Cleaning Out The Refrigerator I – Carney’s Loses A Waiter

Have you ever looked into your well-stocked refrigerator, stared a few moments, poked around on the shelves for another minute, pulled out the crisper drawers and checked the door racks, then shut the damned door?

Nothing to eat.

Of course that’s not true. There’s plenty of good, unspoiled food in there. Delicious food. The only problem is you just don’t have the will or motivation to prepare it. And the readily-consumables – cheese sticks, apples, dry salami, etc. – simply aren’t appealing right now.


My recent restaurant life has been that refrigerator. Plenty of fine stuff in there, but I just haven’t been compelled to whip up anything to serve. Even the easy stuff, like recounting business volume and tips, gets the ‘Ahh, not tonight’ treatment.

So here’s some of what’s been happening since Christmas.

The biggest change occurred at Carney’s Corner, my night job. As you might know, the Wife works there with me. After a hard-labored and quite successful Christmas season (up from the previous couple years), the staff of four (me, the Wife, Ciera, and Jacqueline) were poised for New Year’s Eve, the cherry on the sundae shift. Well, during the fallow week between Christmas and New Year’s, the Wife needed me to work her mid-week shift. Carney and Harry had previously told us on many occasions that whenever the Wife and I wanted to switch anything (in-times, shifts, whatever) we could do so at will without their advance approval – we’d gained their trust to be always reliable. Now, the only catch for me was that I had to work late that lunch at Michael’s, so in advance I called Ciera and got her to take the opening shift (normally the Wife’s) and I’d come in at 5:30 so I could be on time.

With me so far? I took the Wife’s opening shift, then had teammate Ciera switch opening/closing shifts with me. I arranged this with Ciera a couple days before the actual switcheroo-ing was to take place.

Cut to 4:50 p.m. on that fateful Wednesday. It’s 5 minutes past the time Ciera was supposed to be there opening for me. And she’s not there!. Harry has a monumental drunk on and he’s absolutely freaking out. He has Carney call the Wife, then me, then Ciera. An absolute DefCon 4 condition.

Nobody answered their phones because I was en route from Michael’s, the Wife was unavailable, and Ciera was just then walking in the door at Carney’s Corner. At 4:52, a full 7 minutes late.

All kinds of shit rained down from this massive break in protocol and responsibility. Ciera had to apologize and defend me and the wife against Harry’s raging/intoxicated anger. She said it was her fault because I’d arranged the switch with her and she’d failed to notify Carney when she had the chance.

That was of course not the end of it. At the conclusion of the night (weeknights, Carney normally stays home, while Harry never works evenings), Harry and Carney both returned. Highly unusual. They sat me down at a booth in the bar.

‘Here’s what’s going to happen,’ Harry said. ‘Ciera was late again today. I can’t have this shit. I have a business to run here. There’s only one thing I can do, so I’m taking your Wife off New Year’s Eve. So what do you think?’

I said, ‘Then that’s the way it’s going to be, I guess. If this is the way you want to behave –’

‘I’m not behaving! I have to –’

‘You are behaving. Whether it’s good, bad, or neutral, it’s behavior. If this is the way you want to handle it, there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s no reason to argue when we both already know you aren’t going to change your mind. So, is there anything else?’

I paraphrase a bit, but that was pretty much it with me. Ciera had a couple more sit-downs with them. Ciera doesn’t hold shit back. And unlike me, she doesn’t mind tilting at windmills – she’ll argue with them. She even cried trying to either inject them with, or extract some, sense from them.

Cowardly as usual, Harry hadn’t notified the Wife that he was capriciously taking $350 away from us (that’s what the Wife would have made that night including hourly, had the floor been divided 5 ways instead of 4 [Frank the Bartender was part of the tip pool New Year’s Eve]). When I broke the news to her, she didn’t take it well. She’d had some wine that evening and despite the late hour, she was determined to call Carney and give her an earful. I, being by nature a diplomat, counseled that she wait till she was sober so she wouldn’t burn any bridges out of anger. More importantly, I believed given a day to think about it, Carney and Harry themselves would reverse their ridiculously unfair and harmful decision. If the Wife challenged them, however, Harry would never back down.

At the same time, it’s usually best to let the Wife do what she wants. No sense she and I having an argument over this as well!

She called and went off on Carney, saying, most significantly, that this was so unfair and illogical, she now was going to consider whether she wanted to continue working at Carney’s at all.

Well, nothing changed. And the wife dropped by the restaurant daytime on the Sunday after New Year’s and put in her notice. She managed to avoid ruining her 5+ year relationship with them. For their part, they didn’t accept her resignation. (Ha!) They wanted her to stay and were going to wait a week or so to see if her decision was going to stick.

It stuck, but the Wife is retaining a semi-available status. Not on-call, but she is still willing to pick up shifts if she cares to do so. She has worked 4 or 5 since quitting. Incidentally, the Wife, like yours truly, has maintained a lunch job in addition to the dinner gig. Her lunch place was willing to guarantee a full slate of lunches in addition to 2 dinner shifts with the possibility of more. Our math had that getting pretty close to displacing the Carney’s income. Also, the wife is currently in a paralegal training program; she figures (I don’t, necessarily) she’ll be out of the waiting business by the end of the year anyway.

I’ve resisted summarizing what happened with that decision to suspend the Wife for the New Year’s Eve shift. Hopefully you’ve already broken it down, but if you haven’t, here’s the nutshell:

Ciera was late for a shift (a mere 7 minutes, by the way – and for what it’s worth, there were no tables waiting, and no other “domino-type” problems that stemmed from her tardiness). So Harry suspended the Wife. Huh? His idea was to control Ciera by making us mad at her, thus forcing her by shame, peer pressure, or guilt, to stop being late . . .

Meanwhile, even after this went down, Carney and Harry explicitly admitted they had no problem with mine and the wife’s switch. Which leaves who to blame for Ciera’s lateness (besides Ciera)? Most restaurants hold responsible the person of record for the shift. In other words, unless a change is approved and noted by a manager, the original holder of the shift catches the hell if the ‘coverer’ is late or no-shows or is otherwise unacceptable to work. Following that logic (as if any logic at all was employed here!), I should have been the one suspended, as it was I who negotiated the switch with Ciera.

(In my defense, what I did was pretty much standard operating procedure: Contacting Ciera at work and switching with her left the usual process of her talking to Carney that day – if Carney was still there – or the next day, to get approval on the switch. Which Ciera promised to do. But she didn’t.)

And anyway, it’s all sooooo stupid. We’re dealing with a staff of four waiters, all of us in our 40’s, all of us quite professional and responsible. More, all of us have proven as much to Harry and Carney continuously for the last 5 years (8 years in Jacqueline’s case). Top that off with the facts that: 1) we’ve worked very hard and competently during the just-concluded Christmas season; 2) we’ve repeatedly done ‘extra’ things like purchase supplies for the restaurant during off hours, do computer work like schedule rotations at home because Carney is a luddite, or come in early when we know it’s necessary (without being requested by Carney); 3) none of us got the usual $300 Christmas bonus this year.

And this is their reaction to someone being 7 minutes late?


5 thoughts on “Cleaning Out The Refrigerator I – Carney’s Loses A Waiter

  1. nativenapkin Mon, March 1, 2010 / 6:37 pm

    Don’t these people know that 5 years or 8 years of tenure is equivalent to “a lifer” at most restaurants? And this not just from a semi-competent “shoe clerk” whose one and only saving grace is showing up on time, but from dependable pros who do extra without being asked? Sheeesh! Once they get a look at how shallow and brackish the labor pool out there is, and get a dozen apps from 20-somethings that think Zinfandel is always pink, they’ll probably come to their senses. Or not.

    • waiternotes Mon, March 1, 2010 / 7:18 pm

      Or not. It’s over, and the Wife has moved on. She now has 4 lunches and 3 permanent dinner shifts at her other restaurant. My next post follows up a bit on the hiring saga.

      As always, thanks for the comment.

  2. imworthmysalt Tue, March 2, 2010 / 5:45 am

    It is hard enough working in the “high school mentality” atmosphere that most restaurants provide [the staff] but when the owners act like 15 year olds you are behind the 8 ball.

    Kudos to the wife for staying her ground. She should’ve never been penalized for something she had no bearing on.

    Congrats on getting the new shifts.

  3. lilmisschibi Wed, June 30, 2010 / 10:24 am

    Feel free to delete this comment if you find it unnecessary and useless, but in the last paragraph you’ve put in the name “Jacqueline”. Did a real name slip in by accident or am I missing something?

    Love your blog, just thought I’d bring it to your attention.

    • waiternotes Wed, June 30, 2010 / 11:00 am

      No. Jacqueline is the fake name of another waitress at Carney’s. Thanks for reading, and for the nice words!

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