Demoted To Busser

Rachael wrote (edited):

I’m a server and without my consent our restaurant decided each server would have to be scheduled as a busboy. The woman making the schedule says she’s splitting the shifts but I have seen a ‘top’ waitress only have one bussing shift in one week and haven’t seen her do it since then. … this has been going on for a few months, and … I’ve only seen her do it once, while … I’ve been scheduled to do it 3 times, and this week I was not given any serving shifts. I feel that this is somehow not something I should have to deal with since I was hired as a server, not a bus boy. Please help!

Thanks for your question, Rachael.

I had a similar experience to yours (though yours is decidedly worse).

Then, I was being forced to work banquet parties (something I was not hired to do) vs. regular floor-serving. Admittedly more a lateral move than being demoted to busser.

It’s not comforting, but if you brainstorm for other professions where workers can be shuttled back and forth between positions, you will come up with lots of them. If your boss in the sales department of XYZ Widgets decides to move you to telemarketing, you kinda just have to do it. Likewise if she shifts you to a crappy territory. Regular companies do it all the time and it is framed this way:

‘We’re moving you to <blank> at a <blank> cut in pay. You can have the job if you like. If not, we’re going to have to part ways.’

You have three options:

  1. Do/say nothing and just suck it up, grateful for (or bitter about) the job you have.
  2. Get another job and then quit your current place. Very few restaurants practice the BS you are encountering.
  3. Sit down with someone high up in management and have a calm, reasoned, cooperative conversation about your objections. Including offering a suggestion to fix things.

I recommend #3. But be prepared to find another job. They won’t fire you as long as you continue to cover the busser shifts, yet if they don’t change the system you will be miserable and resentful.

What I didn’t know when I wrote my post, was the fallout from my confrontation with management. The rest of that holiday season – and in fact forevermore – I was not asked to work another banquet. I was lucky. Management took to heart my considerations and objections and apparently decided I was right.

I don’t expect you to have the same luck.

You could try making a stand based on the principle you were hired to be a server, and you chose the job because of that. You could, by all means, play the money card for sympathy – tell them the cut in income makes it impossible to pay your rent, child care, DUI fines, whatever.

As for possible solutions, the most obvious is hire (more?) bussers! Or what about eliminating the position and having all waiters bus their own tables, fill their own waters, bring their own bread, etc? That way no one gets preferential treatment like the ‘top’ server you mention. Or start a tip pooling arrangement where you do cycle through busboy shifts, but the busser position gets the same cut as the waiters?

I’m not hopeful about any of those solutions besides hiring bussers, and I’m guessing that’s not on the table (pardon the pun). So you should reconcile yourself to working at a different restaurant if nothing happens from your communication efforts.

However, before you take any steps, consider whether it will be wise to change jobs.

I don’t know what kind of money you make (i.e., how desirable your serving job is). It matters because if you are pulling $300 a server shift along with $100 on the busser shift, that would still add up to a great bank deposit at the end of a 5 shift week. Your pride might feel better in another job where you didn’t suffer the indignity of bussing tables, but it’d be a hollow victory at $150 a shift.

On the other hand, if you’re in an average-paying server job, then just get out and into another average one (or better!). Just don’t quit till you’re out of training at the new restaurant.

Advertisements

Sold – Carney’s Corner!

I agree. There’s no longer a current narrative here, what with my dropping the story for the last several years. Unless you’re either a die-hard fan, or else possess a photographic memory, you’ve forgotten about Carney’s Corner, and Michael’s.

What’s that? Those names mean nothing to you? Those are my dinner and lunch jobs, respectively.

Carney’s had a big change of life recently. Carney (69) and her husband, Harry (73), sold the place. Rumor has that it went for around $500,000.

As usual, there was no drama too great or small, too absolutely insane or merely neurotic, for Carney not to partake.

More than a year ago, the restaurant went on the block, and the winning suitor was a waitress at Carney’s Corner, Marilee. She convinced her husband that it was a good deal at the full asking price of $700,000. Lots of things happened in the direction of consummating the deal: liquor license changed hands, service accounts billings were changed, cameras were installed, an employee meeting with the new owners (Marilee and hubby) transpired, managers were interviewed, and more. Meanwhile, Marilee and her husband were awaiting financing for their cash purchase. (Carney & Harry wanted to carry paper: for tax reasons, for a steady income, and for the unstated chance they could regain ownership in the event of default. Thus, the cash purchase decision, as Marilee didn’t want to risk paying for five years, then encountering an economic downturn, and losing the restaurant.)

Problem was, they were getting private financing through a friend of Marilee’s husband. The friend knew this heroic character who was a Puerto Rican guy with too much money overseas and who needed ways to get it into the country. So he was willing to lend it to them interest-free.

I’m sure this is already sounding familiar to you. Now, this is only grapevine information, but my grapevine includes two branches who are sisters of Marilee. Grapevine says the lender needed $200,000 from Marilee and hubby to match the funds, or some such mumbo-jumbo. Grapevine says they paid it.

Next comes 12 months of Marilee getting jacked around by the financier: ‘Money will be in the account next Thursday, available for wire transfer five days later.’ That’s a typical TEXT message. TEXT message. Yes, this was his exclusive means of communication. Never mind written letters. Not even an email. Marilee showed me a few of his TEXTs.

Anyway, that Thursday would come, five days would pass, and there would be some snag. Of course this went on forever. Harry and Carney were beside themselves because the fucking deal couldn’t go into escrow. Yet, they were screwed by their own greed because they stood to get 40% more than they deserved if only this pipe dream could come true.

It never did. My belief is 50-50: either Marilee got burned by the old Nigerian scam and was too embarrassed to admit it, or else that was kind of what she was letting ‘inside’ people believe. As to the last possibility, what really might have happened is that she and the hubby got advice/realized they were WAY overpaying (by $200k) and began sandbagging to weasel their way out of it in a politically correct fashion.

Either way, eventually Carney and Harry lost patience and scuttled the deal.

The next buyer was well-funded and pretty professional, having 4 other restaurants as part of their general group already. They made an offer and six months later they took possession.

They fired the entire staff.

Then rehired everyone immediately, except for a two-shift bartender who had bad blood with one of the minority owners going back more than a decade. Our employee discount was increased from 20% to 30% (big whoop). But our precious ‘shifters’ (2 free drinks at the end of your shift) were eliminated. Later, Sofiando, the new manager/part-owner, would allow shifters on Saturday. Only. Which didn’t make much sense, but considering I always work Saturday, and because I largely hadn’t partaken of shifters for five or six years anyway, I’m not complaining.

restaurant-dinosaur
Woolly Mammoth Restaurant Dinosaur

Sofiando is a dinosaur of the Beach City-area restaurant scene. He’s 71, I believe. He’s had major stints (10 years or more) at companies like the Red Onion (going way back), at another local institution steak house in Beach City, and (prior to taking over Carney’s) at the biggest oceanfront seafood place in Beach City. In the process of being a restaurant dinosaur, he concurrently accrued status as a local bar patron dinosaur – Carney’s Corner being one of his favorite tar pits in which to get stuck. So, I’ve known Sofiando for the whole 12 years I’ve worked at Carney’s. This long relationship has at times included literally sitting down having drinks with him. And having drinks with him in other establishments. In summary, I’m in good with my new boss.

Another nice thing about a dinosaur is that he likes things the way they were the previous million years. Soooo, Carney’s Corner has not experienced any big changes under the new ownership. Nor does the new owner want to make many changes.

Philosophically, I couldn’t care less about the changes situation. But as a practical matter, I want things to stay the same until the loyal clientele feels there is nothing to worry about – Carney’s isn’t going to go downhill.

I will also admit to the common mammalian preference for familiarity vs. constant change. When things go well, as they did at Carney’s, I’m in no hurry to shake it all up.

Anyway, through 2 months, I think we’re doing fine. Here are the significant changes:

  1. Ranch dressing now offered.
  2. Sourdough bread instead of French bread.
  3. Soup of the day now offered.
  4. Dessert prices reduced by $2.

Yep. That’s all.

Business is off by about 20% these first two months, and I can’t figure out why, considering essentially nothing has changed. Probably, it’s just a psychological thing for the guests. Carney is gone, so it’s over for them (a certain subset of ‘them’).

However, the last two weekends have been busy, back to Carney-ownership levels. I’m starting to believe the dip was just something that had to happen, while we held the line. And as we continue to do so, everyone will come back. It seems to be happening.

Phone Breaks vs. Cigarette Breaks

Okay. You tell me what you think.

After I tell you what I think.

Most (all?) restaurants have strict moratoriums on employees checking their cell phones during the shift. Which is totally sensible. How is the guest being served by the waiter looking at text messages (and even responding) during the crush hours? Filling waters, taking orders, clearing plates, running side work could all be accomplished during this 60-120 second interval.

For me, however, cell phone checking does not happen during the crush. When I am working, I am working. If there is even one immediate task to be done, that takes priority. Always (well, almost always).

There are other approaches though. Every waiter has seen another with his head cocked down, hands in an approximate praying posture, tapping a smart phone in the side station during the height of the dinner hour. As usual, these are the exceptions who provide the odious rule to everyone else. There was once a time when Michael’s issued a ban on waiters tasting guests’ wine – even when offered by the guest (I guess it would always be a problem if the guest didn’t offer). All because someone somewhere in the organization got drunk partying with a table and did something stupid. We all know having a sip of the guests’ wine is a very positive moment in the experience (for all of us). It gives us a chance to commend them on their wine (corkage’d or not), and to further reinforce our connection with them. It helps build repeat customers and encourages them to feel like family in the restaurant. And, yes, it increases our tips.

But anyway, the universal rule is no cell phones on the job. What would be analogous? How about having your girlfriend sitting on a stool in the service bar the whole shift? Definitely distracting, having to argue about why you don’t empty the dishwasher, every time you come to pick up a couple of Jack and Cokes. Or worrying that she’s flirting with the younger, better-looking waiter who models part-time when he’s at the well collecting Cabernets.

So, yeah, it makes sense.

But, not surprisingly, I have a different take on it. First, the phone problem mainly concerns those who keep it in their pockets. It’s impossible to resist that buzz on the thigh – like your girlfriend feels every time that younger waiter comes into the service bar – when the phone goes off. You have to at least check it. And there we go onto the slippery slope.

I defeat this problem by not keeping it in my pants (one of the few times you’ll read this as the best solution). I leave my phone on a ledge somewhere. For me, this is in the coffee station (at Michael’s, that is – at Carney’s it’s too small a place and the owner is always roaming around, so you just . . . don’t . . . dare . . . check your phone until she’s lodged in a bar seat with her vodka/soda at the end of the rush ). My phone can do whatever it wants and, if I’m busy, I do not pay it any attention. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. But when everything is under control and I have a few moments to breathe, yes, I can power up the screen and see what has happened while I was wasting my time making a living.

My M.O. (modus operandi in Latin, for mode of operation) at such points in the shift is mostly read-only. Sometimes, though, as we all know, there are longer moments of downtime vs. others. If I have another 2 minutes to spare and need/want to answer a text – and think I can avoid falling under the gaze of a manager – I will tap something out in response.

All’s good, I believe. Of course, corporate honchos do not believe the same thing. We often read that research shows, for instance, that on-the-job internet surfing, texting, whatever, costs businesses 100,000 hours of productivity per annum, which translates to at least $100,000 – considering the actual productivity of most workers I know.

Obviously, this threat did not exist 10 years ago. It needs to be stamped out. Right?

Here’s the thing: waiters slacking during short intervals of downtime is nothing new. It’s as old as the Verbal Tip, or managers banging hostesses, or . . . the smoke break.

Why is the smoke break sacrosanct?

Imagine yourself in the middle of the rush and the manager discovers you sitting in the linen closet, just staring at the ceiling.

‘What the fuck are you doing? The wait’s an hour and a half. And we got hot food on the line!’

‘Nothing much. I was just clearing my head. It’s fucking stressful out there!’

But if the manager finds you standing outside by the dumpsters, staring into the night, burning a cigarette, he’ll say instead, ‘Hey buddy. Let’s go.” Or he might even light up and join you on a quick one.

Likewise, if you’re looking at your phone at a similarly inopportune moment, the manager will give you a withering stare and you might get written up at the end of the shift.

I’m not a smoker, but I’ve never held the smoking break against anyone. Even though smokers have routinely stolen 15-20 minutes of my teamwork productivity every night I work when I do not take smoke breaks. Whatever. That’s the kind of guy I am.

But now there’s an equal opportunity un-employer. The Phone Break. Again, the phone break is almost always less than the time for the cigarette break. It’s just a grab, a look, and maybe, some quick typing. The whole thing is a minute or so, max. Cigarette break takes that long just for the human transport to/from the alley, never mind the actual smoking and bullshitting (there’s always more than one out there enjoying themselves).

I mean, in my 20+ year career, I’ve known few precious souls who insist on the government-mandated breaks. Virtually all waiters just charge through, happily and dutifully, because it’s too busy to actually take 10 minutes or 30 minutes (‘lunch break’) from the imperative business at hand. So, now that there is actually something comparable for non-smokers, to the cigarette break, we are expected to cower, apologize, and perhaps suffer disciplinary action? I say no.

Phone breaks should be accepted as a part of the job by management.

Or else no smoke breaks. And how do you think that will go over?

My Busboy Is A Dick

‘My busboy is a dick.’

It’s a big, wide world of waiting tables out there, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who can say this . . . but, isn’t this one of the most unlikely things you would ever expect to hear a waiter say?

Bussers are paid by the waiters, anywhere from 10-30% of their tips, or some similar calculation based on sales. Bussers exist to assist the waiters – or at the least that is the basis of most of their pay. Sure, job descriptions vary restaurant to restaurant. For example, at Michael’s the bussers’ only official duties with regards to the waiters, is to promptly bring bread and water to new tables, refill waters and iced teas, and reset the table (once plates have been cleared by the waiters – ouch) when the guest is gone. That’s not much. But then, we are only required to tip 10% there.

Still, at Michael’s it is informally expected that in absence of those duties to perform (and other things like filling ice wells, putting bread in the ovens, and packaging ‘sets’ for resetting the tables later), the busser will make himself useful by clearing plates or running food, or otherwise assisting the waiters. Hell, some places even call them Server Assistants or, SA’s (which is kind of funny because Ese – prounounced the same – is Spanish slang for buddy or homeboy, and of course around here most bussers are Mexican).

Not so with Lencho, my busser at my lunch job at Michael’s.

Lencho is about 5’6″, somewhat round, thoroughly bald, and around 50. He has that kind of dry, mothball-smelling breath which is visually enhanced by the little bits of white scuzz at the corners of his mouth that appear when he talks too long. And boy can he talk – with a super-thick, nearly impossible to decipher Mexican accent. He will corner you and go on about how great are his life, his children, his house, his car, his vacations, and more.

Ehhh. Somewhat close, but the vibe is right for Lencho.

He used to be a busser at a famous Prime Rib joint farther south. During those years he used to brag about how much money he made working special parties there. He always threw around figures like $200 and $250 a shift. During the holidays, he would bring in the schedule from this other job and regale us waiters with how many large parties he was working that week – and of course, how much cash he expected to bring home for each one.

A couple years ago, the Prime Rib joint decided it needed to shake things up, as the dinosaurs were winning. By dinosaurs, I mean the classic term for old and long-tenured waiters who are entrenched in their positions. Dinosaurs don’t work particularly hard or fast. Their precise job description is branded into their brains like a forged brass plate, and they will do nothing above and beyond. They are totally rigid and unhelpful when it comes to their schedules – in fact, they often have set schedules that they do not allow to vary temporarily nor change permanently. They resist change in general, and they usually win. They work the minimum in time and effort and scrape the maximum amount of cream off the top.

People who don’t work in restaurants can’t understand how dinosaurs can exist. But every waiter knows. Dinosaurs usually ‘outrank’ their managers by a decade or more. Of course they don’t really outrank them, but their years of ‘service’ give them some pretty good clout. It is socially difficult for a manager of 2 years to boss around the crank who’s had old Mr. Greenback (who spends $50,000 a year at the restaurant) as a call party for 20 years.

But as usual, I digress. Lencho’s Prime Rib joint (where he was indeed one of the dinosaurs) finally went Ice Age on their staff. From what I understand, about half the crew were dinosaurs. The joint obliterated the set schedule. They obliterated guaranteed shifts. They obliterated preferential stations based on seniority. It was time to change and get rid of their reputation for slothful and disinterested service.

The dinosaurs roared (to hear Lencho report it, and roaring a bit himself). Many of them threatened to quit, and many of them did, including Lencho.

Well, that was that. He was out of his night job, and he has not managed to get another that lasted more than a month or two, since. At least every other week he asks me what I know about Restaurant X in the South Bay, because he has a supposed ‘in’ for a job there, and an interview later in the week. But he mostly goes un-hired, and if not that, then quickly enough un-retained.

Anyway, I don’t know if you (assuming you’re all waiters) can picture Lencho, because he really doesn’t sound like any busser of the common description. But maybe if you instead imagined a short, bald, middle-aged white guy manager who did hardly any work, and loved to blow hard and long about his previous positions of importance at hotshot restaurants – then you’d get the idea.

So besides being full of himself, here’s how Lencho is a dick:

Let’s begin at the beginning, when he first gets to work in the morning. He comes in the door, punches in, and walks to his station. He will pass you along the way, and you will say, ‘Hey, Lencho! How’s it going?’ Or ‘Como estas?’ Lencho’s reply: ‘ .’ Yes, that’s nothing. Not a mumble. Not a head nod. Not even eye contact.

The first thing he will say to you comes about 30 minutes later, consisting of a grunt and a tip of the head as he is wheeling the ice bucket to the bar. This is because he demands help hefting it to dump the ice into the well. When you’re done, you don’t get a thank you, naturally enough.

He takes his employee meal with the rest of the Mexican staff, the kitchen staff, then retires outside to ‘make deals’ on his cell phone in the last 15 minutes before we open. He will not enter the building a second before 11:30, usually a couple of minutes after. And then he will take up residence at his busser station and begin producing sets. Mind you, the doors open at 11:30 and there are almost always parties to be seated at that time (sometimes earlier).

There is a window on the swinging door behind him that looks out onto the floor. He will not turn and peek through that window, ever, to see if there are parties being seated (his cue to produce bread and water).

And here’s what happens next. The waiters are on the floor, ready to serve (imagine that!). So, I, for instance, will be standing there as a group sits. I’ll say my hellos, take a drink order, and gather up the extra sets to take back to the busser station. He will not budge an inch to allow me to put the sets on the rack, but I will force him to at least break his rhythm as I reach past his arms. It’s clear at this point that a table has been seated, no?

Now go to the computer and punch in the drink order. I make an iced tea. I go to the bar and wait for the glass of wine. I return to the table and serve the drinks … hmmm, guess what? No bread or water yet. This has taken easily 3-5 minutes depending on the bartender. And of course, there are no other tables in the restaurant demanding other attention. Where the fuck is the bread and water?

So now I go back and tell him 14 needs bread and water. He does not acknowledge. And he does not stop making sets. It’s as if nothing has happened and nothing has been said.

I return to the table. They are ready to order. I get the order, and only as I’m walking away from the table – only then, maybe – do I see Lencho on the floor with bread and water pitcher in his hands.

Another Lencho pet move: Expediter Fantasy Camp.

Because of his previous exalted position at the Prime Rib joint, Lencho fancies himself as nearly a waiter. He was, in fact, briefly hired to expedite at another restaurant, until they evidently decided it was better to let food sit and cool off rather than have him actively screwing up orders. So at Michael’s, at a bustling lunch, rather than moving briskly about the dining room filling water and iced tea, you’re far more likely to see him with his back to the dining room speaking Spanish with the cooks at the pass out line. Then when plates appear on the line, of course so do the waiters appear. We promptly start garnishing and prepping the order, trying awkwardly to accomplish this with Lencho’s inert frame occupying a 3’x3′ block of real estate. The order ready to deliver, we will eventually use him to carry, say, a single ramekin of sauce. Hey, at least he’s doing something!

When you ask Lencho pointedly to do some task like picking up a couple of plates, he will do it, but without acknowledgment, which leaves you with the mixed blessing of slight anxiety he didn’t hear you and pleasant surprise when get back to the table and see he actually did grab the plates.

We have complained repeatedly to management, who have talked to him repeatedly. He will not accept criticism; his response often includes the sentiment that when he does ‘extra’ work, the waiters don’t tip him accordingly. For some reason, management relays this to us, as if it’s entirely acceptable that a restaurant worker withhold work and effort in doing a proper job for the guest if he’s not in his mind being tipped enough. I’ve always wondered how that would fly for a waiter speaking to his manager: “Why should I give the McNally’s good service? They only tip 12%!”

Then there’s the end of the shift. Even though Lencho has no night job to run off to, he is always in a hurry to get out around 3 p.m. As the closer, I often have a few tables working at this time, some finishing up with coffee and dessert. My point here is that, of Lencho’s official duties where waiters are concerned, final clearing and resetting tables is fully half his job. When he leaves at this juncture, I have to do that half. His performance leading to this moment of desertion is not exactly strong, so I just deduct these tables’ proceeds from the amount he gets tipped on.

And there is the rub that I don’t understand with surly bussers. We, the waiters, are his customers and we have the ability to pay them accordingly. If he does the good work, saves my ass on occasion, makes my job easier, he gets paid well. If he half-asses his shift doing the bare minimum in untimely fashion, forcing me to do extra work, then fine, I will do extra work and I will ‘pay’ myself for it. Out of his tip.

So finally, as I steal a moment from running around and servicing my late tables, I’ll find Lencho in the service bar, rubbing his hands together, apron off. I give him his 10% which he takes wordlessly, counting the money in front of me. Then he bustles out of the restaurant with more speed than he ever exhibited during the shift, on his way . . . somewhere.

Some days, I am literally so busy I can’t spare the 3 minutes to figure and count out his tip. These days, Lencho just silently leaves, again in some inexplicable hurry. When I count my money, I set his aside in a pocket of my ‘book.’ I will give it to him the next shift. Even though I (we) have been doing this effectively for a few years, about once a month Lencho lodges a complaint with management that I didn’t tip him from, say last Friday. So I get a talking to from management at some point the next shift, even though I have already found the money in my book and given it to him, like always, the first time I saw him.

Lencho managed to pick up some temporary employment for a couple weeks during the holidays at a ritzy place. I asked him in January if they kept him on. ‘No. Just Christmas. I don’t want to work there anyway.’ (translated from the original thick-tongued dismembered English)

Then he told this quintessentially-Lenchonian story. He had to work Christmas day at the ritzy place. ‘Very busy. Very busy. $5000 tips. One Captain. Three waiters. Bussers get only $330.’ He stares at me, mouth agape – behold the injustice! ‘Captain take $1000. Only $330 for the bussers.’

‘Each?’ I ask.

He nods. ‘$5000. Captain take $1000.’

‘How many bussers were there?’ I ask.

‘Three.’

Hmmm. So I walked him through it, illustrating on the calculator that was handy. $5000 in tips. 20% of that is $1000. Divided by 3, that makes $333. ‘That’s a 20% tip. What do you expect?’

‘No, no, no. $5000. Captain take $1000.’

Ahh, Lencho. You will never be happy or satisfied. Nor will you ever work hard, I expect.

It’s kind of sad and funny. Lencho’s son is a busser at a rival steakhouse nearby. Several of Michael’s waiters work a second job there. They say Lencho’s son is awesome, a dynamo who takes care of business and doesn’t need instruction to do so. They’ve told me they tease him. ‘How come you’re so great and your dad sucks so bad?’ Reportedly, he just looks down and shakes his head, saying quietly, ‘Hey, I love my dad.’

Well, Lencho has got that. But there will probably come a time soon when that’s all he has, besides 12 months of unemployment insurance.

Restaurant Closures

Anti-climax to my distress about failing the MSP test last post. Returned to work Tuesday. I was the closer, so when things slowed down and I was ‘fortunate’ enough not to have any late tables, I procured my retake test from the manager.

Exact same test – not a different one. So I ripped off all the shit I already knew, and that I now know newly (nice turn of phrase, eh? No?), and was finished and had passed in about 20 minutes.

* * * * *

My dinner job, Carney’s Corner, has been neglected here of late. I don’t mean the fact that that I’ve not been posting for a year. I mean, even so, I’ve mostly written about Michael’s.

Well, Carney is pretty happy these days. She has historically been ever-so-eager to spread rumors of the demise of our main nearby competitor, O’Shaughnessey’s. In the six years I’ve worked at Carney’s, I’ve personally heard her get on about O’Shaughnessey’s at least 5 times. And this is not an overheard stray comment. This is dedicated, prolonged prostheltyzing (yes, it took me a really long time to get that spelling). O’Shaughnessey’s never went down. But in the last month, two other competitors have been confirmed as doomed businesses.

One place has lost its lease, and the planned sale that would save it for another owner fell through, so it is shutting down permanently at the end of the month. Another, about 10 miles away is closing just next week.

There are a lot of restaurants in Southern California so you might not think it would matter much. However, these are directly analogous establishments to Carney’s – stodgy steakhouse-type places who’ve been in business for decades. I submit that while steakhouses are everywhere and always cropping up, the old-school ones with long-term reputations are another whole entity.

While one wouldn’t normally think two restaurant closings – in a ten-mile radius that features hundreds of restaurants – would warrant any major change, it does in this case, for Carney’s. The clientele who crave our type of restaurant will simply seek out that same type if their favorite is no longer open.

And sure enough, it has been busy at Carney’s. I might be jumping the gun, since neither competitor is closed yet, but I think the rats are already scurrying from the ship. And further, I heard one guest saying exactly that to Carney this evening.

Since guests aren’t tagged and tracked by GPS, we have to speculate. But I think it goes like this: One table on a weeknight, 2 or 3 on weekends, makes a significant difference whether you’re busy or slow. In our small restaurant (9 tables in the dining room, another nine in the bar/patio).

Result this weekend: $266 Friday, $205 Saturday.

Employee Re-Qualification Test

Before I talk about my recent Employee Re-Qualification misadventure, I’d like to thank PurpleGirl at slightlycrankywaitress.blogspot.com for contributing so heavily to the increased traffic here. She writes a helluva funny and interesting blog, and her loyal readership shows that. Just getting onto her blog roll increased my traffic six-fold. Thanks!

So . . .

At Michael’s, there is a yearly employee test called the MSP Test, for Michael’s Spec Packets. The Spec Packets are available in the restaurant at all times, and hold the most essential information about the company, the restaurant, the food, the procedures, the programs, even the philosophies. It is a lot of data.

Previously, we were tested twice a year. Also, it was a 100 question test including ball-breakers like, ‘What are the 12 ingredients of the Cobb Salad?’ and ‘Name the 9 ingredients of the French-Italian Vinaigrette dressing.’ I have always passed this difficult test, by going back to the Packets and reading with full attention, occasionally stopping to quiz myself on something. Just like in college.

Now the test is annually. It’s been reduced to 60 questions, but they are all fill-in – no true-false or multiple choice. We were informed in advance that the new test would be a real killer, so to be prepared.

I merely did my usual – pored over the Packets for 3 hours the night before, and 2 hours the day of the test. Which was plenty. It’s not like this was the first time I was learning the material. Regardless what parts of those Packets they questioned me about, I would surely score at least 90%. I knew the stuff.

Saturday afternoon, about 30 employees gathered in the dining room. I sat at a round with four other waiters. Unlike (many) other years, there was very little opportunity to cheat, as three managers circulated about the room. Still, we were able to share an answer or two sotto voce at choice moments.

Finishing the test, I was quite confident I had basically aced it. The managers collected all tests, then redistributed them so we could correct each others’ tests then and there. The instructions were to mark a question if it was wrong or incomplete in any facet. For instance, getting 11 of 12 Cobb Salad ingredients ‘right’ was not good enough for a correct answer; or, describing a preparation as ‘grilled’ instead of ‘broiled’ would also result in a missed question. The threshold of pass/fail was missing 5 questions.

As the answers were read aloud by the manager, I felt further confidence. I noted a couple of things I had missed, yes . . .

But I was also grading another waiter’s test. That is: I was looking the other way when he got stuff wrong or was close to the right answer. I passed over at least 10 answers I could have marked wrong based on strict-adherence to the grading rules set forth. This in addition to the 3 I had to mark wrong because he hadn’t even filled in an answer. And this guy was the co-lead trainer of the restaurant.

So I figured, what with the Bro-Discount that was surely coming my way, I would easily pass.

Wrong. Which made a total of 11 that I missed, including with the 10 on the test.

The dick that graded my test either was a zealot or hated me or was totally unimaginative. He marked me wrong on two answers that were actually correct, right down to the letter – the aforementioned Cobb Salad question, and another two I had written exactly as set forth in the MSPs. It was as if his confusion was grounds to penalize me rather than cut a break.

So I give 33% blame to the unfriendly dick. I’ll take 33% of the blame myself because I missed 2 questions where I carelessly answered only the first of the two parts. One was, ‘How is ________ prepared? And what is the cooking time?’ I didn’t notice the second question and omitted that answer. Stupid. But still, that left me well-within passing range.

The last third of the blame goes to the f’n’ test makers and the managers. It’s called the goddamn MSP Test. It covers the MSPs. And it always has. Strictly.

Only this time, there were questions about Specialty Cocktails and restaurant practices that are not in the MSPs. The Specialty Cocktail thing really kills me. This is from a list that exists only in the bar and was introduced just a month ago. That counted for 3 more missed questions.

The managers figure into this because they had plenty of opportunity leading up to the test to let us know what areas to study beyond the actual MSPs. I mean, shit, just mention that we’re responsible for that 20 drink list, and I would have learned them all. Easily. Worse, the ‘tips’ we did get from management included, ‘Be prepared to know about Banquet Events. There’s like 8 questions on that.’ Actual number of Banquet Event questions: zero. Thanks, a-holes.

I was truly upset. Besides never having failed one of these, and the fact I got substantially reamed, I had wasted all those hours and effort including the 3 hour roundtrip endeavor of taking the test on a Saturday.

I’m sure I could get the erroneously graded questions reversed, but that’d still put me in fail territory. Now I have to retake the test – a different test. Arrgghh!

Walking A Mile In The Manager’s Shoes

Even though I’m kind of an a-hole as far as criticizing/stereotyping restaurant managers and owners, I hardly get any hate mail from them. Or any mail at all.

Maybe that’s because writing a waiter blog is, ironically, like stripping down naked and walking a mile in the manager’s shoes.

Let me explain. There are so many similarities.

Bad predictions and bad solutions

Managers are notorious for overstaffing – predicting more business than materializes. Conversely, they will under-staff to save labor, and the restaurant will get buried. Managers decide Server A can handle being triple-seated, and Server B can’t take another table, with the result that A gets pounded with complaints while B pounds the manager with complaints that she’s bored and poor.

Managers also provide stupid solutions to problems. Like recently when Michael’s waiters complained that employee of the month awards weren’t fair. At the time, management nominated a handful and kicked them around during a manager’s meeting to decide as a group. The “solution” to this problem is that now the employees vote on it, with the managers getting an equal weighted vote. Stupid. Now it’s just a popularity contest. Not to mention that as a lunch server, I will never get the award again, as I am totally off the radar of the more populous dinner crew.

Another example? Michael’s instituted a Running Sidework list for dinners, wherein servers are responsible for ongoing, during-the-shift tasks, like stocking silverware on trays in service stations, making coffee, etc. Nice idea. Except the problem arose because servers were too busy during the shift to handle these things in the first place. Now, in addition to the tasks themselves, they are expected to be monitoring each other’s effectiveness on running sidework . . . like they have time to do that, in addition? So now there is a dry erase board on the wall, with the names of 3 servers assigned their running sidework . . . from a Sunday a few months back. Hasn’t been updated since.

Well, us bloggers aren’t much different. We make bold, provocative predictions – about business volume, cash flow, interoffice politics, even the direction of the nation (with regards to foodserving). And we’re constantly wrong.

Likewise, our blowhardy solutions to the problems we gleefully present are quite often stupid. Thankfully, nobody listens to us, or else we’d see our ideas backfire in the harsh world of reality, rather than blossom and flourish in the rose-tinted universe of our dreams.

No More Convenient Amnesia About Failures

Speaking of backfiring in the real world, of course us waiters are always there to remind the managers of how retarded they were when their appetizer sales contest got gamed and ended up discouraging everyone (except the cheating winner) from trying. Or that their new cover count system actually ended up making everyone more petty and self-absorbed, rather than freeing the staff from obsessing about their own money.

No, we would never allow that. No disgrace is big enough that it can’t be amplified just a bit more.

Same for waiter blog writers. People read and love to point out the folly of our ideas/solutions. When our house-of-cards “improved” systems collapse in the real world, there’s always someone out there to point out what idiots we are.

Limited Audience

Managers don’t have many people to speak to. A large restaurant will have 20 waiters. And of those, maybe only 10% will actually listen.

Waiter blogs do not have massive audiences – unless you’re willing to go public and tell all your friends and co-workers, notify on Facebook, and of course risk getting into deep shit or getting out of a job when you tell too much truth.

So it can be a little dispiriting for us both drop our pearls of wisdom (self-perceived) and have them lapped up only by the few swine who are even barely listening. Not that my readers are swine . . .

The Swine Don’t Know

As a manager you’ve got those two waiters who will actually hear you (listen, maybe not). But even those two are preoccupied with the chronic waiter affliction of not really caring beyond what it means to their tip revenue. They are more concerned with their child with the sniffles, or finals coming up, or that their other job won’t give them Sundays off. So they will gobble up your nuggets of management, swallow, and completely forget. Not important.

While I will compose a post over a couple of days – or in this case 6 or 7 months – it will be read by 30 to 50 people who respond with . . . silence. Next blog. Or next shift. Or, ‘What time does Happy Hour start in this one-bedroom apartment?’

People Are Happier When You Don’t Say Anything

For me, refer to the aforementioned silence after a laboriously-crafted post. My hits have actually climbed steadily in these months of total silence on the waiternotes.com blog. This leads me to believe readers are glad that I’m there when they need me, but are just as happy that I’m not continually bleating at them about cover counts and my arch-enemies.

Like when you need a problem smoothed out at a table – thank god for that manager! But otherwise, please, dude, just stay in your office in front of the computer monitor. Or at the end of the bar with your Johnny Walker Black on the rocks drinking friend.

Pander And You’ll Lose Their Respect

When a manager starts trying to be your friend, it’s great at first. It’s happened to all of us. It might start with your massive computer mistake that he secretly voids to protect you from a catastrophic disciplinary action (or even having to pay money for it, in the case of Mom and Pop restaurants who try to get away with that). Then there will be after hours drinks in the restaurant, followed that night or another time with drinks away from the restaurant. Then kibitzing privately about other waiters, managers, or confidential restaurant business. And later still you might play golf, or see a concert, or just more drinking together. Okay, it’s almost always just the drinking.

But the time comes when you take for granted that manager will always have your back, even when she shouldn’t. You lose respect for any of those pearls of instruction cast before your swinish self – she means everybody else, not you. And then the final domino falls when the rest of the staff susses up that the manager is toothless and their respect (what little existed in the first place) fails as well.

Writing a post that panders to my audience by taking an indefensible position regarding, say, being late to work, and it becomes immediately clear that the blogger is just a blowhard hack (in waiting and writing). Mind you, most of are anyway, but it’s not necessarily immediately clear.

I’ve read blogs like that, myself. When I read about the guy who thought the owner was an a-hole for not letting him off on Valentine’s Day because his ‘girlfriend’ of two weeks is expecting a date, I can’t help but complete the picture of this swine: wrinkled, untucked shirt, shoes that look like mud-cast fossils from Bigfoot, cell phone ringing in his pocket when standing at the table, and drinking a bar mat shot at the end of the shift.

This is the guy I’m reading for food serving enlightenment?