The Changing of the Guard

welcome matIt’s been a while since I bitched about my job. Frankly, I got tired of revisiting the horror. I decided that you, my faithful readers, probably deserved a break from it, too. Since we have recently experienced a “changing of the guard” over at the Last Chance Café, I thought that you might be willing to indulge me in some of my more snarky observations regarding this development. (Because, you know, at least for the next couple of days, I’m going to have to adopt a more positive attitude at work!)

Our new head honcho took over the reins the other day. And what a day it was. I walked in to a kitchen filled with product. We had, as it turned out, received a fairly large delivery of supplies — none of which we needed, by the way. For the record, we now have more tea than China. As we serve about three cups of tea, on average, a day, I would conservatively estimate that this cache should last us until the year 2020.

From what I understand this new addition to our staff is more “by the book” than our former leader. Whether this proves true, whether this makes my life better or worse, remains to be seen. On an optimistic note, she did seem rather stunned by the amount of tea we would have to store over the next six years, to say nothing of the thirty-two pounds of sugar that we also currently have on hand. She seemed to at least agree with me that ordering in the 21st Century could be accomplished more efficiently through the use of something called a computer — taking an inventory might have been helpful, as well. So, I guess that’s something.

Like the previous “top dog”, she’s new to the position. So, she’ll try to make her mark. She’ll make some changes, I’m sure. Hopefully these changes will include the introduction of spread sheets. Her style will, no doubt, be different. She seems nice enough, pleasant enough. We’ll see what happens once she settles in.

I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve seen it all before. New people always arrive secure in the knowledge that they will be able to whip us into shape. (Because, you know, we’re shapeless!) So far, they’ve been unsuccessful, which has less to do with the worker bees and more to do with where and how one chooses to begin their journey toward overall improvement. Instead of beginning at the top, they try to work their way up from the bottom. They always start with the service staff when, in fact, they should start with the management staff. (To wit, the current state of our storage room which, in addition to the abundance of tea bags and sugar, also includes somewhere in the neighborhood of 37,000 straws.)

We don’t order the supplies, make the schedules, or supervise the staff. We don’t set the tone, we merely carry the tune — we also haul and are charged with finding space to store boxes filled with enough toothpicks to make an actual size model of, say, The Eiffel Tower. To be fair, that’s not really part of our job description, but who else is going to do it? Instead of putting the results of someone else’s incompetence away, what I would have liked to have done, what I wish I had done, was to have required that the mathematical wizard responsible for this insanity get his ass out of bed and give us a hand. But, you know, I was trying not to be too negative in front of my new boss. (Although, if she’d really wanted to make an impression on her management staff — and, by extension, the rest of her staff — she would have gotten that guy in the building to deal with his idiocy. Believe me, I would have been so amused, not to mention duly impressed, that I would have told everyone!)

My efforts at positivity didn’t last long. Because while we now have an embarrassment of riches in, for example, the honey department — we’ve got the honey of at least 100,000 bees — what we didn’t have were napkins. In my usual helpful fashion, I suggested that we could greet guests at the door with their knife and their fork. We could then give them some sort of discount if they were able to supply their own napkins. Most people have a few stashed in their glove compartments. Some lucky few might even have a moist towelette or two rolling around the floor of their minivans.

I think that she found me mildly amusing until I suggested that we create a promotional campaign in which, in exchange for supplying their own napkins (“Thursday is Bring Your Own Napkin Day”), they would receive either a box of individually wrapped toothpicks or a box of tea bags. Two birds with one stone and all that.

In an effort to regain my footing with her, I told her that I’d be willing to wear a button with her picture on it and salute her upon my arrival if she could figure out a way to keep us in the things we needed — things like napkins, soup spoons, ramekins, and steak knives — and eliminate the overabundance of things that we do not need any more of — like the 42 enormous bottles of yellow mustard that have been occupying valuable shelf space for over a year now. She appeared to agree with me and I got the impression that she was giving that button idea some careful consideration. For all I know, she’s working on acquiring that button right now. See? I’m not above a little flattery and ass-kissing, my friends! No. I am not!

I, along with the rest of my co-workers, have learned to do the best with what we have available to us, which, sadly, has often put us in the unenviable position of serving coffee with plastic bar stirrers. (We have plenty of those, too!) Sure, people look at us like we’re incompetent idiots, but I think it demonstrates a real intrepidness of spirit. I contend that you can’t train that sort of “out of the box” thinking into people. It grows, organically, from necessity. When, upon arriving at a table with a bar stirrer instead of the expected teaspoon, I tell people that “coffee spoons are for sissies!” No one wants to be branded a sissy!

Just the other night I made about thirty margaritas without any orange-flavored liqueur — no triple sec, no Gran Marnier, no Citronage. I improvised and used orange juice concentrate. I’m sure they were delicious. Actually, I’m not sure of that. None of them came back, though. So, I guess they were fine. Often “fine” is the best anyone can do with limited resources.

Ultimately, the folks responsible for leaving us napkinless, for putting seven servers on the floor, but one cook in the kitchen, and for hiring drug addicts or language-challenged individuals to work the front door are the managers. I hope this one starts her little improvement project in the back office rather than in the front of the house. If I had to wager on it, though, I’d bet that she won’t start there. If my years of experience have taught me anything, they’ve taught me this: no one ever begins their tenure by tasking their fellow managers with doing their jobs.

My guess is that she’ll start her reign by playing a little game I’ve come to think of as “What’s wrong with the service staff?” They always do! Our jeans will be checked for blueness, our shoes for blackness, our aprons for cleanliness, and our shirts for wrinkles. We will be lectured about pleasing guests. Tardiness and timeliness will be discussed. Sidework will be addressed. Some people will be told to “lose the nose-ring”; others will be admonished for the size of their earrings. (Truthfully, I’ll be in the latter category.)

We will, as always, be found wanting. Sure, she’ll give lip service to our complaints and concerns — new managers always do. But, in the end, nothing will change. We’ll still go a month without blackberry brandy — I suppose we can hope that some of that honey has undergone fermentation. I’ll just smash some blackberries into it and Voila! Homemade blackberry brandy! We’ll continue to be expected to do more with less. (Or, simply, to do more for less. It’s difficult to get a decent gratuity as it is, but just try getting one when you serve coffee with a plastic bar stirrer! Or when folks are asked to bring in their own napkins!)

I don’t envy this woman. She’s got her work cut out for her. If it were me, I know what I’d do. I’d get some supplies in. I’d have a peek at the schedule. I’d take a long hard look at a kitchen that is incapable of plating up a rare steak in less than twenty-five minutes. I’d try to remove the stumbling blocks to success that the front of house staff has faced over the last couple of years. Then maybe, just maybe, she won’t have to discuss anyone’s piercings or their work habits. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if people noticed that we had soup spoons and Jameson’s. And, as a result, showed their appreciation by working hard. Things might just fall into place without the unnecessary assaults on our character.

I’m hoping that she will sit down with staff members and that, for once, I will be on the list. I never have been before. Last year everyone in the restaurant was given a performance review. Everyone, that is, except for me. The last time we got a new service manager (truthfully he was an old service manager who was returning to our store), he sat every server down and asked them for their input. Every single server, except for me.

The reason I’m not included in these little “heart to hearts” is probably because I’m fairly vocal about where, in my opinion, the weaknesses in our workplace lie. I steadfastly refuse to buy into the mindset that “we” or, a phrase that I loathe — “you people” — combine to make one big ball of lazy negativity. My opinion is that no one walked in that way — we have been beaten into becoming this thing — mostly by a lack of commitment on the part of management and their poor decisions — things that have nothing to do with “us”. (Make no mistake about it, no matter how much they feed you the company line that we’re a team, we’re not. It’s “us” vs. “them”. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar, an idiot, or both.)

As for me, I’ll happily switch out my long earrings for studs and I’ll be positively lovely to be around, if I can get a damn bottle of peach schnapps in the house. It’s probably too much to hope for that the fry/salad guy can be trained to make a salad to recipe or that I don’t have to find a place to store 144 bottles of Worcestershire Sauce. Really, at the end of the day, I will measure her success not by numbers (neither asses in seats nor guest satisfaction surveys impress me), but by whether or not she can make my job easier and my tips more bountiful.

In the meantime, I’ll put out the welcome mat. I’ll be optimistic. I’ll reserve judgment until I see if she can manage to keep us in spoons.

photo credit: welcome mat

4 thoughts on “The Changing of the Guard

  1. All managers should be required to actually work the job for a while of the people they are managing (or tyrannizing, browbeating, or otherwise oppressing). Ya just can’t learn this stuff in business school.


  2. The snark’s the best part. But, also kind of scary.


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