The recruitment process begins with making an application on their online portal. I submitted my CV, answered a few questions on my location plus the towns I’d be most comfortable working in.

The response from Java was prompt and about a week after making my application, I was called for an interview at their head office at ABC place on Waiyaki Way. My interview went smoothly. It was a very light hearted affair, lacking all the formality of a traditional job interview. The following day, I received a call from a HR rep who informed that I had been hired and was required at ABC place for a brief orientation on the company.

I arrived at the headquarters and was ushered into a small boardroom where, I and others, were asked to produce copies of our CVs, academic certificates and two passport sized photos which would be attached to our file. We were then sent to City Hall to apply for our Food Handler’s Certificate which is a requirement for those in the service industry.

When we came back with the certificate, we were bombarded with documents outlining the code of conduct, details of the medical and pension scheme as well as the employment contract. Due to the amount of paper work and the short amount allocated to complete them, one may end up signing a commitment for more than they had bargained for.

Java training starts with two weeks spent at their main warehouse in Industrial Area which serves as the main kitchen for all their branches. Most of the salad dressings, soups, sauces, and meals such as ribs and pork chops are prepared here then transported to the branch. It also acts as the central store for its branches.

Each day, one is assigned a particular area to go and shadow in. The hardest section to work in is the butchery where the meat orders for each branch are weighed, packed and dispatched. The temperatures are freezer like (4°C) and because we were in training and not confirmed employees yet, we worked without proper uniform such as the thermal overalls or fleece sweaters that the rest were provided for.

The main kitchen involves work with a lot of heavy lifting and without proper equipment to make work easier, it makes you susceptible to developing back injuries. If the head chef at the Java Kitchen noticed even a slight error in the way the sandwiched fillings were arranged (i.e order in which tomatoes, lettuce, bacon etc are stacked) or if the labelling was not positioned properly, he would throw away all the previously packed sandwiches and force the chef on duty to start all over again regardless of whether they had completed their shift.

The sexist overtones are felt from the first day you start working at Java, and it was open secret that sometimes those at the helm of the company would ask for sexual favours in order for you to be promoted.

At the branch level, this blatant disregard for employee welfare continues and it is seen in their unwillingness to transfer one to a branch that is closer to their place of residence. Because the hours are long and the shifts often start at 6am to 3pm for opening and 11.30am to 9pm for closing, one would think that Java would try and provide their employees with transport services home after they have tirelessly been on their feet for over eight hours and generated sales in the ballpark of Ksh. 200,000 a day. Leaving a branch such as Valley Arcade for example, to commute all the way to Kasarani or Umoja at 11pm only for you to report the following day at 6am is tough on a waiter or waitress who earns a net income of Ksh. 15,000. They are even at risk of losing their hard earned tips due to mugging when operating during such late hours, not to mention the fortune spent on fare.

The kitchens at the branches are small and crammed with very little ventilation. It therefore makes it hard for them to maintain proper standards of hygiene or pay close attention when performing their daily duties like washing salad leaves. The chefs will often be faulted on ‘wastage’ if they throw away expired products like the salad dressings as this drives up the food cost and lowers the profit margins of a branch. This forces them to resort to mixing fresh salad dressing and expired ones and change the labelling should the city council food inspectors come knocking. The same is done for meat products, but unlike the case of salad dressings which is deliberate, accidentally serving an expired item is due to an oversight from the chefs. This tends to happen because they are overworked, underpaid and working in tiny kitchens with six chefs with very little ventilation. As for the pastries, rather than throw away the ones that are stale, the croissants are dispatched to the kitchen where they are re-used to make the breakfast croissants. Gloves are also almost always never used lest one ends up using ‘too many’ in a day and they increase expenditure.

Breaks at the branch are few and far between and even though you are entitled to two half hour breaks on your shift, this is rarely the case especially if the branch manager happens to dislike you.

Java provides medical insurance and a pension plan for all its employees, however you will seldom use these services because getting a sick leave from work is like milking a chicken. Unless you fall down sick in the middle of the restaurant then good luck getting time off to go to hospital.

Security of the employees at the branches is also another concern. A branch like Valley Arcade for example has its staff changing rooms on the first floor and they are never locked. This makes it easy for someone to walk into the locker rooms, break the flimsy locks and steal. I remember a particular morning where one of my colleagues said she was confronted by a drunk man who entered the changing rooms and cornered her in the narrow corridor. Luckily, other employees were slowly trickling in and this scared the man off.

In terms of value addition to the skill set of its employees, Java puts in little effort in making sure their employees leave better than they left. Promotion to managerial level involves you cramming mundane things like calculating food cost and how to make food orders for the branch or to tally daily earnings. They aren’t trained on basic things like proper communication and how to be an effective leader, rally employees behind the company’s vision, conflict resolution etc. So you end up being promoted to manager with just because your KCSE certificate will make it hard for you to get hired anywhere else once you leave the company. Even if you wanted to further your studies, the work hours are unfavourable and top level management are unwilling to adjust your shifts to allow you to boost your skills which will obviously be of use to the company. This is their way of taming their employees because the more you study, the more exposed you get to the opportunities around you and gain an idea of your worth as an employee and how much you are entitled to and you can stand up for yourself. Their commitment to growth of their staff is a facade. They pull the wool over your eyes with things like medical insurance covers yet the pay is so low you live off loans from the SACCO ran by guess who? Java House Africa.

With all the money all those branches make, they can afford to employ more wait staff so that one waiter isn’t handling over fifteen tables at a time and a steward isn’t cleaning the dishes non stop for hours on end or a chef risking serious burn injuries or suffocation because of working in such crowded spaces.

I left Java after about three months and the experience made me more empathetic when a waiter was late with my coffee especially if the branch I was in was packed. It also made me wary about ordering anything other than coffee.

[Also read: Java House hits new low with customer finding a snail in their salad]

[The writer of this article chose to remain anonymous].