The #NairaLife Of A Waiter At A Bougie-Ish Restaurant

November 9, 2020

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.


What is the first thing you ever did for money? 

Haha. Farming. The first thing I did was farming. 

Do you remember the first money you made from farming?

I farmed about three plots of land and harvested two bags of rice and sold it for no more than ₦4,000. This was around 2008, and I was 21. I sold it in the market. 

Oh okay, so this was after your secondary school? 

No. I finished secondary school in 2014. I started in 2008. 

When did you finish primary school?

2006. 

Oh okay. Uhm, when did you start primary school?

I started in 2000. 

What do you remember from before 2000? 

I was helping my parents on the farm after school. We used to grow rice, yam, cassava, groundnut and maize. I told them that I want to go to primary school. I can’t remember, but the school fee was 1,000-something naira. After that was secondary school, which I finished in 2014. But I didn’t write WAEC till 2015. 

What did you want to study when you wrote WAEC? 

Petrochemical Engineering. Due to finances, I couldn’t even bother with admission. I still want to go back to school.

Ginger! What next did you do for money after that? 

Before I started working again, I went to a computer institute for six months. I learned MS Word and all of that.

Did you use it when you finished?

No. I’ve forgotten some of the things I learned. Sha, after my six months course, I travelled to Oyo State. I went to work for a local government chairman. I was an attendant in his supermarket and did housework too. 

How much did it pay? 

I can’t remember, but the money wasn’t much. I think it was ₦15,000. This was 2015. I worked there for a year and half.

How did you find the job? 

A job agent. When people need workers, they go to these agents. The agents get contracts from all these big people that give work. When they need a worker, they reach out to the agents, and then we apply for the job from the agents. 

Oh, so that’s how you found the job from Benue.

Yes. I know the agent personally; we’re from the same place. 

What type of job does the agent find? Do you know another person that uses this agent?

A lot of jobs, and a lot of people. There’s supermarket work, housework, dry cleaning, and even gardener work. 

Oh okay, after you spent one and the half years at that supermarket, where did you go next?

I came to Lagos to look for work.

What was the first thing you did in Lagos?

I came through a friend I met when I was in the village – he was already in Lagos. I called him to ask him to let me know if there was any work in Lagos. He told me there was no work, but if I wanted one, I had to come and look for it myself. 

I wrote my CVand started applying. I got my first job at a hotel. 

Niceee. 2016? 

Yes. It was paying like ₦30k. 

What was it like, being your first job in Lagos? 

I was amazed that there was a place where people gathered for the joy of doing all sorts of things. But it was my first experience sha. 

How long were you there for? 

One year. I travelled home in December 2017 because my dad was sick. I stayed at home for two weeks, and before I came back, they replaced me.

Eish. So what did you do when you came back?  

I started submitting my CV again. I got a job as a waiter. That one also paid ₦30k. After one year, they promoted me to cashier, and I started collecting ₦40k. I worked there till the end of 2019. They were cutting down staff, so they told me to leave. 

I was unemployed for three months and just looking for a new one throughout. I’m not sure how many jobs I applied to, but I remember that I printed my CV 10 times. Nobody responded. 

How did you survive during that period? 

My savings. I had two hundred and something in my savings. I spent about ₦70,000 from my savings. It was my friend that helped me find the job I finally got. It was a job as a waiter in a restaurant. The salary was ₦30k. I didn’t want to accept it at first, but they said they’ll give me accommodation, so I accepted it. 

When I started, there was no accommodation, even till today. They also said that beyond my salary, I’d get a commission on service charges; nothing. 

Ah. 

Not too long after I started, we went into lockdown. 

COVID.

Yes. When the pandemic started, we were hoping that the lockdown would be for just two or three weeks. But no, it continued. Everyone was at home, everything became expensive. In my area, pure water that was three for ₦20 has become one for ₦10. The rice that I used to buy for ₦1,200-₦1,300 became ₦2,400. 

No money coming in during the lockdown; anything from your company? 

Yes. They sent me ₦10k. 

So, you resumed work after the lockdown ended?

Yes. They also increased my salary to ₦35k. 

What’s it like working at a restaurant? 

The best thing about it is that you meet so many people. For me, it’s the superstars. I meet them face to face and have the privilege to chat with some of them and make them comfortable. 

Who’s the first superstar you attended to? 

Davido. That day, he came with a small group, ordered light food and Hennessy. Then AY. Don Jazzy, Wande Coal. 

Who’s your least favourite type of person to attend to? 

Some people order things they don’t know. Even after explaining why they shouldn’t, they’ll go ahead and order it. Once their food is ready, they’ll say, “What’s this rubbish?” Then they’ll not take it.

So who pays for it? 

Sometimes, it’s the company. They change the order with the hopes that the customer will come back again. 

What’s your average order at your restaurant? 

I don’t know, but the minimum order is mostly ₦10k. There are some restaurants with a minimum spend. That is, if your order is not up to ₦10k in some places, we might gently tell you to order more than ₦10k. I know one restaurant that has ₦20k minimum order tables. 

What’s the biggest bill you’ve ever seen?

₦800k+

Ah, how did the kitchen react? 

In most restaurants, the kitchen doesn’t know how much people are spending. It’s only the waiter that knows because they’re the ones attending. 

But when a waiter sees it, you’ll just tell yourself, “Hmm, I wish I had that kind of money to spend.” You’ll see someone spend all the money you have in thirty minutes. But also, the salary is not why I work at the restaurant. The salary is small.

Why? 

It’s the tips. Last month, my salary was ₦35k. But if you add tips, sometimes it’ll be up to ₦50k. The highest I’ve made in a month is ₦120k. In September, I made ₦90k, including my salary. 

Interesting that tips are how you actually make a living. How many people do you serve in a day?

I can do like 5 tables in one hour, and I work for 9 hours, 6 days a week. I have one day off. 

Busy week. Let’s break down how you spend monthly. How much do you save? 

I try to save up to ₦50k per month. It’s from those savings that I pay my house rent – ₦150k per year. Then I try to send money home from the rest. It’s not fixed sha. 

Do you ever think about your life and wonder what small decisions you could have made that’d make things different? 

I should have left the village since. My parents don’t like their children being far from them. When I had to travel for my first job in Oyo, I left by force. I told them I could not live with them again. 

If I know, I for don commot house since. 

Hmm, okay. What’s something you want now but you can’t afford?

My education. I had a revelation — I get them about five times every month. And it’s always about education.

Tell me what you see.

One day I was fasting, and I just lay down on the rug. I think I fell into a trance, because I was awake. I saw myself in a very big school, I don’t even know the school. As I walked in, I heard a voice tell me to go left. 

On the left, I saw a staircase. As I tried to climb the staircase, something was blocking me. I don’t know what it was, but I struggled till I made it. 

I met one woman past the stairs, and I told her I came to get admission forms. She gave me one. 

The second time, I found myself sitting in a class, listening to a lecture. 

That’s powerful. That’s what your mind wants.

Actually, I want it. 

I understand that education is generally important, but why is it so important to you? 

The Bible says the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable. But when you have a calling from God, and you know you have it, you have to press towards it for a better understanding.

For me, education is how I can begin to fulfil my calling. 

Hmm, I feel you.

You know, when I was a child in the village, people used to bring things to me to help them fix. I’m not sure how, but I helped them fix a lot of things. That’s when I started developing some interest in engineering. But that had to wait. 

Do you ever think of where you will be in five years?

In five years, I don’t want to be in Nigeria again. My choice is Canada.

Do you know the process of going to Canada?

No, I don’t know the process. See, if I have a good job in Nigeria, I can stay.

What is a good job to you?

A job that pays well. 

How much is well for you?

Hmm. 

Say it with your full chest. 

₦300k a month.

What’s something you bought recently that made you feel good?

Recently? I’m not sure. One day I wanted to buy a new phone, one fine Samsung. I looked at my account and said, how will I use this money to buy only a phone?

How much was the phone?

The phone is ₦135k. I would have been happy if I bought that phone, but I just can’t drop the money. 

I feel you. On a scale of 1-10, how will you rate your financial happiness?

1. I appreciate my current job, but I want a better one that pays me more. To tell the truth, I really appreciate this conversation. 

I appreciate you too, man. One more thing, have you ever considered going back to farming? 

Hahaha, not for now. 

Ah, why? 

It’s not only that the stress is too much, but produce for the work is low. 



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