Sunday, December 28, 2008

Virus Problems

First, I had the human kind.

Then, I got the computer kind.

Life sucks right now.

Be back soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Civility...Or The Lack of Same

I don't understand people now-a-days. I don't know if it's just me, my locale, or the times. I only know that civility and politeness have taken a back seat to rudeness, selfishness, and me-first-ness (Yes, I have copyrighted that term, so don't think of using it without paying me first). Let's take a for-instance journey. Yesterday (Sunday), I visited Target again for the first time in months.

Walking up to the portal clearly labeled "Enter", I was blocked by many people exiting in droves. I managed to squeeze through and was then blocked by a woman who took up the whole entrance to pull out a cart and deposit her worldly possessions into the baby item at a time, directly in the middle of the wide isle. I had to take a diversionary lap around the territorial boundary she had set up.

In stores, why don't people walk the aisles like they drive? It would make things so much more civil if people would walk down the right side of the aisles. This is America, people, not England or Japan where only heathens drive on the left side of the road. At the least, choose a path and stay to it. Sometimes, it seems that I have to do the Samba around people who can't push a cart in a straight line, swerving from side to side like they're trying to tackle L.T. It's like trying to enter a concert that's just letting out and the exit-ers are Hell-bent on munchies.

I stand in front of a collection of holiday decorations, trying to stay out of the way of the other shoppers. Then, a woman pushing an empty cart stops right in front of my line-of-sight, looking at what I had been looking at for the last minute or two. And stays there, looking at what I was looking at, blocking me with her body and her cart. I look at the back of her head with a look of dis-belief, uplifting my hands in the universal sign of 'What the Fuck?'. And I'm totally ignored. Being the civil person that I am, I don't confront her, but just shake my head and move on. But, WTF? I look at my hands to make sure that I'm not invisible. Unfortunately, I have not gained that power.

I cruise to the over-priced, 'designer men's fashion department' they have with designers I've never heard of before. There are 3 employees hanging out by the fitting rooms gossiping about another not in attendance. These are the only employees that I've seen on the entire floor, and they're here, ensconced on the far side, well out of sight of the manager, who's probably in the office downloading porn, avoiding the customers. Like some managers do in the restaurant world. And you all know what I'm talking about.

Then, to check-out. Ha-ha, what fun. I'm looking for the smallest line, going down the line like we all do. Will I hit the 'Good Line Lottery'? There, in the distance, I see three lit numbers with no one in line, and I rush like O.J. through an airport to get there. But, there's no one behind the registers. Looking around, I see 4 gals gathered around an unlit line, chatting. Geez, that manager must have found some good free porn. Obviously, these managers are not like the Gestapo at Wally-world. At Wal-Mart, they're made to stand in front of the registers like Amsterdam whores, enticing anyone to please choose their lane.

My check-out girl shows up. Clearly, I'm a distraction to her, and taking her away from something more important. Like, trying to find a spare inch of skin to tattoo next. Or pierce. Obviously, she missed the lecture in school about what level of employment that side-show freaks can obtain. Now, I'm no prude, but come on. On her face was at least four piercings; lip, tongue, nose, eyebrow, and at least 6 in the ears. Drinking water must be such an accomplishment. She had the beginning of full tattoo sleeves on both arms. She probably had more $ invested in her tats than in her hoopty. Or education.

I know I'm sounding old here. I surprise myself sometimes by what I write sometimes. I know June Cleaver was not a real person. I know Mr. Whipple never really squeezed the Charmin. I'm not looking for a Stepford wives experience at the store.

I just want manners to make a little bit of a comeback. Pretty please?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

State of the Union

No, this is not a post about the current state of our country, politics, or the stock market. We all get more than enough of that on the nightly news, and frankly, I'm burnt out on that. It's time to get back to my real love, writing about the restaurant biz.

I posted many months ago about my former employer, Brinker International, and their troubles trying to unload Macaroni Grill. When I worked there as an Assistant Manager, we were given stock options at a pre-determined price. If I recall correctly, my first options were in the $24/share range, and at the time they were selling for around $26. But, I never bought any. The next year, there were some I.R.S. changes in the works, so we were offered options at around $32/share on a smaller amount of shares. At that time, shares were selling for around $30/share, but there were rumors of an impending stock split. Again, I didn't bite. The next year, Brinker changed their whole bonus/perk policy and only offered stock options to those who were General Managers and above. Boy, was I pissed, even though I had never taken advantage of the previous offers. Many did, though, and many are now hurting financially.

Alas, it was the beginning of the end for me anyway, for they restructured the whole bonus policy and other things, too. I was on the way out the door, but I was still kicking myself for not buying stock when the getting was good. Some other managers had bought their maximum amount and were sitting on many thousands of dollars of potential profit. I used to look in the stock section of the Business pages of the newspaper religiously, if only for the purpose of berating myself for not taking advantage of the stock options. But that was years ago, and I had lost all curiosity about what was happening with Brinker stock when I left the company.

Last week, while going through the paper during lunch, I had the crazy idea of looking up how the stock was doing now. Now, I knew things had changed quite a bit in the last few years, but I was shocked when I got to the list. Brinker stock is now selling for just over $8/share. OMG! I can't imagine how outraged I would be if I had bought my maximum amount years ago. I called up all my old management friends and asked them if they had any stock options they had acted on. Out of six that I called, only two had bought the options. One had bought the options but sold them a few years back at a tidy profit to buy a house. The other is still holding onto them, hoping a sell of MacGrill will drive up the price.

Back when I was a manager, I used to speak 'not so nice' about the shareholders. "The shareholders" was always the excuse our District Managers used to use when another round of penny-pinching was implemented. When I started, if you broke the 20% labor cost threshold, you were doing well indeed. Then 19%, then 18%, all the way down to 16% when I left. Managers were required to cut staff to skeletal levels and to step in and do the work instead. Between bussing tables, hosting, food running, prep work, and many other tasks, managers had no time to manage anymore.

It was a downward spiral that has put a lot of chain restaurants in a precarious position. Not only did labor costs have to go down, so did food cost, maintenance cost, smallwares cost, etc. Suddenly, offering quasi-first-class experiences while dining out became second consideration. House-made became frozen-in-a-plasic-bag-inside-a-cardboard-box. Three table sections became "How many tables can you take?". Hostesses became an option. Bussing was added to the servers list of things to do. Along with expediting and food running.

Until shareholders of restaurant stock realize that this business is for the long term and not for big dividends every quarter, publicly owned restaurants will always suffer. Overworked managers, servers, and cooks will not increase the value of your stock. It will only get you a lower class of employee who will put up with the bull-shit. And you know where that leads...stock at a 20 year low.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Back From the Dead...or Comatose...or Something...Whatever

These last few months have been eye-opening. As a self-avowed All-American, Patriotic, Community-aware veteran, I was put off to the max at how divided our country had become over this past election. Living in the hot crotch of the Bible Belt, emotions ran especially sparky, shall we say. With 95% of my co-workers bordering on Conservative, Right-wing Naziism, I became aware that our country could devolve into goose-stepping goons. Living in a state that already forbade adoption by gays and marriage by gays, we were confronted by an option on our ballot that would amend the state constitution to make illegal something that was already forbidden. And not just here, but in Arkansas (big surprise), Arizona, and California (no way could that pass there, or so I thought).

My drive every morning entailed going over what we call the '3-mile bridge'. At the entrance is where all the nominated would stand around with their family and friends, holding their signs, slowing taffic, and waving at you like they were your best friend. And all would invariably be Repubs (I refuse to call them Republicans as they have bastardized the name 'Democratic Party' into the Democrat Party). My response to them was always the same; thumb and fore-finger shaped into an 'L' slapped upside my forehead. I received the one-finger salute more than once. How mature and indicative of the mind-set these Adolphites presented. My display may have been fifth-grade, but theirs was third-grade.

All through the election, I was constantly asking myself:

"Did those people actually watch the Katie Couric interview? With the sound on?"

"Does that dude in the rusted-out 20-year-old pickup with no muffler sporting the new McCain/Palin bumper sticker next to the faded Bush/Cheney one and the Confederate flag think he's really better off now than 8 years ago? Or that the mullet would make a comeback?"

"Aside from that Catholic priest fiasco, do the Republicans really think printing up signs saying 'Save Our Children, Yes on 2' really applies to gay marriage?"

I asked my dad, "Does your Baptist Church realize that John McCain couldn't even be a deacon at your church because he's divorced?"

"Does every conservative person serving on the P.T.A., community board, or any organization know the background of everyone serving on the board? If one has cheated on his taxes, does that make you a tax-cheat by association? If one is a wife-beater, have you battered because you sat at the same table?"

"If you flew on a flight from New York to Chicago and the plane went over the Canadian line, are you an expert on 'Foreign Affairs'?"

"If McCain's Chief-of-Staff was formerly a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, do you point fingers over the whole mortgage scandal?"

"Does wearing those 'Magic panties' choke off the supply of blood to Mormon's brains? Could those millions of dollars have been put to better use?"

Well, it's all over, and thankfully, not all of America drank the Kool-Aid. Unfortunately, many members of our society still think some of us don't deserve equal rights. Eight years ago in Ohio, the Religious Right prevailed by putting an anti-gay measure on the ballot there and brought out all the homophobes to vote, and in doing so gave us Bush (Thanks, guys!). The presidential vote didn't go their way this time, but they still got their hate-filled, anti-gay measures passed anyway.

So we all lost something. And Rush Limbaugh has four more years of bloviating to do (and Oxycontin to swallow).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Doctor, We Have a Heartbeat

Yeah, yeah, I know I haven't posted in awhile. Or very often even in the 'awhile' time. And I have a very good reason why. Nothing is happening here. Nothing, nada, zilch, zero. My life is boring to the point of embarrassment. I thought writing about my more-exciting past in the restaurant biz would perk things up, but I think that I put everyone to sleep at their keyboard.

There are blogs that I read religiously about mundane topics like everyday life and struggles with willpower and the new shade of paint on the walls. I have 49 blogs listed in my favorites file that I go through on an almost daily basis. Some post almost daily while others post bi-weekly, weekly, and some on a bi-monthly or monthly schedule. The more prolific ones are the ones that I envy. Not all, though.

Some of the more prolific bloggers pontificate about how they're smarter than those they are surrounded with. These, I like to make fun of in my mind. How pretentious, IMHO. I don't think that you want to hear how smart I am. Or how smart I ain't. Some like to complain about the price of replacement tires for their Mercedes or something equally ludicrous. If you have to be on PB&J rations for a month to pay for them, you shouldn't be driving a Mercedes.

Some write so deep and from the heart that the act of changing the toilet paper roll keeps me engrossed. These are the ones that when they don't write for 3 days, I get worried. If I had their gift with words, I'd be writing about nose-hair plucking or fiber needs.

Some write about once a month (which is why I can get through my whole blog list in 1/2 an hour or less, rarely longer), but I welcome their new entries like visiting an old friend after too long away. If the absence was for a family tragedy, I feel the pain of a friend. If the gap was due to lack of desire to write, I empathize.

On newsworthy days, I take longer to read the political blogs so that I can refute the rantings of my Nazi co-workers, you betcha ;)

When a blog-pal closes down their blog, I feel the loss of a compatriot. I refuse to quit, and though my output is slower than some, my desire rises and flows like my bio-rhythms. I feel an up-tick coming on, so be prepared.

Friday, September 26, 2008


It is now time that all of us patriotic, Christian Americans get down on our knees and thank the Lord that Sarah Palin and her friend Reverend Muthee have saved us all from the great threat that has hovered over us for so long. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she has saved us from.......WITCHCRAFT! Forget the financial crisis, the never-ending war in Iraq, high gas prices, or our bankrupt country. She has truly saved us from the most evil scum the world has ever seen.

Just Google Sarah Palin, Muthee, and witchcraft, and you will see how she has saved us.

Nuff said.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scary Times, Indeed

As I've posted before, I talk to many, many restaurant workers, managers, and owners on a daily basis. At least 95% of the time, while I'm ringing up their 1/3 pans, bib aprons, and wine keys, I have the time to chit-chat with them. "How's business?" is repeated in our place about 40 times a day or more. And these folks want to talk. If business is good, they want us to share in their good fortune. If it's not so good, they want reassurance that better times are ahead. These are, indeed, rough times, and some are having a rougher time than others.

The thing is, everyone knows who's doing well, who's getting by (barely), and who's going down the tubes. This is a not-so-big city and everyone knows who's doing well and who's not. Times like these tend to weed out the weak, the un-educated, and the fools. The restaurants that are in the danger zone can be divided into different categories, which are:

Ass-Run. The first indicator of this is that the only person from this establishment we see is the owner/manager. Only the one person. This person micro-manages to such an extent that they don't trust any person who works for them to buy a $1 spoon. And they want you to give them that $1 spoon for 50 cents. And they name drop the owner's name if you don't sell it at cost (which is what they saw it for at Wal-mart, although it's not the same quality). (Believe me, the owner would not give his mother anything for free, so don't try it) These asses treat everyone like their personal slave. They get my minimal discount. And my eternal disdain. They will never have long-term, happy employees, and so will be out of business sooner than they desire. And they deserve it.

Ditzy ass-Run. These people have the right attitude, but no experience (or aptitude) to do it correctly. These are the ones that buy imported stemware to serve $8 a bottle Chablis. Or buy cheap 8 ounce stemware for both white and red wine. They are the ones who don't know what a 1/3 pan is. Or think Bain Marie is a pop singer. Or who don't know whether their dish-machine uses chlorine, iodine, or quaternary. These are the kind who will hang on by the skin of their teeth, making it more difficult than it should be. They sweat every Health Department visit because they don't know the rules. They usually have inherited the business or were thrust into it. They will never be successful, but will

Lazy ass-Run. These people sit back and wait for people to flock to their restaurant. They don't advertise. They close on Sundays and holidays because they think they have a life. They "create" a menu and stick to it, no matter what. They put no effort into their endeavor and then wonder why no one eats there.

Cheap ass-Run. These folks are the ones who come into our place of business and ask where the used fryers and reach-ins are. When we explain that we don't like to carry used merchandise because it's a losing proposition for both of us, they roll their eyes. Hello, if you're going to put $1000 worth of food into a $600 refrigerator, your priorities are in the wrong place. Their business depends on equipment that works every day, and if it doesn't, they need a warranty to keep costs down. If you buy used equipment, you don't know if it's been maintained properly. We usually get calls from these dorks at 4:45 on a Friday begging for help with their fryer that won't fry their 95% fried menu (Can you say time-and-a-half times $70/hr?). Needless to say, a minimal discount from me is their reward.

I could go on and on since there are countless others who will never be successful in the biz, and for countless reasons. The one thing that they have in common is that they don't ask for help from us. My boss (Who I don't like so much, but he probably couldn't care less) hires people with restaurant experience to work my job so we can help (He's not stupid, just not very diplomatic). Those who prosper know how to ask for help from those who can help them the most. Those who fail don't ask, they just complain.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Polar Opposites From the Last Post

So, this young couple comes into the store on Friday, and since I was only partially weeded at the time, I jumped up to help them out. They were young-ish, mid to late 20's, Asian in origin but obviously have been here many years ( no accent, but would communicate to each other in a foreign language [ I hate when they do that!]).

"Hi, how are you? What can I help you find?"

The female half waves a list at me. "We're opening up a new Marble Slab Creamery (or whatever it was) and have a list of things we need to open next month."

I ask to look at the list and see that it's a fairly straightforward list of every smallware item they will need to run their new place. So I start at the top and show them what each item is. (They've obviously never run a restaurant before. They don't know the difference between a 1/6 or 1/3 pan.) This list has every little thing listed, you don't need to know what you're doing.

Which is what I was talking about in my last post. People who have never run a restaurant before should start small and easy. Buy a franchise. Work in someone else's place and take notes. These companies selling franchises already know everything you'll need. They have support people who will guide you through the basics. They have a package of equipment and probably have a deal with distributors who will get it to you at the lowest price. I've had people come in to start a new restaurant and they don't even know if they need gas or electric, 110v or 220v, 1phase or 2phase, etc. It's hard to quote prices when you don't know things like that.

I chatted with this couple for awhile, told them what we had to offer, and congratulated them on starting with the right idea. (Although, an ice cream place is not the best franchise to own. It's very limited, and is considered a luxury in these rough times)

Although they've done a lot of homework and started small and smart, I think they may be a little too unprepared in a lot of aspects. Hiring the right people is a skill learned over a long period of time. Dealing with the public takes time and experience (and mucho patience).

Since this new place is on my way home, I may take an interest in how it does, and post about it. It may prove interesting. If not, I don't have a life anyway, so I won't be wasting any time ;)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

I've written before about people wanting to get into the restaurant business, and how most of them have no clue what they're getting themselves into. This is a story about a young couple who should have asked someone for some advice. My place of employment is in the business of selling restaurant equipment and supplies, so talking someone out of their dream really isn't on our agenda (I know this sounds callous, but McDonald's wouldn't be in business if it talked fat people out of eating Big Macs and fries). Alas, I saw this one coming from a mile away.

So, this young couple comes in to the store for some design help with their bistro. It's a smallish restaurant in a strip mall kinda thing. It'll have about 15 tables, a small entrance/waiting area, and a small, but manageable kitchen. They've had the menu planned for about 3 years while they were saving their money and dreaming of fame and fortune. The menu consisted of basic sandwiches with creative touches, soups, salads, and appetizers for lunch and the addition of some proteins on the dinner menu. Nothing spectacular, but a step up from your basic diner/deli food with a few neat twists. Something your basic line cook could reproduce easily. I thought at the time that they had a decent chance of making it. Their bistro was located in an up-and-coming area, the couple were personable, and they seemed to have they're act together...until I visited their place for lunch on a week-end that I was in the area.

Their first mistake? In my humble opinion, first-time restaurateurs should start small and easy and buy a franchise. It's a good way to learn the ropes of ownership while having the support structure newbies will need. This couple had very little experience in the industry. The husband was ex-military with no experience. The wife had been a waitress for a few years, with a little time in management until her kids came and she became a housewife for about 4 years. Not the kind of experience you need if you are sinking your life savings into a risky business.

Their second mistake? Location, location, location. This bistro was in a small strip located about 200 yards off the main drag, with no direct access. Driving from the West, you had to drive past it, turn left across 2 busy lanes of traffic, and do a big circle around this small campus of businesses. And the small sign atop the business was undecipherable from the road, especially where everyone drives 45mph+ right past it. Cars coming from the East would never see it, as it was on the backside of the building. If no one knows you're there, how do you expect to thrive?

Their third mistake? Failure to invest the sweat equity needed to ensure success. Yes, they had two small sons, but this place did not have overly-long opening hours and was closed on Mondays. Two weeks after opening, they hired a Front of the House Manager and a Back of the House Manager to run this small bistro so they could spend more time at home. When you are opening your own restaurant, you should be devoting all your time to your enterprise and putting the money saved back into the restaurant. That is the first rule for success in this kind of undertaking. Six months minimum up to a year or more is the time frame before you start sitting back and enjoying the spoils of your hard work and money spent. It took them two weeks to fall prey.

Their fourth and most fatal mistake? If you have not saved enough money to operate your restaurant for a full year, you should just wait until you have it. After only 6 months in operation, this small place was shuttered. I take no glee in their demise, for they were a nice couple who were perhaps a little disillusioned about what it takes to start and run your own place. Perhaps if one of them had worked outside the restaurant to bring in a stable paycheck to fund shortfalls in profit it might have worked. I only know it was a decent idea poorly executed. If there is a "next time" for them, hopefully they've learned what not to do. Or maybe learn to get someone more knowledgeable to help. Or buy a Domino's instead.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So Where's Allen Funt?

On my way home tonight, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up a few needs to tide me over until the week-end. Milk, granola bars, lunch meat, whatever. I always feel lucky if they have the self-check-out lane open and it was. "Score" in more ways than one.

After scanning my items and totalling the bill, I decided I needed an extra ten bucks until payday. So, after going through the process with my debit card, I looked in the cash back chute. There was a crisp twenty sitting there and then my two fives fluttered down on top of it. Hmmmmmm.

I look around to see if anyone is watching. None that I can tell. Is this Candid Camera? A hard-hitting expose from Night-line? Is that Dianne Sawyer thumbing through the Enquirer in the next lane?

What would you do?

I took the twenty up to the Service Desk and turned it in like the boob that I am. It sure would have come in handy, but I wouldn't have enjoyed it after the guilt got through with me.

No. Really. Tell me what you would do. I'm curious.

And if you don't know who Allen Funt is, ask your dad.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Let's Just Agree to Disagree, Hmmmm?

When you work with a bunch of right-wing neo-conservatives, conversation can often be confrontational. I stay out of it. I don't want people to know who I'm voting for, nor the laws I support. I don't want to explain why Proposition X, Y, or Z is supported by ignorant asses.

The thing that truly chaps my ass though, is people who ignore the other point of view. These are the poeple who drive me nuts, although I've learned over the years to not even get in a discussion with them. Because they never lose (in their own mind). Because what you think doesn't matter. Because you're an "idiot" if you disagree with their right-wing lunacy. When the talk turns to politics, I change the subject.

These people never agree to disagree, they choose to denigrate anyone with a differing viewpoint. The biggest example at my place of work went through a long, messy, expensive divorce last year. Wonder why? He also takes the word of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as gospel. Any supporter of Obama is immediately labeled a communist. He's one of those "I've got mine, everyone else can go to Hell" type of people.

I don't know why some people can't just agree to disagree and go on. I think insecurity plays a part. Lack of interaction with people of different faiths, backgrounds, and ideologies contributes, also. It's just their smug "know everything" attitude that ruins it.

Bet you know someone like that. They seem to multiply faster than others.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

People Who Should Disappear From the Face of the Earth

Each of the following don't deserve their own post, let alone me taking the time to write about them. But, as a whole, these are the people who make our lives a living Hell. Or, at the least, a less harmonious world.

*Servers who hand me my glass of (whatever) with all five fingers touching the rim. My version of the "octopus serve", with palm down and all five fingers surrounding the top. Hello! I don't know where your fingers have been. Probably grabbing four glasses from the table you just bussed by putting your fingers into the tops and lifting. And then not washing your hands after. Right after you picked your nose. Or, whatever.

*People who drive in the left lane at the speed limit. Yes, I know you are totally legal doing this. But, hey, some of us like to thumb our noses at the designated speed limit. Yes, we are doing something totally illegal. GET YOUR ASS IN THE RIGHT LANE, BITCH! (And, yes, those who are guys are bitches also) Have you heard of "road rage"? You are the cause. Move your ass over.

*Those who choose to write a check in the "Express Lane" at the grocery store. And then wait to put pen to check until the total is calculated. Hello, the date is not going to change, write it down while 'Sally' is scanning your shit. Your signature is not going to change with the total. The name of the store is not going to suddenly change, either. Obviously, your time is not that important. But, 'news-flash', mine is, thank you very much.

*Bussers who go by the table and say, "You through with that?". If I was through with that, I wouldn't be eating from it, and it would be sitting by the edge of the table. Duh!

*Newspaper columnists who should be labeled lobbyists. You shill for the same causes every week. We know your affiliation by now. Stop calling yourself a 'journalist'.

*People who live in apartments who are oblivious to those little lines called 'parking spaces'. If you can't fit your '92 Toyota in those spaces, you shouldn't be driving.

*People, who when calling my place of business by mistake just hang up instead of saying "Sorry, wrong number".

*People, who call my business, who mistakenly think we have X, Y, or Z, and I give them the name of our competitor, who then ask, "Do you have their number?". Yeah, it's 411. Give it a try, dude.

*Turd-wads who look at a price-tag and say, "I can get this for x-dollars less on-line". Or, "I saw this for so-and-so at Wal-Mart". One, if you order it online, you have to pay for shipping, dipshit! And if it arrives damaged, how much is your time worth to rectify the situation? Two, the item you saw at Wally-world is not the same as what we carry. Plus, they have about a million times more buying power than we have. The same goes for the distribution center of your mega-billion-dollar fast-food outlet. Sorry, we buy by the dozen, not by the kazillion.

*New neighbors who think their offspring's bike should be parked in front of my door. News-flash! This is not a dorm. I pay for that little bit of concrete in front of my door. You don't. Or maybe, things are different in Louisiana.

*People who drive 5mph below the speed limit in no-passing zones and then speed up when you get the dotted-lines to pass. Hey, dufus, you have a Lexus. I'm pretty sure that $40k car has cruise control.

*People who block the aisle at the grocery store. Hello, is this the way you drive? Please, give me a five minute head start before you leave the parking lot.

*People who think that, at my place of business (a commercial kitchen equipment supply company), we should carry every little piece of ephemora associated with cooking. 2-1/2" tart pans are not widely used in restaurants now-adays. Nor are cherry-pitters, layer-cake columns, bundt cake pans, or other obtuse contrivances called for on a daily basis by our restaurant customers. Sure, we can special order it for you, but don't be shocked when we ask you to pay for shipping. Or, if it may take a week or more to get it in. Until that Star-Trek transporter is perfected, we are at the whim of the shipping companies. And their minimum-wage employees. Deal with it. Plan ahead.

Whew, that was a lot off of my chest! It's been building for awhile, and I'm sure I'm forgetting many, many other pet peeves, but that should do for now. What are your "duh" statements to your customers?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

An Interesting Time In "The Biz"

This is surely an interesting time to be in the restaurant business. On a daily basis, I talk to probably 10 to 20 operators, be it managers or owners. While I cash them out, I always make it a point to ask how things are going. Can't help it, I'm naturally curious, and it may make for some good fodder for blogging.

Prospects are not good right now, as many of you know all too well. I used to try to be light-hearted, and reassure people that customers will always be there. That everyone has gotten used to eating out. That we all have become accustomed to eating out. We've all become to lazy to cook for ourselves. Now I'm not so sure. I've been hearing horror tales lately.

Here where I live, in the Florida panhandle, has been hit extraordinarily hard by this 'recession'. Now, I know it's not official, but I think we really are in a recession. Our government may throw around a lot of numbers, but those numbers can be manipulated in a way to show that things are peachy. They're not, and God help those who think everything is fine. They are blind and choose to view things the way they think.

People are not going out to eat they way they have. And those who do, are choosing less expensive options. And those who choose those options are not tipping well, either. We have a lot of servers who buy their aprons, wine-keys, etc. here, and they tell me the truth. They have no reason to lie to me. Things are tough, and probably will be for awhile.

The establishments doing well are on the lower rung of the spending spectrum. They're your fast-food places, diners, and family-dining places. Those faring poorest are the middle-rung places: i.e., your TGI Fridays, Macaroni Gill, and Ruby Tuesdays-type places. The high-class establishment will always do well, although the servers are hurting from low tips.

I don't profess to know the answer to these problems. I only know that we may have to move to a more 'European' type of payment. Higher wages to cover the lack of tips. Which will drive up the cost of eating out. Which means less people eating out. Which I don't know what the f**k that means. I don't know if there is an answer. If I knew, I'd be a rich man, which I'm not. I only know that the current system is in for a change, which is not good.

"Service" is bad enough as it is. Who knows how long it will take to get that extra ramekin of dressing in the future.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Audacity

Today started out hot and humid. Hot and humid as only someone living in the South can appreciate. Well, not terribly so, at 8:30 am it was about 80 degrees and about 80 percent humidity. No big deal really. Anyways, my dad came over from the mainland so we could play some tennis. We had a great time, as usual. Now that he's older (66), I have a great time beating him like he used do to me when I was 15 and he was 33. Paybacks, and all that.

I had been inside cooling off and was almost starting to nap at 2:00 when my neighbor stopped by and wanted to go to the pool. That sounded good, so I told him I'd meet him down there in a few minutes. I packed my Captain and Diet Pepsi, put on my new swim trunks, and headed over to the pool next door, remembering to take my hat and sunglasses this time.

My neighbor, Steve, wasn't there yet as I strolled through the gate. "Get out the life-vests, we have an old guy arriving" was shouted as I approached. As I opened the gate, I looked at who was announcing the arrival of this "old guy". It was a guy who looked to be about 60.

"You've got to be at least 50, aren't you?" Needless to say, I was immediately taken aback. Yes, I'm 48 (just turned), but the audaciousness coming from someone like him was astounding.

He was shorter than me, very tan, and missing all the teeth on the bottom of his smile. He kidded me about the whiteness of my skin, and all I could come up at the time was, "Well, I have a lot of indoor things keeping me busy." Lame, meet Ex-R, Ex-R meet lame. I simply find laying by the pool a waste of time, and unfortunately (or fortunately) my job is inside.

He made a show of putting his tan, leathery arm next to my pastey white legs and proclaiming how white I was. Uh, dude, Friend-Making 101 kinda frowns on shit like that. But he proceeded to pull up a chair to the lounge I staked out. Oh, Lord, he wants to be friends. Yeah, that's it, put someone down, and then suck up to them.

"How old do you think I am?"

Pause, pause. "You look like you're in you're mid-forties." Although, in truth, he looked ALL of his 52 years and more. No bottom teeth, many wrinkles, and saggy skin told a tale he was not willing to accept. And he was calling me old, what nerve! Okay, my hair has migrated South, I'm about 15 pounds above my ideal weight, my goatee is mostly white, but I think I look okay for my age.

The truth comes out later when I find out that he's been staking out a single mom at the pool. She's around 40-ish and apparently perked up when I arrived. When we were sitting around the pool, she basically ignored dufus and talked to me. I've experienced this many times. Yes, I'm gay, but not to the casual observer. I get hit on by single women all the time (not to seem conceited, but in Florida, there's a lot of them).

Dufus pulled up a chair and started a conversation while I was just trying to get some sun.

"I run 5 miles every morning, do I look like I'm 52?" Um, yes you do. And your crappy calves don't look like you run 5 miles every day. And when you're not sucking in your gut, you've got a beer belly.

Deal with it, dude. Don't put everyone else down to make yourself look better. I was a restaurant manager. That was a daily happening, and I've learned better. Only mentally-deficient Area Managers fall for that shit.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Yeah, I Know. It's Been a While. You Just Wait.

It's that time of year, here in the deep South. We had an unusually mild spring here in the panhandle, and it's been lovely. Crisp, cool nights with sunny days in the 70's. That's why people move here from the arctic North. But, the fun and games are over for another summer, I fear.

Last night, the humidity moved in on little dog feet. One night, a light blanket for cover. The next, ceiling fan on medium and no covers. Tonight will be more of the same. Humid, but not so terrible yet.

I refuse to fall to the tyranny of the air conditioner so soon. I will use the fan. I will disrobe to discretion's edge. I will savor a nice, cool cocktail.

Not many from the North can appreciate the beautiful and mild Springs here in the Deep South. From March onward, it's easy to luxuriate in mild weather while the Northern territories get their late Winter blusters. Then, around May, things take a turn for the warm.

Which is fine. You really do acclimate to the heat. You just don't spend much time in it. Southerners have elevated air conditioning to a fine art. Where Northerners cocoon in the winter, us down here migrate inside for the summer. Or go to the beach, like Northerners go to the slopes in winter. You cope, and you deal, and you make the best of it, and you make it your mission to make it good.

Summer in the South is great for beaches (duh), going to the movies (with Milk Duds, my favorite), bowling (fun with a few beers), going to Biloxi and the Casinos (90 minutes away), and hanging by the pool (hopefully the teen-agers will keep their bodily secretions at home this year).

It's Summer now in the South, and it's a good thing. As much as you Northerners point fingers and talk about 'Four Seasons' and all that crap, I'd bet my windows stay open for clean ocean breezes a lot more than yours.

And now, I feel the need to go make some fresh-brewed sweet tea for the week-end. More later.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Clarification, or "Enough of the Drama"

So Not Gonna Happen
(Taken from PostSecret)

I wrote in my 100th post that I may get back in the restaurant biz. Maybe I was just having a nostalgic flashback. Maybe I had a few cocktails before writing that post. Maybe I'm just deluding myself. I'm probably too picky now to take another restaurant job. I don't know if the perfect restaurant job even exists, but I'm not too jaded to not look. All I know is that my current job is not a 'forever job'.

I think I knew it at the beginning, during my initial interview. The owner arrived late, and wasn't the most personable person I've met in my life. He was from Louisiana, a bad sign from the get-go. I had a stepfather who was a "CoonAss", and he was loud, hard-headed, and did not take to confrontation well. What an understatement! He abused my mother physically and was an alcoholic, and a mean alcoholic when he drank.

My boss runs the place with his wife and sons, two in this store, an older one at another location. Having your immediate boss be the owner's son doesn't invite constructive criticism. How do you tell the owner that his son is in way over his head. When a son throws you 'under the bus', all you can do is stare blankly ahead and bite your tongue. Saying otherwise would only make things worse.

For example, in the eleven months I've worked there, four employees have given their two-weeks notice. All four led to shouting matches with the symbolic walking of the employee to the door and to forget about the f-ing notice, "We don't need you after all we've done for you" rhetoric. When I leave, I think I'll call in my notice, saving everyone the drama.

Anyway, I'm tired of everyone but the 'family' taking the heat for mistakes, and I'm ready to move on. I just wish the economy were better, along with my finances. I NEED a raise, but I'm afraid the request will lead to sturm und drang. I'll leave the drama to The young and the Restless and find something else. And that something else will probably be a restaurant job. In this area, there's not a whole lot other than that. And I'm tired of moving. WAY tired of moving.

In the mean time, I'll bite my tongue, work as hard as I ever have, and keep my eyes peeled and ears open to anything that will offer some respite. And decent benefits. And child-less owners.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Just So You Know

Now that I'm posting my past history, I will put a time-line or something at the beginning of each post. Some new readers don't know that I served tables eons ago. I was in a progression of all my experiences to show what not to do.

To all new viewers, start at the beginning! Or maybe not. I was pretty pathetic back then. I've learned a lot since then. I think.

The Majic 100

This post will not be on a certain subject, but a hurly-burly, herky-jerky, all over the place type of post to commemorate the century mark. Yay, me. And only a week from my birthday. Yay, me, again.

I used to think that I was a horrible housekeeper. Then I saw the inside of two of my neighbors' apartments. I'm Sally-Housekeeper compared to them. I no longer will be ashamed for people to stop over. Not to mention they all have pets, which I do not have, yet. But, come on, if your carpet is the same color as your pets, something is wrong. (You would not believe)

I will never again (and I thought I learned my lesson at the Country Club) work for ONE PRIVATE OWNER. When you work for a corporation, at least you know that you will not be working for that person forever, and there is always someone above your boss to go to, or their boss's boss. Working for the owner means that if he/she has a problem with you, it will never be solved. And if that owner is a hot-headed Coon-Ass, confrontation will not ever, ever work. Especially if his spawn is the subject of said confrontation. Definately a no-win situation. "Hey, your son sucks pond water, and never asks for help!" "Well, you should do more, he's stressed!" "Excuse me, he just got back from a week in Arizona being courted by every manufacturer with excess PR money to spend. Y0u flew 1st class and stayed in a 4-star hotel suite. He's back one day, and he's stressed? We were short 3 people and opened 3 huge restaurants and nothing was ordered for any of them. I had to beg, borrow, and steal smallwares to get them open while you were sipping Martinis because your spawn didn't order anything that was needed." (This last said in my mind)

Customer service, per se, no longer exists. No matter where you go, you will be treated like shit. Be it Wally-world, or Nordstrom, or Tiffany's, they couldn't care less is you bought something or not. The exception is the exception. Anytime that I'm treated as a coveted customer is the exception, not the rule. And my attitude has adjusted accordingly.

I hit 4 out of 6 in last week's lottery for a pay-out of $92.50. Since I've shelled out around $20 in the last six months, I'm ahead. Yeah, me!

I've decided that my job sucks. No big surprise, all jobs suck. But, how do you complain to the owner when it's his kid that is not pulling his weight? Quite the no-win situation there. Especially when the owner doesn't take confrontation well. And the spawn blames you for their short-comings. Who do you think will be believed?

Only seven months for this God-forsaken election to be over. I'm so OVER it!

I think everyone should go through a driver's test again. Forget parallel parking. Teach everyone to get the fuck out of the left lane if they're not passing anyone!

Lastly, I think I'm ready to get back in the Restaurant Biz again. God help me, I miss it. There is no family like restaurant family. I feel no ties to my co-workers here, even after 11 months. They couldn't give a rat's ass for what I feel, or what I need. Everyone for themselves. Bastards. Team-play is another language they have not even considered. Their loss.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


There actually wasn't one episode that led to my leaving Capital Grille, there were two. I can usually take one act of stupidity and blow it off as an abomination. All the little stuff can be shrugged off, one big blow to the head (figuratively) can be explained away, but when the pile of excuses gets ass-deep, it's time to move on.

The first incident happened late one night when business was on that slow, downward spiral towards the end. Most of the floor had been cut and there was about 4 of us servers left. I got sat with a 3-top, two men and a woman, and I approached them ready to go through my special spiel. They interrupted several times and were very loud and patronizing, not a great start. They ordered drinks, but I knew that they were already 2-1/2 sheets to the wind, so I went to get a Manager to decline alcohol as we were taught. Now, finding a manager is tough enough at this place, and I was at a time-disadvantage, since people expect their drinks to arrive fast. I ended up finding them sitting at a table eating lobster and drinking champagne and explained what was needed. They assured me that they would be right there. Five minutes passed and neither appeared at the table. Wanting to save my tip, I went to the table to let them know that I had to get a manager to OK the drink order.

You would have thought that I had insulted their ugly child. They vociferously let me know that I didn't know what I was talking about. It was one of the guys' birthday and they were out in a limo, so they could drink all they wanted to. I had to explain that the law stated no one could be served if they appeared intoxicated, whether they came by limo, ox-cart, or teleporter. The discussion was, how shall we say, lively. A manager finally showed up, apologized about me, and sent over a bottle of wine on the house. At this point, I asked to be excused from waiting on this table and was refused. I would have to soldier on.

I went back to the table, apologized, and tried to explain that I was just doing my job. They said that I was forgiven, as long as the rest of the night went smoother. I went into ass-kissing mode. When their food was ordered, I went to the Kitchen Manager who I got along well with, explained the situation, and asked him to please make sure extra attention was given their meals. All went well, they left happy. Drunk as shit, but complimentary, anyway. All was forgotten until two days later when a three page letter arrived at the restaurant.

I knew nothing about it until I was called to the side after pre-shift. The GM grabbed the Kitchen Manager and we went for a short walk to a bench in the mall. The GM had me read the letter, which was filled with false-hoods and embellishments. In short, I was called inept and rude and should be fired, poste haste. Luckily, the Kitchen Manager was the one asked to be the witness to my tar-and-feathering and he stuck up for me big time. He told the GM how I had to search for the managers on duty and how I took extra care with the rest of the dinner. It ended up that I was now on probation, and needed to prove that I still warranted a job there. I WAS PISSED, but went along with it, because I needed the job, and actually liked the place. Little did I know, but I had made an enemy with one of the managers from that night. Evidently, I was not the only one now on probation.

Incident #2

A few days later, things appeared back to normal. We set up for dinner, and I was really looking forward to it as I was in a primo section at the back where the booths were. Seating was starting to take place around me as I waited for my first table. The sections on either side of me each had one table sat and were now receiving their second table. Okay, I thought, probably just an inept host at the stand, so I went up to the front to see what was going on. There, one of those lazy bastard managers had taken up position behind the host stand. I tactfully reminded him that my section was empty and the others were receiving their second. He assured me that I would be sat soon, real soon.

I went back and re-polished the wine glasses and silverware and waited for my first table. It was now an hour into dinner service. And the other sections were receiving their third table, while I waited for my first. This was now appearing to be deliberate. I headed to the GM's office and explained what was going on. He got on the intercom to the host desk and asked what was going on, and to seat me next. On the way back through the kitchen to get to my section, I was met by a red-faced manager who proceeded to yell at me at the top of his lungs. Everything had come to a stop in the kitchen, with me getting a lungful in front of everyone. I looked to the side and caught sight of the Kitchen Manager standing there shaking his head back and forth, silently telling me not to yell back. I took the abuse and headed back to my section, where I finally got my first table. A two-top in a booth that would sit eight. My section was sporadically sat while around me the other sections were full.

At the end of the night, I probably had half the sales of those around me. And, I now had a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder. I continued on for a few days after that working long hours and starting to absolutely hate my job. It took every effort to show up, but I did. Until I could no longer look in the mirror and be proud of what I was doing. I had left a job that I really liked to come here where there was career-advancement opportunities and prestige. I put in my notice, and got other servers to cover all my shifts. I would work no more shifts at Capital Grille. And I would have to see just how badly burned that bridge was at the Country Club.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


I've only erased one of my posts before and it was only a couple of weeks ago. The new John Adams series debuted on HBO and I was feeling patriotic, political, and pissed. 24 hours later, I re-considered what I had written. It was also a teeny, tiny bit judgemental against a certain party. I realized that this was not the forum for that. A touch deep for what is, and I hope will remain, fairly light-hearted entertainment for those who choose to waste their time reading this :)

What I will do instead, is to praise the HBO series "John Adams". I confess to being a bit prejudiced. John Adams was my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Grandfather. A relative decades ago went to the trouble to get the family tree researched. Who'da thunk my family could be traced to so noble a name. We were all average, middle-class, hard-working, non-remarkable people. I think we would have gotten along.

I spent over two years in Massachusetts while travelling for Macaroni Grill. The area I was in was very close to Boston, so once when I had two days off in a row, I travelled down to Quincy and Braintree. Not a big deal, they were only 40 minutes away. My first stop was to Quincy, where John was born. I had only seen drawings from his day, so I had a hard time finding it. Silly me, it wasn't on a small road in the country anymore, but on a major street. His birthplace and his later home were right next to each other 20 feet off the street, but remarkably looking the same as the drawings. I signed up for the next tour and followed the guide from room to room gawking at everything. I was chided for dawdling behind the others, but I was just standing and absorbing and reveling being in the same space where my ancestor lived and breathed. I had read the book by David McCullough when it was released, but I was not prepared for the awe I felt that day.

Later, I travelled to Braintree where John Adams lived after returning from Europe and until his death. A beautiful and tasteful home called "Peacefield". Certainly nice for it's time, it showed his and Abigail's restraint for their position. It's certainly no Monticello, but is a stunning house, especially with the stone library across the garden. During the tour, I wanted to shout that I was a relative. I wanted to grab ahold of the celebrity that should incur. But I remained silent and solemn. How like my ancestor. He toiled for his country for a long, long time with little pay and was dumb-founded when he got little appreciation for it.

I'm so proud to be descended from him and John Quincy, and glad that he is now getting the respect that he deserves. He was not a pretty man, but he deserves to be on some currency more than some others who are. Read the book, and you'll agree.

And Abigail Adams would have eaten Hillary for lunch. Which is funny, because I voted for Hillary.

Did you know that John Adams was the only 'founding father' who never, ever owned a slave?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

High-falutin' eatin'

I was taking a big chance moving on to a new restaurant in town, no matter how swanky it was. I had been at the Country Club for 5-1/2 years and was ready to move one. Onward and upward as they all say. Life and my career were stagnant. I was ready to move on and see how far I could go.

Showing up the first day was interesting, to say the least. The majority of new hires were young, pretty, model types. Some had good experience, some were the best that Denny's could spit out. I felt old, and I was only 35. Oh, my God, I was 35 and competing against kids almost young enough to be my kid. What was I thinking?

Despite my obvious 'maturity', I was not the only one. There was one other trainee that I bonded with, and his name was Thor. He was one year younger than me, and we commiserated about the relative youth of our fellow waitstaff. We ended up becoming best friends, but that's another story, and another post in the future.

We were given two study books that first day. One was around 2 inches thick, the other about half that. The thick one was what they expected of their servers, the smaller a wine seminar on paper. And to think I thought that I knew it all. We spent eight hour days studying and practicing our 'spiel' until we were well versed on everything beef and vino.

The Capital Grille is a fancy schmancy steak house on the order of Morton's or Ruth's Chris, and there were many things I was unfamiliar with. I learned what a table crumber was. I learned what a 'spiel' was. I learned what side-work was. I learned what grapes were in Champagne and Bordeaux, and what 'Appellation' and 'terroir' meant. I learned what snooty Managers were.

After nearly a month of 40-hour-a-week training, we were ready to open. Little did we know what we were in for. We were trained in 2-week dry aging for the steaks. The proper way to serve Champagne (Don't pop it, you'll save the bubbles). How to be perky, but sophisticated at the same time. How to use those alligator clips on chains that dentists use to make an adult bib for the lobster eaters.

When we opened the doors, we were inundated with the pent-up demand for upscale dining in this up-and-coming suburb of Detroit. A lot of us were scheduled for four or five doubles a week, since they didn't get the amount of trainees they wanted, and quite a few flunked out of training. Some trainees couldn't put up all that was asked of them. Some had run-ins with the previously mentioned snooty managers. The GM was alright, but he was not a 'people person'. He mostly stayed in his cubby hole and used the intercom to deal with staff. Every day, we were packed from the time we opened the doors until the time we closed, which made getting a break all but impossible. If I had five minutes to grab a cigarette (illegally) by the dumpster, I was lucky. Money was great, more than I had ever made as a server, but I was soon becoming a non-fan of the management.

You can imagine in a high-class place, you have your share of people who are, shall we say, 'picky'. After all, an 8 oz Filet was around $28 dollars (12 years ago, even). Baked potato was $8 extra. Vegetable was extra. All Ala carte. Re-cooks on anything required you to ring it in again and find a manager to void or comp the item. And these managers were expert at being not found. I still think they had super-secret hidey holes made to remain inaccessible.

Then, head-waiters were appointed to collect money and sign off on side work. I was not chosen for this honor. The ones who were chosen turned out to be the most inept, but most brown-nosed. We closed at 10 on week-nights and 11 on Friday and Saturday, but by the time we got cashed out, it was usually 2 or 3am. 10am to 3am with no breaks was getting to me.

Things came to a head after a particularly difficult table one night. But that will be the next post.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

How About a Quickie Post?

I'll have an in-depth look at my time with the high-falutin' steak house up soon. Meanwhile, I'm enjoing this great weather we're getting right now. I love this time of the year here. High of 78, low in the 50's. Got some sun today partying with the neighbors by the pool, and then bbq'ing. My macaroni salad was a hit. Hopefully, I won't burn too bad.

This is my 96th post. I plan something special for my 100th. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lessons Learned

It's 1996, and I've worked over five years at the Country Club. I'm still young(ish), still have dreams and aspirations. Things were all right at the club, but up-ward options were few, if not nil. The owner had five kids, three over 20, and two in high school. The GM very Italian, very Soprano-ish, had a son who worked under me, but was clearly being groomed to take over some day. The same son who I kicked off my schedule for being lazy (and who I think was stealing money).

I started reading the want ads more regularly to see what was out there. One Sunday, there was a large ad for a new addition to our restaurant community. Capital Grill was coming to the metro area. I'd heard of it before, that it was some high-class steak place. On a whim, I filled out an application, since the ad promised chances of upward mobility. I don't remember much about the interview, only that I was very enthused about the possibilities layed out for me.

It was about 2 weeks later when I got the call that I was accepted as a server. The bad news was that I had to start in 10 days. I wouldn't be able to give a full 2 week's notice. I dreaded telling the 'Godfather' the news, but was excited about the new adventure to come. I went home and typed out what I thought was a very pithy 'To Whom It May Concern' resignation letter. I went in an hour early the next day to give notice. The news was not taken well. A lot of conversation hovered around his protection of his son and the glass ceiling I was facing.

This was really the first time that I belatedly learned the importance of 'Burning Bridges'. I would soon learn to regret leaving the relative sanity and comfort of a job I'd held for five years. My predecessor, when passing on the job, had given me a bit of a warning that I had glossed over at the time, some four years earlier. It had something to do with 'Quality of Life', 'Don't stay here forever', and 'Get a life'. It took me over four years to figure it out.

And now I would start learning the 'Corporate' way of doing things. Alice's rabbit hole was pulling me in, but it was no tea party.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

To Someone Who Really Needs To Read This...


From those who work for and with you, you need no know that first, you are liked. You are respected. Your people will do anything you ask. But, you need to ask.

You don't ask. You take too much on yourself. Your father expects a lot of you. But not for you to do it all. Just make sure it gets done. No one can do it all. And you don't need the stress of thinking that you need to.

You have talented people surrounding you. Take advantage. Give them tasks. And give them a timeline.

Your people want you to succeed. For, if you succeed, they succeed. If you prosper, maybe you'll pass it on.

You don't have to demand results, just let them know what results are expected. And praise them if they meet or beat those results. Or hold them responsible if they don't meet them.

One final word of wisdom: Praise in public, condemn in private. That works best.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Just For Kicks

Thought I'd change the format a little for the Hell of it. Comments?

The 'Club Life' Has Caveats

Working at the country club taught me a lot. Never, ever, work for a person you would hate to wait on as a server. And if they have multiple children who like to put their nose into everything, even worse. And if they've had a General Manager who would fit right in to the Sopranos way of life, even more so.

This was a country club that was founded in 1925, basically a converted cow pasture. Some well-known golfsman was hired to improve it in the early 30's and it became a popular location. It even hosted the Western Open a few years, where a man named Walter Hagen made his name. After the Depression, with no tournaments to host, it fell into disrepair. Fast forward 4 decades, and an entrepreneur with a few dollars in his pocket saw an opportunity. It was a large barn and an over-grown course waiting for some lovin'.

The big, fat owner (we'll call him Bb, for Beelzebub), decided there should be more than one expensive country club in Metro Detroit. He bought adjoining land for an additional 18 holes, expanded the barn to include a banquet hall, Men's Grill, and fancy locker rooms, and ran with it. One of his off-spring went to school for construction, one for foreign relations, and the other just ran all the heavy equipment. The two younger didn't show any proclivity for country club running, so one played college and some pro hockey, and the youngest tried her luck at golf, to no good result.

Meanwhile, I was running the Men's Grill as the smooth-running, money making machine it always was. Only, I added a cigar case, special dinners, and high-end Scotches to the mix, all to universal praise. My only problem was a slacker server that I inherited. The GM's son. Truly an abysmal server, liked only by those kissing the GM's pucker. I made the mistake of taking him off of my Men's Grill Schedule and putting him on the Mixed Grill Schedule. The resultant ass-reaming I received could be heard for miles. And was the beginning of the end. For 'slacker' was being groomed for the GM-ship. Stupid me, I thought that I might have a chance, since I ran a large portion of the club. The ladies started visiting the patio area we had, before they would have been ignored. I made my 'guys' go to the patio and serve them. Why should the girls in the Mixed Grill get all the business?

Soon, the patio outside the Men's Grill became the hot spot for all the wives (It was right next to the 18th green). We made all the fru-fru drinks that they wanted. Better for me to get the grat than those dip-sticks in the Mixed Grill. Well, that didn't go over well either. No one wanted to work in the Mixed Grill because the women were all coming down to the Men's Grill for service and great food. Not my problem.

When I got in trouble for getting the GM's son out of the Men's Grill, I kinda realized that I had reached a plateau there that would never rise. And at the time, I was a hungry guy. I wanted to rule the world, not just the Men's Grill. I had waited on sports stars and celebrities, and I was hungry for more. It just wasn't going to happen here. My last name did not end in a vowel, so I would not move up any further than Men's Grill Manager. Now I knew why my predecessor left after many years. At the time, I couldn't imagine why he would leave this 'cush' job. Yeah, it's 'cush' if you can stand being sub-servient for the rest of your life.

There was an ad in the paper for a high-falutin' concept arriving in the metro Detroit area. Capital Grill was arriving to the high-money, high-falutin', up-scale area known as the Somerset Collection in Troy, Michigan. The ad emphasized upward-growth and opportunity. It was a shining beacon to someone with no up-ward mobility.

And so I applied. And I was hired. And that's the next chapter in the saga.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Club Life

Talk about a different world. I'd gone from fried cheese appetizers and flannel shirts to shrimp cocktail and colorful golf attire. The difference between middle class, blue-dollar, 'normal-ness' and popped-collar, upper class executives was a culture shift that I enjoyed. This was an exclusive, antique-laden, Gothic hulk of a country club that always registered in the top 100 in the U.S. At least the golf course did. The owner would spend $25k to ship over an antique bar from England, and wouldn't let me set out $10 worth of cheese and crackers for the members. Hard to believe people would shell out $25 grand for initiation fees (five years later it was $50) and $2500 a month minimums (the minimum you must spend each month on food and liquor).

When I first started there, it was as a server in the 'Men's Grill'. The job payed pretty well, around $3.50/hr. and an automatic 15% on every check, called a 'chit'. The more you sold, the more you made, automatically. And there was a line for extra grat on every chit. When you get autograt, it sure teaches you to up-sell. Although the Men's Grill menu had primarily burgers and sandwiches, it was nothing for us to offer to run up to the Mixed Grill for pricey steaks and seafood for the big spenders. Generous members would often remember us in the extra grat slot for the long trek we would make for them and their guests. And we had some pretty important guests.

My favorite was serving Spanky McFarland (you younger ones might need to Google this one) a gin and tonic. Many of the Detroit pro athletes were members, but they can usually be included in the list of "Rich Dip shits who don't know how to tip", or "Morons who snap their fingers at you". Thank God for that autograt.

Things went well, and my second year there the Men's Grill manager left for a Monday thru Friday 'normal' job. I was made the new manager and had a lot to prove. The original had been there for seven years, and the regular, long-term members looked at me with wary eyes. My work was cut out for me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Your Emergency Just May Not Be Mine....

My last two days have been way more stressful than they needed to be, bitch. SOME PEOPLE just don't realize how unreasonable they are. Just because you are the customer doesn't mean I can perform miracles for you at the snap of fingers. I'll preface this by saying that I DO NOT promise things that are unattainable. "Under promise, over perform" has usually been a good practice for happy customers. SOME PEOPLE obviously didn't get the memo.

Your Assistant Manager (who is really nice, and I totally feel sorry for her) called early last week for a quote on an underbar 3-compartment sink. I had one available, and gave her a more-than-decent price. She pooh-poohed the price, saying she had another source at a better price, so nix on that purchase. Oh well. Two days later, we sold it to another restaurant. Two hours after that, your AM called to say you would 'take it off our hands after all'. So sorry, we will now have to special order that for you. It 'should' be in next week around Thursday.

Cut to Tuesday:

After checking on the purchase order with the manufacturer, it seems they are a bit behind. Instead of a 2/17 ship date, it now looks like maybe a ship date of 2/21. Being the up-right person I am, I called to say, "Gee, I'm sorry, it looks like your sink may not arrive by Thursday". [You would have thought that I'd reneged on a lotto ticket or something by the response I got.]

You: "That is totally unacceptable. You said we'd have the sink by Thursday."

Me: "No ma'am, I said our orders to that manufacturer usually arrive in one week, which would put it around Thursday. We had that sink in stock last week, but your AM cancelled the order because she could get it cheaper somewhere else. Then two days later, she 'uncancelled' the order after said sink was sold to someone else (for more money than I quoted you!). I'm sorry you will have to wait a few more days.

You: "So, are we going to get a discount for having to wait for the sink?"

Me: "No ma'am, I'm sorry, as I said before, when the order was originally given, I had one in stock, which was turned down. And I never promised that you would have the special-ordered sink by Thursday, only that a normal delivery from the manufacturer would arrive 'around' Thursday. I only promised that we would do what we could do."

You: {Nothing, since you now have your AM talking with me again after I CALLED YOU OUT!}

And, I could hear you in the background coaching the AM on what to say. Classy!

I've worked with too many of 'you people'. I've waited on way too many of 'you people'. I was a manager when 'you people' complained for no rational reason. I wasn't born yesterday. Look at all the gray hairs I have. I ain't a push-over, no 'mo.

I told our owner and his wife what was going on in case she should call and complain. Their reply? "Too bad for her".

I appreciated my bosses a bit more after that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Serious Shortage of Boobage

While working at the sports bar/restaurant/bowling alley (we'll call it 'Zips'), I became pretty good friends with the manager, Kristin. Kristin was a pretty together gal, good-looks, friendly, and smart. Her only shortcoming was her Neanderthal fiance. Many times we would close the place and when everyone else was gone, we would practice mixing new drinks on each other (Not literally 'on' each other). We'd sit at the bar, drink, and talk, and generally wind down and have a good time until we had to leave. Those are some of the good times I miss about the industry (back in the day when it was okay to drink on the house and socialize with management).

The seasons rolled around to very early spring and Kristin announced that she was leaving to go work at the Country Club (which her uncle owned) just north of town as the Dining Room Manager. And she wanted me to go with her. I had worked for Zip's for almost a year and had finally gained the highly-coveted day-time bartender role. Only to lose it to the owner's mistress. Or, more correctly, to her tits. I couldn't argue too much, since most of the lunch patrons were assembly-line guys who would rather see her low-cut tank tops than my shapely legs behind the bar. No matter that she thought Rob Roy was the guy throwing darts across the room, or her register was continually $20-$50 short each shift. Hey, she had HEALTHY boobage. My exile back to the dining room was not mourned by the regulars, but was a sharp knife in the back to my ego. The writing was on the wall, and it was not love letters to me.

While the Country Club was ramping up, I cut my hours at Zip's as the weather improved, until I was full-time at the Club. Bye-bye shorts and polos, hello tux shirts and bow ties. Now, this was a different world. And I felt strangely at home.

Side-note: Spell check had no problems with the word 'boobage'. Interesting.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

To Normality and Back Again

Michigan, 1986. After serving in the Air Force for five years, it was back to the real world. I was a world traveller in the service, and the idea of going back to restaurant work wasn't at the top of my wish-list. I had taken a few classes in drafting and engineering (and philosophy for some reason LOL) while enlisted, and decided if I was going to live in the Motorcity area, that's the career I should follow. A few classes in body and lay-out and I was on my way.

You start out at the bottom in that business, a position called Detailing. The lay-out person draws a larger assembly, labels all the peices, and hands this off to the detailer. The detailer then draws individual parts that are sent to the manufacturers to bid on. If this sounds rather boring, believe me, it is. You sit at a large drafting table for 8 to 12 hours a day, in a cavernous room filled with other large drafting tables. You can often tell how long someone has been in the biz by how big their elbow callouses are, like rings on a tree. And I felt like a tree, rooted in a boring business.

Within a couple years, I was now a lay-out person, and was working for a company that designed welding fixtures. My hourly wage was now up to $17/hr (in 1989 that was huge) and would be going up to around $25/hr after I finished a computer drafting course I was taking at night. Things were looking up except for one thing. I WAS F-ING BORED!

I made the bold decision to stop my classes, and to use the time to work part-time as a waiter at a local sports bar/restaurant/bowling alley. God help me, I enjoyed it immensely. I started working more hours at the restaurant and calling out sick more often at the drafting job. I was hooked again, and went full-time, full-bore back to the drama, insanity, and adrenaline the service industry offers.

Next up: a touch of class is in order.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Semi-Celebrity Deli Shananigans

So, I start this new job at a new deli. A step up from fast-food, whoo-hoo! After working at chain fast-food, I thought I had it all worked out, I knew it all now. Boy, was I a naive 19-year-old.

First, the owner (or namesake, whatever). I won't give a name, but he hosted a local talk-show, a poor-man's Regis Philbin in the early days (this is the armpit of Ohio). A legend in his own mind. Luckily, he had very little to do with the day-to-day operations of the place. In one year, I see him maybe 6 times. Thank God, I thought we might have to widen the doorways to fit his inflated, combed-over head.

Next, the real bucks behind it. Italian ancestry. Lots of connections. A daughter who married a dufus and had a kid. Dufus needs a job. Instant General Manager. Who hires me.

Mix in a staff who are operating on a mixture of amphetamines, pot, caffeine, hormones, and apathy. I started out loving working there. Parties after work. Good food while we worked. And we had great food. Huge Toledo-made corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on sensational rye and pumpernickel artisanal bread. Piled high subs. My mom's recipe macaroni and potato salad. Made from scratch cole slaw. Scrumptious fruit salad.

Too bad our audience wasn't with-it enough to support that kind of enterprise. In the process I was promoted to Assistant Manager and basically ran it. Unfortunately, the owners thought the name recognition was enough and they didn't need to advertise. And the venture slowly dwindled to nothingness.

I was the first to go, since the owners thought that they'd make the son-in-law do some work finally. I applied for unemployment and was turned down. They blackmailed a girl who was having an affair with the son-in-law to say that I was late every day. She was married, with 2 children, and one of my best friends (I never knew she was boinking the dork), and she tearfully admitted it all to me one day after a game of cards.

I tried moving on, but there were no jobs to be had in North-west Ohio in 1980, so I took what I could get. I enlisted in the United States Air Force. Best job I ever had. Until many of my best friends started getting investigated for 'homosexual tendencies'. I was never questioned, but I saw the writing on the wall, and left with my Honorable Discharge in 1986. And a move to Michigan.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Yeah, That'll Work

Even though I was a fresh-faced 19-year-old, I felt I was a hardened and experienced restaurant veteran by the time I moved to Ohio in late 1979. I was as down-trodden as a Michael Vick reject, battle-scarred, tail between my legs, but ready to use my wits and resources to rise back to the top. Ready to show what I could really accomplish away from the dreaded chain fast-food restaurant. And ready to do it at a privately owned establishment.

Shortly after arriving in this rust-belt town, there was an ad in the paper for a deli worker in a new, exciting concept. An 'important' local TV celeb was starting his own chain of delicatessens. It would have TV references, with cutesy names for the sandwiches and 'Hollywood' lights around the mirrors, and, well, you get the idea. A big ego, with the backing of a local "family man" (nudge,nudge,wink,wink). Always a good idea. Even better, put the son-in-law in charge. What could be better to re-establish myself?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moving Up the Food Chain (Kinda)

Twelve hours after graduating high school in Mississippi, I hit the road. There was nothing anchoring me there. And it was the easiest way to escape my high school girlfriend. Yeah, I'm bad, but this is Mississippi remember. The only gays were hairdressers and florists. That I knew of. I'm sure there were a few Broke-back moments happening. They revealed themselves at risk of life and limb. The KKK was still very much active. My high school was 50/50 white/black and we were not allowed to have a prom. Blacks and whites might mingle or something.

I went to live with my dad and step-mother (who I adore) in South Carolina. Still in the South, but quite a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from the sticks of Mi'sippi. There was quite a lot to get used to. They actually sold alcohol here, unlike the dry county I came from. (Actually the same small town Oprah escaped from. She's done a little better than me, though.) There were discos where you could drink and dance. I was a small town boy in a big (well, biggish) city. And I needed a job. Gas was like 75 cents a gallon, cigarettes were like a buck, and T.J.Swann wine was all of $1.50 a jug.

I first started in the shop area of the manufacturing company my dad was an engineer at. My job was in what was called the de-burr section, where everyone started out. That's where all the metal parts that came in had to have all the sharp parts taken off. Even with thick leather gloves, my hands were always sore from metal shavings getting embedded. Something had to change, and I had all that restaurant experience under my belt.

I applied at a new Burger King in a wealthy suburb and was hired on the spot. For breakfast cook at O'dark thirty every morning. I loved everything about it except the early hour. This was the first time I had ever had a female boss, but June was the best. She knew what she was doing, she was cool, and she drove a kick-ass black Grand Prix SJ. I drove a Mustang II Mach I MPG with a four banger and four on the floor. I wanted to be June; smart, good-looking, suave, and master of the universe. I worked my ass off for her and we got along swimmingly.

After mastering the art of cooking eggs in a metal ring, and then throwing together Whoppers in 5 seconds (special orders did upset us!), I was invited to move up in Whopper-World. And now that I was management, I was invited to party with the management, and a whole new world opened up. Anyone who has worked for a franchisee with a lot of branches knows that it's easy to become friends with managers from other stores. You run low on buns and get on the phone to your nearest brother-store. You soon develop relationships. It soon became the usual routine to call the other branches half an hour before close to see who was working and where the party was that night. I grew up fast. I was having a blast. And I thought I was hot shit.

I had moved to a hip apartment complex, I installed a new-fangled cassette player in my car, and I was living the high life (literally). Then I got transferred to the worst store in town. It was around for a long time and had been run into the ground. The broiler broke down every other day. My new GM was a pretty-boy asshole (although he drove a cool car too, a Fiat X1/9 Targa. It seems when you become a GM, you MUST drive a cool car). Suddenly, things weren't so much fun anymore.

Eventually, my dad moved to Ohio, and I became frustrated with my job. Another clean break seemed the best, although I had made many good friends there. I soon followed my dad to Ohio and started a new adventure, this time with a privately owned restaurant. And a new post to write.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Birth of a Restaurant Addict...

I was 14, with no Hilton family fortune to ensure my future, let alone the next tank of gas for my moped (25 cents a fill-up in those days). My dad had an O.K. job, my mom spent money like he was C.E.O. of Tiffany's. And a new chain hamburger joint, Jack's, had opened in town, a major happening in this sleepy burg of 5,000 in the middle of Mississippi No-Where-Land. Way before there was a Wal-Mart, Walgreens, or Starbucks on every corner. Not even a McDonald's for 60 miles. Imagine!

Back then, the law said you could work at 14 in Mississippi. No rules about limited hours or how late you could work. Managers had free reign about how they could schedule the school-help. At first it started out part-time, maybe 3 shifts of 4-5 hours. Further on, with more experience and regular turn-over, it turned into more full-time and closing shifts. It soon became a 40+ hour a week job for a 15-year-old. I still don't know how I kept a B average through all of this.

I started dating my high school sweetheart during this time. (I was young, inexperienced, and did I say this was in Mississippi?) She was a cashier and I was a cook (mostly, but toward the end I did 50/50 FOH/BOH). This was, way before I knew I was gay, obviously. Anyway, we were a formidable team, and basically ran the place for a couple years. Our high school yearbook forecasted us getting married and starting our own restaurant in the future. Yeah, they were a little off.

It was way, way too many hours for a high-schooler to be working. That, and the long distance I lived from work, made it impossible to continue and I quit starting my senior year. I really didn't want to lose that paycheck, since my mom, who I lived with, wasn't a real big provider.

I really grew up and learned a lot in that first job. My first romance, my first taste of Independence, my initial contact with "customers", my first doobie in a car out back at the Christmas party.

I also learned the following:

Even back then, customers are NOT always right

Managers being friends with employees is not a good thing.

Politics at work means more than hard work. This lesson has followed me for almost 34 years now. Study it, learn from it. If I had, I may have taken a different route in life.

School kids should not work more than say, 20 hours a week. And maybe not at all during the week.

I was terribly addicted to the adrenaline rush of the Restaurant Biz, which would follow me on my move to South Carolina after graduation, and on to my second Restaurant Job, the mighty Burger King!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Face From the Past

I spent part of my day today, driving around, seeing what the rental situation is in my area. I've got less that two months to decide if I want to stay in my present abode. It's not a bad place, but I think I can do better for the money.

While driving, I happened to drive through the neighborhood where my ex-Kitchen Manager lives. I hadn't been there before, was just following For Rent signs. Turning a corner I caught sight of his truck, and a second later, he was raising his garage door.

Should I honk? Should I pull over? I wanted to stop and talk, but I had things to do (lame excuse). Thing is, I didn't know what to say. I left the job at 3 in the morning and didn't say good-bye to anyone. He knows the reasons I left, and we've chatted a few times on the phone when he called in an order for smallwares or for service. The last time we talked he said, "It's a shame you left, we could have accomplished a lot."

He was a good Kitchen Manager and we worked well together. I just couldn't work there anymore. And I'm sure he understands. But, still.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Notes on a Plane (2003 version)

It was very late October, 2003. I lived in Massachusetts... far, far away from family, save my Aunt/Sister Pat. My grandmother was in a nursing home in Mississippi and not the sharpest, mentally. I had just visited some months earlier, and was shocked to see her like that for the first time. Now it was her physical health that was faltering. "Be prepared", came the phone calls at work.

My Grandmother was the biggest influence in my life. Born and raised in the South to parents of little means, she continually yearned to a better station in life, and dragged everyone along. Which meant dragging a husband and two kids (one my dad) 1200 miles north to the Rust Belt and jobs. Then dragging her sisters and brothers and associated families, also. It really was for the best. Or my little egg would have wound up down a sewer somewhere.

The call came while I was getting ready for work. It's time to catch a plane and head South again. Riding in that plane, I decided I would speak her eulogy. And with the help of some cocktails at 20,000ft, I wrote the best eulogy ever written. It put my grandmother in her true light, vices and all. The flight attendants must have thought I was bipolar, alternating from tears to chuckles as I was.

Here, copied from the original I found a little while ago, is what I wrote on that bittersweet flight:

We've all come here today to pay our respects to a remarkable lady. O*** was a woman who didn't take kindly to getting older. I've always called her O***, because she didn't care for the word "Grandmother" early on. I spent much time with a pair of tweezers, pulling gray hairs while she put on her make-up. But she did get older, and with a great deal of grace and charm. She's what I imagined Scarlett O'Hara would have become, with a little Endora and a smidgen of Mrs. Cleaver.

She tought me how to shop, how to sew, and how to curse at ignorant drivers. She was the best at creating dramatic outfits for not much money. She could charm any sales clerk or reduce one to tears just as easily. She called me handsome when I was a fat 12-year old. She always kept the world's worst candy, circus peanuts, until finally getting something better, those individual Mounds bars, which probably helped me become a fat 12-year old. She probably could have given Shirley Muldowney a run for her money, but always got us safely to Panama City and back.

She kept the makers of Vienna sausages, buttermilk, and Sanka afloat long past their usefulness, but I actually saw her try escargot and like it (until I told her what it was). She had a knack for banana pudding, buscuits, and brandy balls, but I never saw a recipe. Red was her favorite color, and she wore it better than anyone I've ever known. It sure did match her personality.

She was an icon, our Matriarch, and no one could ask for a better Grandmother.

[When I finished, there were as many smiles as there were tears. And that's how she would have liked it.]

[And that's one reason why the Holidays aren't as Happy as they used to be. And why I haven't posted in a while. But I'm back, yall. (God, that sounds so Brittney)]