It’s Monday — or, as I like to think of it — “Deconstruction Day”. Because that’s what I do on Mondays — think and then write about whatever insanity I was subjected to over the weekend. I find it therapeutic. Judging from your comments, many of you find my crazy customer stories entertaining and, if I may be so bold, I have also gotten the sense, based on your many comments, that you also find them both educational and informative.
Don’t worry. I haven’t run out of crazy customer stories just yet, but today’s edition of “Deconstruction Monday” will have a slightly different tone. Because this weekend, I was the nut. The maniac. The lunatic. I was the one who seriously lost her shit. In my defense, it was long overdue, which is not an excuse for my behavior, merely the prelude to the explanation.
In every job there are days when things don’t go smoothly — this is true wherever one is employed. In every place of business there are coworkers who are manipulative and conniving — this is particularly true in the restaurant business or, I would suspect any other business where employees work solely on commission. Sadly, there will also always be folks who do not or can not do their jobs, yet feel perfectly at ease condemning the way in which you do yours.
In a nutshell and without delving into detail about the ins and the outs of the restaurant business — because really, who has the time or patience for that? — let me just say that lately, and by lately I mean over the past year, or so, I have felt like a hamster on a wheel whenever I work a weekend shift in the kitchen. Not only do I never stop for one second — NEVER! — I often have to weave my way through a throng of servers whose sole purpose for coming to work often seems to be to hang out, gossip, and make delicious coffee drinks. I like to remind them that places designed for doing just these type of things — coffee houses and bars spring to mind — are open AFTER work. (HA HA HA — they think I am SOOOOO funny!)
These are the same people, by the way, who like to complain about their tip percentages. Because they think I am a regular riot, I like to helpfully point out that there may be a direct correlation between the time they spend attending to their tables and the gratuities they receive from those tables. I ask them to think about whether or not they tip less when they go out if they are missing things like bread plates, drink refills, or their salad because their server was too busy creating new ways to flavor coffee or yukking it up in the back to either notice or to care about their needs. Unfortunately, my helpful tips, garnered from thirty years of experience, fall, for the most part, on deaf ears.
Nothing is ever their fault. They have an uncanny ability to make excuses as to why their tables, for example, have no plates. Plates are supposed to be placed by the hosting staff when the guests are shown to their table. So, if the plates are missing, it’s not the fault of the server. Yeah. I get that. But, here’s the thing — you still served bread to your plateless table. In my book there is very little that is excusable for a server who does this and either A) doesn’t notice or B) doesn’t care.
If you don’t notice that your customers have made makeshift plates out of their dinner napkins or, for the brave few who throw caution and sanitary concerns out the window, are simply just resting their bread directly on the table, you have no business being in this business. None. I often think, and sometimes say, “If this were my restaurant, it would be a fireable offense to serve bread to a table without plates.” And it would be. So, they’re lucky it’s not my restaurant. I get the feeling that not only are they fully aware of this fact, but that they are, indeed, grateful that this is not the case. Yes, sometimes I can be a positively delightful co-worker. What. Ever.
I am convinced, because I have done this job for over thirty years, that they know that their tables have no plates. Further, they know it right from the giddyup — yet, they do nothing to rectify the problem. Every last one of them notices, but they hang their hat on the old, “it’s not my job”, bullshit. This drives me insane in ways that I am sure I would be unable to fully describe. And here’s why — because it’s not my job either, but when I get to the table to deliver the appetizer and notice that they are missing plates, I have to take another turn through the kitchen, fight my way through the kaffe klatsch, and bring plates to their tables. Because it offends my sensibilities to allow folks to eat without plates. These people do not go to restaurants, ours or any others, to plunk down good money to eat picnic style. No paying customer should ever be expected to tolerate this level of service. Ever.
All of this brings me to last night. Last night was a doozy for a variety of reasons, but it really all started with the absence of plates on almost every single table. So, I was already in no mood for any other nonsense. I spent the better part of the shift insuring that plates were readily available to the host staff — this entailed ME dragging them up there, which, by the way, is definitely NOT my job. I don’t mind helping the host stand out once in a while, but the expectation that I will be the one to stock THEIR supplies is, to put it mildly, infuriating. Because I don’t have time. Really. I don’t.
Why don’t I have time to help the host staff? Because I’m too busy washing knives and salad bowls and ramekins. Yeah. You heard me. WASHING knives and salad bowls and ramekins. (Oh, my!) Would you ever think, for a minute, that it would be the job of a food runner to actually clean the items needed to plate up the food? No. I’m sure you would not. And you would be correct about that if in fact, I worked in a restaurant that was properly managed. Have you come to realize yet that I do not work in any such environment? If you haven’t, please stop reading now and DO NOT comment, as I promise I will have no patience for you either.
In the midst of doing everyone else’s job, I still had to do my own. Actually, I was expected to not only do my own job, but also to do the job of the manager. The manager who, instead of expediting the food (getting it ready to be brought out to the table — this entails far more than you would think), was in the back prepping items that should have been prepped by the day manager. There was, at some point, another manager in the building, but when and why he left in the middle of a rush is a mystery to me. (It’s not uncommon though, it happens all weekend long!) Why the day manager was unable to complete the prep list? Also a mystery. Actually, it’s no mystery. It’s very simple. It’s called incompetence.
So, there I was, washing dishes, expediting, stocking plates, and trying my level best to get the salad guy to actually plate up salads — to give you some idea of this guy’s level of enthusiasm for his job, let me just say that he reminds me of a semi-comatose patient — you know, the guy that the doctor says “blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no'” to — but he would even get that wrong and, as a result, the surgeon would operate on the wrong leg. Yeah. I work with that guy. The funniest and most telling thing about this guy is that he has a tattoo on his forearm that spells out his name. I have decided that he needs it there — so that he doesn’t forget his name. Seriously.
You now, I hope, have some appreciation for what it is that I was up against last night (and, really, almost every other night that I work), right? Good. Because I don’t want you to harshly judge me when I tell you what happened next. (Just for the record, I’ve already done that!)
One of my stellar co-workers, the one who consistently undertips me and feels perfectly at ease making snide remarks about why I am doing things that aren’t my job (I told her, as pleasantly as I could, that she was welcome to do dishes and/or run plates to the host stand or, even, (gasp!) refill drinks at her own tables!) — did what she always does — she “picked” her own food out of the window while there was other food that was ready and needed to be run to other server’s tables. I went ballistic. Because when she did it, for the fourth time just last night; for the umpteenth time since I’ve known her, she also elbowed me out of the way. Elbowed me. I went absolutely batshit crazy. Bat. Shit. Crazy. I, literally, saw red. I had, quite frankly, had enough. Although, I have to say, it was the only time the damn kitchen was quiet all night long. It was also the first time all night that folks just put their heads down and worked. The fact that I’m “scary” when I’m angry was mentioned by a couple of my co-workers. Yeah. I’m sure.
When I had finally regained a small fragment of my composure, I went to find the manager — to inform him that I had finally and completely lost my mind. He kind of just looked at me and shrugged, as if to say, “Well, it was inevitable.” Ugh! A few minutes later, the cook informed me that we were out of rice. As if I, somehow, was supposed to manage rice preparation or magically conjure this food product while, concurrently, losing my marbles AND performing the various and sundry duties of everyone else in the building.
I, once again, found myself hauling my cookies to the back so that I could inform the the ONLY manager on duty of the current state of our cooked rice inventory. As I rounded the corner, The Elbower was deep in conversation with the manager. She was wearing her best put-upon, pouty face. She was telling him, I’m sure, how she had been wronged. He was nodding affirmatively. I asked them, after informing him of our starch emergency, whether their discussion included HER working my shifts next weekend, while I worked HERS. Kind of like “Freaky Friday: The Restaurant Edition!” They just kind of looked at me, as if I had suggested that they were discussing their later plans for putting a hex on me. Sadly, I couldn’t stick around to see if there was any evidence that they had taken my voodoo doll out of the file cabinet — because I still had a lot of crap to attend to — thirteen other servers and a full restaurant to run food out for and to. And, I’m sure, steak knives to wash.
I fully expected to be “counseled” for my behavior at the end of my shift. Whatever. I was ready to be “sat down”. Surprisingly, no request for a “sit-down” was forthcoming from the manager. So, I just left. I’d had enough fun for one night.
Imagine my surprise when I got home and fielded a phone call from my best friend and co-worker who, in a mind-boggling turn of events, was the one who was spoken to — about me. About my behavior. About my stress level. To say that I was angry would be an understatement. She advised me to calm down. To sleep on it. She recommended that I wait until the morning to have my own conversation with the manager. I assured her that I would.
I did no such thing. Instead, I called him immediately — as in the second I finished speaking with her. I asked him why he felt the need to discuss MY personal business with one of my co-workers, instead of with me. I may or may not have called him a coward. It’s kind of a blur. He assured me that he was only seeking her advice regarding how best to deal with me. Really? Now, I’m no rancher, but I know bullshit when I smell it.
For those of you who may be new here, let me just say this: I am normally a pretty reasonable person. I may not always be calm, but I am usually reasonable. When I lose my shit, which is rarely, I have a damn good reason for doing so. If I were a raving lunatic ALL the time, I can assure you that I would not have been employed by one restaurant chain for nineteen years and this one for over three. No way. No how.
I am a little high-strung and excitable about doing things the right way. I may kvetch about customers, but I try very hard to please them. When I run food, I have to please ALL of them, not just the handful that I’m serving — so, it can be a little stressful. I NEVER take out on unsuspecting guests how I feel about their server or allow my frustrations with the kitchen or the management to affect how I interact with customers. It’s unprofessional and beneath me. It’s not their business. It’s not their fault. They deserve better. I plaster a smile on my face and head out the kitchen door. That’s my job. And I do it well.
The bottom line, according to this manager, is that I care too much. His advice to me was that I should just come to work, do only what my job description entails, and let him worry about the rest. So, I have decided that I will. I’ll let you know how that goes. Just for fun, I’m going to keep a count of how many folks are eating without plates because neither the host nor the wait staff “notices” their absence or how many don’t get their salad prior to their meal or their ice cream before it’s a melted mess because the salad guy is, and I am being kind here — unreliable. I wonder how many will be reduced to cutting their steaks with butter knives because the proper implements are not clean? Or how many folks I’ll have to ignore who are sucking on ice cubes because their otherwise engaged server couldn’t be bothered obtaining their drink refill? Yeah. We’ll just see how that goes. I can’t wait for next weekend! It ought to be pretty relaxing.
Perhaps next Monday, I’ll be able to write about puppies, rainbows, flowers, or unicorns! That sure would be nice. I wouldn’t count on it, though.
photo credit: hamster wheel