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.