I spent this week working at a restaurant in the strikingly succesful German fast food chain Curry Queen. The chain sells currywurst, an outrageously popular German snack, which is essentially sausage seasoned by curry powder. I was supervised by the assistant manager, a quiet, portly and entirely lovely young man called Romulo Schmidt.
Fast food restaurants are basically lunch places, bursting at the seams between 12 and 3 pm, when office goers stop by for a quick bite. What this means is that the food has to be served super quick. And hot. And fresh. Which, in turn, means that the food is all prepared in advance, and only kept warm and crisp by a set of efficient, timed machines.
I was struck by how mechanised, and mechanical, the work is. Taking stuff out of packages and putting them into machines, selling mayonnaise in measured 40 gm packages, slicing sausages on a slicer, stacking dishes into the dishwasher. But Romulo likes it.
At the same time, the work is remarkably wide-ranging. Romulo and his co-worker do everything from checking the toilets to washing the dishes to serving the customers to ordering stocks from suppliers. It’s a hell of a lot of work, that’s for sure. The mornings are busy, the afternoons are crazy and post lunch time, it can get, well, somewhat lonely. I’ve tried to trace the shape of a fast food work day, in images:
Romulo Schmidt, assistant manager of the Curry Queen deli in Hamburg, begins his work day at 9 am. One of his first tasks in the morning is the 'temperature control'. This means switching on the many machines that drive a fast food joint, and setting them on the approprate programme.
Some of the busy morning hours is spent in Romulo's office. There are food stocks to be ordered from suppliers, and routine administrative work that has to be looked into, such as scheduling the work shifts for the week.
Then begin the food preparations for the day. Bread is sliced. Kim, an Iranian immigrant, comes in a couple of times a week, to help Romulo and his co-worker Kasper.
Frozen fries are tipped into a frying machine that looks oddly like a cage.
A little bit of pretty salad is tossed up, for the calorie counting customers.
Sausages are grilled in anticipation of the first customers.
Often, Romulo does a a spontaneous special addition to the fixed menu, highlighting it for customers on the blackboard. For a job that is mostly about tipping packaged food into grills, the freedom to add a little touch means quite a bit to him.
11 am, the restaurant opens for customers. This, evidently, was a slow day to start with.
Everything prepped and good to go by 11 am, Romulo takes up duty at the front station. But the first customers haven't walked in yet, so Romulo catches up on some work phone calls.
As the first guests trickle in, Romulo prepares plates of currywurst. For the first hour of the restaurant, Romulo can manage alone. His co-worker Kasper comes in at 12 pm, after which the two of them handle the lunch crowd.
1 pm at the Curry Queen deli. Rush Hour, Crush Hour, whatever you call it.
Around 3 pm, Romulo retires to his office for his own lunch: a burger ordered from the fast food company Jim Block. "I can't eat currywurst every day, I like to have something different."
By 4 pm, the deli empties out. The customers who stop by have the resraurant to themselves; usually these are tourists or regulars. Romulo tells me this young man is one of their regulars, he comes by almost everyday. In my week there, I saw him only twice, though.
In these quiet evening hours, Romulo opens up, speaking of his wish to return to his country Brazil. "I want to start a restaurant, or an export-import business. I trained as a cook, I miss the kitchen. But this job gives me respect. I get to do some management work here. Gastronomy is tough, unless you rise quickly, it's te same long hours with little reward."
And later on in the evening, when the entire office district itself empties out, Romulo steps out, quiet and reflective, thinking perhaps of his restaurant in Brazil.
TAGS: Curry Queen
For the present though, Romulo has his hopes pinned firmly on the Curry Queen. The chain, I learn, is set to expand to three more cities in Germany including Munich over the next two years. And that, he says, is something he is very much looking forward to.
, fast food
, Sohini Chattopadhyay