So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Disposable

So, I was cutting my grass yesterday with the almost new lawn mower that I purchased from the pawn shop and was thinking about the fact that this is the 4th lawnmower that I’ve owned in 10 years. The other three were stolen. I’ve actually been without a lawnmower for around 4 years, so this tells you a bit about my neighborhood and the fact that I don’t have a lockable storage area. For the past 4 years I’ve had a guy in the neighborhood do it, precisely because of the theft factor, not because of laziness. However, he has turned sick and can’t do it this year. So I trudged out to the pawn shop to find another cheap lawnmower.

I found a really good one that the pawn shop apparently had mispriced and which I got it for around $100. It’s a pretty nice one – a Troy-Bilt with a Honda motor. Normally, $100 lawnmowers from the pawnshop are the cheapest possible generic  movers with rusting decks and sputtering motors. Not this one. It’s a mulcher with the bag and an actual choke that resets itself when the motor gets running. No pushing the little primer rubber nipple and no continual lanyard pulling over and over until it finally starts (or not). Starts up pretty much with a single pull. Yes, there are more expensive and fancier mowers out there, but I was glad to get a mower that wasn’t just a cheap stamped deck and a motor barely strong enough to cut a dandelion (yes, I’ve got them too).

Anyway, I was thinking about how some people treat a lawnmower as almost a disposable item these days.

Perhaps it’s a theft issue like me – you don’t want to spend anything but the bare minimum because you know that there’s a good chance that it will be stolen so you spend the least amount of money possible.

Perhaps it’s because the lifespan of many mowers isn’t all that great. Usually something goes wrong with the motor and it’s cheaper to get a new/used one than to get it fixed.

This last thing is the cause of the disposability of many items in our society, especially electronic ones. TV goes out? Better get a new one because it costs more to get it fixed. Dryer on the fritz? Same thing.

What does this have to do with us waiters?

Sadly, we are one of the most disposable workers on the planet. And part of it is our part.

When we treat it as a disposable job, we undercut our longevity. How do we do that, you might ask?

Many of us simply chase the dollar. When a hot new restaurant opens we migrate there, like Bedouins wandering the desert.

Some of us treat the responsibilities cavalierly by showing up whenever we want to, sleepwalking through shifts, not being team players.

Some of us don’t take our training seriously and just learn enough to be dangerous. Then, our only concern is where we’re going to meet after work to spend the money that we’ve made on booze and drugs.

Some of us look at the job as “something to do until I find real work”.

Management can be to blame as well, having been burned by waiters who have taken the above work attitudes.

Plus, there’s the whole “less than minimum wage” thing. It’s easy to get rid of a less productive or little-caring employee because they’ve got a stack of resumes “this high”. There’s a certain amount of culling that gets done in any staff over time. The weak sisters either get fired or get squeezed out of the prime shifts and sections. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to retrain someone else, although management would prefer to keep experienced waiters whenever they can because it takes a while for someone off of the street to “get it”. Once the training period for an experienced waiter ends, the real training begins, if you catch my drift. This last part is the saving grace for us waiters – this isn’t a job where you can hire a temp to come in to save some payroll and benefits dollars.

It’s also easy for a waiter to have a bad encounter with a guest. The law of averages dictates that this will happen eventually due to the extremely personal and varied encounters we have with a wide variety of guests that forms the core of our work experience.

If you’ve read this far, then you have the answers to the solutions to the problem of the disposable nature of your job.

Don’t be that guy. (guy used in a non-sexist way because that’s just the expression these days, just as I use waiter in a non-gender fashion).

Don’t do the things that I’ve outlined.

Don’t think of your job as disposable.

Don’t think of it as a placeholder until you get the job of your dreams. It’s your job now. Do it to the best of your abilities.

Don’t show up late just because you can (because you want to save those rare occasions for the times when you have a  legitimate reason to be late). 

Don’t slack on the training. Hit it head on.

Don’t come into work firing on only 3 cylinders. If you come in constantly hung over or tired, it’s time to take a good look at yourself, because you aren’t doing your body and mind any favors. I’m not saying that you have to abstain or that you won’t come in with the occasional hangover, but if it’s a constant state of affairs, you’ve got problems that you need to address before you kill yourself, either metaphorically or literally. You can’t stay in college mode forever.

Do be a team player. Often, it’s the opinions of your fellow workers that influence how disposable management sees you.

Do be productive. Be seen doing things like cleaning, not hanging out on the back dock smoking and joking. Don’t be constantly ducking running food for your co-workers.

Do be thankful that you have a job in this economy and remember that there are 10 people who want to take your place. And act like it.

If you do all of these things, you will make yourself seem indisposable when you have an unfortunate experience with a guest or you have a bad day/week. Don’t let something like that make it easy for management to get rid of you.

Managers are fond of saying that everyone is disposable, including themselves. This is true.

The key is in the degree that you can be tossed in the rubbish bin. Make yourself as hard as possible to be tossed away.

PS, I just cut my grass for the third time with this mower. Wish me luck.

Blogroll blog now “invitation only”

I’m having to reconsider my listing for the blog “This Apron is Chanel” because it’s been changed to “by invitation only”.  First, there’s no way to write the blogger to request an invitation because that information isn’t available. And second, it kind of defeats the purpose of invitation only to put it in a blogroll.

She probably has had to do it for job security reasons, so it’s not like I blame her or anything. But I’ll leave the link up for 48 hours and if I don’t hear anything from her by then, I’ll take down the link.

This is a good time to remind restaurant bloggers that they run serious risks if they’re too specific in their blogging or they name real people in real situations. The best thing for waiters who want to blog is to muddy up the details and names and situations so as not to be subject to adverse action by management or conflicts with fellow servers. There is even the possibility of legal action should you “defame” a guest or co-worker.

Even if you have permission to blog by your management, just remember, managers come and go and a situation could arise that could put you at risk, even from a manager who has previously blessed your venture. You WILL be thrown under the bus if it comes down to the restaurant or you. Have no doubt about it. So think carefully about telling anyone at work that you are blogging. And don’t think that savvy managers and supervisors at corporate level aren’t scanning the internet for juicy tidbits that might put their brand at risk.

Burning bridges

One of the realities of working in a restaurant is the often transitory nature of working in a restaurant.

There is a myriad of reasons that this is true.

One is the fact that workers themselves see the job as transitory. They don’t consider it a “career”.  They consider it something to do while pursuing their education. They consider it a job worth jettisoning if another hot new restaurant comes around. They don’t consider it “full-time” because they don’t work 40 hours a week and they don’t work consistent hours. They might not feel like they are an essential part of the “team” or that they are unappreciated. Part of it is burnout, pure and simple.

Another part of the equation is the fact that restaurants often consider their workers “disposable”. Part of this is based on the attitudes of the service staff itself. Part of this is based on the high turnover and the fact that not everyone is suited for the job. Part of this is the wage structure. Part of this is the low cost of job entry and training.  Part of this is turnover in management itself. And part of this based on the burnout factor that I’ve previously noted. Management is often burned by waiters who simply no-show because they’ve found another “better paying job” or they’ve simply “had enough”. The proliferation of waiter bitch sites highlights the challenges that waiters face when trying to feed a picky and demanding public.

One of the goals of this blog is to get both management and staff to consider waiting tables in a different light – i.e. a worthy career instead of a “placeholding” type job.

And yet, despite the best efforts of staff and management, a waiter might find him or herself in the position of deciding to leave. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going assume that the waiter is voluntarily leaving.

If you decide to leave, think long and hard about just quitting and pulling a no-show. Burning bridges is never a good idea, for several reasons. First of all, the “greener pastures” that you think you are departing to might actually be a barren field. Second of all, you want to get a good job recommendation from your current employer in the future. And third, you should consider yourself a professional. The restaurant community is often tightly knit. Managers know each other; waiters hang out together. Your rep is an important thing to preserve. It might mean the difference in getting that prestigious job that you are trying to move up to.

There are a couple of obstacles to leaving on good terms. Management might feel “betrayed” by your leaving. They might also not want to keep you on during a two week notice because of a lack of confidence that you will complete your shifts or because of security reasons based on previous experience with other waiters who haven’t been professional in their dealings with the company. They might not let you give a two weeks notice. If this is the case, there’s not much you can do except to offer a written two weeks notice and ask them to reciprocate. If you have been a responsible and reliable waiter during your term of employment, they might actually let you stay. By providing a written two week notice, you preserve your reputation as a professional even if they refuse to let you stay on. If they waive this two weeks notice and let you move on, then they have made that choice themselves and aren’t forced into it by you. This will look better in the future if they are called upon to give you a recommendation.

Your new job might want you to start immediately. If this is the case, you might want to point out to them that you are a professional and you need to give your current employer two weeks notice. This puts them on notice that you are a professional at the very beginning of your employment. You might point out to them that you expect to give them the same consideration should you leave. This will help you jump-start your rep with the new management. If they don’t understand this, it should give you pause as to their own professionalism.

An employer is constrained legally by what they can tell a prospective employer. If you use your current employer as a future reference, about the only thing they can say is whether or not you are eligible for rehire or not (at least on the record). You want to preserve your eligibility for rehire and you do this by offering a written two week notice. This doesn’t mean that they would rehire you, just that you left on good terms. By doing this, you avoid gaps in your resume. Many waiters don’t look at the long-term implications of changing jobs and burning bridges. Three years from now when you are up for that great job, you don’t want a year long gap in your employment history because you know you screwed a restaurant by not showing up for that Friday night shift. Plus, you don’t want a manager going “off-the-record” and telling a prospective employer that you didn’t even bother giving notice and you simply no-showed. This sort of thing is done all of the time and is hard to prove, especially when managers know each other. They know how to preserve confidences and realize the ramifications of disclosing what they have found out about you. They’ll simply tell you that they don’t have a place for you at the moment. 

Giving a two weeks notice doesn’t mean that you can’t try to schedule some training shifts at your new place of employment. One of the great things about working in a restaurant is the fact that you have a flexible schedule and you should be able to work around your existing schedule. Sure, it will make your training at the new job more protracted, but at least you will continue to earn a regular income during the low-paying training phase.

If you do give a two weeks notice, make sure you either show up for all of your shifts or you get your shifts covered. Make sure you talk to your GM and get his or her assurance that you will be given a good recommendation. Doing these simple steps will help assure that you will get a good recommendation, plus, if you find that you shouldn’t have left for any reason, it will help you get rehired. You might want to come back because management has changed. You might want to return because the new restaurant wasn’t the money-printing machine that you thought it would be or the working conditions aren’t to your liking.

The important thing is to not burn bridges. By avoiding this syndrome, you rise another rung on the professionalism ladder. Even if you aren’t going to stay in the restaurant business, this can only help you in whichever career you decide to make. Take the long view – it will benefit you far more than you might realize.

burning-bridges

Tips on dishing on guests and work and co-workers

The recent brouhaha regarding Hung actress (that sounds weird, doesn’t it?) Jane Adams and the LA waiter getting fired over tweets about a situation with her should be a wakeup call to all waiters. If you haven’t thought about the potential ramifications of tweeting and blogging, now would be a good time to take safeguards.

Remember, the world is watching, and this includes your bosses. If you follow some fairly commonsense guidelines, you’ll minimize the possibility that you could be outed by your bosses, co-workers and guests. Nothing is fail-safe though – you’ve got to keep that in mind, especially if legal issues get involved.

First – assume that everything is permanent. Even if you go back after the fact and delete a blog post, Google has probably cached the original post and it can be retrieved if someone is determined to find it. In this sprit, remember the old email or PM rule, pause before you hit send. Take a breath. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to send this?

Second – don’t tell your co-workers that you are blogging. As much as you’d like to, this is a security breach. Rumors get started and the person who promised to keep your blog a secret today is the person who tells another trusted friend about it, who tells another, etc. Once management knows about your blog, all bets are off. They might not mind it at the time, but they will probably monitor it and who knows what kind of comment that you make will be considered out-of-bounds. Plus, you never know when some higher-up objects to any sort of blog that can be tied to your operation. Sucks, but you take a pretty serious risk if you out yourself at work.

Mask the restaurant, situations, names, etc. Don’t be too specific. Steve at Waiter Rant did a pretty good job at keeping his place of employment a secret by being vague about the location, the name and the particulars of the restaurant. His “bistro” could have been any of many in the NYC area. He was able to give a flavor of the personalities that he encountered without giving anything away. He always changed the names and descriptions of the guests (presumably), with the exception of a couple of celebrity name-dropping occasions where he was extremely positive about them (Alec Baldwin comes to mind, although he once mentioned French actor Jean Reno is a funny description of a telephone conversation). He always altered the situations slightly as not to telegraph something that could be identified later by a guest. 

Tweets are permanent. Remember, there’s a record of your tweets. The LA waiter found this out the hard way. And remember this, tweets are time-stamped – the mere act of tweeting during a shift could be cause for discipline. More and more companies in all fields are cracking down on this. And don’t forget, your tweets are public, viewable not only to your followers but anyone who can access the Twitter page.

Consider the fact that tweets are “published” material. This makes you liable for libel actions. While “truth” is an absolute defense to libel, keep in mind that “truth” is pretty hard to outline in 140 characters and is likely open to interpretation. Plus, vindication doesn’t keep you from having to waste time in the legal system. Many lawyers salivate at the opportunity to simply file suit – they hope for a quick settlement. And they can go after your place of employment, which has deep pockets, giving them further incentive to use your innocent little snarky tweet about a specific person as entry.

Don’t let your tweet name, accessable email or username give you away. While they make it easy for friends and family, consider setting up a separate account for any venue where you dish about your job.

Be careful about connecting the dots. Let’s say you work in one of the few tequila bars in town. Plus, you happen to raise Dobermans. You’re a 6′ 4″ redhead with a lisp or a lady who is the spitting image of Renee Zellwiger . Your boss is a former Marine who happens to be gay. Your co-worker actually went into labor in the middle of the rush. The restaurant’s Ansel system went off because there was a grease fire and you were closed for 2 days while you cleaned fire-retardant powder out of every nook and cranny of the kitchen. Taken separately, none of these things might give you away. But there’s a cumulative effect, especially if something triggers something familiar and someone starts sniffing around, putting the pieces together. While it’s details that makes your blog come to life, be very careful about those details. Maybe you raise Chows. Maybe you’re a redhead or tall but not both. Maybe you wait a month or two before you talk about the fire. Maybe you work in a “Mexican” place or change the setting to a “martini” bar. Whatever you have to do to blur the lines and break possible connections that people can make that will mark you. The larger the town or city that you live in, or the less specific you are about the part of town you work in, the more plausable deniability you’ll have in the event that someone gets suspicious.

Cross-platforms can give you away. You might be fine blogging but promoting your blog on Facebook can give you away if your FB profile is public (and if there are legal issues involved, even this might not protect you). Remember, a determined and savvy person has a better chance of connecting the dots the more access to your various accounts you give them. Consider going private on social network services, especially if your interests, subscribed groups or self-promotions telegraph your workplace.

Try not to forget that people have a reasonable right to a certain amount of privacy, even when in public. Addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers – all off limits. No matter how much revenge you want to inflict on someone, this is a no-no, if only for your own protection.

Be careful about admitting wrongdoing of any kind. This could be anything from discussing not claiming tips to altering food. Commonsense I know. But I see it all of the time. someone who thinks that they are anonymous feel free to take credit for legally and morally ambiguous behavior. Might not in and of itself be dangerous. But remember, you’ve made it part of the record. If you’re outed, you could very well be sitting in front of a superior who’s waving a sheath of printouts of your own words in your face. and they could include such “admissions of guilt”. And they might not even be the thing that you’re getting reamed for.

Yes, all of the is “Deputy Downer” sort of stuff. Half the fun of snarking is sharing the snark. Just remember that it’s your job that’s on the line. If you blur the lines in the right ways, you can still vent safely.

Use protection.