Lakers Playoff 2009

Always plenty of waiter stuff to talk about. But you all know what a Lakers fan I am. Today marks the start of the “real season” for pro basketball. The playoffs. In this case, I put the real season in double quotes because I’m not the cynical type who says the regular season doesn’t matter – that teams only make their mark by performance and achievement in the playoffs. If I may make an analogy to other popular media, the NBA regular season is like watching a great TV series for its multi-year run. The playoffs are like watching that series in its last season, including the triumphant (or not) final episode.

All those games are good. Watching the ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns are good. The whole experience is not merely the fact that the Seinfeld clan ended up in jail. It was all the stuff along the way, plus what happened at the end.

My fave soap is the Lakers. Every year, even when they suck. Which they don’t often, in the whole multi-decade scheme of pro basketball. They start their ’09 season finale today at 12 p.m. PST. Please root for us.

If you’re interested already, you already know the Lakers saga this year. Lots of hue and cry about killer instinct, bad bench, Bynum being injured, losing games they should have won, winning games by less than they should have won . . .

But damn it, they won 65 games. By my check, that ties them for 14th of all time in the history of the NBA (82 game schedule) for best winning percentage. Why is everyone freaking out so much?

The Lakers are a very good team. I think better than any other this year. So aside from my biased rooting interest, I really believe they will win it all this year. But as always, it’s the journey that’s the fun part. Today I’ll be watching, slightly delayed on the Tivo, to see them shut down the Utah Jazz for their first of 16 victories this post season.

On the way to the championship.

Advertisements

Handling The Hurried Diner

Quick entry here. WordPress offers all kinds of statistical info to bloggers, including ‘Top Searches’ on your site. Recently, this appeared on my admin page:

a abr is very busy and one person did not show for their shift. a guest says he is in a hurry and you already have three tables that sat down before him. what do you do,  a bar is very busy and one person did not show for their shift. three tables one guest in a hurry what do you do

Someone seems to have had a big problem – a write-up or maybe even being fired – with a fourth table that was in a hurry and complained, even though our server already had three tables seated earlier.

I have made up an inaccurate concept about foodserving: The big trick is understanding who can wait and how long they can wait. That’s why they call us waiters.

Of course it’s inaccurate because it’s the guests doing the waiting, not us. But I still like the play on words.

The way to handle the above situation is to assess correctly who can wait, and for how long. Obviously, there’s a later-seated table in a hurry. Your first thought must be to get them going, eating, and out as quickly as possible, and damn the torpedoes. This is what you should do. Unlike, presumptively, the other diners, they have stated their desires. At that point you would tell them the compromises they’ll have to make, i.e., order very quickly; be prepared to have courses overlap; and you’ll drop the check as soon as physically possible. In other words, they will have to be willing to forgo the usual pace – and some of the service frills – of a meal in your restaurant. Make it clear you are doing this at their behest.

Next, you get a handle on what the rest of your station is doing.

Side Note: There are too many possible nightmare scenarios to address that would render this analysis impossible – like, for instance, the kitchen has collapsed and everyone is waiting too long for their meals. Instead, I must assume we have a relatively normal night on the job here.

There’s a good chance most of the other three tables are being perfectly normal. So, when opportunities arise to give faster service to the impatient table, you serve the impatient table first, on the assumption you have more good will to burn with the other tables. Essentially, because you’ve set things up the way I described, and placed the full order for the impatient table immediately, you can now proceed with normal service. In other words, taking out the food, clearing the plates, etc, as the tasks come up.

In the event that another ‘nice’ table notices that the other table was served first, you can then explain to them what happened: The other table was in a hurry, and thus ordered immediately upon being seated; that the kitchen doesn’t know from anything – they just make the dinners in the order they come in. And finally that this is not delaying their dinners in any way – they will come up promptly at the proper time.

Of course, our Internet Searcher specified a ‘bar table.’ This is probably a lot more difficult, as bar patrons expect their drinks orders to be accepted quickly and placed quickly and to be served quickly – regardless of what kind of ‘cool’ people they are. They also expect to be served ‘in order,’ as in, first seated (and to order), first served. This is a totally acceptable expectation.

In this case, the server really has little option other than to explain to the impatient table that he/she will do everything possible to make this all quick, but there are several other tables waiting ahead of them. You just cannot serve a bar customer first merely because he states that he’s in a hurry and can’t wait. It’s totally likely that all the other customers feel the same but are just too respectful (and knowledgeable) to state the obvious.

When the impatient table gets indignant, that’s when the server earns his stripes. You must be firm without being threatening, condescending, or confrontational. It helps, usually, to interject your personal dilemma into your firm explanation.

‘I understand, and I’ll do everything I can. But right now I already have three other orders to place. Those people are all watching me, waiting for their drinks. If I serve you first, they’ll all be angry, and rightfully so. Just like you would if you ordered first. I’ll do the best I can – I understand you’re in a hurry.’

Who has time for this kind of a soliloquy? You. You almost have to do it, or else you’re going to have an irate patron pouting, shouting, giving you a bad (or no) tip, and/or complaining to management. If nothing else, when the above does happen anyway, you’ll be able to explain to the manger how you handled it, and you’ll be exonerated.

Finally, the cryptic Search Query mentions that one guest is in a hurry, what do you do?

God bless you bar people! We dining room people have a lot to handle that you never deal with, but I’ll never understand how you can still do a good job with all the ‘separate tabs’ obligations of your job.

Assuming your hurried guest in the same party has a separate tab, it’s fairly obvious that you have to attempt to be ahead of the game and bring his check with the delivered drink. Even if you don’t have the physical check (because you don’t have time) you can just tell the guy, ‘If you want to close out, that’s $8 for the martini.’ Let him give you the cash or his card, then you can figure it out later. Likewise if he’s had several drinks: just spitball it and say, ‘Two martinis and an Amstel, that’ll be $21, more or less.’ Figure it out for sure at the machine.

Again, the communication to the guest is the most important part of this. You must tell them what you’re going to do for them, what you are doing for them, and what you have done for them.

When you do this, most any human guest will come to understand that he’s gotten the best that can be gotten under the circumstances, and he’ll be happy enough – though maybe stressed out because he’s late for his plane, and maybe shouldn’t have stopped for drinks in the first place, but anyway it’s all on him.

Backlogged For Weeks

Just when I thought I was out of ideas – nothing interesting was happening – I look back on the last week and see plenty of fun (or just interesting) stuff has transpired.

I could easily bang out a couple hundred words of, ‘…made $64 at lunch, $120 at dinner…’ But who wants to read that day-after-day? I do have an arsenal of future column ideas logged on my computer, but those ideas are always best when spurred by something current. You know what I mean. Bad tippers … yeah, I can digress about that, but it really only works when there’s a fresh story to frame it.

So. I was in a doldrums. But it turns out I wasn’t. I just had to wait. Just like waiters have to be patient about riding out the bad/normal shifts to hit the rainmakers that make the eventual average.

So here’s what’s been happening since nothing was happening.

  1. Ciera and I have been having fun with Frank the Bartender and Table Eleven. I’m neither a guest on, nor a server of, Table Eleven. Table Eleven is the imaginary table we have assigned to Ciera when she wants a drink during her shift. She’ll order a phantom glass of Chardonnay and go serve it to … herself. As there are only 10 tables in the dining room at Carney’s, we call it Table Eleven.

    As this is a twice, thrice, or more, nightly occurrence at Carney’s, we’ve come to expect it. Because we hate Frank the Bartender (who has to unwittingly service Table Eleven) and we love Ciera (The Open Book), it’s become a real pleasure whenever we can reference Table Eleven. As in: ‘Ciera, Table Eleven is looking all over for you. They’re wondering where the hell their waitress is?’ Or, from Ciera, ‘Table Eleven is barking up my ass. I got to get over there.’ Etc.

     

    I had picked up a couple of shifts from Mark last week, so I worked with Ciera more than the usual Saturday night. Because I love her, we had some fun with our extra shifts together. Frank, being his usual insufferable, asshole self, deserved extra attention from Table Eleven. So instead of the typical order of Clos Du Bois Chardonnay, we decided Table Eleven wanted something ‘fun.’ Brandy Alexander.

     

     

    Beautiful. Any bartenders out there know a Brandy Alexander is blended, requiring a whipped cream garnish and, in our case, chocolate sprinkles. Bartenders are as selfish as waiters. They want orders like Makers Rocks, Scotch Soda, Gin Tonic. Easy stuff. So unknowing-Frank grumbled, but craftsman-like made a perfect Brandy Alexander, which Ciera spirited away to Table Eleven. We were enjoying it so much, laughing so hard, I actually took a few pulls from the straw when I got the chance (very tasty, actually). Although there have been rare exceptions in 20+ years of food serving, it’s accurate enough to say that I never drink before or during work.

    We think we might be onto a good passive-aggressive program against Frank for the future of Table Eleven. Grasshoppers. Old Fashioned’s. Mojitos. Blended Mudslides. This could be fun.

  2. Jerry and Georgina (first introduced here) called a few minutes before coming in – as is their custom. They like to sit at the dining tables in the bar. Unfortunately, tonight these big hitters were out of luck . . . actually, Ciera and I were out of luck (Ciera serves the actual tables in the bar). Anyway, the three acceptable tables in the bar had been seated only minutes earlier. Nothing available. On the phone, I tried to sell Jerry on the two smaller tables in the lounge or even the patio. Jerry: ‘We’ll eat at the bar.’

    This is the worst of all time. Not only do we not get Jerry and Georgina, Frank gets them instead! In case you didn’t back-track and read about them in the earlier post, Jerry and Georgina are the nicest people in the world, they order cocktails and big wine, they’re actually fun, and they tip 30%. Georgina is an ex-restaurant manager; Jerry a real estate developer who used to be in the CIA.

    Dutifully, I told Frank to hold two spots for them at the crowded bar (actually a no-no at Carney’s – the owners don’t allow it – but first, the owners aren’t there, and second, we’re not going to disappoint J&G with a full bar and nowhere to sit). Frank laid out the napkin ‘squares’ for dining and started to get about half-erect (he never gets J&G for himself).

    Even so, Ciera wasn’t going to give in that easily. She’s everyone’s favorite, so she intercepted J&G at the door and tried to funnel them to her on the patio. No dice.

    What transpired was the most over-the-top, teeth-grinding, nauseating display of brown-nosing we’ve seen from Frank in a long time. He was practically doing soft-shoe. The canned stories – usually blasting from the amp at 11 – were coming from the house PA at an arena concert. The fake laughs were more like the anguished cries of a torture victim. He was actually freshening up drinks.

Frank Is So Good, His Subjects Don’t Even Have To Bend Over

In the middle of smarmy performance, we put a warm finger towel in the window for Frank.

Frank: ‘What’s this for?’

Ciera: ‘To wipe the shit off your nose.’

Later Ciera handed Frank an escargot tong (kind of like a pair of rounded pliers): ‘Give this to Jerry so he can pull your tongue out of his ass.’

Aside from our amusement, by the end Ciera and I were actually glad. J&G had a really small dinner for them: Tuna Salad, a Bar Special and cocktails only. Plus, we figured that sitting with Frank for an hour-plus had probably taught them the valuable lesson that he’s poison to the nervous system.

  1. The Swingers came in to Carney’s Wednesday late, party of three. They are half a young couple (she’s in her twenties, he just turned 50). He used to manage the restaurant across the parking lot, so we came to know them very well. And, yes, they are Swingers. They have had countless dates at Carney’s auditioning other swinging couples – and they’re oblivious to having any discretion, let alone shame, about it. They’ve inquired about our own availability. Wednesday, they announced to anyone (and I really mean anyone) who came by the table that their friend was an occasional ‘menage partner’ and they were here to dine before going home to have some fun. The girl was pretty cute, still in her twenties, extremely affable and smiley. I guessed she was on ecstasy. He is pretty round, nice enough, not even really a blowhard, but someone who has a very good opinion of himself, and his attractiveness. His wife is pretty and tending towards overweight, but has a wall-eye that you never know if it’s the right one to be looking at when you talk to her.

    The amazing thing to Ciera and I was that the friend was a repeat customer. We laughed about the poor souls who hooked up with these two on the Internet and finally had to meet them face-to-face. Ouch. And this was supposed to be a night of hot sex . . . with your tubby bodies?

    On the other hand, I’d guess it’s the girl who’s usually the main draw for this sort of thing, and she’s young and not bad looking, excepting the fluttering eye.

  2. We had a week-long episode of owner-neuroses over shift changes at Carney’s. It’s a set schedule at Carney’s. There are a total of five waiters, one of which works Friday night only (and is willing but not interested in working more), and another who works Tues.-Wednesday only (and who the owners don’t like to work weekend shifts because he’s old and slow). Vacations for two people at once (myself and the wife) are very difficult to arrange. Getting individual shifts covered isn’t as much of a problem, as the waiters all understand the situation and freely sub for each other.

    The thing is, as the saying goes, it’s not rocket science. There are so few variables (Hello? Only five waiters?), any shift changes are extremely simple to execute. Unfortunately, Carney likes to maintain that she is the one in control of the schedule. Thus, she has us jumping through the hoops of getting changes okayed by her first. As if there is any possibility that, for instance, anyone besides Ciera can cover for me on a Friday night when I want to play a gig.

    ‘Okay,’ says Carney, ‘I see what you need to do here. Hmm. Yes, Ciera could work that Friday, then she’d be working Friday, Saturday, and a double on Sunday. Hmm. Okay, I’ll have to think this over. Because you know that would be three days in a row for her. And that double. I don’t want her to get tired. I’ll let you know tomorrow. Because, you know, when people get overworked, I’m the one who has to pick up the slack.’

    I’m going to Vegas later this month, so I needed to switch two shifts with Ciera to have Thurs.-Fri. off. Carney pointed out that would have Ciera working five shifts in a row. She’d let me know tomorrow.

    My successful policy has been to just let the owners be crazy, don’t challenge them, and let matters fall out in their rightful proper way. So I said okay. I mean, I have to be able to get a day or two off if I need it, right? And there’s no other way besides this that it’s going to happen, right? Well, then, go ahead and think it over if you need to . . .

    But it was that ‘pick up the slack’ thing that really grated on all of us. (And incidentally, Carney made sure to echo the refrain to each of us during the course of the week.)

    First of all, it’s total bullshit. She doesn’t pick up anyone’s slack. She might act like she is, running around forcing a second loaf of bread on a table, or getting a cocktail order 30 seconds before we arrive at the table, or picking up a dirty plate just as we’re entering our section to . . . clear tables. But she doesn’t really do it, nor does she have to do it.

    Second, it’s not as if anyone’s performance is suffering when he/she works a few days in a row. We are professionals. Every waiter is older than 40. We know what we are doing; we know what needs to be done; and we know how much effort it takes to do it.

    Third, we only work 4-6 hour shifts, for christsakes! Is she not aware that the vast majority of the American workforce works 40 hours a week? And hard, at that? We’re tallying 20-25 hours. In my case, about 15 a week. It’s f’n’ insulting.

    Fourth, this line of reasoning doesn’t for some reason extend to the kitchen staff, who log 40+ each week. Nor does it apply to Frank, who probably works nearly 40 hours. Does she think we’re invalids or something?

    The reality is that she needs to feel important. She needs to make things difficult because . . . well, that one I’m not sure about, but it has to do with making herself feel important. It’s all very stupid, and unfortunately it’s the kind of thing that makes me want to just walk sometimes. I’m the kind of employee who understands that bosses don’t need headaches from employees; they have enough with all the other aspects of running the business. I do my job thoroughly and well. I don’t complain. I don’t bring them problems I can solve myself. I don’t challenge them when I have a better idea. I do the things they demand even when the demands make no sense. When I have a schedule change in mind, I line up all the stars in the heavens in advance, and then present it to the manager/owner, so they have to do as little work as possible in adjusting the schedule. In return I think it’s only fair that when I do need something, they do not act like it’s a huge hassle when it really is not.

     

    Side Note: I’ve addressed types of schedules before, but here again is the summary of the two basic types of server schedules. Flexible Schedule is where the manager writes a new schedule every week/two-weeks/month. That schedule can completely change, theoretically, for every server at each posting. Servers request days off from the manager and the manager does the juggling to make things happen. This is the key compromise because by asking servers to be effectively ‘on call’ each week, they also have to accept that servers will not be available on certain days. They often have to suck a lot of ass to get servers to work on days they claim they are unavailable. It’s a big job, but the advantage is flexibility when staffing needs to be adjusted on the fly.

     

    Set Schedule is where servers ‘own’ shifts permanently: like at Carney’s, where I am scheduled every single Thurs.-Sat. forever. If servers want days off, they negotiate on the side with other servers to cover their shifts, then have said changes approved by manager. This frees managers/owners from the thoroughly irritating hassle of dealing with schedule requests every week.

     

    So, if Carney is going to have a Set Schedule, then let it be that. I get my shifts covered? Then it should be ‘Good roads and fair weather to you, Waiternotes! Have a great vacation!’ Not, ‘Gee, I don’t know. Ciera is will be working almost 30 hours that week! Heavens! She might collapse completely and then I’ll have to do even more than I do already!’

    Anyway. As usual, this whole bullshit has died down in the last four or five days. But it will resurface again should I need a real vacation – say a whole week. Heavens!

    Two local calamities have been a boon for business at Carney’s. There was a kitchen fire a few weeks ago at a competing restaurant. Really, little damage was done. Unfortunately for the competitor, the fire opened up the Pandora’s Box of Health and Safety Regulation approvals that needed to be met anew. They should have been closed for a couple of days. Instead, it’s been over a month and they’re still fighting through inspections and new construction and modifications usually subjected only to new restaurants. No end in sight.

  3. Power went out in the neighboring city the other night (we’re right on the border), so another (powerful) competitor had to shut down. We got a lot of their business that evening, most of it new. As Carney’s delivers a very high grade product and has very professional and personable staff, we were able to make a blip on these guest’s radar. It made for, first, a very profitable night, but second, no doubt some high quality repeat customers in the future.
  4. I got a big tip at Michael’s at lunch, shattering my hideous slump. No joke, I’ve been making crummy money at Michael’s the last 5-6 weeks without exception. I’ve been getting hit with both ends of the stick: fewer weekly shifts, and far lower tips for those remaining shifts. I had no $100 days for a month. My average day was around $55 for that time. (Bear in mind that baseline for this job for three years has been $100 average, with many weeks averaging $125 or $150 a shift). Either the bottom had finally fallen out, or else I was just in the king of all slumps.

    Anyway, a guy arrives at a two-top with his own bottle of Martinelli’s (producer of the famed sparkling cider) Pinot Noir. He states that his supposed date might or might not show up. Corkage, possible stand-up . . . not promising. However, I’m familiar that Martinelli (like Gallo) produces some very fine wines apart from their usual mass market swill. We strike up a bit of a conversation about it. I admit that I’ve never had Martinelli but have heard good things about their high end stuff. He pours me a taste and he educates me about the wine.

    Usually, being wine-educated by guest is extremely tedious for any of several reasons: 1) I already know what they’re teaching me, 2) They’re completely wrong about what they’re trying to teach me, 3) They’re acting like their visit/relationship to this low-to-medium-level vintner in Paso Robles is some kind of insider connection to the Holy Grail of grape juice, 4) They want only to pontificate, and not listen if I do have a small tidbit to contribute, 5) They may be 100% credible in their knowledge, nice people, and not just showing off, but unfortunately I just don’t have the time because I’m busy.

    I had the time for Mr. Martinelli’s 2002 Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir. Because: It wasn’t busy, I didn’t know about the wine, he was a nice guy, he didn’t mind hearing what I had to say, and his wine was f’n’ awesome.

    His date finally showed up, a pretty Asian lady – I’ve waited on her before and found her pleasant. I simply gave them the normal good, but adjusted treatment a professional and caring waiter can provide. They weren’t in a hurry, so I kept the pace slow. I didn’t bother them much because they were perfectly happy by themselves. I offered any possible adjustments to make their meals perfect. I poured the wine in only small amounts. I was personable but not overbearing.

    He ended up tipping me $140 on a $200 check. I made sure to return before he left and thank him for the exceedingly generous tip.

    Side Note: This is something I’ve learned over the years. Too often, inexperienced servers will get a 30% or better tip from a table and treat it like any other. They will collect the check, cheer their good luck, pocket their money (or enter it into the computer), and never visit the table again – having already made the ‘last thank you and goodbye.’ Not only does the big tip deserve extra thanks, per karma, it usually requires it in the real world. This person has made an extraordinary gesture. You don’t have to bow and scrape, but you should make an acknowledgement to him/her that what he/she has done is extraordinary. It’s nice to be appreciated, and these people deserve the appreciation. I don’t doubt at all that many a $100 tip has become a server’s last $100 tip (from that person) because that gesture was not acknowledged. Fifteen or 20% might be perfunctory, but significantly more than that is a gift or a reward. Simple. It’s just like a Christmas or birthday present. The giver must be thanked.

    So that got me over $200 for the day. I followed that, off the next day, with another $200 day. I’m hoping this signifies my breaking out of a slump, rather than a mere aberration in an endless stretch of horrible business.

  5. My left knee has been bothering me for a couple of months. It’s as if there’s debris floating around in there that occasionally slips into the wrong spot and causes pain. Or else the bones are just scraping. I’m a no pain kind of guy. Muscle pain I can understand – you work hard or work out hard, the muscles will ache. That’s fine. Other than that type of thing, I’ve never had physical problems. Long day at work – the legs ache, sometimes the back – all it ever takes is a good night’s rest and a day off and I feel perfectly normal. But the nuts-and-bolts stuff is a little scary.

    I approach physical problems (joints, back, and whatnot) analytically. I’ve always been fit and healthy, so I try to figure out if there’s something in my method that is causing the problem. For instance, awhile back, I experienced an almost arthritic pain in both my thumbs – the muscles and joints at the fleshy part of the palm. After ignoring it for awhile, as usual, I examined what I was doing in my work. It turned out that I was over-relying on the hook of my thumbs to carry plates which were the base for a larger stack of heavy plates and silverware. Can you picture what I’m saying? Pick up a plate, hooking your thumb over the edge. Then stack several more on top of that plate. As the weight increases, it’s the thumb that’s holding up the whole shebang. This manner apparently served me well for a couple of decades, but the body does age, and perhaps that joint has reached its limits. So, I adjusted to a new angle, and the pain went away once I adjusted and healed.

    I also had very sore ankles around a year ago. I mean, like throbbing at the end of the day. I discovered that I had gotten into the habit of ‘cracking’ my ankles when I pivoted. It was a deliberate act, like cracking your knuckles or your neck. I could do it, so I would do it. I stopped doing that, and the ankle pain went away.

My Ass Is Better, But You Get The Idea

The knee, going on four months, isn’t improving as easily. I got new Dr. Scholl’s insoles (I always use these, but sometimes I let them wear out and don’t replace them). I noticed I was for some reason planting heavily forward when walking at Michael’s, instead of a normal gait. Correcting that did help, but the pain would still be there sometimes when I would plant forward. This is not normal. After all, you do have to plant forward when walking sometimes, right? I started stretching more in the morning. I tried new shoes. I’ve been doing deep knee bends, on the assumption that the muscles stabilizing the joint have atrophied and need merely to be built up. The knee bends have been amazing. Working, I’ll have a pang of pain, then steal away to do 40 knee bends, and I’m good for the rest of the shift. Indeed, the knee has had fewer problems, but the occasional tweak shows it’s not actually healed. On the other hand, ligaments (if the problem lies there) do not heal quickly at all, so I should probably be more patient.

Most recently, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe my incorrect stretching might be part of the problem.

At any rate, I’ll keep you posted. I have to do something to keep my readers coming back.