Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"What is left when honor is lost?"...Pubilius Syrus

"Have you ever known a time when there was so much talk about ethics--or so little practice of it?"...Thomas Sowell

I have been much preoccupied with honor lately. People are changing, and not for the better. Even here, where an hour's drive outside the city limits will put you squarely in the land of Green Acres...a sea of amber fields dotted sparely with modern-day versions of Pixley and Hooterville. In this once-genteel world, Eb and Bobby Jo are now likely to throw a fit and threaten legal action if the char crust on their bone-in sirloin isn't just the way they specified.

When I was in college and still planning to lead a normal professional life I read a great deal of ancient history, as it was my degree minor. My attention was always captured by the fall of great civilizations, specifically the greatest of them all--the Roman Empire. The fact that a society so driven and industrious as Rome could be withered and washed away was truly troubling to me. How could they build structures that survive mostly intact to this very day, but not maintain the civic fortitude to remain viable as a government longer than they did?

Those who see history as clinical study rather than cyclical practice will tend to make the argument that geopolitical change, breaking lines of supply and communication, internal strife, and power struggles caused the Empire to become vulnerable to barbarian invasion. True, these factors were the main technical causes for Rome's subjugation--but why did they occur?

Rome failed because of sloth and greed. The Roman people and the body of the government became lazy and self-serving. Middle and upper-class families paid mercenaries to fulfill their children's statutory military requirements, thus robbing generations of the discipline and wider understanding of the "real world"they would need to govern. A bloated, corrupt bureaucracy and legislature slowed progress on all things to a crawl and steadily drained the vitality of the most dynamic enterprise in the history of the world. The Roman people grew fat and cynical, comfortable in the erroneous belief that they were still as great and formidable as once they actually were. I'm positive that at the very moment the barabrian horde crested the seventh hill, a bunch of Roman waiters were standing around somewhere wondering when and why all the guests had gone "douchebag" on them, or whatever the Roman equivalent to "douchebag" was at the time.

The loss of honor, individually or collectively, is an insidious thing. While the greater concerns facing our society are a treatise for another day, my focus on this challenging evening is my own little Rome and the barbarians constantly assaulting our walls.

Simple common courtesy is the first casualty. "Please" and "thank you" are routinely replaced by military-style orders and dismissive waves. The request, that delicate creature, has been nearly driven extinct by its ugly and often ineffective cousin the demand.

Courtesy is quickly followed to the grave by simple honesty. The number of people who will thoughtlessly surrender their integrity over a reservation time, a misunderstanding of the dress policy, an improperly ordered meal, or some other insignificant bauble of personal prestige has gone from a deviant minority to an obnoxious mob similar to the "infected" in "28 Days Later".

An apparent side effect to this dishonesty is stupidity, because many of these doomed souls end up arguing with me about prior phone conversations that were had, unbeknownst to them, with me. I sometimes play a cruel little game--I silently count how many times they tell me that "I" promised them something over the phone before admitting that "I" am "me".

To live as a human being is to live. To live as a carrion beast, preying on the weaker, kinder, and more fatigued is simply despicable--but apparently all the rage.

A woman leaves our valet one evening and calls the next day to say the driver broke her power window. While our valet, like every other valet in the world, maintains a policy requiring that any claims for damage be made before departure, we try to be courteous and ask for estimates on a possible repair. This industrious woman shows up the next day with three estimates for our perusal--all over two months old. I don't know if she ever got her window fixed.

Our location in a large, old office building is problematic in many ways--but not for those in wheelchairs. My employer has two extended family members who rely on wheelchairs, and we have made certain that access is easy and legal. Nevertheless, we were the subject of an ADA violation lawsuit filed by a private citizen several months ago--the suit was framed so that it would be cheaper to settle than to fight--a little investigation revealed that the plaintiff has filed over 100 of these suits locally using the same attorney, and it seems that these lawsuits are this attorney's sole business. We will see them in court for the ADA claim, as well as for our counter-suit and for the attorney's hearing before the State Bar.

An elderly couple walk in early one Saturday evening and ask to have dinner. Once seated, the gentleman indicates his disinterest in the specials by telling his server to, "stop that shit and just get me my fucking drink. This is followed by, "take our fucking order", and "it'd better be fucking medium rare or I'm gonna take it back there and throw it at the fucking cook". All the while Mrs. F-Bomb is silent. When this server who is truly mild mannered, a complete professional, and nearly my size finally counseled the gentleman--sternly--to refrain from further profanity the guest was shocked to silence, another paper tiger. Mrs. F however made a bee-line to the front desk to voice her displeasure with, and I swear to God this is an exact quote, "their uppity waiter". I don't know if Fred and Ethel ever did have dinner that night, but I know they didn't have it in our restaurant.

I'm tired of bad people, and I am furious that the bad ones are starting to eclipse the good ones. The wonderful regular guest of ours who brought me a gift this evening just because she appreciates what little bit I do for her should be first in my thoughts as I write this, but instead it is the guy, with his gram of cocaine, that I had to escort off the property about thirty minutes ago.

Is every one, every thing, and every place just a bridge to be burned?

I need a day off...and a retirement party.


Anonymous Restaurant Gal said...

So interesting you would post this. A regular at lunch recently wondered why we couldn't make change for his large bills, and said to his dining guest in front of my co-worker, "They probably don't trust them with cash." Ah, the "them" word. Except my co-worker is a long-time lunch manager, and I am her newbie peer, and my GM totally trusts both of us "with cash." Honor? I only care about the honor that matters most, that of my boss--my GM--not the other "them." Great post.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post as usual

11:31 AM  
Blogger Quirkz said...

very insightful post; i especially enjoyed reading about the fall of the roman empire. makes us think about how long will the global superpowers last, given the way things are going now. thanks for sharing =)

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to see a post on honor from someone who is dating a subordinate.

1:49 PM  
Blogger last one home said...

...not just a subordinate--a really, really hot subordinate.

Amusing to see Mr. Anonymous throwing anonymous rocks at my anonymous glass house.

Come back when you grow a pair.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous William Keleher said...

That's fair, but FWIW I didn't mean to be a punk - I just didn't realize I could leave a name without logging in. Some sites won't let you do that.

I think you are an extraordinarily gifted writer and have commented as such before. I appreciate your efforts in writing this and hope you keep writing; I really enjoy reading your stuff.

But if you are responsible for evaluation of her job performance, it's not ethical to have romantic relationship. That's not really a gray area, no matter how hot she is. And that's cool, it would hardly be the first example of unethical behavior in the restuarant business. You could be having sex in the supply closet and you'd still be within industry norms.

What doesn't add up is that you have been pretty clear about your low tolerance for hypocrisy and bullshit in the past. So it's kind of surprising to see you dating a subordinate and then bemoaning the demise of honor. It's almost like you WANTED someone to call you on it.

Did you?

8:50 AM  
Blogger last one home said...

A proper response, Mr. Kelleher.

Your held position may be independent of the information I have already supplied, or directly contingent upon it--either way it is your right to hold whatever opinion you see fit.

I wasn't fishing for response on this issue, as I do not see it as connected to public personal interaction, but the case nevertheless merits explanation.

I do not consider my own actions dishonorable or hypocritical--for a number of reasons.

The relationship is not illicit--while not overtly promulgated, neither is it a secret.

Niether of us maintain other personal relationships--this is not an "affair" of any kind.

My long-time policy against dating members of my restaurant staff was just that--my personal policy. Not only was it not restaurant policy, but indeed drew periodic criticism from my employer, who felt that if I did not date staff I would probably never have the chance to date at all due to the rigors of my schedule. I have never prohibited staff relationships at any property I have administered--true, I don't enjoy the public drama that often ensues from such couplings. That is why up until recently, I have kept myself at a distance from them.

As for my professional evaluation of my girlfriend--I will admit it is different. You see, I know for a fact that she has no silly reasons not to do all the right things and/or communicate properly and completely with me at all times--as a result of this knowledge on my part, she has a good deal less leeway than anyone else on my staff.

Luckily, she is better at her particular job than almost anyone I have ever worked with, making it a moot point.

The relationship was started only after great consideration on my part, as well as on hers. You see, if it is not already plainly apparent, it is a much more demanding thing to be close to me than to be at a distance.

Whether or not such proximity is worth it, of course, is a matter of opinion best sought from those who have themselves braved such turbulent waters.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous william keleher said...

I appreciate your taking the time to respond.

I respectfully disagree that the openness, availability, or competentcy of either participant in the relationship or the workplace policy obviate concerns about the ethics - and perhaps more importantly the business judgement - of the situation. Honorable business practice dictates that one seek to avoid not just a conflict of interest but the appearance of a conflict of interest. But don't take my word for it. Google "ethics dating subordinates" and read for yourself.

A sample:

From the Wharton School of Business (http://accessrisk.knowledgeatwharton.com/index.cfm?fa=printArticle&ID=1785)

"Although the effects of real or perceived favoritism can be insidious no matter what the relationship is, nepotism and supervisor-subordinate dating are particularly controversial..."People are really beginning to accept the fact that it's not a big deal to date someone" from work, [CSU-LA Professor Janet] Lever says, although she agrees that the supervisor-subordinate relationship is still generally taboo."

From "Avoiding Lawsuits - how businesses can avoid employment claims and liabilities" (http://www.counselconsulting.com/avoiding_03_2005.htm)

"dating or romantic relationships between managers and subordinates should be prohibited, period. These kinds of relationships are fraught with danger. Even if there are no sexual harassment issues raised by either participant in the relationship, issues of perceived favoritism among other employees are virtually inevitable"

Seems like it would be easy enough to make this go away by just getting her a job somewhere else. But this is more than enough said from me on this topic already. Good luck with this situation. I hope you beat the odds and I look forward to future posts.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Don said...


I too am a GM of a upscale steakhouse, located though in the middle of the west coast. I cant tell you enough that I agree with every word you just posted. It is a sad state of affairs we manage. I have been in this business 20 years, after a hard night, when nothing goes right, I agree it seems the staff and customers have changed. Though, sometimes I wonder, if its just me who changed, I try to remember what I was like as a cocky server, a hung-over bartender, or a "in the weeds" newbie who hadnt figured it out yet. I try to remember those things when I am ready to shit-can the host who is trying to call out 2 hours before the shift because they have too much homework, or write-up the bartender who went over his comp tab allotment....again, and the conversation I am going to have with the less the mediocre server and the fact they cant seem to get out of the weeds. I try to remember all the years of doing this and why I still do it, I take a deep breath...lock up...and go home.


2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was also a steakhouse manager in a popular restraunt. Not in your leaugue by any means, but we did quite well. It was always the rule to "keep your peter out of the payroll'. Well I ended up dating a long time back of the house girl. Luckily, we have now been married 27 years this past August. So, it can work. Good luck. I love to read your posts. Bob

2:20 PM  
Blogger last one home said...

Congratulations Bob, that is truly a tremendous and heartwarming accomplishment--all the best

8:12 PM  

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