Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"anything worth doing is worth doing well..."--unknown

"It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be the same..."--Ray Kroc, blender salesman turned restaurateur

"Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones tend to take care of themselves..."--Andrew Carnegie

Many restaurant bloggers seem to have a dim view of their employers and places of business. I certainly understand, as is evidenced here, about the cathartic nature of expressing oneself in the vacuum of cyber-space. I also admit that the ability to stand in clear view and fire away without having even the slightest concern about a counterattack or fact-check can go beyond liberating and verge on bashing.

I regularly read all of the restaurant and bar blogs that I have so far discovered. I am impressed and humbled by much of that writing, both work-related and creative, and I take great solace whenever I'm able to read firsthand accounts that in some cases so clearly mirror my own experiences. Some of the stories on Waiterrant, Restaurant Gal, Clublife, Lobster Blog and many others are like distant train whistles to a lost hiker--they let me know that I am neither alone nor crazy.

I have a mental picture of what each writer looks like--so far three of them have offered small, incomplete peeks of themsleves either on their sites or their myspace pages and I am 2 for 3. Right on with waiterrant and clublife, way off with restaurant gal [my mental image of her was as a small, dark-haired woman maybe a bit on the frumpy side rather than the tall, ash-blonde and clearly younger woman that just surfaced on her site]. The Red Lobster guy I just picture in a white robe with wings and an halo--any guy that could work for that company for a decade is a far better man than I. I also have personality profiles to go with the faces, and they are as overwhelmingly positive as my reviews on content.

With one exception. There is one blogger who typifies a template for the classic restaurant hack constantly bitching about why everyone sucks but him. His often sickening commentary serves to perfectly illustrate the stunted point of view and remarkably short memory almost always connected to the classic "screwed-over" restaurant employee.

The "who" of him doesn't matter, because he is interchangeable with any one of a million other douchebags wearing a bistro apron and owning far more attitude than skill. The example of him matters because by describing him, a clear delineation can be made between those people who are in a bad job versus those people that are just bad for the job they are in.

To work in my industry successfully, one must be willing to take responsibility. I understand that this looks like an incomplete thought, but it is the closest I can come to succinctly describing the heart of what we do. There is a business and an organization. There is management, ownership, and there are co-workers. There are rules, regulations, guidelines, and policies. There are guests. There are all manner of myriad and never-ending variables both positive and negative surrounding you at all times.

In the end though, once the first person hits a chair in your section, stool at your bar, or bell at your pick-up window--it is all you. Your responsibility. There's help if you need it, but ask for it too often [or more importantly need it too often] or come to rely on it and you will quickly go from sketchy to laughingstock to untrusted to unemployed. Every one has a bad night, but put too many of them in a row or try to slip blame and here comes "sketchy" again.

For the runts and the stragglers it quickly goes from "what do you need?" to "what's wrong now?!" to get the fuck out of the way!!".

If you are responsible, you can more or less say whatever you want--your words may not be heeded, but your opinion will still be respected. Bitching is de rigeur from those who are responsible, whining from those who are not is an invitation to an ass-kicking [usually verbal, though not always].

If your current place of employment is so poorly suited to you--so ill-conceived, poorly run, and badly executed that you daily and constantly lament the fact that you are working there, that is the perfect indication that you should work elsewhere. Leave, quit, transfer, retire...whatever...just go away--it is possible that the sigh of relief you heave may be matched by those of your former co-workers and superiors.

I understand bad restaurants, owners, and managers. What I don't understand are those individuals that continue to stay in what they will endlessly describe as a totally untenable situation. When I was 21 I got a stop-gap job as a waiter in a middle-of-the-road Italian restaurant. The business was steady and the money was good, but the owner-operator was a lunatic--a compulsive gambler with a triple penchant for cocaine, whores, and confrontation. After I had been there about two weeks he called an employee meeting which he purposely held in an upstairs prep kitchen. The room was tiny, and never cooler than 100 degrees. Once everyone was crammed in and perched atop cooking equipment, crates, and boxes the screaming commenced. When he got to the point of announcing, "there's 11 motherfucking doors in this restaurant and I'll be happy to throw each and every one of you pieces of shit out all 11 of them", I knew it was time for a change. My offer of notice was vigorously refused, and I beat it on down the road.

If the managers are pinheads, get another job. If the maitre d' fucks you on the count every night and the owner or manager won't react, get another job. If the sidework includes picking up the owner's dry cleaning and peeling potatoes [above Italian restaurant had us clean and chop case upon case of romaine], get another job. If the stations are too small and the guests constantly offensive, get another job. I am not saying these things are right, they are not right by any stretch of the imagination--I am saying that such is sometimes the way of the world.

My counsel is not to quit every time some little thing doesn't go your way. My position is that if the normal operation of the restaurant totally depresses, infuriates, and/or stupefies you, then you yourself need to be the instrument of change.

A few posts ago I wrote about the impending termination of a server and I mentioned that he was a huge know-it-all complainer, just like the blogger in question. Whenever he wasn't buried in the weeds [in other words, whenever he did not have a table], he could be found holding forth in Shakespearean fashion on our poor plating, badly designed side stations, unfair sidework, impractical uniforms, incomplete procedures, and incompetent management to list a few of our shortcomings. When I fired him, he professed it to be a personal vendetta, just as I knew he would and mentioned how unfair my action was. When I brought up his massive, nightly billet of complaining he feigned ignorance, citing the fact that, "I love this place, and everyone loves me...you're the problem here!" My mild retort, that the average length of employment for a member of my staff was nearly four years and that I would have to commend all those others on being able to stand me for so long, met with a characteristic blank stare and a little ruffling of hair as the comment flew over his big, fat unemployed head.

My situation as a young waiter and my erstwhile server's departure, albeit forced, illustrate the same solution for what I hope are the two diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum. If you find yourself a crewman on the SS Clusterfuck, abandon ship as soon as you realize where you are. Similarly, if you are at work and look around to see a humming, effective machine with everything and everyone meshing, gliding, and executing but you, consider the fact that you may be the problem. It doesn't mean you're a bad person [though usually it absolutely means you're a bad person], it just means you are in the wrong place.

As for "bad" blogger, I cannot be positive which scenario he is faced with--but he sure sounds to me like a square peg annoying the shit out of everyone while languishing in a round hole.


Anonymous Restaurant Gal said...

Well, glad my postcards cleared up THAT misconception of who you thought I was.

I think I was close to your part of the world on my road trip. What a nice suprise I found the middle of the U.S to be!

Thankfully, I have found a job in a place that feels like a pretty good fit. Finally. Even if it is South Florida. :)

Nice post.

9:27 PM  
Blogger bittersweet me said...

i was going to ask for a link or two .. but i guess i can follow RG and find some more interesting reading material :)

good counsel - although not to be confined to just your trade!

5:00 AM  
Blogger Voodoo76 said...

I'll take "what is The Insane Waiter" for $500 please, Alex!

Seriously, I REALLY enjoy your posts, Mr. Blues. I'm a young GM & have used your "lessons" more than once. Thanks again....

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it must be ryan, from 'i serve idiots'
that is all

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I vote for I serve Idiots also

7:05 PM  

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