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.

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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?

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.

The Joke Guy

Let’s see if I still remember how to do this . . .

There was a time in my life when I did a lot of writing. I have been directed since I was in high school towards a writing career. Let’s, for now, look past any questions of what rewards that career has brought me. Instead let’s talk about what I did with my time.

I wrote stories, screenplays, TV scripts, novels, poetry. I even tried my hand a couple of factual magazine articles. The remuneration was nearly non-existent. But I always kept plugging. I loved writing, and I loved my dream, and I didn’t mind working towards my goals. I wrote. I once wrote every day – every single day, without exception – for 1.5 years.

And then, at a summer party, I played ‘Pride And Joy’ (by Stevie Ray Vaughan) with my roommate’s band. I didn’t know it then, but that was it. I veered onto a course of concentrating my creative energies on music for the next 10+ years, playing guitar and singing in two different blues bands over that period.

I didn’t stop writing, but I cut back a lot (not willfully – it just happened). Like 90%. And I didn’t really miss it. Instead of smacking away at the keyboard for a couple hours every night, I instead practiced guitar. Or I rehearsed with my band. Or I played gigs. Or I listened to other guitarists to cop licks. Or I went out to blues jams (open mic events). Or I even wrote my own songs.

I’m telling you this because it explains, somewhat, why I’ve stopped blogging for around a year. I discussed this a couple posts (and about 12 months) ago.

For about two years, I posted 5-10 times a month. I was happy doing it, and I didn’t feel like I was running out of material. It was a pretty natural thing to do for two reasons:

  1. I had quit my band and decided not to join/start another.
  2. My marriage was in shambles. For some reason, emotional strife turbo-charges my creative juices. So it was a good way to spend some time while the Wife was not being a member of the marriage.

Then the marriage effectively ended (permanent separation) and I declared myself back on the market. Hence, dating.

I stopped blogging and started spewing my juices (figuratively, of course) in the endeavor of trying to find a new girlfriend/getting laid.

But this time I’m not as happy about it. Especially now that more than a year has passed and I don’t really have much to show for my efforts besides 100,000 words of emails, the reduction of my net worth by thousands of dollars, and the memories of 20-30 forgettable dates (wait, how can you remember something forgettable?).

Imagine if I’d instead written 100k words on the waiternotes.com? I’d probably have gotten a book deal like Waiter Rant!

Okay. Probably not. But I’d have something good. I reread six or seven of my -blog posts last night and was actually quite entertained. Either I have narcissistic delusions or I write pretty well. I tend to think the latter. But then, I’m narcissistic . . . ohhhh, I’m getting dizzy now.

* * * * *

I had a thought tonight at work at Carney’s ($232). What is it like to be married to the Joke Guy?

We all know him. He’s the one who makes a ‘joke’ about every phrase that comes out of your mouth. And also makes ‘jokes’ about everything that he says too.

‘Tonight the chef has Bacon-Horseradish Mashed Potatoes as the side accompaniment,’ I state.

Joke Guy: ‘So then it accompanies the side dish?’ He looks at me with a highly-satisfied glint in his eyes.

‘I guess you’re right. It is a side. It accompanies the entrée. You got me there,’ I say.

‘So the side dish comes unaccompanied? What kind of place is this?’ Twinkling again.

What does a jackass like this expect me to do? I can’t really start laughing, because he hasn’t said anything funny. But he thinks he has. Or is he expecting banter from me, so he can riff some more and impress his sad wife and the other couple?

‘What kind of place is this? It’s actually a Charter School. Are you the English teacher?’

But I don’t say that. I just match his bemused eye twinkle and move on.

At another point, he said, ‘One thing you’ll learn about me. I’m not always right on everything, but I’m always right on.’

Whew.

Usually this bonehead has a suffering wife who spends the meal staring at her food while he excretes his gems like anal beads out of a porn actress. But every guest is different. This time, his wife seemed to think he was just hilarious. And this is no joke (pun intended) – he was ‘on’ for a solid 120 minutes tonight.

So maybe this hits tangentially with my initial thoughts in this post. Getting with the right person is nothing more than finding someone on the same wavelength as yours. Even if you’re flat-lining.

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 . . .

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.

MAYBE MY FRIDGE DOES SUCK, ‘CAUSE THIS ONE LOOKS PRETTY INTERESTING

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?

Pet Peeves III – Holiday Edition

Merry Christmas, everyone! And while I’m at it, Happy New Year! Hope you’re still having a fun and profitable holiday season.

Like the rest of you (assuming mostly waiters read this blog), I’ve had a very busy Christmas month. Michael’s ramped up earlier than the previous two years – an encouraging sign, no doubt – and stayed busy right up till Christmas eve. I worked long shifts. I made a lot of much-needed money. I got a few ‘handshakes.’ My best day was $475, which included $150 in Christmas gifts, separate from the tips these generous guests gave me. All told, I’d guess I averaged close to $200 a shift for about three weeks. Michael’s is my lunch job.

My dinner job, Carney’s Corner, was hot for about two weeks – though not like two years ago and earlier. Actually, there was hardly any sense of the typical Holiday Crush, where there are a lot of large parties and tons of reservations. Instead, Carney’s had reservations only moderately heavier than non-holiday times. However, the walk-ins were very strong. You could count on them any night of the week. And there were also a lot more, ‘We’re whooping it up tonight’ vibes floating around – more high-digit wines sold, more steak and lobster combos, more appetizers. Non-weekend shifts ramped up to $150-175. Weekends, $220-250 per night.

I worked a lot of doubles. One week I worked four. I felt good this year. Sure, I got tired, but not too run down or sick. As usual, I kept the end in sight and kept counting off the days till Christmas . . .

I’m sure a lot of businesses (retail, especially) are hectic during Christmastime, but restaurant work has to be up near the top. It’s difficult for ordinary people to understand. First of all, there is a heightened level of activity and responsibilities for everyone engaged in the Christmas season: shopping, wrapping, social commitments, etc. So it would be stressful just to add those elements into a normal month. But restaurants compound the crisis by being twice (or more) as busy. Suddenly, your four hour shift is 6 or 8 hours. In my case, three shifts a week became five – at each job. A four-table station gets fudged up to five or more. Traffic getting to and from your job sucks away more hours of your time. You wake up hungover and tired because you were so tired from the double the day before, you treated yourself to a couple of martinis when you finally got home at 11:30 p.m. . . . Well, I did, anyway.

But it’s cool. There’s a perfectly beautiful symmetry to the year for a waiter. Most other professions will see Christmas coming and also see a lot of money they don’t have suddenly flying out the window. No so for waiters. Right when you need a bunch of extra money to pay for all the gifts you’re buying, all the socializing you’re doing – that’s the exact time you happen to be making a bunch of extra money. It works itself out every single year. And even if you happen to overdo the generosity a bit . . . if you file your taxes as early as possible, you’ll get a tax refund to pay the leftover credit card bills.

It’s really not so bad being a waiter.

Wait, did I just write that? In a Pet Peeves post? I take it back. Lots of things suck about being a waiter. Here are a few I’ve been making notes about the last several months.

Waste Sugar Packets In The Caddy

Why do people tear open sugar packets, empty the contents, then put the shredded paper back into the sugar caddy? Are they ashamed of the ‘mess’ they made, like they just soiled their own shorts, and they’re trying to conceal the evidence? Or maybe they think they’re helping, by keeping the rest of the table tidy?

It makes the restaurant look bad, because quite often the waiter does a brief visual check of the caddy and can’t detect that anything is amiss (the used packet blends in with the rest of them). Then the caddy goes out to another table, and the guest finds this trash. It also goes another degree further because the used packet is usually not emptied completely, and the diner unfailingly puts it back upside-down, spilling sugar into the caddy.

Actually this goes for any kind of waste. I’ve seen gum, wadded up ‘straw paper’ (is there a name for this? A straw sheath?), even stray pieces of food. It seems if it will fit in the caddy, it will be hidden there.

I know I already debunked the ‘They wouldn’t do that at home‘ myth, but . . . dammit, they wouldn’t do that at home, so why do guests think it’s good to do in a restaurant?

Wine Tasting Indecision

These days I take pleasure in not automatically assuming the man will be tasting the wine. I know it’s proper to present and pour the taste for the person who ordered the wine. I usually do this. But sometimes fuzzy logic can be employed if it’s apparent that the party isn’t too uptight.

For instance, the guy orders a martini and says he’ll take a look at the wine list for the lady. I bring his martini. He selects his wine. I return with the wine. At this point, his palate is fucked because of the harsh martini. Further, he was selecting the wine for the lady (though he’ll obviously have some later). So here I might ask if maybe we should have the lady taste the wine?

But here we sometimes run into trouble. The man will say, sure. I pour the lady a taste. She picks up the glass and sets it in front of her date. He puts it back in front of her, ‘No, you go ahead.’

‘No, it’s okay.’

‘No, really, go on and taste it . . .’

So she’ll finally taste the wine . . . and then shove the glass back to her date. ‘What do you think?’

I’ve also seen this play out in perfectly straightforward wine tasting scenarios – no cocktails or other mitigating factors involved.

People, do not pass around the tasting glass to everyone at the table so they can sign off on the wine. Either it is acceptable or it is not. This is not a question like, ‘Do you think this sweater matches my pants?’ If the wine is bad it will smack you in the face with its badness. If your sample of taste and bouquet seems inconclusive to you, then, the wine is fine.

‘Do You Mind Taking Our Picture?’

This isn’t actually a pet peeve of mine. It’s more of a curiosity. Why do people say this? Because, I do not mind at all taking someone’s picture. I can’t imagine a reason why anyone would mind. Are there waiters in France or Manhattan who consider this the foulest of insults? Are these waiters pitching a fit when guests ask them to take their picture? Do they passive aggressively shoot out of focus, or time the flash wrong, or leave people out of frame?

Or maybe it’s the guests themselves. For some reason, they think it’s terribly demeaning for a waiter to take a picture. Perhaps they feel it rubs the waiter’s nose in the fact that this is as close as he is ever going to get to ‘working’ in the film industry?

Wait. You know what? Maybe it is offensive. ‘This is a restaurant, you idiot, not a portrait studio. I am a Waiter. I didn’t spend two weeks training for this job just have you come in and treat me like a common photographer. I doubt, Dr. Wyrick, your patients ask you take a snapshot of them and their family when you finish the colonoscopy.’

Red Sweater Day

Like the inexorable calendar-creep forward of the baseball playoffs, or the backwards creep of the ‘first Christmas shopping day of the year,’ what I call Red Sweater Day happens earlier every year. Red Sweater Day marks the first appearance of the hideous Christmas sweaters donned by (mostly) women. And (mostly) older women. And (mostly) overly precious women. And (mostly) women who order cheap(est) wine and pretend they don’t normally drink more than one glass.

I saw a doozy the other night. A knitted cardigan affair in lime green with candy canes and snowmen (also knitted) affixed like ornaments to the front of the sweater. Read that again. Affixed. These were not designs in the sweater. They were separate knitted entities hanging from the sweater. Sheesh.

I think I’m pretty old (48 now), and I’ve been waiting tables for 23 years, but this makes me think I must have missed something. Because these women appear to be part of an earlier era or generation. But if so, where were they with their sweater in decades past? If it was a tradition that’s been going on all along, I would have noticed in 1987, when they were in their hey-day, sporting their Holiday Reds-And-Greens.

And if not, how did this entire generation get sold, so late in their lives, on the idea of garish holiday wear? Isn’t it a whole lot classier and impressive to simply wear your best outfits? As it is, it’s like an entire month of Halloween night – but Christmas-style. I don’t see people showing up October 12th in a Mummy costume. But these women don Santa hats, and scarlet sweaters, and snowflake pins for a solid month.

Maybe it’s just something old people do nowadays. Sheesh, old people nowadays! (You know, like, ‘Kids these days . . .’? Not funny? I thought it was, but if not, let me know, because I can’t hear you laughing.)

But with all the ‘mostly’s’ accounted for, the worst is the emasculated man in the Red Sweater-Vest in the company of ‘his women’ (I put ‘his women’ in quotes because there is no chance in hell or heaven or this limbo called earth that this man would ever ‘have’ women). He’s typically the white-haired fairy (not to mean gay – just the ‘fun’ guy) of the office henhouse, or the badgered accountant/teacher/no-level salesman husband. This is the same guy who makes bad jokes (usually puns) at every opportunity, and ‘his women’ laugh dutifully, because he’s supposed to be funny. Of course he’s not. What he is, is a disgrace to masculinity. A toy for the office women. Just like a girl’s Chihuahua dressed up in, well frankly, in the same damned sweater he’s wearing.

Don’t get the idea I’m against a red shirt or sweater around the holidays. I have a couple I will break out when the family gathers, or just for general wear on a Christmas vacation. It’s just a color, after all. My problem is with the guy who is decorated. And yes, you can always tell the difference if a guy is clothed by his garments or decorated by them.

Christmas Overtime Panic

A corporate thing. It was refreshing this year: I heard from a manager, himself, that the company wasn’t going to freak out about doubles this year.

Which was in stark contrast to every other year I’ve worked in every other corporate restaurant:

‘Dennis has to get off the clock! He’s working a double tonight! I’m sorry, but you guys’ll have to handle his sidework. He’s got to get off the clock!’

‘No. Even though Megan is willing to cover your shift on the 22nd so you can have Christmas with your 5-year-old twins, that would put her on a double that day and we can’t pay the overtime.’

‘Justin, Fred, and Eunice are here to help out today with the big parties at lunch. I’m having them come in late and leave early so they can still cover their dinner shifts.’

These are all scenarios I’ve experienced . . .

Personally, they all irritate me. But rarely do I even try to get a shift off during ‘The Season.’ So the middle one plays out infrequently. The other two, however, are the worst.

Look, it’s not my fault I have second job therefore making my 18 hour day not your problem. I don’t mind. That’s one reason I have the 2nd job. But when I’m getting stuck with extra sidework from someone making all the same tip money here as I’m making . . . just so the company can save $4? I have to get to my other freakin’ job!

Likewise, I haven’t worked these stupid lunch shifts 11 months this year just to have someone from the dinner shift come in late, wait on the big lucrative parties, then leave early without doing sidework . . . so they can fit into the labor budget.

For Christ’s sake (and I guess I mean it, as this is all for the Christmas season), can’t restaurants just reconcile that it’s going to be super-busy and they’re going to need all hands on deck? Just accept it as the cost of doing business. It’s the cost you’ve saved all year by having fewer employees, by avoiding over-scheduling just to give everyone ‘enough shifts.’ I mean, really, we’re talking about $8 an hour (or far less in many states) employees here. You (managers and corporate bean counters) are paying $4 more per hour for a person who’s generating up to 100 times that amount in sales each hour. Live with it.

And last of all, isn’t corporate mantra (at least as professed), ‘. . . anything that makes the customer happy . . .’? It might make the customer happy if you kept your restaurant fully staffed during the busiest month of the year, and paid whatever overtime was necessary to make that happen.

Happy New Year!