Our new restaurant has been open for 12 full weeks now, and so far I’ve only really, really, really wanted to slap Joel in the face once. That’s probably pretty good going, don’t you think? It was when I dropped the credit card machine in the middle of our first very busy lunchtime, and it fell apart. I was too horrified to touch it again. Joel put it back together quite quickly, but that didn’t stop him from hissing and spitting at me behind the bar, telling me how clumsy I was in the nastiest way he’s ever spoken to me. I ignored it until I got back home, threw myself on the bed and wept bitterly about the dreadful mistake we’d made opening a restaurant together at this stage in our lives. Long, happy marriages can fall apart under this sort of pressure. You get to a point where circumstances reveal a facet of the person you thought you knew, and you don’t like what you see.
Well, we haven’t got there yet. It was just stress, and heat, and me not knowing anything about actually working in a restaurant. For the first six weeks it was rarely under 30degC/85degF outside, and while the main room has aircon, the kitchen doesn’t, and the terrace, even in the shade of the awning, was blistering. Behind the bar, the overwhelming blast from the coffee machine and glass-washer didn’t help. Getting home to a dark room and a cold shower meant a 15-minute uphill bicycle ride first. Now that the weather is cooler, everything seems easy and entertaining.
And of course now we’re used to the neighbourhood, and – we think – it’s used to us. I have lots of dog friends, whose owners walk them past us several times a day. I have lots of horticultural consultants, too: passersby who can’t resist commenting and advising on the containers that line our terrace. My first effort with geraniums ended in failure, due to some local infestation that everyone knew about except me. I admitted defeat when someone found one of the little butterflies flapping in his Salade César, and sent it back in horror. (I think that was overreacting – but the customer is always right.) I’ve replaced everything with lavenders. I also have coffee acquaintances – people who regularly stop in for un café in the mornings. We even have two 7 Villermont babies, whose mothers first came to us while pregnant. The babies were born within a week of each other, and their parents come back regularly. A third is on the way!
When Joel and the chef, Michel, have… ahem… different ways of approaching the same end, I find that very stressful, to say the least. In normal times, when Joel has been irritated or angry or upset, it’s usually been with his laptop, or the tax office, or Manchester United, and I’ve been able to ignore it. Now if he and Michel are … ahem… discussing something, it’s part of my life too. It’s rare, but running in to the kitchen and whispering shut up works. They think someone’s in the restaurant, and lower their voices, so there we all are whispering away furiously when not a soul can hear us anyway.
Joel complains that I push him too often. The coffee machine, ice machine, beer machine and sink are on the far side of the cash register, so if he’s faffing by the till, and I need to get by, I just give him a shove. What else would I do? I don’t really understand his complaint. When the restaurant is busy and customers are burbling away happily, cutlery chinking, we don’t have time to interact in any other way. Except to say to each other under our breath as we push each other out of the way, look, they think it’s a restaurant! I can’t quite believe it myself, but I guess it is.