Saturday, February 25, 2006

Scammer Series #3- The Servers


In The Industry, we deal with scamming on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. In this post, I want to talk about something we used to do at The Restaurant.

Scammer Series #3- The Servers

It's a beautiful Saturday in the summer. I'm working my third double in a row at The Restaurant, but I don't care. I've been working there for three months, and I finally feel like I've got the routine down. I know the menu, my people skills are vastly improved, and I've made a bunch of friends on the staff. Life is good.

The drive to work is great. I put the top down on my Jeep. The good folks at the radio station are nice enough to play good songs for the entirety of my journey. Even the cute flagger girl waving folks through road construction on the highway has a smile and a wave for me.

I get to work early. The only other people around are the cooks and Valerie. Valerie is doing her usual- puttering around and looking upset. The cooks are cooking up bacon. There must be 400 pieces on the flat top, and it smells amazing. I may have to start coming to work early more often.

"Hi Valerie," I'm cheerful, even though it's only 10:15 (for those of you not in The Industry, this equates to about 6:00 NPT [Normal Person Time]).

"Start putting lemons in side stations. Clock in at 10:30." Valerie is a sweetheart. Knowing that my working while not on the clock will make her happy, I head back to the walk-in cooler to get the lemons.

I begin to set up the side stations in The Restaurant. The place is good to go in fifteen minutes. Funny how it usually takes 2 servers half an hour to get the place set up for the lunch shift.

The other servers start trickling in. My good mood is contagious, and soon everyone is laughing and having a great time. I can't wait to start getting tables. I know I'm going to rock it today.

The hostess is a new girl. She's a pretty high school junior. She's also dumb as a rock. Sometimes I wonder if those are two required traits for hostesses at The Restaurant.

She triple seats me right off the bat. Nothing can sour my good mood. I'm so on, I could run ten tables right now. I know I'm giving great service. The customers even tell me I'm giving great service. It's that good of a day.

I drop off the checks, run the credit card slips, and head to the back to chug a glass of water. When I get back, all three tables have left. Excited, I collect my credit card slips.

10%, 15%, 10%. On the second 10% tip, I notice that the lady wrote "Great Service!" with a smiley face at the bottom of the bill. I'm astonished. I average around 20% on lunch shifts. This is ridiculous!

For the rest of the shift, I'm fuming. I only make $30.

"This is bullshit," I mutter under my breath.

"What's bullshit?" Barry, one of my new server friends, is separating his credit card and cash slips for his cash out.

"Look at this." I hand him the 10% tip slip with the women's patronizing scrawl on the bottom.

"Ouch," he says sympathetically. "Well, you can't win 'em all."

"Yeah, but my whole day was like that. My tip average was 14% today. I've never done that bad before." I'm steamed, and Barry can see it. He smiles and pulls me away from the other servers to calm me down.

Barry is a great guy. He seems perpetually calm. This may have something to do with the amount of pot he smokes daily, or it could be his natural personality. The jury's still out. Either way, he was a way of defusing worked up servers.

"Easy buddy.... I know just what you need. Let's hit the theater in between shifts." I'm a huge movie buff. But I'm not in the mood right now. I just want to sleep in my Jeep in between shifts.

"We don't have time." We have to be back in 2 hours.

"We're not going to see a movie." He winks conspiratorially. "Meet me there after you cash out."

I'm thoroughly confused, but I agree. Barry cashes out before me and heads out the door. I check out with Valerie, who gives me crap for my "shitty tips".

"You give bad service, you get bad tips." I show her the lady's comment. She's not impressed.

"Be on time for shift tonight."

I leave The Restaurant, steamed as hell. Driving to the movie theater, I can see clouds gathering. Looks like rain. Great. The hard top is off of my Jeep, and I don't have time to go home and put it back on. It doesn't get much worse than driving home in soaked pants.

Even the good folks at the radio can't cheer me up. My favorite station has begun a tribute to disco, and my number 2 and 3's are both stuck in commercial limbo. I hope Barry has something good for me at the theater.

Pulling into the theater parking lot, I'm amazed at how empty the place is. Apparently, not too many folks go to the movies on Monday afternoon at 3 pm.

I park and hop out of the Jeep. I am heading to the lobby when I hear someone calling my name.

"Over here!"

Confused, I look around and spot Barry. He's at the side exit door. Wondering what the hell he's doing, I change course and walk over.

"What's up?"

"This is going to make your month," he says. "Do you know about the new promotion?"

I shake my head. Smiling, he begins to explain. Every year, The Restaurant spends some advertising money at the theater. They buy one of those adds that shuffle through before the previews start. As an incentive to bring in customers, The Restaurant will take off $2 for every movie stub that the customers bring in. He explains that on cash tickets, you can make an extra couple bucks every time someone comes in without a movie ticket.

"And this place is like a gold mine," he says, sweeping his hand out over the concrete in front of the exit. Looking down, I see what he's talking about.

There are hundreds of ticket stubs scattered on the ground. Doing some quick math, I figure there's probably $200 for each of us.

Barry smiles. "Feel better?"

"Hell yeah!" I start picking up stubs and stuffing them in my pockets. After a few minutes, I realize how ridiculous we must look. Like two bums picking up empty soda bottles for the recycling deposit.

"I'm heading back, I think I'm good," I say, standing and brushing off my knees.

"Cool, I'll be right behind you," Barry says, his fingers nimbly picking through the trash to scoop up another stub.

Heading back to work, I begin to ponder the situation. Doubt is starting to creep in.

Granted, I deserved more than the 10% I got on those two checks. But was I the one to decide that? I mean, after all, the tip percentage will balance itself out. I'd seen it happen. One shift, you work your tail off and get 15%, and the next, you don't do anything extraordinary and you average 25. Karma.

Finally, I get back to The Restaurant. I decide to see how the shift goes. Maybe those stubs will come in handy, maybe not.

I walk in and head to the back. I clock in and start tying on my apron. Lisa, one of the old-timers who has been at The Restaurant since it opened, comes by.

"Did you hit up the theater yet?" she asks.

Lisa is one of the most honest, straightest servers in The Restaurant. Shocked, I nod.

"Barry took me over there. You do this too?"

"yup," she replies, opening her serving book. She shows me the compartment in the back, which is stuffed with ticket stubs. "This is always a good month." She smiles and walks away.

Now I'm even more torn. If Lisa does it, is it wrong? If it's OK, why do I feel that nagging, slightly nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach?

Shrugging, I look out and see that I've gotten my first table. Putting on my Server Smile, I head into battle.

Half an hour later, I get my first tip. 15%. I deserved 20. I know it in my heart. At the computer, I pause. I look at the stubs I stuck in my book. I don't know what to do.

"Ah, you hit up the theater?" It's The Hippie. She's smiling ruefully. "I didn't get a chance to go over there yet. Too bad too, I could have used it tonight." She turns to walk away.

"Wait. Here." I pull out all the stubs from my book. "You can have mine." I want no part of this.

I walk away. I feel good about what I've done, what it says about my character. I feel good that I've helped out my fellow server. I feel good that I've resisted the temptation. The only thing I don't feel good about is the 15% tip...

Monday, February 20, 2006

So You're Probably Wondering...

What happened to me?

Well, I'm afraid that it's not too terribly interesting. But I'll go ahead and give it a shot. Since I last wrote....

I moved into a new townhouse with The Woman. We got the keys in October. I still have yet to unpack.

I've been working a sales job. When I started working there, I ignored the danger signs. High turnover, low employee morale, etc. It was one of those burn-out jobs where they try to get as much out of you as possible for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, my burn out was more extreme than most. This burn out is the reason that I haven't written.

It started off as bronchospasms, like I wrote in the post before. It turned into full-fledged, crippling panic attacks that took hold every time I thought about work. Since I was working 12 hours a day, these attacks were occurring more and more frequently. By my third trip to the emergency room, I knew I was done. I quit the next morning. The only thing I feel good about is that I was leading the branch in sales for the month at the time I left.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get out of this whole situation with only an ulcer, heartburn, and mild breathing problems. The ulcer no longer bothers me, I'm able to eat almost anything without fear of heartburn, and my breathing is improving by the day. I'm on the road to recovery.

Other updates...

I got a new puppy. If someone tells me how to post pictures, I'll show you all what he looks like. He's a beautiful black lab mix. His name is Payton. I got him for The Woman's birthday. The jury is still out on who she loves more. Either way, I see us as the two luckiest men around.

And lastly, but certainly not leastly.... (is 'leastly' a word? Absolutely not. Do I care? Not so much. Do I have a habit of asking questions and then answering them myself, thereby making it a declarative statement? You betcha!)

I am engaged. I asked The Woman to marry me on Christmas morning. She teared up like Niagara Falls. I thought I would feel weird, waking up next to someone, knowing that they would be my partner for the rest of my life. Instead, I wake up every day with a feeling of contentment, happiness, and joy. Even with all the health problems, I'm the luckiest man alive. I don't know how she puts up with me.

So that's the short and sweet of it, folks. I'd love to talk more right now, but I'm on a job hunt of epic proportions. Anyone know of a good restaurant in the Chicago-land area that's hiring?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Server Stories Back on the Air!

Hello Everyone,

I want to send a big thank you to all of you who have written me emails and posts asking about my well-being. I can't tell you all how much that meant to me.

I am doing better. My health was not good for some time, but I have recovered and I look forward to writing again. I apologize for the long delay, but unfortunately, it could not be avoided. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

With that said...

I'd like to announce the return of Server Stories. I am going to be pounding the ol' keyboard trying to get a new post up ASAP. I still have plenty of stories to tell, and I couldn't stand it if I have to keep them bottled up inside.

So sit back, grab a frosty beverage, and relax. I'm The Server, and I will be taking care of you this evening....

Back from the brink,

The Server