Life as a Waiter on Zakynthos

Ionian Islands

A few years ago Mike went to Alykanas on Zakynthos to get a behind the scenes look at one of his favourite Greek restaurants: the Mantalena. He wrote a piece for The Times about a day in the life of the Mantalena, but didn’t expect to be challenged by the manager, Tasos, to work as a waiter in the evenings! He discovered just how hard those waiters work on a busy night, from setting up the tables before the doors open till the early hours of the morning when the final customers have left and all the staff wind down together with their own meal.

Mantalena Restaurant in Alykanas on Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of GreeceThe Mantalena

'Smile!' Tasos tells me as I stand in front of the Mantalena Restaurant in Alykanas on the Greek island of Zakynthos. 'The customers want to have a good time. They don't know it's your first night as a Greek waiter, so act confident.'

I'd been staying with Tasos all week, so it seemed only fair to help out in his restaurant. After all, I had the white shirt and the Tom Conti beard. I may not have been Greek but then neither were most of the customers in summer, though the Mantalena stays open all winter catering to the islanders who know good Greek food. And there is such a thing. Try their stuffed vine leaves, or chicken stuffed with rice, onion, garlic, herbs and minced beef. 'They're mostly family recipes,' Tasos told me. 'The chicken one is from my auntie. Everyone says you can't put minced beef into chicken but it tastes wonderful.' 

Mantalena Restaurant in Alykanas on Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of GreeceThe Mantalena

I wouldn't be taking the orders as I don't write Greek and the kitchen staff don't read English, but I could greet people, seat people, bring them a menu and the complimentary glass of ouzo, then clear away the debris afterwards. It would take a bit of pressure off the others. It was only early June, but by mid-evening all fifty tables would be full: That's at least a hundred people needing menus, ouzos, bread, wine, starters, main courses, puddings, brandies, coffees or their bills.

I soon discovered that the one thing a waiter doesn't do is wait. There's no time. Hello, good evening, please have a glass of ouzo with our compliments, another beer of course, should I clear those plates away, take two moussakas to table 24 and they need some new knives and forks and pick up a chicken souvlaki from the grill on the way, we're running low on ouzo, I'll get your bill at once, hello, there are some empty tables around the side, please have a glass of ouzo, now whose is the stuffed squid, another carafe of house white, certainly, your bill, thank you, I'll just get your change, two coffees and a walnut cake table 13, where are the clean tablecloths, is there a spare bottle opener, hello, how are you, would you like a glass of ouzo?

Retsina bottles at the Mantalena Restaurant in Alykanas on Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of GreeceRetsina Bottles in the Bar at the Mantalena

Occasionally you take a sip of water and wipe away the sweat caused by running around on a hot evening, into and out of the kitchen. It's almost midnight before Tasos takes the final bill. As the last customers leave, we bring in the salt and pepper sets, the ashtrays, the menus, the final trays full of debris. Natasa is sweeping up, and the kitchen staff are madly washing down the surfaces. Tasos's mother Soula starts cooking at 5.30 in the morning, and demands a clean kitchen when she arrives.

Zoe is cooking one last meal - for the staff. At 12.45 we tuck into tsatsiki, chips, salad, pork, chicken, moussaka, stifado, rice and a few bottles of beer. 'Early tonight,' says Tasos. 'In August we'd still be serving now.' Afterwards he empties the tips bowl and divides it amongst the real waiters. While Tasos and Zoe work out what's wanted for the next day, I crawl away to my bed, take off my sweat-soaked white shirt, and resolve to leave bigger tips in future.

My stint as a waiter at the Mantalena Restaurant in Alykanas on Zakynthos was a few years ago now, but the restaurant is still there so check it out and say hi from me. 

Don't miss our page about Tipping in Greece.

Sunset on Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of GreeceZakynthos Sunset

Heaven on Earth

This story also appears in Heaven on Earth, a collection of travel writing about Greece by Mike Gerrard, co-publisher of Greece Travel Secrets. The book includes accounts published in newspapers and magazines of some of Mike's most memorable experiences of travelling in Greece. Click here or on the cover image to take a look.

Where to Stay on Zakynthos

Other Ionian Islands pages

  • Travel information about Kythira in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights to Kythira and the best things to do

    Kythira, or Kithira or Kithera, in the Ionian islands of Greece

    Travel information about Kythira in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights to Kythira and the best things to do

  • Travel information about Lefkas in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights and the best things to do beaches, sailing, windsurfing.

    Lefkas

    Travel information about Lefkas in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights and the best things to do beaches, sailing, windsurfing.

  • Greece Travel Secrets publishes a page of photos of Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of Greece to perhaps inspire you to visit.

    Photos of Zakynthos

    Greece Travel Secrets publishes a page of photos of Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of Greece to perhaps inspire you to visit.

  • Walking on Paxos is the best way to discover this tiny island south of Corfu in the Ionian Islands, with its wooded hills and terraces of olive trees.

    Walking on Paxos

    Walking on Paxos is the best way to discover this tiny island south of Corfu in the Ionian Islands, with its wooded hills and terraces of olive trees.

  • Travel advice on Ithaca (Ithaka or Ithaki) in the Greek Ionian islands, with information on ferries and flights and the best things to do.

    Ithaca, or Ithaki or Ithaka, in the Ionian Islands of Greece

    Travel advice on Ithaca (Ithaka or Ithaki) in the Greek Ionian islands, with information on ferries and flights and the best things to do.

  • The Best Things to do on Kefalonia include visit Fiskardo and Assos, see Myrtos Beach, enjoy the capital, Argostoli, and visit the Drogorati and Melissani Cave.

    Best Things to do on Kefalonia

    The Best Things to do on Kefalonia include visit Fiskardo and Assos, see Myrtos Beach, enjoy the capital, Argostoli, and visit the Drogorati and Melissani Cave.

  • Travel advice and information on Zakynthos (Zante) in the Greek Ionian islands, with information on ferries and flights and the best things to do..

    Zakynthos, Zante, in the Ionian Islands of Greece

    Travel advice and information on Zakynthos (Zante) in the Greek Ionian islands, with information on ferries and flights and the best things to do..

  • Antonis Maroudas is a Zakynthos winemaker who lives on the 'wine road' and is one of the people who make Zakynthos.

    Zakynthos Winemaker

    Antonis Maroudas is a Zakynthos winemaker who lives on the 'wine road' and is one of the people who make Zakynthos.

  • The Greek Ionian Islands are Corfu, Paxos, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Lefkas, Ithaca and Kythira, and some smaller islands too.

    The Ionian Islands of Greece

    The Greek Ionian Islands are Corfu, Paxos, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Lefkas, Ithaca and Kythira, and some smaller islands too.

  • Travel information about Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights to Kefalonia and the best things to do, like visiting Fiskardo

    Kefalonia, or Cephalonia, in the Ionian Islands of Greece

    Travel information about Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands in Greece, including ferries and flights to Kefalonia and the best things to do, like visiting Fiskardo

  • Travel advice and information on Paxos near Corfu in the Ionian islands, information on ferries and flights, what to do in Gaios, Lakka and Longos or Loggos.

    Paxos

    Travel advice and information on Paxos near Corfu in the Ionian islands, information on ferries and flights, what to do in Gaios, Lakka and Longos or Loggos.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Spetses: The Ultimate Autumn Guide

    Timeless hangouts, useful addresses and cool tips for an unforgettable weekend on the Saronic island of Spetses, just two hours by ferry from Athens.

    Read More

  2. Recipe: Soumada, the Drink of Happiness

    Traditionally served at happy occasions, this sweet almond drink scented with orange flower water is easy to make, and a wonderful treat for guests.

    Read More

  3. Samothraki: Another Greece, Forgotten by Time

    With its rugged, untamed beauty and rich history, Samothraki in the northern Aegean doesn't fit into any of the familiar molds.

    Read More

  4. 8 Excellent Athens Restaurants for Sharing Food

    These restaurants in the heart of Athens celebrate the quintessentially Greek tradition of bringing people together to share plate-loads of delicious food.

    Read More

  5. The Best Hotels in Athens

    Greece Travel Secrets gives its choice of the best hotels in Athens from budget and moderate options through to 5-star luxury choices.

    Read More

  6. Athens listed as a Top 10 most beautiful city for the second time

    Greece has not stopped breaking one record after another in recent years - from tourism to important economic indicators that testify to the enormous dynamics that the country has developed in recent…

    Read More

  7. Jet2 Adds New Routes to Greece, Increases Seat Capacity to 1.3 Million

    UK airline and tour operator to Greece Jet2 on Tuesday announced that it was expanding its 2023 program for the country even further with the addition of new routes, increase of seat capacity and seas…

    Read More

  8. Ultra-runners to Set Off for the 40th Spartathlon from the Acropolis on Friday

    Nearly 400 super athletes from across the globe will set off from the foot of the Acropolis in Athens on Friday, September 30, morning to run 246km (153 miles) to the Peloponnesian town of Sparta for…

    Read More

  9. ‘Athens Full of Tourists’ as Greece Extends Tourism Season

    International travelers are still visiting Greece in the shoulder season which validates the Tourism Ministry’s efforts to extend the season and keep visitors coming into the fall and winter, said Tou…

    Read More

  10. A Walk around Kolonáki

    This walk around the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens starts and ends in Syntagma Square and takes you to several museums, Kolonaki Square and Mount Lykabettos.

    Read More