[This is Part Two of my Blackie post. Click My Old Friend Blackie if you haven’t already read Part One.]
I’m sharing a party with Blackie. Of course I’m cringing, but these things happen. You get through it.
The party arrives, Blackie gets order for bottled water. She’s weak and infirmed, so she nominates me to pitch the featured entrees (see: expensive dinner items) for the group. This pitch at Michael’s is a ten-minute piece of performance art. I say that’s fine, but I in turn nominate her to pitch appetizer samplers to the party while I greet the two new tables in my section (good work, front desk!).
She strikes out on the appetizer thing. As I replace her, I tell her I’m going to do the Features, and all I need from her is to take out the starters for both my new tables. I did a great job (or had great luck), getting them underway before my 10 minute disappearance into the black hole of the Feature Pitch. ‘They’ve got drinks, the first course is already fired, everything’s already in the computer,’ I tell Blackie. She nods.
I’m done with the pitch. I cruise my tables to see their progress, expecting to fire the main courses for both right away.
Uh-oh. Table 22 has one guy finishing his tiny cup of gumbo, while the other guy is staring at empty white table cloth. Right. Blackie didn’t bring out his shrimp cocktail. Which was right at the same pantry counter with the two salads from the other table she successfully retrieved. Thanks.
I was momentarily enraged, but calmed quickly, reminding myself this is what you get with Blackie: Never expect a positive result from any interaction with her.
The big party needed a few minutes to decide. I spent the time tending to my other tables; I retrieved a drink for one. When I came back on the floor, I saw Blackie at the other end of the restaurant taking the order on our big party. Knowing the standard ‘Position #1,’ I could tell she was already half-finished. I decided to let her finish with no help from me, even though this is counter Michael’s policy.
These are the kinds of rules waiters break because sometimes things just work better that way. Number one, there are definite advantages to having a single ‘point man’ in taking the order: consistency, no translation problems, a global first-hand knowledge of all orders at the table. Number two, at that point my joining the order-taking wouldn’t have saved much time at all. So I did something else.
Next thing, manager Mickey is on my ass about Blackie taking the order all by herself. ‘You have to get over there and help her right away!’
So I did, and took three of the eleven orders. Blackie and I went to the computer and she tried to shove the whole mess on me (remember, she’s weak and infirmed). I normally acquiesce, but here it made no sense, considering her handwriting is indecipherable and she had the majority of the data. I gave her my sheet of three orders, clearly translated my writing to her, and let her do the ordering.
Being weak and infirmed, she was too flustered to enter the entire order for 11 at once. She only punched in the first course. (I can hear you old pros out there groaning. And you’re about to be right.)
Next significant thing is that . . . yes, the salads are eaten and she has not entered the main course into the computer. So she’s scrambling with that. I’m helping her by maintaining her tables while she struggles . . . and there she goes . . . last order, position #11 . . . Send To Kitchen!
Ten minute lull while with tidy up the big table and wait for the kitchen to come through. But now the recession-sized understaffed kitchen (just two guys on the line) is freaking out that we didn’t – as per policy – ‘Preview’ the big order. Really it’s just an excuse because they’re screwing up and have a chance to blame someone else. Understand, it was not actually a busy day. For instance, instead of four tables, I had two deuces and my share of the big table. Blackie also had only two other deuces. The other waiters on the floor did not have full stations. Therefore, what would be so different if instead of the one 11-top, three waiters each got a 4-top? No preview required to ‘help’ the kitchen there, and no net difference in business.
[Don’t get me wrong. I understand the reasons for this ‘Preview’ rule. It makes perfect sense when there are multiple large parties, or when it’s a busy day/night and there is a major crush during a short stretch of time, or when the big party is a REALLY BIG party. But please, not when the cooks have only three other tickets on the line . . .]
After the usual amount of cat-herding all the garnishes, entrees, sides, sauces, and special requests left the kitchen and were on the table. (You ever herd a bunch of cats? Even if you haven’t, you can imagine how difficult and chaotic it would be.) I would say the whole ordeal took 10 minutes longer than it should have, which at lunch might or might not be a big deal, depending on the demeanor of the guests.
Turned out the guests were perfectly fine. We got a solid 20% (Michael’s does not allow for automatic gratuities, which often leads to disaster, but again, what can you do?).
But at the end of the shift I got pulled into the office and received a write up:
- Not teaming to take the order with Blackie.
- Not ‘Previewing’ the large party order.
For some reason I took the high road and didn’t blame it all on Blackie – though of course it was all her fault. If she had found me before starting to take the order, we would not have been guilty of #1. If she had put the order into the computer promptly, she would at least have had the opportunity to ‘Preview’ it; and at any rate she was completely the one in charge of the order, so it was not even possible for me to ‘Preview’ anything for the cooks.
I took the write up like a man. I blamed the order-taking problem on a lack of communication in our team. But I made sure to point out that Blackie was in control of the order and that I would have entered it all at once – just, she didn’t.
The managers were kind of apologetic about it, actually. Mickey made a point of telling me that I could write down my side of the story on the write-up form. It all kind of made me wonder if I was just getting collateral damage because they were finally targeting Blackie in hopes of rooting her out of the restaurant?
I can only hope.