Preggo in Hospo by Clemmie Bulman

Clemmie Bulman is now on maternity leave and will be sharing with us a little more insight to what it’s like to be preggo in hospo, on a regular basis.

If you are planning for a baby, the day you find out you are pregnant is so bloody exciting! I pictured myself and my husband sitting on the bathroom floor leaning against the tiled wall, watching the test flash up ‘pregnant’. Hugging and crying would ensue, the dog would join in, fireworks, golden confetti – the works.  However, I am the general manager of a busy Soho restaurant so when I realised I was 6 days late I was about to walk into back- to- back double shifts.

I found out at 3pm. Prime in-between service time, ideal. After dashing to Boots, I spent the rest of the evening desperately wanting to tell my news to Linda on table 7, whose order I had forgotten to place. In my head I was saying “Linda, I’m sorry but I am WITH CHILD and I simply do not care. WITH CHILD, Linda!”.

I would like to take this moment to formally apologise to the poor staff members who worked that evening. You must have thought I was having some kind of existential crisis in the walk-in fridge.    

Now, the general rule of pregnancy is that you should wait past the 12-week mark before you break the news, but 12 weeks in the world of restaurants is a VERY long time. Here I am used to working 14-hour shifts several days a month and having the occasional after-work drink. Being tired from that was one thing, but pregnant? Totally different kind of tired to make excuses for and I was about to embark on the biggest cover up of my life’s history. 

During those first 3 months I convinced everyone I was doing ‘Dry July’ (yes, it’s a thing), because you see I was a religious prosecco drinker and all-out party gal before, so why was I all of the sudden saying no to the good stuff?. I had a sudden and ‘very serious illnesses’ that meant I couldn’t attend a 3- day festival in Cornwall representing my restaurant and had to send my extremely understanding Bar Supervisor instead. My trains were delayed pretty much every morning between Wimbledon and Waterloo, i.e. aka the furthest I could get to work before needing to depart the train to throw up/ wee / generally despair.

Cravings? Yes. I spent most of our staff welfare allowance on Crosstown doughnuts.  

Then there were the insane emotional mood swings. I honestly believe that those who work in hospitality possess the kind of patience you have to be innately born with and I have always taken great pride in my ability to leave guests smiling, going above and beyond for any of my customers. Pregnancy hormones however, have no time for such trivial matters (such as forgetting an extra olive in an Aperol spritz), and I found myself taking several deep breaths before replying to any requests, even the most innocent. This is documented distressingly accurately on our Tripadvisor reviews circa June 2018.

When I was finally able to announce my happy news, I was surprised to learn that most of my staff already knew. I don’t know whether this was down to my unconvincing cease in after-work drinking or the fact that I had a baby (doughnut) bump already showing, but either way I was finally able to justify my behaviour.

Now, I loved my little restaurant and I would bounce around between door, bar, kitchen and floor tallying up over 20,000 steps a day. It is an old Soho building and the kitchen is downstairs in the basement with no service lifts and *THOSE* stairs were about to become my biggest nemesis! Being pregnant in any job will change the way you operate, but in a restaurant, where you need your body to move as swiftly and controlled as possible, often running to deliver food at the right temperature – makes being a pregnant GM very difficult.

Over the following weeks, as I steadily became a little slower and rounder, the rest of the team were amazing at picking up the pace. I would focus my attention on the tasks I could still do, and delegate any heavy lifting / running to other team members. The most memorable of which was when I somehow managed to miscommunicate with my Portuguese kitchen porter that I wanted all 40 of the restaurant chairs moved out on to the street outside, when really I only needed one table out there. This wasn’t even an example of my ‘baby brain’ moments where I would forget entire, important conversations, arrive at the pass only to forget what I needed to talk to the chef about or slowly but surely smash my way through 60% of the glassware behind the bar – I was subsequently barred from crossing that threshold until after the baby came out.

An interesting observation I made was how easily guests would change their interactions after noticing my baby bump. On several occasions I found guests apologising to ME for their dishes being late, or clearing their own plates and glasses from their tables. One guest even offered me a seat while I took their order (must have left my ‘Baby on Board’ badge on). This revelation that customers do not like to complain to young pregnant managers was both illuminating and also quite sad: I shed a tear for my past, un-impregnated self who would have had to smile and nod through a barrage of abuse for a missing arancini ball.

If there was one main flaw of being pregnant in hospitality it would be the lack of available resting time. Managing a restaurant is not something that can be done remotely from home, or sitting at a desk, although the thought of hosting on a Friday night from the comforts of a swivel chair on wheels absolutely crossed my mind. There isn’t a designated quiet period and I definitely struggled to switch off when the restaurant was always moving.

While my mood at work definitely improved I had turned my attentions to the logistics of travelling to and from Soho. I thought I was handling this extremely well until I read back through my tweets to South Western Trains.

By the time I had reached my seventh month it was becoming clear that I just couldn’t work in the restaurant anymore. I hated having to leave the dinner shift early and not being completely present on the floor. I was very lucky to have such a supportive team who stepped up and ran the show when I started to slow down. Eventually, I very happily accepted a temporary move to Head Office, where I now finally had my swivel chair dream...well…until the little one arrived.

Stay tuned for the next part of Clemmie’s journey as she goes from the mother of the restaurant to the mother of her little one… and then back to work….

Natalia Ribbe