Here’s what happened the other day. (Not a bad approach to take with a blog, eh?)
Arrived at Michael’s at noon and was immediately assigned a table of 11. My partner was to be Blackie, the most reviled server at Michael’s.
Every restaurant has one or more Blackies. She is old, slow, an absolute cancer of negative energy and gossip. She simply lives for the rules and regulations of the job. Why in the hell would a person live for and embrace the arcane, misguided, and senseless rules of a corporate restaurant? Because it’s those rules that allow her to keep her job.
An illustrative story about Blackie:
Five years ago, when we were both starting the Michael’s gig for lunch (Blackie came from Claim Jumper and continues to work there), there was male-model-handsome bartender who started with us. Mitch wasn’t much on learning the job; he wasn’t much on performing well; he wasn’t much on showing up for work sober. But he was good-looking, charming, and always ready for a party. Well, Michael’s draws a wealthy clientele, skewering decidedly past age 45. It so happened that the well-alimonied ex-wife of a VIP took a liking to Mitch. She used to visit the restaurant in either a limousine or a Rolls-Royce. She was not a bad looking woman, for her 50+ age. Mitch was very excited when she invited him to a weekend at the track in Del Mar. It would be first class all the way: limo, hotel, restaurants, etc.
A couple of weeks after this dream weekend – and a few other dates – Mitch has given up a few shifts here and there. So now we’re speculating that he’s become a gigolo. Hell, maybe he always was. So one day in the service well, two other waitresses are watching Mitch squire (be squired by?) his benefactor at the opposite end of the bar. And as human nature will have it, they were speculating on their relationship. I knew both waitresses well, in terms of work; we were friendly.
Waitress One: Do you think he fucked her?
Waitress Two: Oh, no doubt.
Waitress One: Is she paying him off for it?
Waitress Two: One way or another.
Right then, Blackie walks up and asks what they’re talking about? Now, even at this early point in Blackie’s tenure, people already have their antenna up about her, so the girls demur.
Blackie: No, really. What were you saying?
Waitress Two: Nothing. Really.
Blackie: No, come on, tell me.
Waitress Two: Forget about it. We were just talking about Mitch.
Blackie: What? What were you saying?
Waitress One: We think Mitch is a gigolo and we were wondering if he fucked Mrs. _____.
Blackie turns on her heel and leaves. At the end of her shift, she lodged a formal grievance about ‘hostile work environment,’ citing the exchange with the other two waitresses. If you understand corporate restaurants, you know there was a colossal freak out over this that went on for more than a week. It ended up with the two other waitresses getting written up, while Blackie walked away leaving management and corporate management petrified to cross her.
That’s Blackie. And please understand that is just one glaring example of her M.O. In the same five years she’s been out on disability/injury claims five separate multi-month occasions. She has written directly to corporate offices three times with various complaints – and those are just the times I know about. She visited another Michael’s once and actually wrote a complaint letter about her server, sent it to corporate. Because he made a flippant remark about a small piece of cork floating in her glass of wine, and then didn’t replace the glass.
She hits on old (late 60s or older) single men dining in the restaurant, probably to establish Sugar Daddy relationships. I know this because one of them told me, and because of that interesting story I was able to note two other older men she gravitated towards and traded phone numbers with.
She is coffee shop trash. Most waiters start in coffee shops, and some of them belong there forever. She never stopped wearing day-glo lipstick and nail polish when the ’80s ended. Her face is beaten and weathered from sun and alcohol and bad karma.
TRYING TO BE FUNNY, BUT THIS IS A LOT CLOSER TO BLACKIE THAN YOU WOULD IMAGINE
She drones endlessly about her ‘boyfriend.’ For a year his name was Steve, but amazingly, when his name changed many times after that, he always sounded like the same person. ‘Steve’ always only calls her up when he wants sex or is out of money. He only goes on vacations with her if she’s the one paying. When he goes on a trip, it’s with the Boys. Most recently, ‘Steve’ was driving drunk (Blackie in passenger seat) and they hit a big tree trying to avoid a cat running across the road. Blackie ‘broke her back’ and ‘cracked (her) teeth in 29 places.’ This, incidentally, led to what became her summer vacation, 2009. (The other multi-month injury claims mentioned above also fortuitously happened at the height of summer.)
When the corporate brass finally thought they had a chance to get rid of her because she’d been out so long with a non-work-related injury, they notified her that she would have to report in two weeks or lose her job.
Miraculously, Blackie was able to overcome her ‘broken back’ and all those ‘cracked teeth’ (that now might not need to be replaced like she said originally), and return on the last possible day.
That’s Blackie, and now we have her back.
Okay, okay. One more Blackie story. My very first one. Our training process at Michael’s was brutal. It’s normally an intense two week deal. But three things conspired to stretch ours out:
- This was to be the grand opening for lunch – Michael’s was previously dinner-only. A class of 20 people was recruited.
- We were one of the pilot lunch programs for the entire chain, so corporate was super-involved. They even came in for their own two week training period with us.
- The restaurant integrated remote printers simultaneously. Previous practice was to order in the computer, collect a bunch of chits at the ‘local’ printer, then when you needed to ‘fire’ you would physically walk your chits to the appropriate location, i.e., the hot line, the pantry, the bar, etc.
Amidst this cluster-fuck, the trainers had to arrange on-floor training shifts for all these waiters. Obviously it won’t do from a guest perspective to have 20 trainees following 12 waiters around all night. It really won’t do even to have 6 following – it’s just too much traffic and it’s distracting to the guest, makes it seem like a place doesn’t have their act together. Expensive places need to maintain an air of permanence and stability, and nothing says the opposite better than a cloud of nose-picking trainees swarming around on a Saturday night.
The trainers took down our individual schedule constraints (of course we all had other jobs during this five-week process – we had to survive), and then apparently disregarded them entirely, drawing up a complicated two-week floor training schedule of 3-4 servers per shift. When this schedule was unveiled, everybody had conflicts and we all spent about a half hour at a large table bartering shifts to fix our schedules.
I was having terrible trouble with a particular Friday night shift – one week away. Blackie heard me asking around about it, and volunteered that she could probably switch it with me. Great. That was my last hurdle. She just said I had to call her two days later to make sure she was available to do it.
Six or seven calls and 6 days later, she still hadn’t committed, leaving me hanging after each phone call that maybe she’d know the next day. I finally gave up, pled my case to the trainers, and they figured out what to do with me.
That extended episode was the equivalent of being on the floor and a server asking, ‘Do you need anything?’
‘Well, yes. Could you please take two coffees to table 16? That’d be a big help. Thanks.’
‘Okay. I just have to take an order on 25 first . . .’
Huh? You just asked me if I needed help . . . If you’re gonna screw around and not do it now, don’t waste my precious time asking me and making me think about it. I’d be better off if you never asked and I handled it myself.
Incidentally, Blackie pulls this move as well. Sounds like this: ‘Nee-n-thing?’ She says it ten times a shift to each server – meaning it not a single bit. At the end of the day she has done zero favors, even when someone is stupid enough to respond that that, yes, they do ‘Need anything.’
So now we’re 1200 words in and you still don’t know what happened. Sorry. This is too long, so I’m going to have to break it into two separate posts.
Click to read Blackie Takes Down Another One.