a scar usually starting at the chin and moving upwards like the Grand Canyon, ending just past the hairline. Herman Munster would look handsome standing beside some old time Food and Beverage Managers!

Spearing these brutes entailed shoving a stainless steel rod through the top seal then tightening the wingnut before the spear shot back out of the keg. Naturally the keg was under great pressure, possibly due to its not so gentle unloading.

Unsuspecting novice Food and Beverage Managers would place their head over the keg, and let me just say, I don’t really need to explain the rest. Imagine the holes in the ceiling surrounded by hair and blood and you get the picture.

The food part of the job was relatively easy. It simply meant placing a pre-made ham, cheese and tomato sandwich into a toasting machine, setting the timer to the appropriate time and waiting for the ‘ding’. Easy!

But the sangers were wrapped in a cellophane type of plastic bag, which tended to catch on fire when overcooked. How could you overcook them I hear you ask? Just set the timer correctly. Easy.

Remember it’s Friday arvo, the place is packed, you’re flustered after the unloading process, and someone wants a toasted sanger. They can have ham, cheese and tomato, or cheese, ham and tomato!

Now as the state-of-the-art toaster heated up, you really didn’t need to set the timer as long. A point that’s easily forgotten. The result is that most of the bloody sangers started to burn, setting off the fire alarm, resulting in the local fire brigade arriving. The smart men loved it. Oh, and I was part of the fire brigade, causing slightly more  embarrassment.

So when the Food and Beverage Managers of today have a whinge about a crowded restaurant, someone complaining about a bad meal, their gross profit has fallen or the Chef is cranky, I don’t really care.

Ah, the good old days. You can have your programmes. Let me wrestle a toasted sanger and an 18 gallon keg any day. Youngsters of today don’t know what they’re missing out on!