"And from the tents the armorers, accomplishing the knights, with busy hammers closing rivets up, give dreadful note of preparation..."--Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV
They polish, they straighten, and they gather for the pre-shift meeting--but they know. Excepting our mammoth catering property, we are the only restaurant in our company still open. The rumors are rampant, my employer is in seclusion, and I have lost twenty-five pounds.
This is it. Our last evening. It appears at the start to be a fairly slow Saturday. After the pre-shift meeting I would normally be found in my office or at the front desk chatting with my maitre d', but at this moment I am seated at a 4-top toward the back of our dining room. I'm staring out at a bleak autumn day. The waiter in whose station I am seated hovers nervously, afraid that I have spotted something wrong and am sitting while waiting for him to notice and correct it. I turn with an uncharacteristic smile [rare in the best of times, and a downright endangered species over the last six weeks or so] and tell him that everything is fine--I suggest that he return to his family meal. He looks at the same time both relieved at being dismissed and troubled at being so easily diagnosed. On the bread plate at my side is what looks like a full glass of ice water--it is in fact a large glass of vodka from which I sip absentmindedly. In truth, I'm relatively sure that in my current state I could drink an entire bottle of vodka and not feel drunk, but on this particular day the steady supply is at least thankfully keeping me from tears.
I have spent the last two weeks surreptitiously arranging work for my best employees. Calling on friends and associates in the business I have been pretending to advocate for employees from our other properties--every person I speak to is told about the best guy from this place or the A-team bartender from that one. I have arranged appointments for nearly all of my most cherished staffmembers, and on Monday I will call all of my contacts again and tell them who they are really going to be talking to--I'm confident that most of my people will not be out of work for long. I also tried hard to help as many employees from our other closed restaurants as I could, but in full disclosure I saved the best for my guys.
My fugue is briefly interrupted by the sound of breaking glass. A water glass has been knocked from the edge of a table by the worst server on my staff--an imbecile of the first order. The server forgets that I am sitting in the dining room and begins to chuckle like the idiot he is, and it suddenly occurs to me that I don't want to spend the last working night in my beloved steakhouse in this idiot's company.
Disguised drink in hand, I walk to the front desk and grab the schedule. In addition to the imbecile I see one other server on the page who is a constant pain in the ass as well as a bartender due in later that night for whom I can barely disguise my contempt under the best of circumstances. And of course, these are not the best of circumstances.
"What's wrong?', asks my maitre d' after I stand staring at the schedule for three or four minutes. Suddenly I know exactly how to proceed.
To my maitre d', "Do me a favor, please. Send Bob and Hannah home and call Allen and tell him not to come in. Tell them all that we look very slow tonight and that I need to save payroll--if they want to know why they are being picked out instead of someone else tell them they will need to talk to me. Block out the rest of the slots 8pm to 10pm, and we're going to close tonight at 10 instead of 11."
"I'll explain in a sec--I've got to get something from the office and then I need you to do me one more favor."
In the office I go to my briefcase and pull out two things--from my wallet comes my company charge card and from another sleeve comes one of several envelopes--this particular envelope is my maitre d's severance. In a meeting shortly after the sales deal was inked I gave my employer a severance schedule for all of our managers throughout the company--I explained to him that, if he wanted me to play the grim reaper for the three months it was going to take to kill all of his restaurants, the schedule was non-negotiable. The amounts listed were large, but I knew he had no stomach for shutting down his own restaurants, and he agreed.
Walking my maitre d' outside I waste no time, "We are closing tonight. [Owner] sold to [restaurant company] three months ago--they want the real estate not the brand, they paid out the ass, and [owner] couldn't resist. He has promised me that you [and three others] will have job offers within a month, if that's something you would be interested in [I'm shaking my head as I say this]. Your severance is in this envelope, along with appointment info for a GM's interview [with good well-known restaurant company] on Tuesday. Take this [my company AMEX] and call "Stringfellows" [my favorite local restaurant], ask for Nick the manager and tell him Last One Home needs a really, really nice spread for twenty-five people at 11:30pm--I'll leave it to him. I don't care what it costs, but I need it delivered, and I want to add 25% to the check.
--My maitre d' is staring at me like I just grew horns, and I don't know if it is because I just told him that our busy restaurant would be closing forever in five hours or because I just asked him to tell an exclusive, four-star New American restaurant to deliver, so I figure I should cover all the bases--
The check in the envelope is two-months salary, and I am sure that you will get the GM job if you just show up for the interview. Nick owes me three or four HUGE favors, and "Stringfellows" will deliver no problem--trust me. Now cover me for a half hour, I have to go home and grab the wine for dinner tonight. Just keep everything to yourself for a few more hours."
The secret was well-kept until about 9pm when my first server tried to cash out and I told them they had to stay. It was sort of a last-straw moment, and within ten minutes I had a dozen people wanting to know what was going on. When I stated that "the bar was open" and that everyone should get a drink before I said anything further, three people burst loudly into tears. My tears flowed silently.
The meal was great, the wine was better, and the company was best of all. When the pale sun made its rise, many of us were still "at work". Everyone got an envelope--for the managers there was a check and a scheduled interview, while most of my staff had a scheduled interview and everyone got at least a letter of recommendation. I am pleased to say that the vast majority of my staff were quickly snatched up by other operators, just as I am to this day still devastated that they no longer "belong" to me.
My sad job did not lurch to a final halt until two weeks later. There were innumerable transfers, phone calls, and annoying administrative tasks. There was one final, ugly confrontation with my guilt-ridden employer. There was a final, introspective tour of the property that had been my professional home for almost a third of my life.
There is more to be told of this story, though it has obviously taken me a long time to face the telling of the end. There may even be things to tell beyond, though on that I haven't completely decided yet.
You see, this is what I do. What I have always done. I have great respect for the author Steve Dublanica and for the author known as "the doorman". I have their books, I enjoyed reading them, and I look forward to future volumes. But I'm not an author.
I enjoy reading the various server, bartender, and restaurant staff blogs, though I sometimes take personal issue with their attitudes and mindsets. But I am not an actor, an engineering student, a realtor, or an equipment salesman.
I am a restaurant manager. I am myself. I did not want to stop when I was forced to stop.