Fake Hustle

In my house, when the phone rings at 9:30 a.m., it’s either a bill collector looking for my sister, or else Michael’s Restaurant wanting me to come in early because of some problem they are having.

I woke up the other day to my home phone’s Classical Music ringtone. It was about 9:30 a.m. And I went right back to sleep.

So I slept. Eventually I did rise. After showering and dressing, and just as I came downstairs to pour myself some coffee, the phone rang again. Michael’s. It was Eric, new day manager. Missy had called in sick and now the in-times were all screwed up. He’d originally called to get me back on the opening shift. Now he just wanted me there by 11:30 (instead of the usual noon). It was now 11:02.

‘I’ll get there as soon as I can, but I just got out of the shower. The earliest I could be there is 11:40-11:45.’

He said okay and I promised to get there as soon as I could.

And that, my friends is what NBA commentator Mark Jackson calls Fake Hustle.

[I found this youtube of Mark Jackson using the term, though the accompanying video is not the most illustrative example. Actually, the first time I heard it referenced, it came from Jackson’s partner, Jeff Van Gundy. He watched a player chase a ball out of bounds, diving on the first row but not getting the ball. Lots of vigor and intensity. Van Gundy said (paraphrasing), ‘That’s fake hustle. He had no chance of getting that ball, and he knew it. But he dove for it anyway. He’s trying to get hustle points from the coaching staff, but he’s not actually hustling.’

Interesting idea, right? Later in the telecast, Van Gundy pointed out a guard who was defending out near the half-court line. This defending guard was waving his arms, moving his feet like he had burning coals in his shoes, jumping at fakes like he was being goosed with a cattle prod. Van Gundy said (paraphrasing again), ‘That’s fake hustle too. He’s moving around a lot, going really fast, expending a lot of energy. But he’s not really getting anything done.’

So that’s Fake Hustle. Let’s continue on.]

In reality, when Eric called, I was dressed and ready to go. I could have been pulling out of the driveway within 2 minutes. The 25 minute drive to Michael’s would have had me there right at 11:30.

But I wanted to enjoy my usual 30 minute ‘engine idling warm-up’ time: a cup of coffee and reading the L.A. Times on the internet.

So I took half my usual warm-up time, and made the scene at 11:45. I bounded in the door, tie knotted, apron strung, waving to the managers in the office like I was the cavalry arriving.

Out on the floor, Eric was cooling his heels. There were only two tables seated. No big deal. I could have showed at noon and it still would have been fine. But instead, Eric thanked me profusely for getting there early, and he apologized for the scheduling problem. Score another point for Fake Hustle.

Other kinds of Fake Hustle:

The Fake Help Offer

This is my ‘friend’ Blackie’s specialty. ‘Need anything?’ ‘Need anything?’ ‘Need anything?’ It sounds like a cacophony (emphasis on ‘phony’) of chirping birds at daybreak. These people (Blackie-types) know that 95% of the time waiters don’t need anything. So 19 times out of 20 she gets Fake Hustle credits for offering. Of course, we all know what happens when you take up the offer for Fake Help.

‘Yeah, Blackie. I’ve got two salads up. Could you run them real quick to 17? Caesar position one.’

‘Oh,’ she says, a bit of shock in her voice. ‘Okay. Um, I have to make two cappuccinos for my table, then I’ll do that for you.’

I’m a pleasant person at work. But I will get in someone’s face if he/she does this more than once.

‘I can just do it myself in that time,’ I would say. ‘And not only have you not helped me, I’ve now already wasted more time having this conversation with you. Don’t ask unless you’re available right now for help.’

Incidentally, managers really are probably the most notorious peddlers of the Fake Help Offer. Here’s a picture any veteran waiter will find familiar:

The guy in his charcoal grey suit suddenly stammering, looking around desperately, wondering if he can delegate (pass the buck) your request for help, before finally hearing the phone ring and letting out an audible gasp of relief as he runs to the desk (even though the host is taking the call already) without even acknowledging that you’re on your own.

Mickey, the old Michael’s day manager, used this move all the time.

Fake Table Bussing

This has plagued me ever since I started waiting tables 20+ years ago. At restaurants where clearing dinner plates is one of the busser’s duties, I will pass one of my tables several times in the process of doing other work like delivering food elsewhere, taking orders, etc. That one table is ready to be cleared, and I know it.

Now, in restaurants where bussers are expected to clear plates, us waiters use that expectation as part of our workflow. For instance, we know that we have time to enter a big order in the computer right now because in the meantime the busser will clear the plates and we’ll then be timed perfectly to address the table for dessert. It’s not being lazy for the waiter to pass the table and do nothing once or even twice. As part of a team, we each do our jobs to make for the smoothest possible service.

But of course, when one part breaks down you have to rush to save the situation. Which brings me to Fake Table Bussing.

In this instance, I’ll have to finally take matters in my own hands. These poor diners have been staring at congealing gravy and shriveling meat scraps for 5 minutes. Not pleasant. So I load up. My arms are now full. In fact, I’m carrying an entire four-top’s stone- and silverware. Forks are sliding off plates. Ramekins teeter atop a stack of bread discards. I pivot to leave the table and . . .

There’s my busser, arms outstretched, offering to take these plates from me.


Dude. That is not bussing the table. You are not saving me any time now.

I’ve even had Fake Bussing attempted on me right in front of the dish station. ‘Really? Now you want to help me?’ Sheesh.

Fake Teamwork

I admit I’ve even practiced a version of this. Specifically, when asked to help clear a table at Michael’s (unlike in the example above, bussers at Michael’s are not responsible for clearing plates), I’ll cherry-pick the ‘clean’ plates (plates from which the guest has eaten virtually everything) and stack up a bunch of them to do my part.

What’s wrong with that? Kind of nothing, really. But here’s the trick to it. By grabbing the ‘clean’ plates, I get to avoid the ‘Can you wrap that up for me?’ requests. Obviously, it’s a lot more time-consuming to wrap up food to go than it is merely to drop off dishes in the dish station.

It’s kind of not wrong because most waiters accept responsibility for to-go packing on their own tables. They don’t really expect you to do it for them.

That said, I just earned Fake Hustle points for the minimum time expended.

Fake Food Running

Another of Blackie’s signature moves. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been camped at the pass out bar at Michael’s, garnishing a big order, examining the ticket, calling for sides that accompany the entrees, making sure the plates are in proper order, etc. Sometimes, if you’re not busy, that’s really all you have to do.

Meanwhile, Blackie, who’s not that busy herself, will flit in and out of the pass out line area. You’ll notice her disappear into the kitchen, then reappear on the floor – the whole time with nothing in her hands.

Now it’s go time. You load up 3 or 4 plates. Another server handles the sides. Maybe even another grabs the sauce ramekins . . .

And now here comes Blackie, ready to ‘help.’

‘Oh,’ she says with that same sort of shock in her voice, only this time it’s fake. ‘You got it all?’

Nice move, biatch, only I’m on to you, and I’ve noted it.

Incredibly, Blackie has pulled this shenanigan repeatedly as teammates run her food!


3 thoughts on “Fake Hustle

  1. PurpleGirl Tue, March 23, 2010 / 7:59 am

    Oh god, I see all those variations on the “fake hustle” at work on a daily basis. I try not to practice them …. Except with people I don’t like, then I’ll wait until they’re clearly not in need of help before offering.

  2. nativenapkin Thu, March 25, 2010 / 7:08 am

    I used to work with a guy named McVitie. When there were tables to be bussed, or food to be run, he would take off on what he called “The McLoop”; and just walk quickly through the length of the dining room, out a door onto the terrace, all the way up the terrace to the bar, through the bar and back around into the back wait station, then repeat; all the time carrying the same tray with 3 dirty glasses on it, with this “Get out of my way,I’m so busy” look on his face, and never going near the scullery. Now that’s some Fake Weeds.

    I hate the “Fake Bussing”. Plus they always drop shit when they do that, and you’re left standing there with your guests looking at you like, “Geez dude, can’t you even carry a plate?” while the busser toddles off to the back.

    Good post; should be in the Restaurant 101 Manual.

  3. tipcheck Tue, March 30, 2010 / 8:07 pm

    I cannot stand FAKE HUSTLE. There are two girls at my restaurant of employment who embody all of the fakeness you wrote about. Such wastes of space.

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