Sunday, November 25, 2007

Honey, Sweetie, Darlin', Buddy

Whether buying a six-pack of brew, a new pair of shoes, or lunch at the local eatery, I'm continuously astounded at the lack of manners shown by service personnel. Call me "old-school" if you will, but, until you know me better, my name is "Sir". This phenomenon is more prevalent here in the deep South, but the virus has spread wherever I go.

I remember a sweet, young thing named Allison in Massachusetts who was one of my best servers. Hard-working and with a permanent smile, she was a breeze to manage. I never had a complaint about her until one day a table of business men responded with silence when questioned about how their lunch was going. One man, obviously struggling with the decision, finally told me, "Allison is sweet, and a good server, but when we're out on a business lunch with our customers, we feel being addressed as 'Sweetie' is a bit unprofessional". I wholeheartedly agreed with him, apologized, and told him I'd take care of it without telling her where the criticism came from. At the first opportunity, I pulled her aside, and let her know that I had overheard her addressing patrons as 'Sweetie', and as calmly as possible told her to refrain from this too-personal addressing of guests. 'Gentlemen' was thrown out as a possible replacement, while also explaining the professionalism might also incur higher tips as well. With big puppy-dog eyes, she agreed. I made it a point to be within earshot more often as she was greeting tables. She had a hard time learning this new technique and was caught many times. Finally, tough love had to be employed. "Allison, unless you want to be waiting tables at Denny's (no affront to those of you who may work there, I swear!), do not address tables as sweetie, honey, or darlin".

She was never the same after that. I guess it threw her off her stride or something. But, there are some things that just won't fly if you're trying to project an upscale image. Like chewing gum, my personal bugaboo. I know it's my personal upbringing, but seeing someone chew gum with their mouth open makes me think of cows chewing their cud. In my opinion (as humble as that may be), it instantly takes 20 points off your I.Q. One of my current peers does it, and it drives me bat-shit. Whenever I would see one of my servers sneaking a chew, I would grab a bev-nap, walk up to them, wherever they were (not in front of their guests), hold it out, and say, "Spit it out!" (I would, however, do it in front of their peers, to prove a point). If they were worried about their breath, I would offer them a mint from my briefcase (my man-purse I would joke). I still kid my dad about my gum aversion, since he was the one who instilled that into my psyche.

I had lunch a couple of weeks ago at a Denny's. Everything went fine until my male server greeted me. A server young enough to be my son, if I had been so inclined. "Hi buddy, what can I get you?" Long pause. This is not my restaurant, keep calm. I went on with my order. He did a really good job with all the steps of service, but each visit was injected with the sobriquet 'buddy'. "More sweet tea, buddy?" "Would you like dessert today, buddy?" "I'll be right back with your check, buddy." At least 8 times I was addressed as 'buddy'. It's a wonder I could chew with my teeth clenched and tongue bitten like they were. What's worse, the table of women next to me were addressed as "ladies" throughout their meal. I know, I should have done him a favor and left him a nice little note, but I constantly remind myself that I'm not in the business anymore. People couldn't care less about my experience, and are not looking for tips on how to improve their service. I just left him 20% and left, wishing I had the balls to say something.

Twenty years ago, I would have replied to being called 'Sir' with the standard, "I'm not 'Sir', that's my dad". When I was a server, I was guilty of calling tables 'you guys', as in "Would you guys like to see the wine list?" Or the other stand-by was 'you folks'. With experience and age, one learns that tables like to be called 'ladies and gentlemen', whether they are or not. Now I like to be called 'Sir', and don't take it as an affront. I view it as respect.

And next time, I'm leaving a note if they don't.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Catching Up

Sorry, everyone, for the lack of posts lately. Like many of you, this is a hectic time of year. I just returned Sunday from the frigid North, giving Thanks with relatives I haven't seen in way too long. Since so much has happened in the last two weeks, I'm going to write this in a non-associative, stream-of-consciousness type of word-play. In other words, I can't be bothered to write 20 posts, catagorized by time-lines, locations, etc. I can get lazy, don't ya know. So sue me.

*Flying has changed a lot since the last time I braved the wild blue yonder. The changes I've noticed:

People dress a bit nicer than before. Used to be, I was horrified at the amount of sweat-suits
everyone wore to travel in. Grannies, fatties, and everyone else were wearing togs that I
would not be seen in public (besides the gym) in. Public decency seems to have won out over
absolute comfort. I wonder where that came from?

The employees at check-in are alot nicer than they used to be. I was met by a friendly
woman at the Pensacola Airport Delta check-in (at 4:15am) who was so chipper. She
checked my reservation time, "Good job, you're here over 1-1/2 hours early!". She weighed
my bag, "50 pounds, good job!". I think she used to be a kindergarten teacher. Or she has
access to really good drugs. Pass them on, Alicia!

Flight attendants: No changes. Still as aloof and fake-smiley as before. Can you get any faker than you are? Is that part of your training? I know you're paid for shit, but you know that from the get-go, so what's up with that? You're a glorified waitress, for goodness sakes! And don't remind me about the "safety" shit and all that. Burger King cashiers deal with more emergencies that you do. Get over yourselves already.

*How do you respond when a relative (who looks like death warmed over), tells you that you haven't changed a bit? Do you say, "Thanks, you too!"? I usually say, "Thanks for lyin'!" and change the subject. Really, some people really let themselves go. It makes me feal good, but also bad at the same time.

*Flying in and out of Atlanta, the thing I noticed the most was how brown all the lawns were. No green anywhere. All the colorful leaves were gorgeous, but the lawns were dead. How sad.

*All my fears about flying out late on Sunday (on the worst-in-the-nation rated airline) were realized. Luckily, I was at the airport 3 hours early to see off my aunt, who was leaving earlier. Instead of a two-leg trip, it turned into a 3-leg. And a lot of rushing. And finger-crossing. But it all ended well, except for a flat tire on my waiting vehicle. Luckily, I keep an inflator in my car.

*I have one aunt who I'm closer to than any other relative. It's been five days absent and I miss her desperately. She's the one that will drive me to tears upon seperation. I just got off the phone with her, and I'm having a hard time right now. [small break]

*Being non-communicative with my mother makes it difficult to enjoy the holidays fully. Mother's Day is the worst, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are tough too.

*Having an uncle, who's four years younger than me, dying of cancer puts life in perspective. I have so much respect for him. He's got one son, two step-kids, four step-grankids, and one step-great grandkid.

*I have a step-cousin my age that I used to have the biggest crush on. He was the pretty boy on that side of the family. Today, he is an HIV-survivor for 15+ years. I'm no longer envious. He looks old enough to be my dad.

*I can't believe what airlines allow as carry-ons nowadays. It seems the standards have been relaxed, with people bringing on a small suitcase and a catch-all bag. I bring a regular lap-top bag only for ease, and I wish more people would follow suit. Maybe smaller carry-ons would equate to a little more knee room somehow.

All in all, there are many, many things I'm Thankful for:

+The high temperatures I left in the North are my lows.

+I've got a job I really like, with the hours I've always wanted. My job also keeps me in touch with the industry I've always been attached to, for better or worse. It will always be in my blood.

+I can make the best banana pudding on Earth.

+I like who I have become, metaphysically.

For now, that's it. As always, a work in progress.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Feast, Famine, Deluge

I read the newspapers. I subscribe to restaurant magazines online. I peruse way too many blogs dealing with the "industry". No matter what the pundits say, restaurants will not be hurt by the down-turn in the economy. Americans are not willing to sacrifice their valuable time to buy groceries, cook said groceries, and clean up their mess. We've become too spoiled, too time-challenged, to do these things ourselves. Not to say all restaurants will fare well. We have more choices than ever before. And we will have more.

There are many hungry restaurateurs-to-be waiting in the wings. Many, many people are watching Emeril, Rachel Ray, Iron Chef, Top Chef, etc., and thinking, "How hard can it be?".

The ones who do their homework will do okay. The ones with experience and do their homework will do well. The ones with foresight, a sense of quality, and respect for service, will flourish. I meet very, very few of any of them. Mostly, I see people with dollar signs in their eyes, and few dollars in their pockets.

Little do they know the expenses involved. Shiny new Vulcan ranges, Frymaster fryers, and fine linens do not come cheap. Often, these are people far removed from the economics involved with running a restaurant. I meet many acclaimed sous chefs, proficient servers, and barbecue aficionados who think that will translate to culinary stardom.

I'm sure Emeril, Alain Du Casse, or Phil Romano did not start with spanking new equipment in a pristine building. And I get tired of hearing people who are shocked at the price of brand new fryers, char-broilers, and bar-stools. It must be the Wal-Mart-isation of America. $900 for a fryer? $4 per crystal wine glass? $200 for a lemon wedger? Sorry, I cannot pull a brand-new, stainless steel reach-in freezer out of my ass for $500. Dreamer, meet Reality. Reality, dreamer.

Despite all this drama, more people than ever are looking to start their own little Tavern on the Green here in the Redneck Riviera. Some will succeed, most will be the next blurb listed under bankruptcies in the local paper. And It's getting easier to forecast who will fall by the wayside. They are the ones who think they have all the answers. Fools.

By the way, I don't really think I have all the answers. This is all opinion on my part. Lord knows, I didn't get as far as I wanted in the "biz", just learn from my short-comings.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Shoe, Meet the Other Foot

After years in the trenches of the restaurant wars, I look back in amusement and dismay at the way I treated vendors. Everyone knows what a vendor is right? He or she is that poor schlub who intrudes on your busy work day to entice you into buying their brand of rum, high-ball glass, bar stool, or two-door reach-in freezer. Hello, I am now that schlub, nice to meet you. I admit, I was borderline rude on more than one occasion to various vendors who dared intrude. I was too busy to waste my valuable time. Curt blow-offs(with eye-roll) were not unheard of. They had to accommodate my ever-changing schedule. In my twisted view of reality, they worked for me. They existed to serve me. Bow down, my subservient friend.

Kharma is a vindictive bitch, and I now experience her wrath. Luckily for me, and my creditors, I'm salary, and not commission. I'm still learning the ebb and flow after almost six months. My boss is not losing money on me by any means, but I'm still looking for that one impressive sale that will validate his faith in me (remember, I'm a feedback-junkie). Plus, I could really use a raise.

Now, there has been no pressure from above to produce bigger numbers. I manufacture plenty of that myself. I not only have to earn my salary, but that of the delivery people and the book-keepers. I keep a constant tally of profit to justify my paycheck. I actually want to make money for my company. It's sick, I know, but a precedent learned from the past.

I still have vendors who visit now, only now they are area representatives from Manitowoc, Sheila Shine, and Cambro. I've learned to listen a little closer, trying to learn from them instead of blowing them off. Please treat them right, one might be Ex-Restaurant Manager :) Or just a hard-working salesperson trying to earn a living.

Just trying to earn back some good kharma.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Just When You Thought.....

I must admit, I'm a feedback junky. I want to know how I stand with my bosses and co-workers. I welcome constructive criticism. If I have short-comings, I, I need to know. If I don't know, how can I get better? I've seen all too often what happens when a worker-bee is left to twist in the wind while management avoids communication on the subject.

We show up, we work, we feel we're earning our salary. What's the next enticement to show up for work? We know that tip, that paycheck is coming. What drives us to show up early? What drives us to dress as requested, or above the standard? Feedback junkies are usually the best-dressed, don't you know? Guilty.

I finally got some good feed-back today. Years of paranoia from my chain restaurant water-boarding had me wondering lately if this was the job for me. I still haven't produced eye-watering numbers for the company, but I'm making in-roads, I think. Today, one of our sister stores was swamped with business while the "Head Guy For This Store" (we don't really have official titles) was enjoying his vacation. I told my Boss/Son of Owner, "Hey, I worked that store. If they need help, I'll go."

"No way, Dude (He didn't really say "Dude", but he really could have), you're staying here. They can't have you"

Out of the blue, some affirmation. That's why we show up ready to work early, and ready to work, period.

Have you told an employee of yours "Thank You" today?