Advancing In The Restaurant Industry

Jeanie, in a comment on the blog, recently mentioned that after 18 years in the business as a waiter, she’s going to attend a college (University of Phoenix online) to get a Hospitality Degree. She wants to ‘do something else in the industry.’ I commented on her comment, but I thought I would expand on that comment here. It’s a very good topic for a restaurant blog.

Unlike most of my posts, where I expound as if I know everything there ever was to know on the subject at hand, I admit in advance I don’t have complete data here.

I do have a complete subset of data, however: my own.

The restaurant industry, for better or worse, is very old fashioned. You get your first job by meeting someone personally (usually multiple times), and it’s that contact that convinces your employer that you’d be a good hire. From there, it stays old fashioned. If you want to be a waiter, your best bet is to do your time as a host or a busser, impressing your bosses whenever you can, and wait for something to open up. Restaurants prefer to promote from within.

Likewise the jump from server to manager. Yes, all restaurants hire managers who have managed previously elsewhere. But those managers almost always get their first management job by being promoted from within their current restaurant. I’d also say a majority of GM’s come from the assistant manager ranks in the same company, if not even the same store.

Taken even another step, I’ve found regional managers are usually plucked from the best GM’s in a company’s stable.

Beyond that, I have no idea – though I would guess that upper level management spots do get filled by headhunters more than promoted from within.

The obvious moral to my story is that it’s probably more effective to dedicate ones time to climbing the ladder within the business, rather than getting a degree. At the very least, you’ll be getting paid for your ‘education.’ You’ll also have the ability to make more contacts as you move up.

Another factor is the consideration of where you’ll be after you get your degree? Likely, you’ll be applying for assistant manager jobs, just like you would have been getting almost automatically through working in the restaurant. The advantage of the degree is it’s possible that you’ll be ‘fast-tracked’ to a GM promotion – more so than the working slug who just traded in his apron for a $99 suit.

All that said, you’re still mired in the same hierarchy as the rest of the managers trying to get promoted into the corporate side . . .

But then, maybe I’m missing Jeanie’s point. Maybe she wants to get into banquet coordinating? Or hotel management (which is a whole other huge can of worms compared to running merely a restaurant). Or maybe she wants to become a chef? There, it would probably be imperative to have culinary school experience if she aspired to more than being a garden variety cook or head chef at a mom ‘n pop place.

If anyone has more firsthand information about the upper corporate echelons, let me and the rest of us know.

* * * * *

I’d like to thank the writer of the So You Want To Be A Waiter blog for giving me the Gold Standard of Shout-Outs: an actual blog entry commending Waiternotes and linking to the blog.

I poked around his/her site and couldn’t find a name, but I did try. Incidentally, the blog (fairly new) is excellent. The premise is ‘THE BEST BOOK ON WAITING TABLES THAT YOU HAVE NEVER READ – YET.’ As such, it covers in concise fashion a lot of basics about the food serving profession. There’s even been a ‘Glossary’ post, defining waiter jargon like ‘deuce, roll-ups, crumbers,’ etc.

He’s really on to something here. And it’s not a dry textbook in the making, as he has plenty of regular-style, more conversational blog posts as well. Not to mention, he/she was smart enough to recommend Waiternotes.

* * * * *

Yesterday at Michael’s wasn’t much of a day. I walked with $58. I’d had just two tables, and was down on covers, but Mickey was saving me for the 7-top reservation.

At one p.m. three ladies congregated at the front desk. They were in their sixties, dressed like dance hall tramps from the Wild West years, the ‘cherry on top’ if you will being gaudy wide-brimmed Crimson hats laden with feathers and ribbons. I had no doubt this was to be my 7-top.

Mickey led the three ladies to my meticulously-buffed table for seven, and handed me the reservation chit. It read like one of the best waiter practical jokes ever:

Party Size: 7. Table 12. Web Reservation. Notes: 1st time diner. This is a group of Crimson Hat Ladies – our request is for separate checks. Some of our ladies do not drink. Thank you. REQ A ROUND TABLE. Ms. P’s bday. Has cake in fridge. Please don’t cut until the table sees it.

I would have looked around to see the other waiters and manager laughing at me, wondering if I was buying the gag . . . But here they were. The Crimson Hat Ladies!

Yeah, Just Like This, But This Lady Is A 10 Compared To Mine

Four rhetorical questions: Separate checks? Their own cake? Not drinking? Are you kidding me?

Perhaps they also expected to pay with an expired coupon, and intended to order just two entrees to share buffet-style. And brought their own hot tea bags?

It actually turned out they were just fine. Three of the seven had wine or cocktails. They all ordered entrees. They were very polite and easy to work with. Even the separate check thing wasn’t a big deal for two reasons: A) they let me know in the beginning, so I could make sure each item was on its proper seat, therefore making it a simple computer maneuver to print up the checks; B) They each paid in cash, with exact change. Frankly, because of those things, paying out the table was no more difficult than any other table.

Lastly, the final aggregate tip was right in the range of 20%. Thanks Crimson Hat Ladies!

Advertisements

Uncle Ben Revisited

So I ran into Uncle Ben at a local bar a couple Mondays ago. I was out with the wife for a ‘Monday Holiday,’ having a cocktail at a ritzy golf club bar. On the way home we passed The House and I suggested we stop for a drink. It was about 4 p.m. ‘And we’ll probably run into Uncle Ben – ’cause you know this is his favorite Monday hangout.’

Sure enough, 75% into our Cadillac Magaritas, Uncle Ben pulls up in his privately-hired PT Cruiser taxi. We were among only six people in the bar. He recognized us immediately and sat down at the next stool. We talked a lot about music (Ben is a keyboard player in his non-millionaire, starving artist life). Turns out he gave The House a cd by Doug Sahm to put in their jukebox. I’m a Doug Sahm fan, so that was a nice topic. We talked about his Bob Seger story about when Bob came out for a late-career tour (not his last one) and demanded a car with a trunk full of cocaine. Ben saw the spectacle and just laughed.

Understand, guys with money have access to stuff most of us can only imagine. I don’t know Ben’s connection with Bob Seger that allowed him to be around for this big party scenario. I didn’t get the impression that they’re friends.

Over a period of 90 minutes, Ben bought three house rounds (‘Set everybody in the place up with a drink!). Of course, there were never more than six customers present, but that’s no knock on Ben. I’ve seen him buy several house rounds (on multiple occasions) for full houses of 20-30 people. When he left, he paid his modest tab of $120 with three hundred dollar bills – the rest going to the bartender.

Ben said he hadn’t been into Michael’s lately because he’d been travelling, and because he was no longer doing business with a certain person who had used Michael’s as a sort of remote office. Apparently, one of this persons associates had recently been indicted for running a (another!) Ponzi scheme. Ben claimed he had felt things were squirrelly and kept at arm’s distance – then found his suspicions confirmed when the indictment came down.

I don’t think I’ve written about my greatest Uncle Ben story.

I was on the closing shift at Michael’s one Wednesday about a year ago. The day was ticking down with no guests in the restaurant after 2:30 p.m. Around 3 p.m. Uncle Ben wanders in through the bar door. Good news because this was the stretch of time he was doing a lot of business at lunch with the aforementioned nameless person. It was going to be a party of seven.

So this is huge.

There were a couple of women in the party. Everyone was good for red wine . . . except one of the girls. So Ben ordered our best White Burgundy for her alone – $170. As for the red, he stated that he knew these fellows liked their American Napa Valley wines, but he preferred French, and he wanted to show them something. How ’bout a Burgundy? Pick something out, he told me.

I consider myself quite knowledgeable about wine – and I know from tasting experience about quite a lot of American wines – but I don’t have mental notes about French wines because I haven’t tasted a lot of them, nor enough to be able to compare. On the other hand, from what I have tasted, I understand basic principles and tendencies of those wines.

So to start, I of course went to the right margin of the wine list – the price column. Uncle Ben likes good wine (who doesn’t?), but I’ve noticed that he picks stuff to impress. Turning him on to a $70 bottle that drinks like a $200 bottle is not going to impress in the manner he desires. He’d rather spend the money and impress how great the wine is – and how much it costs.

I arrived at a $1000 Burgundy (the name escapes me now). They went for another bottle an hour later. They were still rolling when our resident wine guy, an assistant manager, came on for his shift. And not a moment too soon. There were no more $1000 bottles. Our wine guy went to table and pulled a $1200 bottle out of his ass that wasn’t even on the list.

Suffice to say I did an excellent job serving the table. Although my shift was usually over at 4:30, I naturally stuck with Uncle Ben. By 7 p.m. I decided I could make a break for it and said I had a dinner date with the wife and asked (believe it or not!) if I could close out. Now, the rule of thumb for a party (and a check) of this magnitude is that you never ask them to ‘close out’ because you have to get going. You just wait it out. Don’t be stupid and unprofessional.

At the same time, I had the benefit of a semi-personal relationship with Uncle Ben. I’ve drank with him personally on several occasions. I’ve run into him outside the confines of my restaurants many times. I’ve had personal conversations with him. And I’ve been serving him at various institutions for more than ten years.

I didn’t feel at all bad or reluctant to ask for the ‘close out’ at that point. And it was no problem.

It was a $4800 check. Ben pulled out a massive wad of $100’s . . . oops! Not enough. He reached deeper and found another wad to cover the bill. He gave me $6000 to cover it, the rest for me.

Of course I went back to thank him again. One of his cronies asked me, kind of sarcastically, if I was taken care of properly.

‘Oh yes. I won’t forget this day,’ I said.

So that was nice.

Backlogged For Weeks

Just when I thought I was out of ideas – nothing interesting was happening – I look back on the last week and see plenty of fun (or just interesting) stuff has transpired.

I could easily bang out a couple hundred words of, ‘…made $64 at lunch, $120 at dinner…’ But who wants to read that day-after-day? I do have an arsenal of future column ideas logged on my computer, but those ideas are always best when spurred by something current. You know what I mean. Bad tippers … yeah, I can digress about that, but it really only works when there’s a fresh story to frame it.

So. I was in a doldrums. But it turns out I wasn’t. I just had to wait. Just like waiters have to be patient about riding out the bad/normal shifts to hit the rainmakers that make the eventual average.

So here’s what’s been happening since nothing was happening.

  1. Ciera and I have been having fun with Frank the Bartender and Table Eleven. I’m neither a guest on, nor a server of, Table Eleven. Table Eleven is the imaginary table we have assigned to Ciera when she wants a drink during her shift. She’ll order a phantom glass of Chardonnay and go serve it to … herself. As there are only 10 tables in the dining room at Carney’s, we call it Table Eleven.

    As this is a twice, thrice, or more, nightly occurrence at Carney’s, we’ve come to expect it. Because we hate Frank the Bartender (who has to unwittingly service Table Eleven) and we love Ciera (The Open Book), it’s become a real pleasure whenever we can reference Table Eleven. As in: ‘Ciera, Table Eleven is looking all over for you. They’re wondering where the hell their waitress is?’ Or, from Ciera, ‘Table Eleven is barking up my ass. I got to get over there.’ Etc.

     

    I had picked up a couple of shifts from Mark last week, so I worked with Ciera more than the usual Saturday night. Because I love her, we had some fun with our extra shifts together. Frank, being his usual insufferable, asshole self, deserved extra attention from Table Eleven. So instead of the typical order of Clos Du Bois Chardonnay, we decided Table Eleven wanted something ‘fun.’ Brandy Alexander.

     

     

    Beautiful. Any bartenders out there know a Brandy Alexander is blended, requiring a whipped cream garnish and, in our case, chocolate sprinkles. Bartenders are as selfish as waiters. They want orders like Makers Rocks, Scotch Soda, Gin Tonic. Easy stuff. So unknowing-Frank grumbled, but craftsman-like made a perfect Brandy Alexander, which Ciera spirited away to Table Eleven. We were enjoying it so much, laughing so hard, I actually took a few pulls from the straw when I got the chance (very tasty, actually). Although there have been rare exceptions in 20+ years of food serving, it’s accurate enough to say that I never drink before or during work.

    We think we might be onto a good passive-aggressive program against Frank for the future of Table Eleven. Grasshoppers. Old Fashioned’s. Mojitos. Blended Mudslides. This could be fun.

  2. Jerry and Georgina (first introduced here) called a few minutes before coming in – as is their custom. They like to sit at the dining tables in the bar. Unfortunately, tonight these big hitters were out of luck . . . actually, Ciera and I were out of luck (Ciera serves the actual tables in the bar). Anyway, the three acceptable tables in the bar had been seated only minutes earlier. Nothing available. On the phone, I tried to sell Jerry on the two smaller tables in the lounge or even the patio. Jerry: ‘We’ll eat at the bar.’

    This is the worst of all time. Not only do we not get Jerry and Georgina, Frank gets them instead! In case you didn’t back-track and read about them in the earlier post, Jerry and Georgina are the nicest people in the world, they order cocktails and big wine, they’re actually fun, and they tip 30%. Georgina is an ex-restaurant manager; Jerry a real estate developer who used to be in the CIA.

    Dutifully, I told Frank to hold two spots for them at the crowded bar (actually a no-no at Carney’s – the owners don’t allow it – but first, the owners aren’t there, and second, we’re not going to disappoint J&G with a full bar and nowhere to sit). Frank laid out the napkin ‘squares’ for dining and started to get about half-erect (he never gets J&G for himself).

    Even so, Ciera wasn’t going to give in that easily. She’s everyone’s favorite, so she intercepted J&G at the door and tried to funnel them to her on the patio. No dice.

    What transpired was the most over-the-top, teeth-grinding, nauseating display of brown-nosing we’ve seen from Frank in a long time. He was practically doing soft-shoe. The canned stories – usually blasting from the amp at 11 – were coming from the house PA at an arena concert. The fake laughs were more like the anguished cries of a torture victim. He was actually freshening up drinks.

Frank Is So Good, His Subjects Don’t Even Have To Bend Over

In the middle of smarmy performance, we put a warm finger towel in the window for Frank.

Frank: ‘What’s this for?’

Ciera: ‘To wipe the shit off your nose.’

Later Ciera handed Frank an escargot tong (kind of like a pair of rounded pliers): ‘Give this to Jerry so he can pull your tongue out of his ass.’

Aside from our amusement, by the end Ciera and I were actually glad. J&G had a really small dinner for them: Tuna Salad, a Bar Special and cocktails only. Plus, we figured that sitting with Frank for an hour-plus had probably taught them the valuable lesson that he’s poison to the nervous system.

  1. The Swingers came in to Carney’s Wednesday late, party of three. They are half a young couple (she’s in her twenties, he just turned 50). He used to manage the restaurant across the parking lot, so we came to know them very well. And, yes, they are Swingers. They have had countless dates at Carney’s auditioning other swinging couples – and they’re oblivious to having any discretion, let alone shame, about it. They’ve inquired about our own availability. Wednesday, they announced to anyone (and I really mean anyone) who came by the table that their friend was an occasional ‘menage partner’ and they were here to dine before going home to have some fun. The girl was pretty cute, still in her twenties, extremely affable and smiley. I guessed she was on ecstasy. He is pretty round, nice enough, not even really a blowhard, but someone who has a very good opinion of himself, and his attractiveness. His wife is pretty and tending towards overweight, but has a wall-eye that you never know if it’s the right one to be looking at when you talk to her.

    The amazing thing to Ciera and I was that the friend was a repeat customer. We laughed about the poor souls who hooked up with these two on the Internet and finally had to meet them face-to-face. Ouch. And this was supposed to be a night of hot sex . . . with your tubby bodies?

    On the other hand, I’d guess it’s the girl who’s usually the main draw for this sort of thing, and she’s young and not bad looking, excepting the fluttering eye.

  2. We had a week-long episode of owner-neuroses over shift changes at Carney’s. It’s a set schedule at Carney’s. There are a total of five waiters, one of which works Friday night only (and is willing but not interested in working more), and another who works Tues.-Wednesday only (and who the owners don’t like to work weekend shifts because he’s old and slow). Vacations for two people at once (myself and the wife) are very difficult to arrange. Getting individual shifts covered isn’t as much of a problem, as the waiters all understand the situation and freely sub for each other.

    The thing is, as the saying goes, it’s not rocket science. There are so few variables (Hello? Only five waiters?), any shift changes are extremely simple to execute. Unfortunately, Carney likes to maintain that she is the one in control of the schedule. Thus, she has us jumping through the hoops of getting changes okayed by her first. As if there is any possibility that, for instance, anyone besides Ciera can cover for me on a Friday night when I want to play a gig.

    ‘Okay,’ says Carney, ‘I see what you need to do here. Hmm. Yes, Ciera could work that Friday, then she’d be working Friday, Saturday, and a double on Sunday. Hmm. Okay, I’ll have to think this over. Because you know that would be three days in a row for her. And that double. I don’t want her to get tired. I’ll let you know tomorrow. Because, you know, when people get overworked, I’m the one who has to pick up the slack.’

    I’m going to Vegas later this month, so I needed to switch two shifts with Ciera to have Thurs.-Fri. off. Carney pointed out that would have Ciera working five shifts in a row. She’d let me know tomorrow.

    My successful policy has been to just let the owners be crazy, don’t challenge them, and let matters fall out in their rightful proper way. So I said okay. I mean, I have to be able to get a day or two off if I need it, right? And there’s no other way besides this that it’s going to happen, right? Well, then, go ahead and think it over if you need to . . .

    But it was that ‘pick up the slack’ thing that really grated on all of us. (And incidentally, Carney made sure to echo the refrain to each of us during the course of the week.)

    First of all, it’s total bullshit. She doesn’t pick up anyone’s slack. She might act like she is, running around forcing a second loaf of bread on a table, or getting a cocktail order 30 seconds before we arrive at the table, or picking up a dirty plate just as we’re entering our section to . . . clear tables. But she doesn’t really do it, nor does she have to do it.

    Second, it’s not as if anyone’s performance is suffering when he/she works a few days in a row. We are professionals. Every waiter is older than 40. We know what we are doing; we know what needs to be done; and we know how much effort it takes to do it.

    Third, we only work 4-6 hour shifts, for christsakes! Is she not aware that the vast majority of the American workforce works 40 hours a week? And hard, at that? We’re tallying 20-25 hours. In my case, about 15 a week. It’s f’n’ insulting.

    Fourth, this line of reasoning doesn’t for some reason extend to the kitchen staff, who log 40+ each week. Nor does it apply to Frank, who probably works nearly 40 hours. Does she think we’re invalids or something?

    The reality is that she needs to feel important. She needs to make things difficult because . . . well, that one I’m not sure about, but it has to do with making herself feel important. It’s all very stupid, and unfortunately it’s the kind of thing that makes me want to just walk sometimes. I’m the kind of employee who understands that bosses don’t need headaches from employees; they have enough with all the other aspects of running the business. I do my job thoroughly and well. I don’t complain. I don’t bring them problems I can solve myself. I don’t challenge them when I have a better idea. I do the things they demand even when the demands make no sense. When I have a schedule change in mind, I line up all the stars in the heavens in advance, and then present it to the manager/owner, so they have to do as little work as possible in adjusting the schedule. In return I think it’s only fair that when I do need something, they do not act like it’s a huge hassle when it really is not.

     

    Side Note: I’ve addressed types of schedules before, but here again is the summary of the two basic types of server schedules. Flexible Schedule is where the manager writes a new schedule every week/two-weeks/month. That schedule can completely change, theoretically, for every server at each posting. Servers request days off from the manager and the manager does the juggling to make things happen. This is the key compromise because by asking servers to be effectively ‘on call’ each week, they also have to accept that servers will not be available on certain days. They often have to suck a lot of ass to get servers to work on days they claim they are unavailable. It’s a big job, but the advantage is flexibility when staffing needs to be adjusted on the fly.

     

    Set Schedule is where servers ‘own’ shifts permanently: like at Carney’s, where I am scheduled every single Thurs.-Sat. forever. If servers want days off, they negotiate on the side with other servers to cover their shifts, then have said changes approved by manager. This frees managers/owners from the thoroughly irritating hassle of dealing with schedule requests every week.

     

    So, if Carney is going to have a Set Schedule, then let it be that. I get my shifts covered? Then it should be ‘Good roads and fair weather to you, Waiternotes! Have a great vacation!’ Not, ‘Gee, I don’t know. Ciera is will be working almost 30 hours that week! Heavens! She might collapse completely and then I’ll have to do even more than I do already!’

    Anyway. As usual, this whole bullshit has died down in the last four or five days. But it will resurface again should I need a real vacation – say a whole week. Heavens!

    Two local calamities have been a boon for business at Carney’s. There was a kitchen fire a few weeks ago at a competing restaurant. Really, little damage was done. Unfortunately for the competitor, the fire opened up the Pandora’s Box of Health and Safety Regulation approvals that needed to be met anew. They should have been closed for a couple of days. Instead, it’s been over a month and they’re still fighting through inspections and new construction and modifications usually subjected only to new restaurants. No end in sight.

  3. Power went out in the neighboring city the other night (we’re right on the border), so another (powerful) competitor had to shut down. We got a lot of their business that evening, most of it new. As Carney’s delivers a very high grade product and has very professional and personable staff, we were able to make a blip on these guest’s radar. It made for, first, a very profitable night, but second, no doubt some high quality repeat customers in the future.
  4. I got a big tip at Michael’s at lunch, shattering my hideous slump. No joke, I’ve been making crummy money at Michael’s the last 5-6 weeks without exception. I’ve been getting hit with both ends of the stick: fewer weekly shifts, and far lower tips for those remaining shifts. I had no $100 days for a month. My average day was around $55 for that time. (Bear in mind that baseline for this job for three years has been $100 average, with many weeks averaging $125 or $150 a shift). Either the bottom had finally fallen out, or else I was just in the king of all slumps.

    Anyway, a guy arrives at a two-top with his own bottle of Martinelli’s (producer of the famed sparkling cider) Pinot Noir. He states that his supposed date might or might not show up. Corkage, possible stand-up . . . not promising. However, I’m familiar that Martinelli (like Gallo) produces some very fine wines apart from their usual mass market swill. We strike up a bit of a conversation about it. I admit that I’ve never had Martinelli but have heard good things about their high end stuff. He pours me a taste and he educates me about the wine.

    Usually, being wine-educated by guest is extremely tedious for any of several reasons: 1) I already know what they’re teaching me, 2) They’re completely wrong about what they’re trying to teach me, 3) They’re acting like their visit/relationship to this low-to-medium-level vintner in Paso Robles is some kind of insider connection to the Holy Grail of grape juice, 4) They want only to pontificate, and not listen if I do have a small tidbit to contribute, 5) They may be 100% credible in their knowledge, nice people, and not just showing off, but unfortunately I just don’t have the time because I’m busy.

    I had the time for Mr. Martinelli’s 2002 Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir. Because: It wasn’t busy, I didn’t know about the wine, he was a nice guy, he didn’t mind hearing what I had to say, and his wine was f’n’ awesome.

    His date finally showed up, a pretty Asian lady – I’ve waited on her before and found her pleasant. I simply gave them the normal good, but adjusted treatment a professional and caring waiter can provide. They weren’t in a hurry, so I kept the pace slow. I didn’t bother them much because they were perfectly happy by themselves. I offered any possible adjustments to make their meals perfect. I poured the wine in only small amounts. I was personable but not overbearing.

    He ended up tipping me $140 on a $200 check. I made sure to return before he left and thank him for the exceedingly generous tip.

    Side Note: This is something I’ve learned over the years. Too often, inexperienced servers will get a 30% or better tip from a table and treat it like any other. They will collect the check, cheer their good luck, pocket their money (or enter it into the computer), and never visit the table again – having already made the ‘last thank you and goodbye.’ Not only does the big tip deserve extra thanks, per karma, it usually requires it in the real world. This person has made an extraordinary gesture. You don’t have to bow and scrape, but you should make an acknowledgement to him/her that what he/she has done is extraordinary. It’s nice to be appreciated, and these people deserve the appreciation. I don’t doubt at all that many a $100 tip has become a server’s last $100 tip (from that person) because that gesture was not acknowledged. Fifteen or 20% might be perfunctory, but significantly more than that is a gift or a reward. Simple. It’s just like a Christmas or birthday present. The giver must be thanked.

    So that got me over $200 for the day. I followed that, off the next day, with another $200 day. I’m hoping this signifies my breaking out of a slump, rather than a mere aberration in an endless stretch of horrible business.

  5. My left knee has been bothering me for a couple of months. It’s as if there’s debris floating around in there that occasionally slips into the wrong spot and causes pain. Or else the bones are just scraping. I’m a no pain kind of guy. Muscle pain I can understand – you work hard or work out hard, the muscles will ache. That’s fine. Other than that type of thing, I’ve never had physical problems. Long day at work – the legs ache, sometimes the back – all it ever takes is a good night’s rest and a day off and I feel perfectly normal. But the nuts-and-bolts stuff is a little scary.

    I approach physical problems (joints, back, and whatnot) analytically. I’ve always been fit and healthy, so I try to figure out if there’s something in my method that is causing the problem. For instance, awhile back, I experienced an almost arthritic pain in both my thumbs – the muscles and joints at the fleshy part of the palm. After ignoring it for awhile, as usual, I examined what I was doing in my work. It turned out that I was over-relying on the hook of my thumbs to carry plates which were the base for a larger stack of heavy plates and silverware. Can you picture what I’m saying? Pick up a plate, hooking your thumb over the edge. Then stack several more on top of that plate. As the weight increases, it’s the thumb that’s holding up the whole shebang. This manner apparently served me well for a couple of decades, but the body does age, and perhaps that joint has reached its limits. So, I adjusted to a new angle, and the pain went away once I adjusted and healed.

    I also had very sore ankles around a year ago. I mean, like throbbing at the end of the day. I discovered that I had gotten into the habit of ‘cracking’ my ankles when I pivoted. It was a deliberate act, like cracking your knuckles or your neck. I could do it, so I would do it. I stopped doing that, and the ankle pain went away.

My Ass Is Better, But You Get The Idea

The knee, going on four months, isn’t improving as easily. I got new Dr. Scholl’s insoles (I always use these, but sometimes I let them wear out and don’t replace them). I noticed I was for some reason planting heavily forward when walking at Michael’s, instead of a normal gait. Correcting that did help, but the pain would still be there sometimes when I would plant forward. This is not normal. After all, you do have to plant forward when walking sometimes, right? I started stretching more in the morning. I tried new shoes. I’ve been doing deep knee bends, on the assumption that the muscles stabilizing the joint have atrophied and need merely to be built up. The knee bends have been amazing. Working, I’ll have a pang of pain, then steal away to do 40 knee bends, and I’m good for the rest of the shift. Indeed, the knee has had fewer problems, but the occasional tweak shows it’s not actually healed. On the other hand, ligaments (if the problem lies there) do not heal quickly at all, so I should probably be more patient.

Most recently, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe my incorrect stretching might be part of the problem.

At any rate, I’ll keep you posted. I have to do something to keep my readers coming back.

A Philosophy Of Tips

As the economy has spiraled and sputtered, I’ve occasionally (and increasingly) found myself dismayed at the tips I’ve been getting. Friday at Michael’s truly was a record low point in recent memory – then the trend continued that night at Carney’s! At lunch I was treated to a 20% tip on $60, followed by three 10%-ers, concluding with a 12%-er. Sales of $500 and I walked with $47. At dinner my credit card tips were a mere 16%. On $1300 sales, I grossed a little under $200.

I’m in a slump. I’ve been through slumps before. Waiters are just like athletes. We can ‘lose it’ for periods of time. We can also have strings of bad luck (the wrong diners, bad shifts/stations, problems unrelated to service, broader problems of the economy, etc.).

Perhaps most of it can be chalked up to human perspective. For all of us, when we have a great streak of good luck (food serving, with the opposite sex, at the card table), we tend to stuff it in our back pocket and forget about it. We feel we got what we were due. But come a run of just three bad hands in a row, that’s all we can focus on. Never mind that previously we had won 10 out of 12.

The past six months I’ve developed a gnawing fear that the widely-publicized consumer trend of ‘cutting back’ has extended to tipping. What surprised me was that people seem to be cutting back on their percentage tip, which seemed really unfair. After all, the nature of The Percentage is that it’s scalable – it’s a ratio.

So of course we’ll get less in tips, because 20% of $150 is less that 20% of $200. People cut back on their spending, and the percentage follows suit. It does the work for them.

So why have we all (all of my compatriots) seen a marked increase in 10-12% tips? Could guests actually be taking ‘cutting back’ to mean slicing off 5% of their usual 20% tip? Again, it seemed unfair.

Then I spent some wakeful time in bed the other night to really consider the nature of The Tip.

tips-jar2

TIPS – To Insure Prompt (or Proper) Service

 I always thought this was B.S. And it certainly is for waiters. How do you insure something will happen after it has already transpired? To Reward Prompt Service is more like it. But TRPS doesn’t work as well as an acronym. Sounds to me like some not-too-clever jackass tried to make something fit that actually didn’t.

Of course, there are other jobs, and tipping scenarios, besides that of the waiter. Can you believe it? Now, in tipping a maitre’d as you meet him at the front desk, that is hoping to insure proper service. After all, you haven’t gotten any yet. Your tip can have an influence.

 There are other examples, but let’s just say from now on, you may not use that idiotic phrase (To Insure Prompt Service) any time the recipient gets his/her money after delivering the service.

How about an new one for modern times: Percentage Impaired Stingy Sonofabitch – ‘Oh look at this! I just got PISS’ed on!’

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way . . .

 Why Do People Tip?

 I brainstormed about 5 reasons people tip:

1.      The Bribe.

2.      The Reward.

3.      Social Peer Pressure. Don’t tip, and you’re perceived as mean and cheap.

4.      Philanthropy. You feel like you’re giving a boost to someone less fortunate than yourself. See Uncle Ben and His $100 Bills.

5.      ‘Mandatory’ Fee. Automatic add on gratuities.

 How Do People Tip?

 Here are a few ways diners arrive at the tip:

1.      20% Of The Bottom Total. The way everyone should tip. Includes the tax, wine, everything.

2.      Percentage Of The Subtotal. Doesn’t include tax.

3.      Percentage, Excluding Bottled Wine. Don’t like this. No waiter does. ‘Look, dude, opening the wine properly and keeping your glasses filled wasn’t that much easier than bringing you four drinks from the bar. Is that actually your rationale?’

4.      Complex Financial Derivatives. Thought processes like: ‘20% on the food, $1 a drink, nothing for the bottle of wine, and round up or down to the dollar depending on if I like him.’

5.      Top Dollar Figure. As in, some people cannot stomach leaving more than x-dollars, regardless of how large the check is. This is when you get $100 on a $1400 tab. Or $20 on $400.

6.      Double The Tax. The worst of the worst. For fake simpletons who are actually real cheapskates. They’ve adopted the method because it’s easy, and easy to remember. Supposedly. Or is it because it camouflages the fact that (in my state/county/city) they’re tipping only 14%? Also, they expect us to believe they can master that complex algorithm but can’t fathom that merely doubling the whole bill and dropping off the last digit yields a clean 20%? At least Top Dollar Tippers are operating under an honest principle – they just can’t emotionally and physically handle tipping that much – and they know it. Double The Tax’ers are liars.

 The Percentage Is The Tip

 I’ve worked many years under the unchallenged assumption that most of my tips are a percentage of the total check, translated into a dollar figure. In other words, because the check is x-dollars, I’m entitled to y-dollars because it’s whatever percentage the guest has decided to apply.

 I know this sounds arcane and stupid, but I’m starting to believe the tip isn’t that.

The tip is the percentage.

 I know when I dine out that’s the way I’ve always thought of it, without even realizing it. I don’t go, ‘Let’s see, this guy deserves $21.’ Instead, I say to myself, ‘This guy was really good; the meal was great; and we had a great time. I’m giving him 25%.’ The dollar figure is incidental.

 I caution, this is the way most people approach it. I know there are others who, as noted above, do it differently.

 What I’m talking about is a very subtle difference, but it explains the psychology that allows people to start tipping 10% in these hard times. For these people, it’s nothing personal, but they’re just tipping less. A 20% tip before was a generous extravagance; since they’re now cutting back, it’s just going down to 15%.

 How Should Tips Be Reconciled?

 The thing that’s scary to career waiters is that the whole house of cards could collapse at any time. I mean, why the hell tip at all? Anywhere? Except, of course, in advance of getting something?

 Is it intrinsically more difficult to orchestrate a 2-hour dinner than it is to properly rebuild a transmission over the course of five days? Is it even more appreciated?

 

Now That Was Harder Than Filling A Cup Of Coffee!
Now That Was Harder Than Filling A Cup Of Coffee!

 

 

Are we tipping now simply because it’s embedded into the fabric of society? Because it’s expected, and if you don’t you are labeled cheap, inconsiderate, selfish, a loser?

Are we tipping because restaurant owners won’t pay skilled help themselves?

I guess it comes down the waiter’s value to society. It’s clear we are valued, or else we simply wouldn’t make the money we make. This tipping business has been going on for like a hundred years now, and I believe it has reached some equilibrium. People hate to have their special nights out ruined by poor service. Along the way, a natural balance was reached that rewarded competent people enough that they would elect to be waiters.

 That’s the thing a lot of young waiters – who disdain their ‘temporary’ job – don’t understand. Being a quality waiter is a much-appreciated skill. It’s probably about the same as being an accomplished craftsman – a carpenter, a tailor, a mechanic, a writer. These are all valued and respectable lifetime occupations.

Perhaps, ultimately, it’s that waiters occupy that same ‘craftsman’ economic strata, which is closer to the bottom than the top. And like everyone else in the lower half, when times get tough, we’re the first ones to get the bread snatched out of our mouths. People can’t fight against their bank or their landlord to save money. But to our profession, it’s easy to do. Just lower the percentage.

Miscellany

Yesterday I got carried away talking about the Breakdown of Society, or Societal Collapse, as it relates to waiters. I said all I needed to say on the subject, but rereading it today, I realized I didn’t address one of SkippyMom’s main thrusts. Oops.

So here goes. She thought the concept of ‘Societal Breakdown’ was a little harsh for my impressions of fewer kids trick-or-treating. I agree. I didn’t really mean that this was going to ruin society. All I really meant was this is another aspect in that long slow process that I see happening.

* * * * *

There was a pretty cool article in the L.A. Times today about old waiters who know their stuff. Take a look.

* * * * *

So maybe this is what we’ve been waiting for (no pun intended). Three of us waiters today at Michael’s. Top dog (not me) took home $25. I walked with $17, as the closer.

Success at Michael’s is based on doing a solid job and biding your time until you get a big table ($-wise) that kicks your average into respectable, normal range. I’ve played that game for more than three years without any deviation from the formula. Time and again a week would come out with a $100 a day average, month after month. A rare $60 average per day week would be followed by two $120 average per day weeks . . . and on and on.

But the last month I’m seeing either a surprising run of bad luck, or else that the key component – the big hitter – has vanished. I’ve been averaging $50-60 a shift for a month. And obviously I’m not off to a good start this week.

* * * * *

Wanted to give a holler to TheHootersGirl. She’s only made one short comment here, but she has linked to my blog and is driving a lot of traffic my way. Thanks!

I’ve read some of her writing, and it’s a lot of fun. And, of course, what could be more provocative than learning what a real Hooters Girl thinks of her customers? And maybe there’ll be pictures . . .

Check her out. Her writing.

* * * * *

Hope you all had a fun St. Patrick’s Day. I was prepared to stay in while the wife worked, but a friend dropped in and pulled me out for a couple beers. It was fun. When it’s not degenerated into sloppy drunkenness, the excitement of St. Patty’s partying is a fun atmosphere. We went to the nearby restaurant row to an Irish bar. The street was full people, the vibe was lively. As I said, not sunken into sloppiness yet. We were out from about 8-9 p.m.

After that I came home and worked on the computer. Then I mixed a martini and watched the Lakers fall at home against the 76ers on a buzzer beating 3-pointer. This, after Kobe drained a jumper with 5 seconds left to go up by two. A stinging shocker.

Waiter’s Life vs. life of the waiter living it

Okay, you dragged me into it.

I wasn’t resisting, but I’ve been busy lately with a lot of other stuff.

The thing is, the Waiter’s Life, and the life of the waiter living it, are two different things. Read that last sentence twice.

The Waiter’s Life is what goes on in the restaurant. It’s how his/her job experiences affect his view of the world. It’s how his work interacts with his personal world.

The life of the waiter living it, however, is just like anyone else’s life. We have significant-others. We get married. We accrue debt. We pay bills. We buy a house. We have health problems unrelated to ‘waiting tables.’ We have family controversies. We have car trouble. We find a $20 bill in the street. The dishes in our kitchen pile up for three days . . .

You get the idea – although not necessarily all of the above apply to me.

The thing is . . . (wait, wasn’t there just another ‘the thing is’ earlier?) . . . working is a full-time occupation. So in my case, I work two jobs – essentially full-time – and spend a lot of the extra time contemplating/preparing for/recovering from those jobs. That leaves the other hours in the week for the remainder of my life.

I’ve been full lately.

I mean, the Lakers are playing at championship-level. That’s 9 or 10 hours a week. *ouch*

I have to read everything I can about the Lakers at championship level . . . another 5 hours.

I have to read the rest of the paper (internet or hard copy) everyday . . . that’s 5 hours.

Then there’s the requisite martini and ‘relaxation time’ after . . . well, actually after any activity (including a day off) that begs relaxation at its conclusion. I don’t know . . . give it 5 or 10 more hours.

God forbid I currently had an exercise regimen.

So this is my way of apologizing and also explaining.

I’m a waiter. I write a waiter blog. And I haven’t been doing it. These are the things I’ve been doing instead.

Look for more from me tomorrow.

For today: An excellent night at Carney’s Corner. A poor day at Michael’s – $46. Carney’s yielded $305, supported primarily by my massive contribution of $473 to the pool.

I had a party of 13 women – three generations – celebrating Grandma’s 70th birthday. They were so noisy, another table (party of four) was incensed, but didn’t say anything (except to me). I refused to dampen the spirits of the ladies.

Further, I would almost never tell a table to be quiet. Sorry, but it’s a public place, and people are here to have fun. No matter if I think the noise is obnoxious and rude – this is the bargain everyone makes when they go to a restaurant. Frankly, what about the opposite when guests come to a place expecting some action and liveliness but only get a dead and quiet restaurant? Do they complain to the waiter that the lack of other loud patrons is ruining their experience?

Anyway, our 13 ladies were of absolutely of the first class. They were sensitive enough to notice the discomfort the ‘other’ table was feeling. The hostess of the party came to Carney privately and said she didn’t care what they said, she was positively going to buy their dinner, in addition, of course, to the whole tab for her own party. She handed Carney a black metal (titanium?) Amex.

That turned around the attitude of the ‘offended’ party right quick. The beauty of it was that the benefactor was being genuine, and not trying to rub her wealth in the face of the ‘offended.’ Had it been me, I might have been inclined otherwise. But I don’t have a black titanium Amex.

At the end, I totaled both parties’ checks together and added on the automatic 20% gratuity. As I approached the hostess with the check, she reminded me that the other table’s check should be included. I said it was. She said great. Without looking, she handed the check presenter back to me and said, ‘Add a 30% tip.’

Ching.

I Don’t Hate Mondays

Just a quickie today, as I had the day off from both jobs.

I wrote a little about the Waiter’s Weekend previously. For us, it’s usually Monday-Tuesday. If you have tenure at your current job, you might have Sunday-Monday.

I usually set aside in my mind some things I want to get done because I have the whole day off. Today, for instance, I went to the Post Office; bought some newfangled 3-way fluorescent (energy saving) bulbs and some metal bracing straps at Home Depot; bought my lottery tickets for the next three days (for more information; check Waiter’s Retirement Program), checked to verify that my previous investments in the Waiter’s Retirement Program hadn’t ‘matured;’ bought some Red Man chew; filled up the car and cleaned the windows (I’ll nickname that the ‘Bachelor’s Car Wash’); came home and used the bracing straps to fix the dishwasher – anchoring it back into the wall; wrote for a mere ½ hour on my script; and now am entering a post for the blog.

I felt pretty productive for all that. But in between, I spent quite a bit of time drinking coffee and reading the paper and catching up on Internet reading; hounding ESPN.com Fantasy Basketball for updates on my teams’ production this evening; and worst of all, eating a great lunch with my in-laws that just went on and on, the drivel more abundant than the free-refill-sodas. A simple lunch (their treat) was a 2.5 hour ordeal – only ten minutes of which was driving.

That was my day. But what I wanted to share was, every Monday a certain thought crosses my mind: What is Ciera doing today? It used to be, What are Candy and Ciera doing today?

If you recall from previous posts, Candy and Ciera are best friends. They met working at Carney’s. Candy got fired more than a year ago. A previous analogy for Candy and Ciera can be found here, re: The Simpsons.

I’d Put The Girl In Front As The Match To Ciera (Hairstyles Have Changed, Of Course)

But have you ever seen the Andy Griffith Show episode The Fun Girls? It’s really more to the point. Candy and Ciera are much skinnier (the times are different now), but they’re about the same age. They act the same – adjusting for caricature in the TV series. You have to see the episode. If you have Tivo, make a wish list for “Griffith Fun Girls.” There are two episodes with that in the title, both are great.

Anyway, ever since I’ve worked with these two delightful women, Monday has been their day of leisure. Their interpretation of leisure being: begin drinking at breakfast (1 p.m.), continue drinking somewhere else, continue drinking somewhere else but have lunch (4 p.m.) there, call some friends to meet you for drinks somewhere else, hopefully meet up with some ‘sponsors’ who will take you to dinner around 8 p.m.

I’ve been witness (and participant) a few times for the larger part of a Fun Girls Monday . . . It’s pretty goddamn fun.

In the history of my restaurant experience, I’ve never made a phone call to a fellow female server just ‘as friends.’ Sure, I’ve pretended, but I was really trying to get in her pants. Except for Ciera. It’s probably because 1) I’m older now, 2) she really is interesting and a lot of fun, 3) I like her a lot, 4) I worry about her sometimes.

I didn’t call her today. But as always, once I was up and had a little coffee in me, I started wondering what the Fun Girls were doing?

Maybe, for a treat, I’ll ask tomorrow and report back what all went on.