Getting A Student Job in Cork

Keeping your head above the water when you start college in Cork isn’t just about surviving a dip in the Berwick Fountain at 2.15am on a freezing night in February, you’ve got to keep an eye on the bank balance too. Mummy and Daddy can’t keep wiring you cash every time you get slapped with a fine for being “a danger to yourself and others” by having a ‘nap’ in the middle of South Main Street after the pubs close. And trying to explain to a district court judge about how sleepy you get after a cold water ‘swim’ is a risky tactic.

You might have avoided it through secondary school by claiming it would interfere with your studies, but now that you’re an adult, or at least a child in the body of an adult, it’s finally time to bite the bullet and get a part-time job so you can pay your rent and facilitate the transfer of wealth from low earners to global property investment funds.

Restaurants are crying out for staff so loud you just have to follow the wailing around town to find someone who’ll take you on. Many are so desperate they’ll take anyone – even you with the big hungover, culchie head up on you and the hanging out shirt and the unbuttoned fly and the clown-sized shoes clearly borrowed from a giant friend who plays goalkeeper for Giraffe Celtic.

Loads of hospitality heads jumped ship over the pandemic and have been replaced with staff so young that it’s not outside the bounds of possibility that most of them were probably playing ‘restaurant’ with toy cups and plates at home in the very recent past.

The majority have never been a paying customer in a restaurant and many look like they only recently graduated to proper seats from high chairs themselves.

And while these baby-faced staff are absolutely crucial for restaurants and cafés, they come as green as the grass in Páirc Uí Chaoimh so college students, with slightly higher levels of maturity, are preferred to their school-age rivals, giving you a pretty good chance of bagging your first proper job as long as you turn up to the interview sober.

But don’t get cocky just because the restaurant owner who hired you practically kissed your clown shoes when you walked in with a CV full of beer stains and spelling mistakes in your hand.

You might be a little more sought after than some grumpy transition year goth whose eyes haven’t been seen since he grew a thick fringe down to his jaw last summer, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to take to this ‘work’ business like a duck to water. You’re going to toil hard for the minimum wage of €11.30 an hour (if you’re over 20) – something the owner is hoping, in your youthful naivety, you don’t realise for a while will only buy you a few hours rent.

Aside from being on your feet for hours on end, the hardest part of any shift will be trying to remember a hundred little things and which ones to prioritise – especially when you realise that the downside of it being easy to get a job means this restaurant is still chronically under staffed…

Table six want ketchup. Table eight need more water and another side of chips. Table two asked for the bill 15 minutes ago (and her frustrated face is starting to look like she’s just been force-fed a bucket of lemons).  The baby at table one has just got sick everywhere and the parents are hysterical because they think it’s food poisoning.

You might have thought that the college campus was where you were going to get your education, but the reality is that working somewhere like this and dealing with demanding, unreasonable, temperamental and borderline-mad customers, managers and colleagues is worth as much of an education as any degree or diploma:

The ability to stay calm and work up a fake smile when one of those ‘I want to speak to your manager’ types makes yet another unreasonable demand just so they can post another outrageously unfair review on Tripadvisor. Or when the chef calls in sick last minute and the owner is trying to fill in for her and you have to take the flak from customers to whom you must present plates of gank you wouldn’t serve to a pit of crocodiles.

It is in this hotbed of commotion and disorganised bedlam that you’ll learn to bite your lip, to talk your way out of trouble, to remain calm in a storm and to resist throwing a jug of water over the head of some obnoxious langball who’s making the slightly-tepid temperature of his €48.90 seabass sound like the end of the world is imminent.   

Right, enough of the chat. You’d better get back to it: your one at table two is still waiting for her bill!