Sunday, July 31, 2005

Valerie Gets Canned- Part II

-Preface-

When we left off, Valerie was scrubbing floors. The corporate office sacked the regional manager. I am at school in Jersey while my girlfriend is working at The Restaurant. She calls me with regular updates. I'm nervous, as I wrote an email that laid out all the problems that Valerie is causing. She hasn't been fired, and I'm wondering if I've been laid out to dry.

-Valerie Gets Canned, Part II-

I'm in my dorm writing a paper for one of my Anthropology classes. It's a five-pager. In high school, a five-page paper is intimidating. Now it's a breeze. I've been writing for an hour and I already have seven pages. I just have to pare down the flowery language and I'm good to go. There's a party tonight that I don't want to miss.

The phone rings. It's my girl. She's calling from The Restaurant.

"She's still here." She's whispering. She must be on her cell phone in the back.

"Is she still washing the walls?" I love the mental picture of Valerie on her knees with a bucket of soap and a sponge, Cinderella-style.

"No... the new regional made her clean out the entire dry storage. She's still in there. This place reeks like bleach!"

"How's the new regional treating everyone?"

"She's strict, but she loves me... I think she might be a lesbo. She made me unbutton a few buttons on my shirt. My boobs are almost hanging out." I like this new regional manager already.

"Oh, yeah? How are the tips today?"

"Actually, really good." No surprise there. How you look can effect your tip, regardless of your skills as a server. (More on this in another post)

"Nice. People are pigs. Hey, I have to finish this paper, then I'm going to go out. Ice block party tonight. You working tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

"OK. Can you call me if anything else happens?"

"Sure... by the way, what's an ice block party?"

"We got a 300 lb. block of ice. We set it up on a stand and use an iron to melt grooves in it. Whoever wants a shot stands at the bottom with their mouth on the end of the groove. We pour in the booze from the top, and by the time it gets to the bottom, it's ice cold."

"Sounds like fun! Wish I could be there..." I can hear her pouting. Truth of the matter is, I wish she could be here too. When you're at school, you forget what it feels like to get a hug from a loved one.

"I know, baby. I wish you could be here, too. Give me a call tomorrow, ok?"

"Will do. I better get back..." Click.

OK, back to the paper. I hate Foucalt....

---

The phone is ringing. So is my head. Jaeger is the devil, especially when it's being poured down an icy chute. I grope for the phone in the dark.

"Hello?" My eyes are still closed. A little monkey is playing conga drums in my skull. Every time I move, he playes louder. I try to stay still.

"You sound like shit." Is that a hint of glee I hear?

"Thanks. What time is it?"

"Eleven your time." I've been asleep for five hours. Super.

"What's going on?"

"I just got here. She's still here, but now they have her cleaning the ceiling tiles. The reason I called is that there are two people from corporate here." Forgetting my headache, I shoot out of bed onto my feet.

"You think they're going to fire her today?" I pace nervously while my mind races. Is this it? Will they finally get rid of her? Who will the be the new GM? Man, my hardwood floor sure is dirty. Where are my shower slippers? Shit, she's talking again.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"I said 'I don't think so.' They wouldn't make her keep cleaning if they were going to fire her, right?"

"Honestly, I don't know. I'm going to be in my room all day. Call me if something changes."

I hang up the phone. I wonder out of my bedroom into the common room. The light streaming through our lone window hurts my eyes.

My roommate is gently shooing out some girl he picked up last night. She leaves reluctantly. Time for her to embark on the Walk of Shame.

He looks like hell. I figure I probably look just as bad. We look at each other. Without saying a word, we turn and head back to our beds.

---

I'm finally able to get out of bed around 2. My roommate and I head out for lunch at Hoagie Haven, home of the greatest cheese steaks on Earth. We need grease if we're going to rebound for another party tonight. I love college.

When we get back about an hour later, the red light on the phone is blinking. There is a message. My roommate checks first.

"Must be you. My voicemail is empty." He tosses me the handset, plops on the couch, and flicks on the TV. He finds an NCAA basketball game and zones in.

I check my voicemail. Four messages. The first is from my parents. Just checking in. The next three are from my girlfriend.

"Call me back!"
"Where are you? You better not be sleeping! Call me back!"
"I can't believe I can't get a hold of you! You said you'd be in your room all day. Call me back!"

Weird. She's not the type to call and leave a bunch of messages. Hmmm... I pick up the handset and call The Restaurant.

"Thank you for calling The Restaurant, this is Rena speaking, how can I help you?"

"Rena, it's me. Is the woman around?"

"I was wondering when you were going to call. You ain't gonna believe this shit! Here she is."

"Hello? They did it! They canned her ass! HA!" She's screaming into the receiver. My mind goes numb. I recover quickly and start dancing a little jig, laughing hysterically. My roommate watches me with mild interest.

"Tell me everything!"

She launches into the story.

Valerie has been cleaning the place from bottom to top. She was washing the ceiling tiles, but when she got to the final tile, the corporate G-Men stopped her. They lead her over to one of the tables. Nobody can hear anything until Valerie stands up and starts screaming, "This bullshit! You can't fire me! I managing partner!"

Valerie invested some money into the franchise a while back. She gets a percentage of the store's profits.

Apparently, The G-Men anticipated this. They open a briefcase, write her a check, hand it to her, and point her towards the door. She's screaming as she's leaving.

"You can't do this! This bullshit! I sue your asses!"

As she's leaving, still raving, a man walks in. He's about 6'4'', and he looks a bit nervous. The G-Men speak to him for a moment. They then ask the staff to gather in the back.

Once everyone is there, the G-men introduce the tall man as the new general manager, Randy. Then one of the G-men explained what happened.

"The corporate office felt it may be time for a change for this store. When we arrived a few days ago, we realized that The Restaurant was in a lot worse of shape than we anticipated. In fact, it was rotten to the core. We made Valerie clean up her own mess, as you may have noticed. However, we left one ceiling tile untouched." He points to the uncleaned ceiling tile. It's yellow, on the verge of brown. The contrast with the gleaming white ceiling tiles is astonishing. "Every time you look at that tile, I want you all to think about what each of you can do to prevent the same sort of thing from happening."

The G-men pack up their stuff an leave.

In the coming weeks, Valerie's absence was easily noticable. From the associates (servers, bartenders, cooks, busboys, hosts) a mild euphoria permeated The Restaurant. From the managers, astonishment and disgust. Valerie had been doctoring her cost numbers for months. Food cost jumped four points, beverage cost jumped 2. For those of you counting at home, that adds up to about $4,500 in missing food and liquor.

And from me? Well, I'm just amazed at the power of one well-written email.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Valerie Gets Canned- Part I

-Preface-

This is a longer story, so I'm breaking it into two parts. The first will deal with the events leading up to Valerie's firing. The second will deal with the day prior to and the day of her termination.

-A Description of Valerie-

Look in past posts, including The Captain and Valerie, Ranch Dressing, and a Birthday.

-Valerie Gets Canned, Part I-

As you've seen in posts past, Valerie is a tough cookie. By "tough cookie", I really mean "a cold, selfish, unsympathetic, heartless, Napoleonic (Bonaparte, not Dynamite) little wench." The servers hate working with her. She cares little for anything but herself and her bottom line.

Here are some brief examples that reveal the true character of Valerie:

-A server home from school works a six-hour shift. She heads to the back, where she sits outside the office, separating her checks into cash, credit, and other (coupons, comps, etc.).

Tomorrow morning she leaves for Purdue to buy books. She has managed to scrape together $60 on a slow shift, just enough to afford her Econ book. She's hustled on her feet all day. I can tell she's dead tired. She goes into the office to check out with Valerie.

There's a problem. She can't find one of the $2 off coupons. Valerie can let this slide. She doesn't. The server slams her book down on the desk and storms out of the office, heading to the back door. Soon she is knee-deep in the dumpster, looking for the coupon. By some amazing stroke of luck, she finds the coupon. She returns to the office, stinky and bitter. It gets worse.

She counts down her money. She now only has $40. She has to borrow money to get her books.

I can't prove that Valerie took it, but here are several facts that make a good case.

First, the server's book, which included her money, her checks, and her coupons, remained in the office the entire time she was digging through the dumpster. Valerie was the only person in the office.

Second, another server spotted a Jackson stuffed in between two envelopes. She said something to Valerie, who immediately responded, "It fell out of petty cash." Petty cash is kept in the safe, which is on the floor. The lockbox weighs fifty pounds. When the managers take it out of the safe, they just put it on the floor. I find it hard to believe that a twenty fell out of the lockbox, caught an updraft, floated around the office like a feather in the wind, and then slid between two envelopes.

-Valerie counts down my bar drawer. She says it is $20 short. I have to pay it or I get written up. I pay it. I hate getting disciplined for anything. I never got a detention all through school.

Looking at my sales vs. my total tips, I see that I averaged less than 15% for the first time in my serving career. I normally average over 20%. Hmm....

-Less than a week later, she tries the same trick with another bartender. This bartender fights back.

"I counted the drawer before I gave it to you. The money was there, Valerie! Where the hell is it now? You better it soon, and don't try to pull this shit on me again, you hear me?!!" Saucy little bartender, isn't she?

Miraculously, Valerie finds the missing money. Hmm...

Events like these have the staff on the edge of mutiny. People are constantly grumbling, and the staff is getting snippy. We're sick of being verbally and emotionally abused by Valerietnam.

We try to talk to the regional manager. Unfortunately, Valerie is his protege. He hired her as a pantry girl and then brought her up through the ranks, all the way to GM. In his eyes, she can do no wrong. No help is coming from that corner.

Eventually, one of the older bartenders decides to take action. She writes a letter to the corporate office.

Copies of this letter circulate among the staff. As the resident academic, I am one of the first to get a copy. Hiding it in my server book, I read it during a slow lunch shift. I'm pretending to be studying a description of the new chicken and pasta dish. Cloak and dagger all the way, baby.

The letter starts off, "I am a server, a bartender, a cook, a busboy..." and ends with, "It is my firm belief that Valerie's employment with your establishment should be terminated forthwith." In between lay a poorly-written mess of lofty ideals and baseless accusations. The bartender is very proud of her work. I don't have the heart to tell her that the corporate office is more likely to correct it in red ink and send it back rather than take action.

However, the bartender does have some solid evidence. There are photocopies of checks that Valerie adjusted after close. No check should ever be adjusted after The Restaurant's business hours.

The Administrative Assistant deals with all adjusted checks. Apparrently, she started making photocopies of these suspicious checks months ago.

This was Valerie's scam...

She waits until after close. She re-opens checks paid in cash. She comps all the food, pockets the cash, and thinks no one is the wiser. Nobody knows how long she's been doing this.

Just as I predicted, the letter doesn't get a response. In all honesty, I don't see how anyone at the corporate office could respond. The bartender didn't leave a return address or a name. They couldn't call us up and say, "Hello, I'd like to speak to a server, a bartender, a busboy..."

Luckily, I head back to school. I don't want to deal with the political b.s. and all the bitching that goes with it. It makes me cranky.

Every day while I'm away at school, I talk (long-distance) to my girlfriend, who works as a bartender at The Restaurant. Remember the bartender who wouldn't let Valerie scam her? That's my girl. She bitches constantly about Valerie and her surrounding managerial staff. I can tell she's miserable.

Finally, after talking to her until 3 a.m. on a Sunday, I decide to take action. I go on the company website, click on the "comments" link, and go to town. My email letter is short, pointed, and biting. I lay out all I know. The stealing, the attitude, the Regional Manager's lack of action, everything.

At the end, I don't leave my name. If this thing doesn't go well, I don't want to be singled out and screwed over. I leave my school phone number and an offer to talk anytime.

I finish up at 5 am and go to sleep. I drift off wondering if they'll even bother getting back to me, let alone take action...

Ring.... Ring...

What the hell?! I roll over and look at the clock. 8:15. What soulless bastard would call me at 8:15 on a Monday, especially since I don't have class until noon?

"Myelllo...?" I'm groggy as hell. I've only gotten three hours of sleep.

"Hi! My name is (Name Erased to Protect the Innocent), and I'm a Vice President at the corporate office. Are you the one who wrote that email comment this morning?" The voice is chipper. Way too damn chipper for a Monday morning. The man has a slight southern-sounding twang to his voice. Having lived in Texas, I know Southern...and this isn't a Southern accent. I'm guessing Indiana or Ohio farm boy.

"Yes, yes I am. Wow, that was fast!" Now I'm wide awake and excited as heck.

"Well, we've been looking at this situation for a while. We even got a letter a while back, but we couldn't really make heads or tails of it. That wasn't you, was it?"

"Nah, but I read it."

"OK, good. Hey, um, can I ask you... are you still employed with us?" He wants to know if I'm a bitter ex-server out to get the GM who screwed me. Fair enough.

"Yes I am. I'm at school, but I work during the summer and holidays."

"Well then, tell me everything you can about what's going on out there."

I talk to him for an hour. He never rushes me while I speak. He asks good follow-up questions. He even asks for my girlfriend's phone number so he could follow up with her.

His final remark is, "Thank you for your help. Rest assured, we'll take care of the situation." I will always hold respect for this gentleman. His word is as good as gold.

Later that afternoon, I get a call from my fired-up girlfriend. She's at work and she's practically screaming. They fired the regional manager that wouldn't listen to us about Valerie. She said two men in suits breezed through the doors, found the regional (who happened to be at our store at the time), sat him down, and then escorted him to the door.

The new regional manager came in one hour later. Apparrently, she blew in like a hurricane. She immediately sought out Valerie and reamed her over the state of the restaurant.

"Oh. Is she making you guys clean everything in sight?" Now I feel like an asshole.

"No! Not us... Valerie! She's down on her knees scrubbing the walls in the back. I don't know what you did, but it worked! Love you!" She gives a little squeel and hangs up.

I'm stunned. Great, they got rid of one of the problems (the regional was a prick), but what about Valerie? I mean, I'm all about having her wash some walls, but will she still be boss when I go back? Will she know that I caused her all this grief? Will she take it out on me?

to be continued...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Taking requests...

I am debating which story to write next. Here are some upcoming titles...

-Valerie Gets Canned

-The Penguin Slips (new server character, involves The Actor)

-Soldato's Last Stand

-The Server Plays Boss

-The Repo Men

I'm taking votes... feel free to chime in and let me know if you have a preference. I'll start writing on Monday evening, and hopefully I'll be done by Tuesday.

Oh, and if you have been waiting patiently for the newest story, scroll down a bit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hash Brownies on a Sunday

-Preface-

A lot of servers abuse a substance or two. I'd estimate that 80% smoke., 99% drink heavily, and 60% smoke pot. This story involves the (ab)use of marijuana. In this case, the servers eat a "bud brownie". For more information, go here.

-A Description of The Animated Server and The Hippie-

The Animated Server is in her mid-20's. She stands around 5'5'' and is a bit overweight. She has dirty blonde hair that hangs 3/4 of the way down her back. The Animated Server tends to get flustered easily. It's hilarious to behold. Her voice gets loud, and she flails her arms, which can be dangerous in the close quarters of the kitchen.

The Hippie is in her early 20's. She is about 5'4" and incredibly skinny. Recovering-anorexic skinny, in fact. She has long, super-straight brown hair that falls past her ass. She also has big blue eyes that take in the wonders of the world with a dazed expression. I call her The Hippie for two reasons. One, she gives off a faint odor of pachouli. Two, she appears to suffer permanently from the effects of marijuana. Case in point... a table visiting from Scotland ordered 10 of our desserts to go. Unfortunately, we did not have enough cheesecake to sell to them. We were debating how to best handle the situation when The Hippie chimes in, "Just tell them 'G'day mate!'" in her sing-song voice. She was dead serious.

-Hash Brownies on a Sunday-

It's the calm before the storm on a Sunday night. Sunday nights are hit or miss at The Restaurant.

Servers either come prepared for a busy night or mope in expecting to walk through a ghost town. In either case, the results are entertaining.

On a slow night, the servers who came prepared need to find outlets for their pent up energy. Practical jokes abound.

On a busy night, the servers who came in expecting little business fall behind and rarely catch up. This is always fun to watch.

I should mention that we have a magician on retainer for Sunday nights. He comes in from 6-8. Lately, during that time period, The Restaurant has been filled with children. The magician does card tricks, makes balloon animals, and has a short stand-up routine that he repeats at least 20 times every week. Makes for a festive atmosphere.

I'm standing at the bar talking to the magician while he eats his salmon. He's one of the first people I've met that's following this new diet that allows you to eat anything you want, as long as it isn't bread or pasta. Sounds hokey to me, but he swears by it.

Engrossed in a conversation about "carbs" and calories, I almost didn't notice The Animated Server and The Hippie. They are huddled in a corner of the waiting area, whispering excitedly in hushed tones. My curiosity piqued, I decide to investigate.

"What's up, ladies?" I plunk down beside The Animated Server.

She looks around furtively. "Can you keep a secret?"

Probably not but, "Sure. What's going on?"

"The Hippie made a bunch of hash brownies. We just ate one each." She giggles like a schoolgirl.

"You did what?!! What if we get busy?" I know some servers, including The Hippie, can work high as a kite. I also know that marijuana that has been baked is more potent than marijuana that is smoked. (I did a 30-page research paper on marijuana my junior year of college. Seriously. It took me two months. Bane of my existence.)

"Relax, man. I work like this all the time. It's not even going to be busy tonight." The Hippie looks around, bored, as she licks her fingers. Now I know they're screwed.

I'm not overly superstitious, but when it comes to The Restaurant, I've come to realize that there is one absolute. If someone says it's going to be busy, it's slow. If someone says it's going to be slow, it's a mad house.

No sooner have those words left her mouth when a party of 10 walks in the door. Here we go...

Half an hour later I'm struggling to stay out of the weeds. The 10-top is demanding, and there are four "chuggers" at the table. I'm sweating bullets.

Flying into the sidestation to refill another pitcher of iced tea, I see The Animated server staring at the computer. She's idly tapping her pen on top of the monitor. Her eyes are getting red, and she seems to be looking through the computer. Oh shit.

"Hey! You OK?" She jumps a little.

"Yeah. Brownie is kicking in. I'll be fine." She turns back to the screen, types in her order, and disappears around the corner. I follow her out, dodging children running amok in the aisles.

I refill the 10-top's drinks and head back to the sidestation to catch my breath. I peak around the corner to check on The Animated Server. She's taking an entree order from a duece sitting in a booth less than ten feet from my vantage point. I want to hear how well she's holding it together.

"What can I get for you folks tonight?" The woman on the left orders a grilled chicken sandwich. She turns to the man on the right. So far, so good.

"And for you, sir?" He orders a burger. Rare. Brave man. Uh oh... why is she turning back to the woman?

"And for you ma'am?" The woman looks confused for a moment.

"You, uh, already took my order?" It sounds like a question. Another time, this would be comical. But there's an hour wait at the door and all the servers are hustling. I know we'll be in it deep if a server wigs out.

Now it's The Animated Server's turn to look confused. She looks at the woman for a moment, then looks down at her pad.

"Oh, of course. I... meant to ask if fries were ok?" Not a bad recovery. The woman seems satisfied. The Animated Server walks back to the sidestation.

"Are you going to make it?" I will kill her if she says 'no'.

"I'll be fine. Just don't talk to me!" She's sweating and her eyes are completely bloodshot.

"You sure as hell don't look fine! No bullshit. Can you make it?" I have to know if I need to be ready to take over her section.

"YES! Now go away, you're bothering me." That's good enough for me.

I relax a bit. If The Animated Server is ok, then The Hippie (who works high 'all the time') must be ok, right?

I head to a new table in my section. I fly through my spiel, take down their drink order, and head to the nearest computer. On my way there, one of The Hippie's customers grabs me.

"Excuse me, could I please have another lemonade?" He's friendly, so I don't shoot him a nasty look for tugging on my sleeve.

"Of course, sir. I'll be right back with that."

I scan the restaurant, looking for The Hippie. She's MIA. The other tables in her section are beginning to look around. They are mildly curious as to the whereabouts of their server. They aren't pissed... yet.

I can tell she's been gone for about ten minutes. Drinks need to be refilled, plates need to be cleared. It's not a serious situation, but it will be if I don't find her soon. I have to find her, now.

I run into Rena. She's on her way out of the kitchen, arms loaded with steaming dishes.

"Have you seen The Hippie?"

She turns her head and answers without slowing. "Not for a while."

Oh boy. I make a quick round, asking everyone if they've seen The Hippie. No one has seen her for at least fifteen minutes. I search high and low to no avail. Time for a decision.

Should I find a manager? If I do, will The Hippie get canned? Yes, and yes....

Can I take The Hippie's Section by myself? Heck no...

I know The Hippie struggles to make rent every month. I also know that my tip percentage has been declining steadily since I began my search. I don't want to get her in trouble, yet I'm pissed. Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?

Luckily, Rena provides a solution.

"Did you find The Hippie? If you see her, tell her I printed a check for 121." She turns to go.

"Wait! You know her number?" All servers are assigned a number. This number allows us to clock in, open checks, close checks, run credit cards, etc. If we have her number, we can finish off her tables...

"Yeah... it's Four Twenty." Rena giggles at this. Apparently in the pot culture, 4:20 has some sort of significance. How fitting.

"Great. She's gone. Can't find her anywhere. We have to take her section. You take 121 and 122. I'll take 131 and 132. Finish these tables with her number, then everything from then on is yours. Cool?" Rena agrees and we're off to the races.

An hour and a half later, the rush eases. The servers are seated at a table in the back, rolling silverware.

The Animated Server made it through the shift, performing like a champ. She is now enjoying her buzz, laughing easily while stacking neatly rolled spheres of knives, forks, and napkins in a growing mountain on the table.

The group is in good spirits. We faced a minor crisis, but with a little hard work and teamwork, we came out ahead.

We don't know where The Hippie is, but she better show up soon. She has to cash out.

Up until now, the manager on duty hasn't noticed her dissappearance. This won't last forever. (This may seem odd to anyone who hasn't worked in the industry, so I'll explain. Some managers in chain restaurants are the type of people who have difficulty finding clothes that match. This particular manager has difficulty tying his shoes. I'm guessing that he probably employs the "bunny ears" method. In other words, the man isn't too bright. The idea that someone has enough confidence in this person to let them run an entire restaurant is, at best, laughable.)

For the second time, lady luck swoops in to save the day. A customer approaches our group.

"Excuse me? My mother needs to use the handicapped stall in the ladies room, but it's been occupied for quite some time... could one of you check and see if everything is OK?"

All of the female servers book to the bathroom, startling a nearby table. Thirty seconds later, they are pulling a scared-looking Hippie out of the restroom.

"What they hell happened?" Everyone wants to know.

The Hippie looks around. "I tweaked out, man. I locked myself in. I couldn't handle it anymore."

She looks at me. "They told me you helped. Thank you."

Not wanting to lecture her, I respond, "No problem. You OK?"

"Yeah, but I'm gonna need to smoke a fatty to calm down after this." She shakes her head slowly before taking her book and her closed checks to the back to cash out.


If any of you readers ever wonder, "What happened to my server? I haven't seen him/her in like fifteen minutes!" Well... now you know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Scammer Series #2

-Preface-

For some reason, this Scammer made me feel sick to my stomach.


-The Lowest Scammer-

I'm bored. It's 12:30 on a weekday in September, our slowest month, and I have three tables. Mama said there'd be days like this.

I'm looking for a crossword puzzle in the paper when a mother and her daughter walk through the door. The mother is in her late 30's and the daughter looks to be about 9 or 10. They're both wearing shirts with a large cat face spread across the front. Animal shirts are usually a sure sign of a poor tipper. But since I'm desperate for cash, I decide I may as well take another table.

"Hi folks! How are you doing today?" I place bev naps on the table and plow through my spiel. It's automatic. I wonder if I could serve while sleepwalking?

"We'll each have water with lemon. Oh, and it's her birthday!" I briefly entertain the thought of trying to push a milk shake on them. I change my mind. The girl is a bit hefty, and she's going to be heading to junior high soon. Middle school kids are brutal.

"Of course, ma'am. I'll bring out a complimentary sundae at the end of your meal. Would you like us to sing for you?" I hate singing. I sound like a combination of Biz Markie and a bassett hound. Maybe today I'll get lucky.... Nope. The chubby little girl is nodding and smiling. Bummer.

I go to the back to punch in their order. I start rounding up servers and letting them know that I have a birthday and we'll need to sing. I get the usual responses.

"Damnit!"

"I'm too busy!"

"I don't sing."

"Fuck you!" (This from Soldato and Amy in tandem)

Oh well. I know when it's crunch time, they'll be there. For the next twenty minutes, I go about my merry little way. It's so slow, I have to force myself to stay away from tables. I have a tendency to check back way too often when it's a dead shift.

Finally, it's time to sing.

I must reiterate how much I hate singing. It embarrasses the birthday boy/girl, it embarrasses the servers, and it annoys the other customers in the restaurant. In fact, the only people that seem to enjoy the singing are the other people at the table.

Also, our restaurant doesn't have a fast, snappy version of "Happy Birthday to You!" Couple this with the fact that most servers hate to sing, and you've got a Happy Birthday song that sounds like a funeral dirge.

The servers gather in the back. We start clapping. I light a candle and stuff it in the ice cream. We march out to the table.

We sing. It's horrible, as usual. The customer seems to love it. Yay!

I bring them their check. Total bill: $13.95. Their tip: $1.50. I love animal shirts...

(Fast Forward to two weeks later)

It's still September, and it's still slow. I have one table. I'm doing the crossword puzzle in the back. A three-letter word for sheep. Hmm... ram or ewe, ram or ewe...

Rena bounces into the kitchen.

"Birthday, everyone!" She's way to cheery.

We all gather, clap, and head to the table.

I'm stunned. Sitting there, clapping and happy as can be, is the same little chubby girl, wearing the same shirt with the cat's face. We finish singing and go about our business.

I pull Soldato aside.

"That girl we just sang to... she was here last week! We sang for her then, too!"

"You're kidding me." Soldato shakes his head. "People never cease to amaze me."

He walks away.

I'm disgusted. What is this mother teaching her child? Instead of her birthday being a special day, it is best used to exploit restaurants for free desserts? That her birthday is trivial compared to saving 99 cents?!

I've seen this cat face shirt-clad duo several times since. They've gotten a free sundae each time. I've never said anything to anyone (except Soldato). I don't know why.

Scammers are low people, but some are just sick.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Valerie's Food Cost

-Preface-

When running a corporate restaurant, there are only a few quantifiable ways to chart a GM's progress. You can check sales for any given month vs. the sales for the same month last year or the year before. You can check secret shopper scores. (I will describe, in detail, my loathing for shoppers in an upcoming post.) However, the main number that the corporate G-men watch are costs. Food costs and liquor costs, to be specific.

It's a bit complicated to explain, but measuring food or liquor cost involves checking the amount of product sold vs. the amount of product used. These are twisted around mathematically until you reach a number. This number is referred to as your "food cost". It's measured in percentage points. The way The Restaurant calculates food cost means that each point equates to about $500 of waste.

After inventory, you can check food cost for any number of items, from checking the entire restaurant's stock of food used in the last year down to the number of croutons used in the last week.

The corporate office sets goals for every store. If your store doesn't meet those goals, the RM will come down hard on the GM, who will come down hard on the servers. It must be our fault that food cost is so high...

-A Description of Valerie-

See Valerie, Ranch Dressing, and a Birthday

-Valerie's Food Cost-

It's a Saturday morning in the middle of winter. It's freezing outside. It's also snowing. I don't mind a little snow. However, after the first two or three snowfalls, I'm sick of the gray sludge that builds up on the side of the road. The grayness is depressing. I'm ready for summer.

Walking through the front doors, I see Valerie speaking to the servers during our shift meeting. She's wearing a beige peacoat over a gray sweatshirt. Classy. She's also incredibly animated. She keeps thrusting her arm towards the kitchen. For some reason, I think of the old black and white news reels of Hitler addressing Germany.

Shaking my head in an attempt to clear the image from my mind, I sit down in one of the bar booths next to Soldato. His eyes are closed. I prod him and ask what Valerie is yapping about.

He opens one eye. "Cheese," is his simple, hushed answer. I give him a strange look. He smiles and shrugs. His eye closes again. He doesn't even bother to listen to Valerie any more. She's still droning away.

"What the hell do you mean, cheese?" I'm talking out of the side of my mouth in a whisper. Not quietly enough, apparently.

"What you two talking about? I'm glad you decide to show up (I'm five minutes early, actually). Food cost is too high. You need to stop putting so much cheese on the salads. Food cost up 2 points." Valerie manages to be accusatory, demeaning, and stupid all in one breath.

I feel like I'm in 8th grade and I just got caught passing a "check yes or no if you like so-and-so" note. I'm too old for this crap. I'm hungover, the weather is crappy, and I'm in a foul mood. Plus, I don't see how we could have wasted $1,000 worth of cheese in one month by overportioning cheese on salads.

"Valerie, that's ridiculous! Do you know how much cheese we'd need to mound on every salad to screw up the cost so badly?"

I take pride in my work. Since I'm hungover, all mole hills quickly become mountains. Add these two factors together, and I'm steaming.

Valerie must sense my anger. She doesn't yell back at me, nor does she have me lashed for speaking out of turn or insubordination. Instead she answers calmly.

"If you add a little cheese onto each salad, it soon become a lot of cheese. Cheese expensive. Food cost up, Jon (our RM) pissed. Put only a little cheese on salad."

While I agree with this assessment, I still think it's impossible to increase food cost by two points for over portioning cheese. For some reason, I can't let this go. Fortunately, a customer walks in and the shift meeting has to break up.

Soon all the servers are flying around. Dishes are clattering, people are chatting, and The Restaurant is hopping.

I see Soldato coming out of the kitchen. He's got two salads. Each one has five pieces of shredded cheese. The correct portion is one ounce per salad. This is about 25 shreds of cheese. The way these salads were made, it looks as though we're trying to skimp.

"What the hell is that?" I ask Soldato.

"The, uh, Cheese Nazi back there thinks that this is how a salad should look." He holds the bowl up for my inspection. He continues on and places the bowls in front of the customers.

I head to the back. Sure enough, Valerie is watching over the expo line like a prison warden watching inmates on work detail.

"That too much! Take some off! Take off more! Good, now go!" I shake my head and start getting together my food.

Soldato walks back through the door. He's holding a salad.

"Valerie, my customer wants more cheese on his salad." He goes to grab the tongs. Valerie slaps his hand.

"They want more, they pay extra. Ring in 25 cents, open food." Leave it to Valerie. She doesn't care that the customers won't come back. She doesn't mind saving nickels to lose dollars.

The whole shift continues in this fashion. Valerie never leaves her post by the expo line. Finally, I get to cash out and go home for a break before I come back for my night shift.

A quick nap and a short car drive later and I'm back at the doors of The Restaurant. As I'm going in, I see Soldato at the entrance to the kitchen. His jaw is agape. I run up to see what's going on.

"Can you believe this shit?" Now Soldato is talking out of the side of his mouth.

"What is it?" I stop next to him. For the first time, I can see what he's looking at.

Valerie has her hands full with a package of tortillas, a one-pound box of ground beef, a gallon of sour cream, and a gallon of guacamole. She's wearing her coat, scarf, and gloves. She's leaving.

She walks by Soldato and me.

"Valerie, what's wrong with all that stuff?" She stops and looks at me. She has to crane her neck around the gallon jug of sour cream.

"Nothing. It's Taco Night." She turns and walks out the door. With about half a point of food cost in her arms.

I wonder if Taco Night is a weekly event?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

New Post Coming Tomorrow

Hi All-

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I've had to pick up some extra shifts at The Bar, so I've been too busy to write. I have a good post coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Scammers

-Preface-

This story is a little different. Scammers are a big issue at The Restaurant. The Restaurant must adhere to strict corporate guidelines when dealing with complaints.

Basically, once a customer complains, they are going to receive something for free. This is a good strategy in most cases. Bend over backwards for them and customers will come back and give your restaurant another chance.

However, when you have folks that are less-than-completely-honest, this strategy will backfire. They will take advantage of you. Instead of bending over backwards for the customer, you are bending over and taking it from the customer.

This post is going to be the first in a small collection of short stories about some of the Scammers that have come into The Restaurant. Don't worry if Scammers don't interest you. There will be other stories in between the Scammer Series.

-A Description of Scammers-

There is no clear-cut description of a Scammer. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, financial backgrounds, etc.

-The 75% Scammer-

(I have waited on the 75% Scammer twice. She has come into The Restaurant quite a few times since.)

It is the middle of the lunch rush. The hostess seats me with a two-top. A well-dressed couple in their early-to-mid 40's, dressed stylishly. I move in quickly. Rich folks are demanding, but they also have a lot of money. I just want a small piece.

"Hi folks, welcome to The Restaurant. I will be your server today. May I start you off with something to drink?"

The woman answers, yet she doesn't look at me. I don't like her already. At least have the courtesy to make eye contact when someone talks to you. Didn't her mother teach her that?

"I'll have an iced tea, and he'll have a Diet Cola. Make sure it's diet." She speaks in a clipped tone with a staccato rhythm.

Now I like her even less. First, I don't like the way she's treated me. I know the difference between regular and diet cola. I can read. I have dissected Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Homer. Noticing whether there is a "diet" on the nameplate of the soda fountain is not an issue.

Second, I don't like the way she treats her spouse. Her husband is sitting motionless, trying to hide behind his menu. She obviously wears the pants in the relationship. I don't like it when anyone "wears the pants." My firm belief is that all relationships should be an equal partnership that involves give and take from both parties. I hate it when one partner rules the other.

"Right away ma'am." I hustle away and grab their drinks. I give brief thought to bringing them a hot tea and a club soda, but think better of it. I'm busy, and I don't have time to deal with a customer complaint.

Returning with their drinks, I take their order. Again, she speaks for her man. I briefly entertain the thought that he is mute. However, when he hands back the menu, he says, "Thank you." Looking in his eyes, I see a defeated man, beaten down by years spent with this horrible woman. I am sympathetic.

I punch in their order and go about my business. Ten minutes later, their food is ready. I bring their dishes and they dig in. Two minutes later, I check to see that all is well..

"How is everything, folks?"

They both nod. Sweet.

About twenty minutes later, I go back to clear their plates.

"How was everything, folks?" This is an automatic question. Usually, it's met with either silence, nods, "fine", or "excellent". I am not prepared for this response.

"You know, I didn't really like it." The woman looks at me for the first time. I look at her plate. She has eaten 75% of a rather large dish. Not wanting to pull a Judge Reinhold in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (100% guaranteed breakfast), I grab Valerie.

Cheap as Valerie is, she's powerless when a customer complains. She visits the table before telling me to comp the bill.

"The entire bill?!" I am incredulous. The woman eats almost all of her meal, the husband ate all of his meal, and they aren't going to have to pay a single cent.

"Yes. She say the food awful and you not check on them." Valerie is pissed.

"Valerie, how long have I worked here? Do you really think I didn't do a check back?" I'm even more pissed.

"I know. I think she full of shit." Valerie adjusts the check.

I return to the table to let them know that their bill is taken care of. The woman smiles.

"Harold, take our coats. We're leaving." She throws him her full-length leather coat. They leave the restaurant, the man trailing behind the woman like a lost puppy. No tip.

Less than a week later, I have the same couple again. To my utter surprise, she orders the exact same dish. Half an hour later, I find myself in the same predicament. She has eaten 75% of her dish, and yet now she says it's awful. I'm wondering... if the food was so bad last time, why would you come back? Further, why would you come back and order the exact same dish?

I know these people are Scammers. Valerie knows these people are Scammers. Hell, I bet these people even know that they are Scammers.

But they still pay nothing for their meal.

---

-Epilogue-

Last week, I ran into one of the servers from the Restaurant. I asked about the 75% Scammers. They still come into The Restaurant about once every two weeks. They have yet to pay for a meal. The woman still orders the same dish.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Soldato's Host Shift

-A Description of Soldato-

Soldato is in his early 30's. He stands about 5'7", weighs about 190 lbs. He has a small potbelly. He has short dark hair and a goatee. His voice is raspy and deep from smoking 2 packs of Reds a day.

In Italian, "soldato" means "soldier." In this case, Soldato's name has a double meaning:

-Soldato is an Italian-American from New York City. He harbors an intense interest in the Mob lifestyle. "Soldato" is the foot soldier/enforcer position in the Mob. I think he'd be honored to have this name.

-Soldato spent time in the Army during the first Gulf War, and he has the tattoos, scars, skin condition, and stories to prove it.

Soldato is loud, obnoxious, funny, and incredibly volatile. For some reason, my presence seems to calm him, so I rarely experience the volatile side. He is one of my good friends.

He has years of experience in restaurants. His father owned a restaurant in NYC, and he's been working in a restaurant for the past 20-odd years. He knows everything from fine-dining service to what size shrimp to order for a shrimp cocktail vs. a shrimp scampi. What he's doing in The Restaurant, I have no idea. But I'm glad he's here. He keeps us entertained.


-Soldato's Host Shift-

It's a Tuesday morning in the summer. It's a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you can smell the fresh-cut grass. I know The Restaurant is going to be busy. I'm working a double, so I'll walk with a good chunk of change at the end of the day. Life is good.

I walk through the double doors and into a shit storm. Valerie is arguing with Soldato.

"Valerie, I don't want to host. I took a cab to work today, so I'm already in the hole for fifteen bucks. I need cash to get home."

"You get ride home with The Server." She noticed me walking in.

"Great, but what about tonight when I come back? Valerie, read my lips...I need cash!"

"You get cash on your shift tonight. I make sure pm manager give you good section."

"Valerie, no."

"You work host or you not work here anymore." Soldato is defeated and he knows it. It's easy to find another job waiting tables. But when cash is tight, switching restaurants can cripple you financially because of the time it takes to train. Servers need to be on the floor to make a living.

"Fine." Soldato is pissed. Valerie turns and marches towards the back. Soldato flips the bird to her departing back.

"Beautiful day, huh?" I love getting Soldato wound up. I expect him to go off on a rant. I want him to get it all out of his system before the customers arrive. Surprisingly, when he turns back to me, he's smiling.

"Stay close to the host stand. You don't wanna miss this."

Oh shit. There are millions of ways to mess with customers. I try to avoid all of them, unless the customer really deserves it. However, Soldato has no reservations about screwing with people, and he's not picky about which people he screws with.

A quick aside here: the host/ess is one of the most important spokes in the restaurant wheel. These people must be part metronome, psychic, and personality profiler. And they must maintain a cheery disposition the entire time.

Metronome- The host must seat tables at a steady rhythm. If they seat the restaurant to full capacity in too short a period of time, they are going to mess up the server's rhythm and the timing in the kitchen. If they do this early in the shift, the entire shift gets shot to hell. Instead of slow, continuous table turn-over, servers experience something more like a line-change in hockey. Full section, running around like madmen, towel off, start all over again.

Psychic- They must know when the server is ready to take another table. Servers move at different speeds. The ideal time to seat a new table lands in between dropping off drinks and taking the entree order. This is a small window of time, and only a skilled host/hostess can make this work.

Personality Profiler- The host must read the customers and place them with the correct server for their needs. If the customers seem to want to enjoy a slow lunch/dinner, then the host should seat them with a server who will best accomodate those needs. A slow, friendly, talkative server. If the people have twenty-five minutes to eat because they're catching a movie, then the host/ess should seat them with a fast server with a good knowledge of what items can be prepared quickly.

Many restaurant managers make the mistake of hiring young people that can't handle the stress of being a host. The consequences are often disastrous.

Back to Soldato.

The first table walks through the door. They're regulars. Here we go.

I feel like I'm watching a car wreck in slow motion. There is nothing I can do to stop what's going to happen, I'm horrified what the end result is going to be, yet I can't turn my eyes away.

Soldato is grinning like a fiend.

"Hi folks, welcome to The Restaurant. Three for lunch?" So far, so good. I relax a bit.

"Yes please! Outside, if there's any seating available." The Restaurant is empty. Customers are hilarious. Original too. We only hear this one fourteen times each week.

"Hahahahahahaha!" Soldato laughs for a good ten seconds, finishing with a coughing fit.

"Of course. Would you like to be on the patio or on the roof?" He says this completely deadpan. I have to stifle a laugh. Our roof is filled with heaters, air conditioners, and bird nests. No tables.

"Ummm... Uhhh..." the customers are confused. Then I see the light go on. "Oh, haha! Good one. Patio would be just fine." They are enjoying this. Good.

Soldato takes three menus. He walks the customers in a complete lap around all the tables in the restaurant before leading them outside. They laugh the entire time.

While he seats them outside, a solo diner comes in. I jump in and take him to one of the tables in the new server's section. I don't know her name. I do know that she won't last. She's been here two weeks, and she's struggling. I figure a one-person table is a good way to start her off.

As I'm heading back to the host stand, Soldato is heading towards me. He's still smiling like a lunatic. He's got three people with him. I hope he's not heading to New Server's section.

As he passes me, he winks. Oh no. He is heading to New Server's section. I turn around and watch.

He sets down one menu. One of the three peels off the group and sits down. What the hell?

There is an unwritten rule for seating customers. One table at a time. No exceptions. There is also an unwritten rule for seating servers. Don't overload a section. Some servers can handle getting double-sat (two tables at once), and a handful can even handle getting triple-sat. New Server is not one of these servers.

Soldato walks to the next table and sets down another menu. The second of the three sits. Finally, he drops off the third menu and the last remaining person sits down. All three are sitting in New Server's section. Shit. New Server has just been quadruple-sat.

I run to the back to tell her. She's just arrived, and is tying on her apron while examining her section on the floor chart.

"Hey Newbie! I'm so sorry. You just got quadruple sat."

She looks at me. "Shut up. You're joking, right?" She looks half-bemused, half-terrified.

"No joke. They're all one-tops, so try to treat them like one table. I'll talk to the host."

It looks as though New Server's brain is going to liquefy and ooze out of her ears. Not wanting to witness that, I hustle back towards the host stand. I arrive just as another table is walking in.

"Hello folks, welcome to The Restaurant. Two for lunch?" It's a 30-something woman in business attire and another woman that looks to be her mother. The business woman is talking on her cell phone.

"Yes, please. Something by a window?" The Mother is polite.

Soldato takes two menus and leads them to the waiting area. Plenty of windows there. Apparently Mother should have specified that she wanted a table by the window.

"Here you are, ma'am." Soldato sets down the two menus on the bench, right in between the gumball machine and the cigar store Indian. Mother and Daughter don't know how to react. I rush in to save the day.

"Right this way, folks." I swipe both menus off the bench. Shooting Soldato a menacing look, I lead the women to our best window table. They look confused and slightly put out.

"Please don't mind the host, folks," I say, setting down the menus. "The Restaurant is an equal-opportunity employer." I say the latter in a conspiratal tone. Their confusion is replaced by pity. They think Soldato is retarded. At this point, I agree. "Enjoy your lunch."

I return to the host stand.

"Dude, knock it off. I had to tell those people that you were retarded. You're actually acting like such an idiot that they believed me. Seriously, quit it!" I'm sort of pissed, but not really. I'm having a good time. Soldato just smiles and grabs menus for the next group of people walking in the door.

Thankfully, The Restaurant gets incredibly busy, and Soldato doesn't have time to mess with people. He's running around seating people like crazy. He actually does a really good job. The Restaurant is hopping, the servers are making bank, and New Server even manages to serve her quadruple-sat section without incident. The flow is perfect. Busy enough that nobody is bored, yet paced well so nobody gets in the weeds. Life is good.

I head back to the host stand to talk to Soldato about making first cuts. He's speaking to a young boy who looks to be about ten.

"Can you tell me where the bathroom is?" Honest question with a straightforward, easy answer. Unless Soldato is answering the question.

"Yes, sir. You just head right up that ladder there. The bathroom is up top."

Apparantly Soldato isn't done for the day yet. The ladder he is referring to is located near one of the side stations. It provides access to all the junk on the walls if it ever needs to be cleaned or replaced. No bathroom.

The kid walks up to the ladder. He looks back at Soldato, looks up the ladder, and then back at Soldato again. He looks skeptical. Soldato flicks his hand in a "go-on" gesture and nods. The kid puts a foot on the lowest rung.

I sprint over to the ladder.

"Actually, Buddy, that bathroom is out of service. You should try the one over there." I point him in the direction of the real bathroom. I look back at Soldato and mouth "Asshole!" He's laughing so hard, tears well up in his eyes.

Soon afterward, the rush dies down. Mother and Daughter have finished their meal and are on the way out the door. Mother pauses on her way out and looks back at Soldato, who is cleaning up the host stand. She turns back and walks towards him. Smelling trouble, I make my way up front. I listen while pretending to clean a booth. I'm ready to jump in at a moment's notice.

"Young man?" Mother is standing a comfortable distance from the host stand, so as not to alarm Soldato. He looks up.

She looks him right in the eye and says, as slowly, loudly, and clearly as possible, "YOU...ARE...DOING...A...GREAT...JOB!" She quickly turns and leaves. Soldato and I look at each other and break out laughing. It's moments like these that I cherish being a server.

Soldato was the BEST and WORST HOST EVER!