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.