Cleaning Out The Refrigerator II – More Carney’s Odds And Ends

So after the Big Bang of the Wife leaving Carney’s, more changes were set in motion.

Initially, Ciera was so upset that she insisted on giving the Wife $100 out of her New Year’s Eve money to make up for her part in the debacle. Later, reflecting, Ciera was so disgusted by it all that she nearly quit. But she didn’t. Instead, she renounced two of her four shifts – she, too, filling the void with shifts from her other job (I didn’t mention it, but the Wife got Ciera a job at her ‘lunch place’ – they work together). This has led to some customer defection but not too much, as the Wife and Ciera started letting inquiring minds know that they could also be reached at the other restaurant.

So Carney hired a couple new girls, both in their 40’s. One turned out to be a crack head or have some similar problem, as she went home early with ‘illness’ her first shift alone on the floor, then called in sick 15 minutes before her in-time for her next shift on Saturday night.

The upshot is that her replacement is a delight. A super-attractive girl in her mid-20’s, she picks up things quickly, and implements advice immediately and permanently. On the other hand, it’s tough to predict how such fresh and tender new meat will survive Carney and Harry’s passive aggressive insanity. And, time will tell how long this youngster will be willing to give up all her social Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (that’s her schedule). Though I already like her, I predict she’ll last less than a year. Carney’s is not the kind of place, unfortunately, where you can just pick up and take a weekend off. The staff is too small, Carney meddles too much, and she makes it seem as if she is sacrificing all so you can have a few consecutive days off.

* * * * *

At the end of the last post I alluded to the omission of the traditional $300 Christmas bonus at Carney’s. That’s a funny situation as well.

Certainly I can understand the decision, in light of the difficult business climate last year. I’ve documented the decline over that time. Also, as I told Carney when she broke the news (and as I told the other waiters), ‘That’s why it’s called a bonus. You don’t count on it.’ As it was, I had never gotten a bonus any place else I’d worked in 20+ years, so what was I to complain about?

Yeah, I could have used it. I was even half-counting on it, despite the rumbling rumors that preceded the official non-bonus. I thought at the time it was just more histrionics by Carney and Harry and that they’d come through in the end.

Anyway, despite my sanguine attitude about no-bonus, there were a few things that developed that stuck in my craw.

  1. The Back of the House probably got bonused. Having no evidence at all, this is just a hunch based on a general feeling. I give it 75%. (For the unfamiliar, Back of the House or BOH is everybody who is not a manager, host, busser, bartender, or waiter. In other words, cooks and dishwashers, although at Carney’s the bussers are also BOH.)
  2. Further, the BOH got bonused every single week during the year. What? you ask. Well, Carney and Harry pull some typical ‘Independent Restaurant Tax Dodging’ on the weekend breakfast/lunches, slipping part or all of the cash transactions out a trap door in the register. Out of this, they issue weekly bonuses to the cooks and bussers. I’m guessing $50 each worker, weekly.
  3. An integral part of Carney and Harry’s self-image as angelic, hard-working philanthropists comes at Christmas when they play Santa to the poor children sired by the Back of the House. Carney will go to 99-Cent Store, Big Lots (formerly Pic ‘N Save), and K-Mart and fill up shopping bags with . . . that sort of merchandise. Then on Christmas day she’ll deliver the booty down to the purportedly happy niños and niñas.

    Typical Carney and Harry Christmas Gift

[Side Note: When this tradition started (best I can tell) five years ago, Carney enlisted the staff to wrap the dozens of plastic knick-knacks. Yes, the Wife got corralled (I dodged it, being a guy). Like people don’t have enough wrapping of their own to do, they have to wrap the boss’s Christmas shopping too? Even more, consider what this actually said about Carney and Harry’s generosity. Running berserk through K-Mart with a shopping cart would take less than 30 minutes. Wrapping all that junk would take hours, not to mention be so much more difficult and tedious. But, ohhh to hear Carney crow about the joy she brought to those dirty little faces on Christmas morning!]

So, yes, there was the traditional patronizing Christmas run again this year. Carney didn’t have Rudolph to help, but Harry’s gin-blossomed nose makes a great substitute.

  1. Most galling of all, Carney told Ciera that we weren’t getting a bonus because they got a new LCD TV for the bar – that was our bonus, she said. (This was Carney’s Corner’s first TV of all time, so a really big deal was made.) I’m not sure if she meant that now we could watch TV while we worked, or that the TV was going to bring so much business we would make a lot more money. Maybe both. Either way, I don’t see how an owner can claim that an investment in his business is equivalent to a direct employee bonus.

    There were a lot of jokes made. Like, ‘Well if that’s our bonus, I want a key to the front door so I can bring my friends down to watch Monday Night Football.’ (Carney’s is always closed Mondays.) And, ‘If they ever close this place, I want my 1/5 of that TV.’ And, ‘Maybe next year they’ll give us a new ice machine!’

Still, a bonus is a bonus, and not regular pay. So I guess they do what they want. It’s just the inconsistencies and jackass explanations that rankle.

* * * * *

On a related note, I have a local pet peeve I continue to hear at Carney’s. Frank the Bartender said it a couple of times to Carney, brown-nosing about getting no bonus: ‘At least we have a job . . .’ He also said another time, ‘Having a job is our bonus.” What a shit-eater!

Okay. I want to make sure I strike the right note here. What follows is not meant to be disparaging of others elsewhere, nor self-aggrandizing of myself, nor unsympathetic to the many restaurant workers who have lost jobs elsewhere. I readily acknowledge restaurants are closing, staffs are shrinking, no one is opening new restaurants. And because of this, there are waiters who don’t have jobs.

But not around here.

Don’t get me wrong, I count my blessings too. Just, there are a few reasons why this is a hollow thing to say in Beach City – at least for now.

  1. No restaurants have effectively closed in Beach City. Some have been sold. And have reopened with a new names painted on the windows. All of Carney’s competition is still in business. The coffee shops, sandwich places, beer bars, sushi spots – they’re all still going.
  2. Staffs are shrinking, yes. Carney’s’ staff is smaller. But it’s happened the same way as everywhere else in town. When someone leaves or is fired for just reason, he is not replaced. I’ve not heard of anyone in town (in our biz) being ‘laid off.’
  3. As 40-something-aged waiters, who haven’t slowed down, we are about as good as it gets. Unless the restaurant industry as a whole collapses, we’ll have jobs if we want them. Around here.

Yeah, I do feel lucky to have a job compared to people elsewhere across the country who no longer have work. But I don’t feel any luckier than usual around here.

The truth is, for us, luck has nothing to do with it. Even if restaurants were closing right and left in Beach City, those of us at Carney’s might still have our jobs because we’re knowledgeable, hard-working professionals. And if Carney’s did close, there’s more than a good chance we’d be able to catch on elsewhere. Good waiters are valued by smart business owners and management. Did you know that Michael’s, my lunch job, has continued to hire waiters all through this recession? Last week, even, the GM did a dozen interviews. And believe me, Michael’s has been fully-staffed the whole time. They continue to hire because forward-looking businesses realize this is a time they can snap up a jewel or two who have for some reason turned up in the hiring pool.

I hope I’m clear here that I’m not unsympathetic to those out of work. And that of course it’s lucky I live in a local economy still strong enough that the industry can take its lumps and not get knocked out. But otherwise, how can you consider yourself ‘lucky’ when everyone around you seems to have the same luck?

* * * * *

As has been the case the last several years (most, actually) January was a good month. Then came February. As expressed in the current parlance in the biz, we crushed it in February. At Carney’s, my weekday shifts averaged $150; weekends were $200+. Then came the 3-day Valentine’s extended remix weekend: $245, $265, $345. At Michael’s I stayed on a $100 a day average . . . unless something unusual happened, like several $200 lunches, two $250’s, and one $350. Feels good.

And yet, when pasty-faced, red-nosed, nearly-retired fat cats ask how business has been? and I reply that it’s been good, that things seem to be creeping back finally – I still get the disagreeing head shake.

I’d like to respond, ‘Hey, what can I say? You asked me a question and this is the fact of the matter. It is better.

The paranoid me suspects that these fat cats are secretly hoping our business is down so they can continue to feel superior and take advantage.

* * * * *

In my never-ending quest to up-sell guests inside their own subconscious, I’ve taken a couple new tacks on downplaying the ‘Bar Plate’ menu. Click that link for thorough detail about the low-priced, recession-inspired menu at Carney’s that has all but taken over entrée sales.

In the past I used to make a game of picking the right words to make cheapskates choose a better wine-by-the-glass than what they wanted – namely, the cheapest damned thing we got.

Example: ‘I’ll have a glass of the house Chardonnay.’

‘We don’t designate any wines as house wines. We have three Chardonnays: Ste. Michele from Washington State; Sterling, designated general California, and BV from Napa.’

Now you’ll notice that I have said nothing that is untrue. Nor are my words colored in any way. I wouldn’t, for instance, add to the BV info something like, ‘. . . which is my favorite,’ or ‘. . . which has a beautiful pear and oak flavors.’ In my peculiar code of ethics, that’s cheating.

So anyway, about the ‘Special Menu.’ First, because of the failure of my many and varied attempts at subtle persuasion through choice of descriptors (‘Bar Plates,’ ‘One-Plate-Specials,’ ‘Supplemental Menu,’ ‘Reduced-Portion menu,’ etc.), my new tack is reverse psychology. Now I really pump up the Bar Plate menu. I mean, I lay it on thick, with no reservation: ‘Make sure you check out this menu here. It’s incredible. Exact same quality – just a little smaller portion – comes with a side and a salad!’

And I swear it’s working. These people look at me (I believe suspiciously), look down at the Bar Plate menu, then shift their gaze to the ‘real’ menu.

The other thing I’m doing is handing out the real menus already open. Recall, one big problem was that the Bar Menu is ‘always open,’ being only a single sheet. Now they have an even bigger billboard stealing their attention. And that’s working too.

Or else it’s just that the economy is improving . . .

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