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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Why Can’t Busboys Become Waiters?

I got an interesting comment about my last post, My Busboy Is A Dick, from someone calling himself Xavier.

Sorry, as enjoyable as your post was I’m afraid I’ll have to take a defensive position. I work at a very large (100+ tables) restaurant in the middle of downtown. I am a food runner/expo and one of my good friends is a busser. We are both young ambitious guys who will outwork a horse if challenged but due to the way things are designed there has been somewhat of a falling out…..not so much with me, but with him. He is entirely fed up with the fact that oftentimes we will both do more work in one hour than most of the servers do all night yet we still walk out the door with 65$ in tips when the servers walk out with 250$+. Sure, servers have a higher ranking job and there’s more volatility in their tips but it sort of seems as if the system is flawed. At parties/buyouts, for instance, everyone does pretty much an equal amount of work yet the servers still walk out with far more. Top this off with the fact that even if we go above and beyond our call of duty for the servers we will get not one dollar more than what the servers are required to tip us. For all those reasons, my friend, the busser, has sort of become like the guy you mentioned in this post. He does the very minimum amount of work to get by and quite frankly I understand where he’s coming from entirely. I would do the same but I just happen to hold myself to a high standard.

I’d appreciate your thoughts on this…

It was a thought-provoking comment – and hit on some things I’ve thought about before. I’ll respond in more or less in the order he laid it out. Of course, I’ve no choice but to take it on faith that Xavier’s numbers and characterizations are accurate.

One question that needs to be answered is whether Xavier and his buddy are getting ripped off, or are they are just not understanding how the money actually breaks down (the problem Lencho had in the anecdote towards the end of my last post).

So, let’s break it down, using my best assumptions.

With 100 tables there will probably be 20 waiters (Michael’s only allows 3 tables per waiter, so I think 5 tables per waiter is a reasonable guess). Total tip-out for waiters is anywhere between 15% and 40% – meaning between bussers, bartenders, expediters and whoever else – that’s how much of their gross tips they give away. So I’m going to put the tip-out for Xavier’s restaurant close to the middle, and a bit higher than the median of my various restaurant experiences (about 12 restaurants) because he’s in a very busy, very large restaurant: 30%. Next, because servers are walking with more than $250 a shift, that must mean they are grossing in the neighborhood of $375 in tips.

Don’t worry, I’m going to put this in a table in a minute. Just follow the words for now. Next, we have to guess who is getting tipped, and what percentages. I’ve just got to go with what I know to be true more often than not. Bussers get 15%. Bar gets 10%. Expediter gets 5% or a flat fee of some kind. And there might be a Maître’d or Wine Captain mixed in there too, but we’re going to say there isn’t.

So here’s what we’ve got.

Server Tips (Gross) $375
15% Busser $56
10% Bar $38
5% Expo $19
Server Walks With $262

That means that servers are tipping $1120 to the bussers. The next question is the crucial one for the bussers: How many of them are there? Here’s where you might blame management for staffing too many bussers, which of course dilutes the money they receive. But I’m going to assume normal staffing.

So, plowing ahead, let’s say there’s a busser for every 3 waiters. And let’s make that 7 bussers on the floor, rounding up. That means each busser should receive $160. So Xavier’s friend is getting shafted. But wait. Many restaurants policy is one busser per station. So, of course, that makes for $56 for that one busser. That also makes for 20 bussers on the floor. I don’t know, but it sounds unlikely. Let’s split the difference and say there are 12 bussers. That still leaves a supposed $93 for each busser. It sounds like they are getting shafted. But remember, they might be getting only 10%. In which case, the individual busser tip would be $62.

As for Xavier, as expediter, every place I’ve worked, the expo got a flat fee – $5 to $20 per waiter. Though I have heard of a percentage being used. The key question, again, is how many expediters are there? If there’s only one, then even at $5 per server (an expected $100 per shift for the expo), Xavier is getting royally screwed. Of course, start dividing things by multiple expediters, and the numbers fall into line with Xavier’s account.

If the numbers are fairly cut-and-dried, there’s nothing to be done about it. Each restaurant has its system, and it’s each employee’s decision whether he/she wants to work in that system. I’ve always said, if the system sucks, don’t work there and find one you like. It’s like getting hired at Disneyland and complaining you can’t wear your nose ring. It’s just how they do things. You can work at Starbuck’s with a nose ring, so go ahead.

To address the point about the discrepancy in pay when there is a banquet-type situation, I must say even I (as a higher paid waiter) have a difficult time reconciling that situation. It is a scenario where people are doing the exact same things: delivering food and drink, cleaning, resetting. It is unfair to pay a busser less of the tip pool just because the waiters ‘outrank’ them. My day job, Michael’s, handles this fairly. When server ‘skills’ are not called upon for a banquet-type job, bussers are cut in for full shares. When server ‘skills’ are required, they don’t use bussers at all – so no tip for the busser.

Which leaves us with the emotional heart of Xavier’s comment. It just doesn’t seem fair that they should work so hard compared to the waiters and make so little. And that further, working extra hard does not seem to result in any extra pay.

This is the sadness of most laborers. And waiters are laborers too.

Most managers I’ve worked with have not impressed me with how hard they work. Yes, they all put in more hours, but those are desk hours, chatting up customer hours, walking guests to their tables hours. And that’s when they’re working, not sitting in the bar with their buddy having a scotch, or smoking in the office with their feet up on the desk. General managers at big (and small) restaurants make six figures a year. And they don’t all work “hard.”

Men and women making widgets in factories work hard and earn $40,000 a year. While a salesman selling them flies around the country, staying in fine hotels, eating on the company’s dime, driving a company car, and earns $200,000 a year.

My take is that specialized positions are rightfully rewarded with more money. There are workers in that factory who could do the same or better job of selling as that salesman. But by far, most of them couldn’t.

There are bussers who could (and eventually will) be good waiters, but most of them can’t.

I used the salesman analogy for a reason. Waiters are the salesmen of the company. Even a waiter who doesn’t know how to up-sell or pitch an expensive bottle of wine in the right way to the right person can do an effective enough job. This is because he has or has learned, the skill of communicating with the guest.

The sales paradigm in restaurants is unlike most other businesses. Customers don’t accept your pitch, your data, your fine personality, and then go back to their office and hash it out (pun not intended) with the boss before making a decision. They make their decisions right then.

And then . . . and then, your company (the restaurant) has to deliver the goods right away. Not take the order and deliver in 5 to 10 days.

This is why it’s so hard, as a waiter, to break into serious restaurants. There is an essential part of the skill set that is being able to connect with the customer so he/she knows exactly what you mean and what you offer. And the other side of that – equally important – is that you in return understand exactly what the customer has communicated to you about what he/she expects.

There are a lot of people, and unfortunately a lot of waiters, who fail miserably here. And they are simply dullards, or high, or both. For these waiters to have gotten the job in the first place, they must have been way overachieving during their interviews.

And then there’s another contingent. Treading lightly, I qualify that in my own career, 95% of my bussers have been Latino. Most of them have had good English – that is, good enough to converse with me somewhat in English. But being generous, I’d characterize only about 10% as being capable of detailed, nuanced communication in English. Again, this is the sample from my career in Southern and Northern California.

There is a large factor of public relations in the job of waiting tables. Being able to shoot the shit with people, being able to detect subtle verbal clues as to their demeanor or true intentions, is very important. It is the big difference in saving a table that is ‘on the fence’ about whether they’re pissed off or not. It’s the difference in knowing the dude is in a bad mood and his second cocktail needs to come before you do anything else. It’s the difference in knowing that never mind what she said it, how she said it actually means she wants it this way.

And then there’s the exactitude of the communications. When you’re making a sale that has to be delivered as expected in 20 minutes, you need the ability to be very precise in your communication. Imagine a salad order where the guy wants romaine only not the mixed, his Ranch dressing (a substitute) light, the tomatoes chopped but not tossed with the salad, add anchovies but on the side, and the chicken needs to be blackened in the pan and not on the broiler. Yes, these nuances can be learned as they have been by most waiters, but without a total command of the English language, that salad will probably not come out the way the guest communicated.

I’m obviously heading in the direction of that oft-heard statement: ‘If you hate bussing tables so much, then get a job as a waiter.’

It’s not just my opinion, it’s borne out in the real world – most bussers would not make good waiters. However, as readily evident in Xavier’s prose, he’s got a good command of the language. And he claims to have a strong work ethic, and a well-developed sense of ethics in general. I have no doubt if he so desires, he will be able to get a food serving job, and thrive in it.

His friend, doing the bare minimum and grumbling about it all the way, however, is doomed. Even in the unlikely circumstance that he has adequate English communication skills, his shitty attitude and unremarkable work will never inspire a manager to promote him to waiter (or even expediter). The stink of his shitty attitude would also raise the hackles of ‘fresh meat’ managers were he to apply for server jobs at other restaurants. That’s why Lencho hasn’t been able to get another job since leaving the Prime Rib joint.

Xavier stated that doing ‘extra’ hard work doesn’t result in any more than the same prescribed percentage tip as normal. That’s too bad – he’s in a bad restaurant. I don’t know how common it is, but it’s definitely not unusual for waiters to kick down extra when their busser is kicking ass.

What do I do? I deal out extra, but not tons. Maybe I’m cheap, but I reward good bussing by rounding up come tip-out time. Using the previous numbers, if my busser was busting ass, I’d make that $56 tip $60. The macro aspect of the house should be remembered too – as managers are always telling waiters. If excellent work is being done, that will result in higher tips for the waiters, which of course means more for the bussers because they are tipped on a percentage.

So finally, my advice for Xavier is to keep up his good attitude and work ethic. But don’t just wait to be recognized by management as ‘waiter material.’ Badger the managers regularly about the desire to be promoted. Likewise, go out and try to get a serving job somewhere else – lying as much as necessary about previous serving experience. (That’s how I got my first waiting job.)

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!

Fake Hustle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other kinds of Fake Hustle:

The Fake Help Offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fake Table Bussing

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

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

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

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

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

Arrrggghhh!

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

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

Fake Teamwork

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

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

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

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

Fake Food Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning Out The Refrigerator III – Banquet Serving Blow-Up

Last couple of posts concerned happenings at Carney’s. Michael’s – my lunch job – had a few moments as well.

Back in December I had an uncomfortable incident with Mickey, the day manager at Michael’s.

First a bit of background. Michael’s does a lot of business in its banquet rooms. When I first started there, more than five years ago, it was the drug companies bribing doctors to prescribe their snake oil. Now it’s all about selling IT guys software/systems for handling their company’s exponentially-growing digital data. Evidently there is a lot of money to be made selling Virtual Machines and the like, because these companies are spending thousands every week to do it – just at our restaurant.

[A side note: If you ever want to know what businesses are making windfall profits, check who is hosting banquet events at high end places like Michael’s.]

Anyway, like every other aspect of restaurant business, banquet volume heats up during the holidays. So more servers are needed to staff these banquet events. There are 4 unfortunate things about this, from my perspective:

  1. I don’t like working banquets. I will do it for the good of the team and the restaurant and not to be a whiner. While I actually enjoy dealing with guests in the normal, ‘on the floor’ arrangement, I don’t like working banquets. It’s just plain labor with no fun attached.
    1. The labor? There’s also more of it. A lot more. Despite an automatic 20% gratuity, Michaels’ system of tipping out everyone including the coordinator, the manager, the bartender, and the restaurant itself as an entity, unfortunately omits the busser. Therefore, the waiters do all the busser work – Breakdown/Reset included, which invariably involves moving lots of tables and heavy wooden chairs.
    2. The money is inferior as well. For our trouble in doing the work of the busser, the waiters get to divide up what comes to 13.5% (out of an original 20%) of the check, pre-tax, after everybody else in the house wets his/her beak. Further monetary insult comes when the presented check includes the gratuity pre-printed by the computer, with no additional blank line offered for the possibility of getting thrown an extra bone or two. And by the way, before this system went into effect, about one in five hosts would tip extra. Now it’s about one in 20.
  2. I work all year cultivating good relationships with my lunch guests. Then comes the one month of the year when I might get either side-tipped (Christmas tips) or get to handle the high-dollar blow-out office party, there’s an increased chance I’ll be unavailable – banished to the salt mines, er, banquet rooms.
  3. When extra staff is brought on from the night crew to help with the massive business at lunch (both on the floor and in the banquet rooms), quite often it is these night servers who end up on the floor getting the once-a-year rainmaker parties. Even though these night servers actually don’t even know how to work lunch – they don’t know the menu, the system, the pace, the tricks of the trade, the guests who come in. And to make it hurt even more, these night servers do know how to work banquets.
  4. And finally, I don’t like working banquets.

So as I say, I’m dutifully logging about a day a week in the banquet rooms. That seems to be the threshold that Mickey (who’s in charge of scheduling us lunch people) adheres to. I’m quiet as a mouse about it because everyone has to sacrifice and that’s just fine. Hey, I’ve been doing this at Michael’s for more than 5 years!

We’re about two weeks before Christmas. I do a banquet shift on Monday. I examine the various in-times for Tuesday’s lunch, which can reveal whether one is on-the-floor or in-the-banquet rooms. Or not. My in-time was inconclusive. So I stop in the office on the way out the door and ask Mickey if I’m working the banquet rooms again tomorrow.

Now truly, at this point I’m just inquiring. If she says I am working the banquet rooms, I would at most comment, ‘Wow, two days this week.’ And there would be no more from me. I’m not the complaining-type of employee (at least to managers – I actually generally sympathize with them and want to leave them to do their jobs with minimum hassle from us stiffs).

Instead, Mickey says she doesn’t actually know yet. So I say, very politely, even kind of mock begging: ‘Pleeaassse, if at all possible can I not be in the banquet rooms tomorrow?’ I say this with my hands folded as if praying, with a big smile on my face. She says she doesn’t know. She’ll see.

Next morning I show up and, yes, I’m in the banquet rooms. I’ll be real: I was not happy. But if for some reason it had to be, then it had to be.

Then I see the floor chart and notice that Celine, a night server who has never worked lunches, is on the floor. And she was the on-call person. As this data sits in the pit of my gut like a smoldering cigarette butt that just won’t go out, I go about the grunt work, er, opening banquet set up. Celine shows up and is delighted that she’s not in the banquet rooms like she expected. She gets a table straight off. I happen to be standing by the terminal as she’s placing her first order.

‘What is the Just-Right-Rib-Eye? Is that the same as the Boneless Rib Eye at dinner?’ she asks me.

The Just-Right-Rib-Eye is the top selling lunch steak for 5 years running. It is just a different name for the same smaller Boneless Rib Eye served at dinner. I equitably answered her question and helped her along with the ordering screens at lunch and gave her some advice on timing.

Then I went back to smoldering. Refer above to the 4 problems I have with Banquet Serving.

By the end of the day I was fit to be tied. I had resolved to demand some answers from Mickey. Namely, how could she put a completely inept and inexperienced (at lunch) server on the floor during the busiest part of the year, while I suffered all year long with $50-70 shifts only to be taken off the floor at exactly the time I finally stood to make some real money, and how after all I had even begged her not to put in the banquet rooms this day and how she actually had every reason – even from a management/profit/be-a-nice-person perspective – to go along with my plea, and yet she still jammed me into the banquet rooms?

Actually, that’s a whole bunch of run-on questions. And when the time came, that’s about how it came out of me. Mickey turned up in the empty banquet room at the end of the shift as I was lugging some chairs. She said something innocuous and I took the opportunity to rant at her. When she claimed that Celine was the on-call and she didn’t know she would need her till the last minute, I countered that she still could have just switched us. It had been done countless times in the past.

As Mickey mounted ever-diminishing excuses, I unfortunately couldn’t contain my frustration, and I raised my voice. Kind of shouted, in fact. She told me to not yell at her. I said I was mad, that’s why I was yelling, and that I was sorry. So I stopped yelling and started in with that kind of so-tightly-controlled-hush-it-still-seems-like-you’re-yelling voice. Then it was over.

Until I was summoned to the office on the way out the door. Mickey and the GM awaited me. Mickey reiterated that she didn’t appreciate being yelled at, that she wouldn’t treat me that way. I said I was sorry, and that I had been upset. She repeated herself, and I said I was sorry again. I started to explain what was going through my mind when the GM jumped in.

‘At this point it really doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘You really weaken your argument when you lose your head like that.’

I apologized again.

He said how surprised he was that this came from me (as I say, I’m not that kind of guy). He went on about how this kind of thing was unacceptable and could not be tolerated, etc.

I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Well what else do want me to do then?’

He kind of got a glimmer in his eye, grinned a bit, and chuckled, ‘Ho . . . You’re not getting sarcastic with me, are you?’

I admit, it was a little chilling and intimidating. But I said, ‘No. But I apologized once to Mickey right when it happened. Then I apologized twice to her right now. And once more to you. And since you’re saying it doesn’t matter at all what I have to say about the incident, apologizing is about the only thing I can do.’

That did the trick, I guess. Because he stopped being menacing. He had a few more words to say. Then Mickey offered to let me have a say about it. So I took a controlled take on the various points I’ve mentioned above, and pointed out I’d spent the afternoon stewing about it because in the final analysis it just seemed so unfair.

I wrapped it up, and then said, ‘So, do you have something for me to sign?’ Meaning a write-up form. The GM said, no, they didn’t think it would be necessary because they couldn’t imagine it happening again. I thanked them for having that opinion of me, and beat it out of there.

In retrospect, while I still think I got screwed that day and I’m even still irritated thinking about the situation, I’m mostly just embarrassed. But then, what the hell? Nobody’s perfect. I’m not the first person to lose their cool at work. Thank god it didn’t involve an automatic weapon.

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 . . .

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!