[A woman in her late thirties, for the past ten years Mrs. Amah has managed a restaurant located on a college campus. She has earned basic certificates in catering and secretarial services. Previously Mrs. Amah worked as a secretary and as a trader. She and her husband have two children, ages 10 and 14. Philip Awekeya spoke with her at the restaurant.]
I find it strange when people talk about specific times for starting and ending their work. I do not have a rigid schedule. I usually start work by 7:30 a.m. at the latest. As soon as I arrive, I quickly check to see whether all my kitchen workers, barkeepers, and cleaners have reported for duty. If anyone is absent, I shift schedules so that work can go on as planned. If everyone is present I move around the various units to inspect what is going on before I leave for Accra to purchase a fresh stock of food items, such as eggs, meat, vegetables, and drinks. I make purchases daily so we never run out of the basic items during the course of the day. When I return from town I inspect the preparations of the meals, food and general services to ensure that customers get their money's worth.
Unlike some people who at times dislike their jobs, I enjoy what I do. I give all my heart to it because it affords me the opportunity to be my own boss, without having to answer "yes" to someone else. It also challenges my ability to initiate programs that can promote my business and make it a viable venture. This work is a big contrast to my former job as a secretary, where I drafted letters, typed documents, and sat in meetings to take minutes. All of these tasks were boring.
I carefully plan how to run this restaurant, such as what dishes to add to the present menu, where to go for the best quality vegetables, eggs, and so on. I also contact organizations around town so that they may call on me to serve meals when they are organizing short courses on campus during holidays. When students have been on break, on several occasions I have been impressed that some customers approach me to say that our services are quite good and that our meals are second to none on campus.
On the other hand, I feel horrified and discouraged when I hear such nasty and irritating comments as "you people are exploiting us" and "your meals do not taste good." Another setback occurs when students go on holidays, thereby reducing the number of my customers and limiting cash flow. During such times I smell pepper (suffer) because I have the problem of raising enough money to pay my workers at the end of the month. Despite these few problems that crop up from time to time, I still enjoy the work. I am able to meet people of all walks of life--people be of assistance when trouble befalls me. I would recommend this work to anyone interested in entering the restaurant business, provided the person is not touchy, is hard working, and above all has a flair for catering.
The physical arrangements in this restaurant are very good; things are in perfect order. For example, our kitchen equipment is up to date--I bought and installed it myself. Our setting is decent enough to host parties of all kinds. Also our dishes and general services are of top class. It is not surprising that customers compliment us. Their open recommendations go a very long way to reinforce my cherished dream of entering into real hotel business in the near future instead of continually running a simple restaurant.
I have seven people working under me. One of them appears fairly older than me while the remaining six are much younger. Generally, they appear neat in their working attire, which is specially designed to make them look extra smart. I rarely shout or rebuke them as some employers do. I do occasionally cast a serious look when one of them does something wrong or is being lazy. I often help prepare meals in the kitchen and even serve food and drinks to customers, just to demonstrate to my workers that I am capable of performing their respective functions. This helps them realize that no one is indispensable; they subsequently change their attitude to work without me telling them anything.
Though I never joke with my workers, they still find me quite approachable and call on me whenever they need assistance. For instance, if any of them happens to need some money to solve a financial problem at home they readily request a pay advance. They don't have to wait until the end of the month or go elsewhere to borrow. My workers also call me "mama" though I could not have given birth to them. They do so out of respect and I indeed like the way they accord me absolute respect, especially in the presence of customers. It gladdens my heart when I reflect on the peaceful relationship between me and my workers and also among the workers themselves. Unlike many other work places, my workers respect each other and share jokes while on their jobs. I am impressed with their good behavior.
For two years running I have not beem able to take a vacation because my presence is needed for the successful functioning of this restaurant. As I mentioned, every day I collect food and supplies from town in my car. I indeed run around a lot. I need a break. For fear of disturbing the flow of my business, I always push aside until later the idea of taking a leave. I even work on weekends when organizations or groups request meals--or ask that a party be organized for them. On such occasions I quickly seize the chance rather than allow it to slip by, because it is through such large functions that we are able to make good money.
I belong to the Caterers Association of Ghana. This organization was once dynamic, but it is virtually inactive these days. The reason is that with the open market system our members can easily walk into any store in town and buy whatever they need without going through the Association to procure such items as sugar, baking flour, and milk. Yet, despite the fact that the Association does not bring us material gains in recent times, I continue to belong for the pride of being a member of a recognized professional association.
Through this work, I am able to bring in extra income to support my husband and children. But I feel that my long absence from home causes them a lot of inconvenience, especially on weekends when I miss their company. My children complain often about my absence. Despite their complaints, I still keep to my normal work schedule so that my business does not disappoint my customers.
I believe that quite a number of people have a high opinion of me. For instance, I am often invited to important functions such as weddings, birthday parties, and the like. These numerous invitations show that I am loved and respected by my neighbors and by the academic community who are mostly my regular customers. The cordial relationships make me feel psychologically secure, so I go about my business with a great deal of confidence. If I should run into trouble either at home or at my work place, I would readily receive help from people I know through my work.
I believe that one's success in life depends on how positively one reacts to the circumstances that crop up in one's life. For example, I was grounded in my first private business enterprise by one of my friends. She failed to return a big sum of money I loaned her to clear some goods through customs. As a result of this breach of promise I was forced to close down my trading shop and was without work for almost a year. Through prayer and the help of a family friend, I began this restaurant business. While I acknowledge that this venture has not been a magnificent success, it has at least instilled in me a ray of hope that good things are on the way. What remains for me is to constantly strive hard to provide quality meals and services to my many customers. More money will flow in daily, which I can use either to expand my present enterprise or to enter into another type of business.