Staying Off The Booze With Cocaine

My last post about my Fourth Waiting Job at the Rusty Pelican was kind of a set piece. I got lost in the reverie and unloaded. Meantime, the last ‘regular’ post was early July. So there’s a lot of catching up to do.

There have been two great developments at Carney’s Corner.

Frank the Bartender – previously known for his pious 6-year AA status, his Vicodin habit, and his slutty wife – has a new calling card. This one comes courtesy of his slutty wife. We’ll just call her Tara Reed, as homage to the actress with the similar name, because she didn’t take Frank’s name when they married, because she has a not-bad body, and because all she does is party and skank around.

TARA REID: 33. SO THE RELATIVE AGE IS OFF. FRANK IS 52, HIS WIFE IS 48

Tara (Mrs. Frank the Bartender), generally makes nightly visits to Carney’s to have a free drink or two and then head off to some other bar or club to meet her various boyfriends. Sometimes we waiters at Carney’s speculate that Tara picked Frank as her husband based on a rigorous qualification showdown. What are some of the things Tara needs to support and facilitate her lifestyle? As a major heading, she needs a

Reliable Hard Worker who is So Desperate and Insecure:

  1. He works his five shifts week in and week out. When he takes a ‘vacation’ it will really be just an extension of an existing holiday, with an extra day off or two tacked on.
  2. He, in order to illegitimately maximize his income, diligently rips off his employers week in and week out.
  3. He has a non-negotiable work schedule locked in for the evening, club-going, cheating hours. From 5 p.m. till midnight (or later) Frank will be in exactly one place: behind the bar at Carney’s.
  4. He is absolutely never going to come home early and surprise her. The bar closes late, and Frank is always there.
  5. He is a non-drinker who can pick her up from various bars where she has gotten too hammered and needs a drive home.
  6. He will willingly suspend all disbelief that she is cheating on him, because he can’t stomach the improbability of his getting another woman.
  7. He will pretend there’s nothing unusual about the fact he works his ass off while she doesn’t have a job (not counting breeding her dog) and yet parties every night.
  8. He is the one who actually does all the work breeding, caring for, and cleaning up after the dogs.
  9. He has a job which puts him in contact with various sources of drugs and who can easily ‘trade out’ for those drugs, or for better deals on them.
  10. He is pliable, forgiving, and clueless. He has no spine. He will adopt her hobbies. He will adopt her vices. He will adopt her rationalizations.

So back to Frank’s new calling card, besides Vicodin, etc.

It’s been a developing story with Frank, Tara, and Vicodin. We knew plenty about the Vicodin addiction, how his connection would come in and hand him a batch, how Jacqueline (another waitress) would hold some of his stash for him so he wouldn’t fiend it all away in one night, how Frank would be so flushed from his early-shift dose that his head looked ready to explode . . .

Ciera, who’s no stranger to drugs and anything else completely- or semi-sordid, had been saying for the last several months that she thought Frank was doing cocaine, not (just) Vicodin. We didn’t put much stock in her take on the thing. We thought it was just knee-jerk critique about a guy who was wigging out.

But. Ciera is friend and customer to Slick, the dealer who is Frank’s main connection – a bald guy with CIA-level clearance who made most of his bones doing foreign soil top-dollar construction work for the government because so few people were qualified at his level. Slick, says Ciera, is mostly a small-timer. He dabbles in the drug dealing enough to pay the bills; he’s mostly in it for the chicks and the social life. Ciera says she knows from Slick that Tara has become a regular customer for coke. A friend of Tara’s likes it a lot and had come into some money because her octogenarian millionaire ‘husband’ had finally died, leaving her (35 years old) the estate. Of course the Family had something to say, so she didn’t get everything – actually more like a few percentage points: a couple hundred thousand. But I digress . . .

So because of this background knowledge, Ciera is increasingly suspicious/convinced that Frank is doing not Vicodin, but cocaine. When we say, ‘Frank’s on his Vicodin frenzy right now,’ Ciera would counter with, ‘Or else a coke rush.’

Frank had no compunctions about hitting up Ciera for a Vicodin. One time she told me about him, jaw quivering, pleading if she could lend him a Vike? . . . she said she found one in the crease at the bottom of her purse. It was snagged with lint, there was even a pen mark. ‘He didn’t complain at all. He just thanked me,’ said Ciera.

Well, it finally happened. The other day Frank sidled up to Ciera and said, ‘Hey, you don’t have bump, do you? I could really use it right now.’

Of course, for the unfamiliar, ‘bump’ is slang for a snort of cocaine. Like, wanna do a bump?

Mr. AA. And he still is. No alcohol . . .

* * * * *

The other biggie is that Schotz, the well-to-do electrician who is friends with the owners of Carney’s Corner (Carney and Harry), dropped a bomb on Carney last Sunday. And all of us waiters want to find his address, go to his house, and shower him with gifts, flowers, kisses, and free drinks.

But first a little background.

Schotz is an extremely pleasant and affable guy. He’s part of the core buddy crew for Harry and Carney – those who’ll sit in a booth playing dominos for four hours. Schotz is also one of their go-to guys. Whenever they need some serious electrical stuff done, they call on their ‘friend.’

For instance, when Carney and Harry had to replace their old dishwashing machine, they took the opportunity to blow out a decaying and poorly-wired and -plumbed wall in the dish station area. They had Schotz in and he did all the electrical heavy lifting, delivering a first-class, up-to-code product. In this case and others, he politely refuses money (as a master of his craft in an upscale locale, his real rate would probably give them a heart attack), so Carney and Harry will give him restaurant gift certificates as compensation.

However, the only time Schotz and his wife eat anything at Carney’s is when they come sit in the dining room to redeem a gift certificate. They never even buy a quick bite in the bar. Which proves the gift certificates mean nothing to them – or else they’d be eating at Carney’s all along. To his credit, when Schotz and wife get their free dinner, he often tips 100%. Great guy.

Carney and Harry are extremely underdeveloped socially. Carney lives a life of rigidly-constructed delusion to protect her from feelings of severe inferiority. Harry is a late-stage alcoholic who drinks from sun-up till early evening, when the bedroom TV goes out of focus and his brain and liver finally surrender to the booze and THC.

They are not competent to have friendships outside of their controlled domain: the restaurant. Invitations to weddings, funerals, dinner, drinks, or miscellaneous outings like a movie or concert are rebuffed with excuses about how busy they are, how hard they work, how Carney has to have another colonoscopy the next day, or how Harry has to get another test on his prostate cancer.

(Incidentally, this fatal disease syndrome has been going on and on since I started there five years ago. And, no, they never have anything. Carney only regales us with tales of their medical woe. Ironically, the only thing honestly plausible – Harry contracting cirrhosis of the liver – has never been mentioned as a life-threatening ailment.)

Further in this direction, the owners absolutely refuse to allow any employee (or probably customer, for that matter) to have worse circumstances than their own.

‘How was your day off, Carney?’ I’ve asked many times. The restaurant is closed Mondays. ‘Hope you had some time to relax.’

‘Oh, no. Busy, busy. We were here at 7:30 waiting for the new air conditioner. Then when they were installing it, they knocked out a breaker, and Harry spent the next three hours fixing it. They got it in, but it wasn’t working in the front so . . .’ etc.

Or other times she might ask how I’ve been?

‘Pretty good,’ I’ll say. ‘I kind of had a stomach ache three days ago, thought I was coming down with something, but I guess it passed ’cause I feel great today.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve had diarrhea for three days running . . .’

Well, so, anyway. It’s Sunday. Schotz invites Carney and Harry over to his place for evening cocktails on Monday.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Carney said, ‘we’ve just been working so hard lately . . . we just really need that day off to rest. Otherwise we wouldn’t make it through the next week.’

Schotz said, ‘You know what? I’m getting fucking sick of always hearing how hard you two work. I asked if you wanted to come over for a drink. Just answer the fucking question.’

It’s just so great because Schotz is such a beautiful guy, even Carney and Harry can’t spin that he’s just a jackass. One of the nicest guys in the world unloaded on her about their self-aggrandizing, selfish dishonesty, and for a change there was absolutely nothing she could say.

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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.

The Real Valentine’s Day

I left you last with the specter of Valentine’s Day upon us. Yes, we at Carney’s Corner did see the expected brain-dead trying to get a table at the last minute for he & she.

The best of the night, for all of us, was the Liquor Rep. In this case, I’m not in sarcastic mode.

Our first reservations came at 5 and 5:30 – only a few, still not a full house. [For those not up-to-date, Carney’s has only 10 tables in the dining room-proper. Ten more tables in the lounge/patio.] Phil is the Main Man Liquor Rep. He’s a charming (aren’t they all?), good-looking, dark-haired guy in his early 40’s. Phil sidles up to the bar and starts pleading. He’s in a big bind.

He has four people at his house for Valentine’s Day dinner but his oven is broken down. [Remember, he’s in the Biz, so he understands it’s foolish to go out on V-day.] He needs to get a top-flight meal for everyone or his ass is grass (his words).

Carney is not there, and our restaurant has a policy of no to-go orders. ESPECIALLY on holidays. Not to say the rest of us wouldn’t do it any other day if she wasn’t there – we understand how to do things – but she was due any minute and we’d surely get caught trying to pull a fast one.

So 20 minutes later Carney arrives. Phil pleads his case. First thing Carney says is, ‘We just can’t do it.”

Did you see the period I wrote? Same period Carney stated.

The servers are . . . well, we’re freaking out. We know better. This guy is a good guy. He’s done us a lot of favors. Even if he hasn’t done us a lot of favors, maybe we’d do it anyway. Further, do this for him now, you know you’re going to have an ace in the hole for later. Last of all, at the time it was perfectly within the restaurant’s capabilities to produce a to-go order . . .

We couldn’t believe it. But to spare you the minute-by-minute drama, Carney capitulated.

But then, this guy is their best salesman. Is it any wonder he was able to convince her?

End story: Four dinners to-go, $$240 check = $100 tip.

So that was the start of our evening.

Aside from the idiots aforementioned, the night was pretty smooth. We left the building like Elvis with $375 apiece and a nice buzz from the ‘shifters’ and everything was well.

The only salacious part of the night came from our irrepressible bartender, Frank.

On holidays, Carney’s usually has a policy of restricting the bar from regular customers – ostensibly to reserve the seats for parties waiting for their tables. In practice this creates an empty bar, as Carney runs a tight and efficient reservation book. The trade-off for Frank is on such days he contributes to and takes part in our tip pool. Do you remember that Frank is a snake?

After night-after-night (of special holidays) of sub-par bar business, they reversed this stupid policy. This did not affect the dining room business, but it increased the bar business.

Unfortunately for Frank, it took him out of the gravy-train waiter tip pool. I’m sure he did well, but not as well as us – which burns the hell out of him. Frank was bitter the whole night.

The penultimate moment came when Ciera had a Big Regular, Mario, on the patio who tipped her big, then also offered to buy her a bottle of wine on his tab. Well, she decided to have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, on him.

So it’s the end of the night and we’re sitting down for what we call the ‘Sewing Circle.’ So-called because we gather to gossip about all the bullshit that went on in the restaurant during the night, generally about Frank and Carney. Frank asks Ciera what she wants for her ‘shifter?’ He expects her to ask for a simple glass of red wine. Instead, she tells Frank she’s having Veuve Clicquot. She gets it out of the refrigerator and shows it to Frank.

Of course, Frank wants to know what the F’ she thinks she’s doing? Frank is all about his control of the ‘shifters’ for the staff. If we want an import beer, he gives us a domestic. If we want a decent glass of Cab, he gives us the cheapest Merlot. The thing is, the owners, Carney and Harry, don’t care at all. It’s just Frank’s power trip.

So Ciera explains that Mario wanted to buy the staff a drink. She told Mario that we liked Champagne. Mario said, ‘Then get a bottle of good Champagne.’

Frank was incensed. But Mario was gone. The bottle had been paid for. And he wasn’t getting any of our tips.

As we commenced the Sewing Circle back in the dining room, Frank made a point to come out from behind his Sacred Bar to . . . well, it’s hard to say what he was doing besides spying on us, listening to what we were talking about. See, Frank makes it a point never to come out from behind his Sacred Bar when he needs us for anything, be it a new stack of dinner checks, a clean fork, a cup of coffee, a fresh napkin . . .

I hope you get the idea. If he needs something that requires effort, he’s too busy (and too important) to come out from behind his Sacred Bar. But if he wants to spy on us, suddenly it’s no problem to come back to see how many tables are left in the dining room.

During the Sewing Circle, Frank came back three times for various ‘reasons.’

Weasel.

We enjoyed it a lot. We counted out a lot of money, and made a point of hushing significantly and hiding the cash whenever he showed his face.

My Third Waiting Job

I guess it’s gonna be a series. Coming up, the latest installment on my career waiting tables. But first, a recap from today’s news . . .

Last night (Thursday) at Carney’s turned out to be pretty good. There was only one reservation on the books when we opened, but as usual lately, everything came as walk-ins. The first few years at Carney’s, the owners had iron-clad rules regarding reservations. It was most unfriendly. They absolutely blocked out 7 & 7:30 reservations. The theory being to force people to 6 or 6:30, thus freeing the table for an 8 or 8:30 seating. Business was such that this worked the first year I was there. But increased competition chipped away at demand, and soon we were always full at 6:30, with only a couple of 8:30s on the books. Further erosion led to even the early seating being less than full most nights. This caused some uncomfortable situations where guests who’d sought 7 p.m. but were shoved to 6:30 would be sitting in the dining room at 7:30 looking at empty tables and wondering aloud why we wouldn’t give them their original requested time?

Finally, the economy tanked enough that Carney and Harry lifted the blackout and started accepting reservations any time people wanted to come – if the tables were free. But it was too late to make much difference. In the meantime, people had been taught that if you wanted 7 p.m. at Carney’s Corner, you just walked in – and more often than not, you’d get your table, or get it pretty quickly. So now, way more than half our business is walk-ins, even on weekends. In squeezing too tightly to control, the owners about lost it completely.

Anyway, we rallied from the weak reservation sheet to pull in $161 each, take home. Which is good for a week night these days. Frank the bartender was a snake as always. There’s a certain group of daily drinkers who bar-hop along a circuit. When they alight, they’re always good for 3, 4, 5 rounds, plus are the types to pick up tabs of women in the vicinity. And they’re good tippers. Because we’ve become friendly with them – Richard Mountain especially, the best of them all – we have schooled them not to sit at the bar, but instead at the tables, where they become our (the servers’) customers. But that doesn’t stop Frank. As soon as Richard Mountain walks in the door, Frank’s pouring his VO rocks and running it out to him directly. Through the evening, Frank is somehow able to get out from behind his bar and troll the floor, furnishing new rounds for Richard and his cronies – despite that we (the waiters) are constantly patrolling our tables and very available to service them. Frank even starts tabs himself, rather than the proper method of letting the server know what he’s brought Richard and friends. The coup de grace is at sign out. Frank will try to force another drink on them, and when they refuse, saying they want to check out, he will rush to tally their tab and run the card himself. Fortunately, we have some ballsy girls working the lounge who read him the riot act when necessary. Ciera, in particular, will let him have it. ‘Stay the f— away from Richard Mountain! He’s not sitting with you. You have a full f—ing bar and he’s all I’ve got.’

So, now back to my illustrious job history. Next up: Olive Garden.

It’s 1986 and the chain is just starting to roll out. I saw the new restaurant being built on the big thoroughfare in town and put in my application. True to form, I returned and called several times to show my eagerness. The call came and eventually I was part of the opening crew. A word of advice to those who’ve never opened a restaurant before: Don’t.

The feeling is that you’re getting in early on the gold rush. You wait till the place opens and starts filling seats, it’s already too late – you’ll never get in at that point. That’s true only to a degree. And when you hear what I’m about to say, you’ll understand that opening a restaurant is usually the wrong thing to do.

There are a lot of things wrong with being on the opening crew:

  1. Training. It’s not the usual, follow someone around for a few days, pass a test or two, and hit the floor to start making money. For my Olive Garden experience (and most others, I’m sure), you’re subjected to more interviews than normal. Once hired, you have two weeks of training. And this is full-time training. You show up at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. The first week is ‘classroom’ only. The brown-nosing and competition is almost intolerable, as everyone wants to be recognized as a gung-ho go-getter, maybe even get anointed Shift Leader. You’re fed so much rah-rah propaganda you feel like you need a shower at the end of every day. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: You’re getting paid minimum wage for this.
  2. Staffing & Money. Once you get to the end of the training rainbow and open for business, the pot of gold is more like a tin thimble. Server staff is double what it needs to be. Management is playing two games: A) Get everybody shifts so they can practice and improve their game, and B) Over-staff so service for all the first-time guests is as good as it can be. These are fine strategies. But what happens is that instead of 5 or 6 table stations, you get three or even two. You also get cut earlier because of over-staffing. Also, despite the over-staffing, it’s not uncommon to have less than a full weekly schedule. Obviously, all this boils down to much less money than you could be making. As an aside, management at new restaurants also often try to institute unreasonable tip-outs. Where bar and busser is all that should be required, you might be getting pressure to send money to the kitchen and hosts. They also might set the percentages too high.
  3. Patience is not rewarded. Soon enough, that is. The real pot of gold appears when the staff has finally thinned out, when station sizes finally inflate, when servers are recognized for their strength, when tip outs get adjusted fairly, when your shift includes two or three turns. But it takes months for this to happen, and it doesn’t occur all at once. Let’s say things finally settle out in six months and you’re making the money you always expected. That’s six months of making 50% of normal income. How do you make that up? Assume you took the job because you expected to be making 20% more than your previous job, and assume that happened eventually. If your old job got you $100 a shift, you’d be down $4800 from that after six months. Once you finally started making $120 a shift, you’d have to continue that for 12 months to make up that $4800. That’s 1.5 years just to get to scratch even if you’d never left your old job (or in my case, taken a comparable job at an existing restaurant).

The sole benefit from opening a restaurant would be if you were a complete greenhorn. As a novice waiter, you wouldn’t be losing anything, because there was no previous job to compare it to. You’d also gain a lot from the in-depth training and ‘training wheels’ approach. But then, even new restaurants hire almost solely people with prior experience. So the one benefit is realized by very few.

I went through all the above at Olive Garden. The training honchos came in and puffed us up with tales of $100-150 shifts, about how having fewer tables translates into more money via better tip percentages. He said in his experience, 20% was the minimum tip.

Not so, in practice.

If you’ve been to an Olive Garden, and I assume everyone has, you know they emphasize their unlimited Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks. It’s even a menu choice (at least it was then). Unfortunately, that’s because it’s the best they have to offer. The food is unimaginative and mostly bland. Fettuccine Alfredo, which could be a garlicky, cheesy delight, is overcooked and pasty. Lasagna is just a stack of blank filler.

Those Breadsticks though . . . Mmmmmm!

I left Olive Garden after just a couple months. I had decided to move to Northern California and write a novel with a high school buddy. I never made more than $50 at Olive Garden, and usually walked with $20-30.

I did get one nugget that continues to guide me in the profession, however. At one point in conversation with a busboy, he was telling me about his job and how it related to waiters. ‘You waiters have to know how to use us bussers. These people can get good service and nobody has to work that hard. You ever notice Sydney (a heavy-set waiter in his mid-twenties)? You ever seen him walk more than two miles-an-hour? That’s ’cause he doesn’t have to hurry, ’cause he knows how to let us help him. And he gets killer tips.’

In other words, Delegation.

Happy New Year’s Eve 2009

I hope everyone’s Christmas was fine, safe and happy. It’s been too long since I’ve posted here, but as we all know, it’s a busy time of year – even more so for waiters than other professions.

I visited my sister in Northern California for the holidays. A perfect storm developed that allowed me to have an amazing one full week of time off from both jobs, ending tonight at Carney’s. I spent four days with the family in No. Cal. then returned here for some relaxation and bill paying.

Christmas was fun. The family scaled back quite a bit this year, and it turned out much better, in my opinion. For the first time in years, I was finished with my shopping early. I spent the majority of the days before the holiday quite relaxed and happy. It was much more like the days of my youth when Christmas was a season of free time, pleasant thoughts, and anticipation.

Looking back now, money was down in the biz quite a bit. The lunch job at Michael’s maintained about a $120 per shift average, which isn’t bad. However, years past, I made more than $200 for a couple weeks running. Dinners at Carney’s were pretty much the same for the weekends, but the weekday and Sunday shifts I worked were off 20% or so over previous years.

I’ve switched in the main from my credit card ways to a predominantly cash basis for purchases. Not that I’ve always racked up a lot of credit card debt before – I usually put as much as I could on the Amex to amass miles. The problem was that then the bill would come due and I’d have trouble paying, which caused late fees and rolling over to revolving credit, which would also spill over into difficulty handling the mortgage. The last six months or so I’ve enjoyed getting small Amex bills. Sure, I missed out on some miles, but the certainty of being able to pay that bill has been a plus.

Something singular happened at Carney’s one night a couple weeks ago. Maybe other waiters out there have seen it before, but not me.

A guest ‘re-gifted’ the change from a gift certificate. Yes. Re-gifting is a time-honored white lie amongst people, and I have no problem with it. As long as the gift is appropriate to the new receiver. If it’s a dog gift for a friend or relative that always gets you a dog (or nothing) in return, perfect. If it’s something nice for some special people, perfect also. I think you must also do your best to maintain the illusion that the gift is ‘fresh.’

This couple had the cheapest meal possible at Carney’s: split a house salad, split an entrée, drank only water, no coffee or dessert. With the check, they gave me a $100 gift certificate and some cash, with the instructions to use the cash to make sure the ‘change’ from the gift certificate was exactly $50. (It’s common policy for gift certificate change above a certain amount to be reissued in another gift certificate. In this case, $20 or more.) The particulars of dollars and cents escape me now, but the cash left over from this gift certificate derivative was around what would have been a 20% tip. I returned everything as directed. And the couple pulled back a couple of the dollars change, leaving me just 15%.

Now, they didn’t say what they were doing, but a little deduction made it obvious. If they intended to return later with the new gift certificate, why would they care what the dollar value was? Why go through the rigmarole? Further, it was made all the more clear by their stingy tipping, that their ordering strategy was based on cheapness, not on what they really wanted to eat. They had to keep the bill under or close to $50.

As I said, this was a first for me. Sheesh.

By way of update, I understand that the cloud has lifted off of Ciera. She was under daily strafing from Carney as punishment for her cowardly gambit in covering her shift without Carney’s OK when on vacation several weeks earlier. As a reminder, I didn’t condone how Carney freaked out about it, but I still held Ciera responsible because, good or bad, that’s just the way it is there. Our owners are crazy and we all know it and for our own survival we have to account for it.

Anyway, after Christmas Ciera and Carney apparently made up and things are back to normal strange.

Tonight’s the big night. I actually don’t have huge hopes for the money this evening. There’s an extra server scheduled, combined with 1) we lose a few tables because of the entertainment, and 2) we have to pool with Frank the bartender. He probably will make a lot of money, but he’s a snake and all of us are sure he’ll hold back whatever he can.

One year we pooled with him and he turned in 50% of what we each did (he wasn’t allowed to have diners at the bar that year – this year he is allowed). While we were settling up the money, someone ordered seven shots of Louis XIII cognac, $200 a shot. The high roller and his pals camped out at the bar and kept drinking and us waiters went home. Frank tried to keep all the tip money from that tab, $300, until a couple of us reamed him in front of the owners. He claimed he had it set aside for us but left it at home.

Does he sound like anyone you know?

Happy New Year!

Tip Pooling and a Couple of Jackasses

Worked the Saturday night shift at Carney’s Corner (not the real name) in Beach City.

It was a pretty good night. Carney’s is a small steakhouse – just twenty tables, and half of those are in the bar and patio. As such, the waiters pool their tips, meaning we all work our stations, collect our tips, and at the end of the night pool the money and divide it evenly. The benefits of this system (my guess is less than 10% of restaurants pool tips) are:

  1. It levels out the highs and lows of income. Take a $100 a night average job. Without tip pooling, a waiter will frequently swing between $20 and $200 nights, trust me. It sucks if by chance you string together a few $20-30 shfits in a row. Likewise, it can go to your head if your really kill it for a week straight. You might go out and blow a lot of money you don’t really have.
  2. It benefits teamwork greatly. When you’re all pulling for each other, moneywise, there are no stops on helping out your fellow server.
  3. It creates a strong camaraderie with your fellow servers.
  4. It eliminates ‘Table Hogging’ and ‘Guest Sniping.’ I coined the last term. It’s where a server by force or cunning ‘steals’ the best tipping customers for his section. A Sniper could be cajoling a hostess into giving him the high rollers, or sneaking peeks at the reservation book and slyly engineering to have an open table when a roller comes in, or even just bum-rushing the poor guy when he walks in the door and escorting him right to that server’s section.

There are downsides to pooling. The biggest is when you have some dead wood on your staff who is either incompetent or simply unwilling to do the work. These people contribute little money and/or effort to the pool yet walk with the same as the hard and competent workers. People get bitter. However, the peer pressure usually works quite well in whipping people into shape or else figuring a way to ship them out.

So anyway, it was good at Carney’s last night. We made $260. My best table was Mr. Zoloff and his wife who I’d servered several times. He actually knows me from my lunch serving job. He’s a big wine guy. He orders $100+ bottles. Last night he brought two of his own ($25 corkage fee), and they were both $100+ retail. Restaurant prices would be around double that.

An interesting thing happened on a previous visit. Carney’s was running a Special that was a 26 oz. lobster tail with a 16 oz. rib eye, with vegetable and starch, as a dinner for two. The price is $140 total. (Side note: In fine dining, ‘Specials’ are not specially-priced. They are special items that are not on the menu. Some diners used to low-scale restaurants – Blue Plate Specials – expect price breaks.)

The Zoloffs ordered the special. They had an expensive wine. We had marvelous conversation. They enjoyed themselves, left in a good mood, and tipped me more than 20%.

The next day, however, Mrs. Zoloff called Carney, the owner, and complained about the price of the Big Lobster special. She was irked that I hadn’t told her the cost before they ordered it.

(Side note: I do not mention the prices of specials unless asked or unless I deem the guests clearly would have an issue with the high price. I opt to very graphically describe the dish, so it should be quite obvious that this special is not just a regular old entree. Incidentally, on a pure ounce-for-ounce basis, the specials at Carney’s actually do offer a price break. However, the portions are much larger, so the final cost will be more than average.)

Well, Carney adequately defended my actions and the pricing of the meal and more or less defused the situation without capitulating with an offer of a free dinner or something else.

So interestingly, last night, the Zoloff’s ordered the damn Big Lobster special! A little strange that she would call to complain about the price, and then the next time, knowing the price would order it anyway. People can be strange.

Last night was a really fine night for me. I personally brought in $340 to the tip pool; my guests were really great and fun; and I got to leave early.

Another server, Dory, had a jackass though. Part of a 4-top with his wife and her parents (aged somewhere in their 70s), the folks were buying dinner. Jackass wanted to act the big shot by buying the wine. So he caught Dory in the hallway, ordered a $45 bottle of wine and gave her his credit card. He drew a line through the tip field and totalled out $45.

Enough already to make him a jackass. But then he came back to the table and started crowing about what a great bottle of wine he bought them, and how it was the least he could do. Well he was right on that count.

Finally, it turns out it’s Jackass’s birthday. Dory brings out free cake with a candle in it. And Jackass demands that she sing to him.

Dory just looked at him, smiled,  said, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and walked away.

We also had a little fun with Frank, the bartender. Mojitos are a great drink, but they’re pretty labor-intensive. You have to muddle sugar cubes, mint and limes, then shake it all up with the rum, top with soda and garnish with mint. Sounds fast there, but it’s not like pouring a gin and tonic.

Frank hates making these kinds of drinks, so sometimes we try to sell a lot of them to our tables, just to torture him. Last night was a great one for mojitos. I sold one, another table saw it and ordered one. Then the first table had another. Then someone else at that table switched to a mojito too. I came back five separate times with mojito orders.

“The funny thing is, I’m not even selling ’em,” I said to Frank. “I overheard one table saying she read about how great the mojitos were here in a review in the paper. She said it was true, she’s telling all her friends about it, too.”

I laid it on as thick as I could. I got Kim, the other server, to sell one and parrot the same story. We started laughing about adding it to the sign out front: “Carney’s Corner – Steaks, Seafood, Mojitos.”

Frank is pretty much a jerk. He loves to belittle people but he just cannot take a joke on himself. He was seething – so much so that he wouldn’t even complain like usual. Instead he maintained that he didn’t care at all. But I noticed that instead of his usual prompt service, after the fourth mojito, he really took his time making it.

But us three waiters were loving the hell out of it.

These are some of the ways we amuse ourselves.