“Has he already said that I’m his favourite colleague?” the bartender jokes. Another colleague: “And that I’m his least favourite?” Hidde Bobbink, wearing an apron, is leaning casually against the doorframe leading to the tiny kitchen of Eetcafé de Preuverij. He smiles; he’s clearly used to his colleagues’ antics. This is the calm before the storm, he explains as he wipes down the counter and washes his hands. The last few guests of a group of 27 students are arriving. In less than an hour, each of them will be served the main course of their choice – preferably all at the same time.
“Cooking” is a bit of an overstatement, in Bobbink’s opinion. “There are these ladies who’ve been cooking the more complicated meals for us for years: [regional meat dish] zuurvlees, goulash, soup, the sauces. We reheat those in the evenings. We do cook the meat, prepare salads and lunch sandwiches, fry chips and schnitzels, and plate everything.” He thinks the food they serve is good, especially for the price, though of course – “We’re a simple eatery” – it’s not haute cuisine.
When he was in secondary school, Bobbink worked in a supermarket. As a student – “My older brother also worked here” – he wanted a job in food service. “I enjoy it. Our guests are often people who are on a day trip or an evening out and are usually in a good mood.” He started working as a bartender and kitchen hand at de Preuverij 3.5 years ago. “We have a team of twenty people, 60 per cent of us are students, most of the others are locals. There’s a good vibe; this place is like my second living room. I’m here almost every day. I come in for a cup of coffee and a chat in between tutorials.”
The phone rings. “A table for four? Yes, that’s possible. Seven p.m., see you then”, says the bartender. A second later, he’s whistling along to the music again. Meanwhile, Bobbink rapidly prepares two plates with salad and some acar. While the chips are in the fryer and the satay skewers on the grill, a customer comes over to pay for their onion soup. After that, Bobbink serves the two guests their main courses. “Enjoy your meal. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.” The phone rings again. “A table for five? Yes, that’s possible. See you then.”
A member of independent fraternity Chic Sat, Bobbink runs into many of his peers during his work. “Groups of students come here for meetings or to have dinner. But we also get non-students. I like that we have different types of guests.” Although he occasionally drinks beer on the job, he keeps it within limits. “I don’t like working under the influence. You have a responsibility. You’re not out partying, you’re at work.”
The group of 27 people has almost finished ordering, one of the bartenders informs Bobbink. They just need to ask the smokers, who are standing outside, what they’d like to order. Bobbink, relaxed, and the other kitchen hand prepare themselves. It’s finally time for the real deal.