Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sick Day at the Restaurant

-Prologue-

In an office job, if you're sick, the powers that be want you to stay home. If someone tries to gut it out, they are invariably told over and over again to go home and get some rest.

This is not the case in the biz. You'd think that GMs would want folks to stay home rather than cough on customers, food, or other servers. Sanitization is key... except when you're sick and you haven't found someone to cover your shift.

Sick Day at the Restaurant

I wake up around noon with a cough. Not a little tickle cough, but big hacking, whooping coughs that wrack my entire body. Add on muscle aches and a headache, and I know I've been overtaken by the flu. Super.

It's a Thursday and I'm sheduled to work the evening bar shift. This is a problem. We're short bartenders, but I'm in no condition to work.

I set the alarm for 2 pm and then fall back into those technicolor dreams that let me know I'm in the grip of a fever. I'm on a football field, breaking tackles and heading for the end zone. The problem is that the field seems to stretch on forever, and there are way more than 11 shadowy defenders on the field trying to take me down.

The alarm brings me out of my slumber. The sheets are soaked, like I was actually running down a mile-long football field. I roll over and pick up the phone.

"Thank you for calling the restaurant, this is Valerie speaking, how can I help you?"

"Valerie, I'm sick as hell. I'm coughing and running a fever. I'm supposed to be bartending tonight. What do you want me to do?"

"Hold on." I hear rustling in the background.

"Call these people." She rattles off a list of names and numbers. I take the down.

"You find someone or you come in." Click.

I spend the next half hour calling the bartender list. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to help out. If it were the end of the month, people would jump all over this. But in the first week of the month, everyone has already payed their rent and thus they have no need for bartender money.

After I hang up on my last option, I pull myself to a sitting position. Waves of dizziness crash over me. I wait til this passes, and then I stand up and head for the shower.

In the steam of the hot shower, I begin coughing up clear-colored nastiness. Great. It's viral, so even if I could go to a doctor, there isn't much they can do for me.

I towel off and put on my uniform. I grab the bottle of DayQuil. I take a huge swig, recap the bottle and put it in my pocket.

The drive to The Restaurant is uneventful.

Pulling in, I pray for a slow night. I can't handle busy right now.

Walking in the door, I spot Soldato wiping down the menus. He looks up at me and stops mid-wipe.

"Dude, you look like shit." There's something to be said for brutal honesty.

"Thanks man. I think I feel worse than I look."

"Not possible. You look like an extra in Night of the Living Dead." He resumes wiping down the menu.

"Shut up or I'm gonna cough all over your Dago ass."

"There's no need for name-calling or threats, my friend. I'm on your side." He looks over the floor plan at the host stand.

"Hey, you're not on here. Why you here?"

"I'm bartending."

"Oh man, that sucks."

I couldn't agree more. Not only do I start an hour earlier than most of the servers, but I have to close down the bar, which is open a half hour later than the dining room.

Two hours later, I'm alternating between chugging tea and DayQuil.

I got my wish. It's dead as a doornail in The Restaurant. I'm actually wishing it was busy. All I can do is wipe down the bar top and concentrate on how crappy I feel.

I've got two tables going in the bar, and I've managed to supress my coughing fits while taking their orders and dropping off their food. Still, both tables gave me odd looks.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror behind the bar, I understand their concern. I'm sweating and my face looks pale and drawn.

I walk back into the kitchen. My body feels hot. I'm burning up. I need to cool down.

I open the door to the walk-in cooler. Stepping inside, the fridgid air feels amazing. I lean against the racking and then slide down to the floor. I grab a nearby jar of pickles. It's blissfully cool. I press it against my forehead and close my eyes.

Someone's kicking me. I smell pickle juice. What the hell?

I open my right eye. I see the jar of pickles, broken on the floor. That explains the smell. Panning right, I see a worn leather shoe, cocked back to deliver another kick.

I put my hands up in defense.

"Oh good. I thought we'd lost you." It's Soldato, and he's laughing. "Wake your ass up."

"How long have I been out?"

"Only about two minutes. You're lucky I needed to refill the mayo." He steps over me and grabs the industrial-sized jar of mayo off the rack. He spoons the goopy white mixture into a plastic container.

"I don't think I can make it," I moan.

"Sure you can, boss." He leans down and grips me under my armpits. With a mighty heave, he pulls me to my feet.

"You're getting fat," he says, puffing.

"This is so stupid. I'm gonna get everyone sick, and I'll never get better if I keep working. I don't have a day off for another week."

"Is it heavy?" he asks.

"Is what heavy?"

"That cross you're carrying. We've all worked sick before. It's part of the deal. Remember, This is the Business We've Chosen!" Great. Godfather logic.

He pushes open the walk-in door and shoves me back into the kitchen. Resigned to my fate, I square my shoulders and head back to the bar. Only six more hours to go...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who's to Blame?

Preface:

I’ve classified servers into three categories.

‘The Natural’- People born with the traits to serve. You’ve seen them- easy smile, quick wit, great multitasking skills, and the ability to move quickly while making it look effortless.

‘The Grinder’- People that work hard to make up for their lack of natural talent. They have to force themselves to step out of their comfort zone, but they find a way to get things done, and generally become successful after a little time and practice.

‘Waste of Perfectly Breathable Air’- The final type of server is the one you hate to see on the floor plan. This class of server lacks natural talent, not unlike the Grinder. However, the lack of self motivation and effort renders them practically useless on the floor. No matter how good the management, it seems one slips through and sets up camp in every restaurant.

Who's to Blame?

After a couple months of serving, I’m finally good enough to take care of my tables and have a conversation in a side station without falling into the weeds. It’s really given me an opportunity to learn about my fellow servers. It’s also given me a chance to observe their style, to spot their strengths and weaknesses.

This morning, there are five servers on the floor.

Anita is a natural. Smart, funny, gregarious, and hard-working, Anita usually takes home the biggest tip percentage of any server in The Restaurant.

I’m a grinder. I’ve worked through my shyness, and I’m nipping at Anita’s heels in terms of daily tip percentage.

The Deaf Server is a grinder. She would be a natural, except for the fact that she can’t hear… at all. Completely deaf since a childhood illness, The Deaf Server has worked to learn how to read lips. Now her only shortcoming is that tables can’t flag her down by calling her name, so they have to physically grab her as she walks by. Couple this with the fact that she hates to be touched, and you end up with some interesting confrontations in her section.

The last two servers are wastes. The Penguin (so named because she is cut from the same body mold as Danny DeVito’s character in Batman Returns) likes to park herself against the back wall, out of customer sight so they can’t flag her down. She moves as little as possible. She never helps other servers. Her only redeeming quality is that she’s friendly to her tables and she only smells bad towards the end of a shift.

Angie S (so named because there is also an Angie D at The Restaurant) is similar to The Penguin, except she leans against a wall in full view of the customers. However, rather than making her more accessible to customers, Angie S tends to look at customers trying to get her attention, and then look away. I often wonder if she has some type of mild autism. Seriously.

Today, it’s a busy shift. The five of us have full sections, with Anita, The Deaf Server, and I each taking an extra table.

I’m currently getting refills, pulling down a stack of napkins, and holding a light-hearted conversation with a nearby table, all while trying to remember an order that I have to punch into the computer. Angie S is taking her sweet-ass time at the touch screen. I look at her section. It’s filled with two-tops. Why in God’s name would it take two full minutes to punch in an order?

Now two minutes doesn’t sounds like a long time, but in serving time, it’s an eternity. Just try to hold your breath for two minutes.

When she finishes, she picks up her book and walks away. I jump on the computer and pound in the order before it falls out of my head. My memory is only good for a short time. Too many games of beer pong in college.

I hit the send button, and the small printer next to the computer spits out the chit. I notice an extra ticket when I pull the chit to put it in my book. Angie S never bothered to take hers. I take a quick look: two Chicken Caesar salads, two Diets.

Quickly counting in my head, I figure that she had 7 keystrokes. Nice.

On my way back to the kitchen, Angie S’ table stops me.

“Could you get us some refills please?” a slightly-perturbed gentleman asks. Both he and his companion are down to straws and ice.

“Of course,” I say. I grab both empty glasses and turn towards the kitchen. Angie S is standing against the wall, looking right at me. When she sees me looking, she looks away, ignoring not only me, but her other tables, all of which need something. I can tell because they’re all doing the short-arm wave. This happens when people want to get your attention while not drawing attention to themselves.

I return to Angie S’ table, drop off the drinks, then head towards my section. I get about two steps before a claw-like hand clamps down on my forearm. It’s another of Angie S’ tables. Refills and another ramekin of ranch dressing.

This is going to be a problem. Angie S’ section is between mine and the kitchen entrance. I can’t get to the kitchen without going by her tables, and I can’t go by her tables without being asked for something.

“Angie, I think your tables could use some refills,” I say as I pass. I try to keep my tone as non-confrontational as possible.

I refill the drinks for her table and grab the ranch dressing from the line. As I step back out onto the floor, I’m surprised to see Angie S still standing in the exact spot she was when I went into the back.

I shoot her an inquisitive look.

She rolls her eyes and looks out at her tables. “They’re fine.”

“If they’re fine, why have I gotten refills for half your section?” I can feel my blood boiling.

“Don’t worry about it. They’re fine.” She shrugs and settles back into doing nothing.

Fuming, I fly back to my section, which is now in dire need of attention thanks to Angie S’ apathy.

I spend the rest of the shift waiting on my tables as well as getting refills and pre-bussing her tables.

Towards the end of the shift, I’m finally caught up. I walk up to the host stand to see if I’ve been cut.

Kathy, the high school hostess, asks me how it's going. She's probably just trying to be friendly, but I haven’t had a chance to vent to anyone about Angie S.

A torrent of profanity flies out of my mouth, momentarily shocking her. That’s what she gets for trying to make friendly conversation.

Kathy, recovering, laughs and says, “You know how there’s two Angies, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Know how I learned to remember which was which when I first started?”

“Tell me.”

“Well, Angie S' tables would always come up here, asking if they were supposed to pay up front because she took so long to check back after she dropped off the check. I just remember thinking that "Angie sucks", hey... "Angie S!”

I laugh and walk away. I do my side work and head to the back to cash out. I get all my chits in order, cash first, then credit cards, then any special coupons or comps. I face all my bills, count out what I owe the house, and get ready to hop into the office.

Angie S comes around the corner and steps in front of me.

“Ladies first!” If anyone else had said it, I would have laughed. I debate on asking her why she thinks she qualifies to be called a "lady", but I decide not to push the issue and sit back down. Cashing out doesn’t take more than about two minutes. I’ll be going home in four rather than two. Angie S heads into the office.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m still waiting outside watching the fruit flies buzz around the overflowing ashtrays on the counter. I poke my head in the door. Angie S has all her chits spread out in front of her, and she’s still organizing them. Unbelievable.

I stand there, waiting for her to finish. When she’s finally done, she counts out her money.

“I didn’t make shit today. People are such cheap asses!” She complains loudly. She waddles towards the front door.

“If you’d get off your fat ass and hustle a little bit, maybe they wouldn’t be so fucking tight, you dumb bitch! Get your head out of your ass. How the hell do people like you make it through life without an illustrated guidebook?”

Ah, the things we think but do not say.

When Angie S is out of earshot, I ask the manager why she keeps Angie around when it’s obvious she doesn’t work very hard.

“She’s got good availability. It’s too much trouble to hire and train a new server.”

Hmmm… I see people come in almost daily to fill out applications. I know that there has to be at least three applicants each week that would do a better job than her. Makes you wonder who to blame- Angie S for being a waste of perfectly breathable air, or a manager that’s afraid to spend some extra money and sacrifice a little time to strengthen the staff in the long run. My vote is for the manager. Angie S can't even get out of her own way.