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.