"Ch-ch-ch-chan-ges…"

Conventional wisdom would suggest that restaurants don’t institute major changes on busy nights.  Even though all of us should have had enough experience with the business of making these changes that we should know better, we don’t.
We do our best Amelia Earhart, and fly directly into the face of that “conventional” wisdom.  I have worked at restaurants that scheduled their opening day for New Year’s Eve, installed a new menu on Valentine’s Day, and one that started their new lunch service on the Monday of a three-day weekend in May.

So it didn’t seem like such a big deal that Friday night we instituted not one, but two new menus and made sweeping changes to the format of our “standard” menu.  Ten new dishes for the kitchen meant new ingredients, mis-en-place, and timing adjustments.  The servers had to adjust menu presentation “schpiels” that had been recited thousands of times.  Computer POS screens and buttons had to be added/changed, menus had to be formatted, printed, and stuffed. Suffice it to say, there was a logjam of logistics for me to coordinate.

The crews, both kitchen and dining room, performed admirably and didn’t miss a beat as far as service and food quality.  Minor computer faux pas were corrected on the fly; and our guests that night had nothing but praise for the new format, dishes and service.  Success!

A couple of months back, I had made plans to take that particular Saturday night off to attend my sister’s annual Tur-Duck-En party.  I am a sucker for Cajun and Southern food but, because of my work schedule, had never been able to attend.  Little did I know, when I made my plans, that this particular Saturday would be the day after all these changes went into place.  I hesitated briefly, but finally decided that my kids could ride the two-wheeler alone for a change, without my manager’s training wheels attached.

Often, the crew performs better when I’m not around. I don’t like to admit it, as it plays Hell with my mental job security, but it is certainly preferable to the “Substitute Teacher” mentality:   “Our other manager said we don’t have to set up the patio on Wednesdays,” or “We don’t really have to clean the coffee station every night.”  So I am confident that as soon as I am out the door, nobody will throw a wad of gum, or start flicking the lights on and off, then go scrambling back to their stations as my replacement comes walking through the dining room.

I probably enjoyed the party a lot less than I would have had it been held on my regular night off, and not on a Saturday.  I found myself looking constantly at my watch, wondering what might be going right or wrong at that moment.  I felt a whole lot better after receiving an email the next morning from Chef that said, of course, last night was like butter, no problems.  I don’t know which it was, the pent up stress or the release of same, but when I lay down for a little nap that Sunday afternoon, I was hit with a Manager Nightmare.

In earlier posts, I have written about Waiter Nightmares, both the sleeping and waking varieties; but the Manager Nightmare is a whole different animal.  My years of restaurant experience have taught me to recognize the absurdities of the Waiter Nightmare as impossible, and thus allow me to employ a “directed dreaming” technique, like in “Nightmare on Elm Street II: The Dream Warriors” (maybe I have revealed just a little bit too much about myself with that last reference…).  Manager Nightmares are a more recent development and, as such, can still catch me off guard.  They can wake me up with a pounding heart, in full-panic mode.

Seriously disturbing dreams will stick in my mind, and I can replay them in their entirety.  Other memorable yet, shall we say, less stressful dreams, have to get the immediate mental re-run treatment when I awake, or else they disappear and are forgotten (and I don’t think I have to tell the you the dominant subject matter of these, do I?)  The Manager Nightmare falls into the first category, and this one was a doozy.

It mainly involved programming the POS system at the restaurant, and had me sprinting from terminal to terminal trying to access a certain screen of menu items to see if all the changes I had made were correctly displayed.  One terminal (the main one, I guess, although there is no such thing at our restaurant), was as large as an architect’s drafting board and required me to lean way, way out and over it to reach the buttons at the top.  Every time I touched a button, a pop-up screen would appear, like on the Internet, that blocked my view.  I would close it, and another one would appear.  I am working feverishly, closing these windows as they open, trying desperately to finish configuring the system before service; and no one else seems to think it’s all that important, as they are going about their jobs as if I am invisible.  I’m pretty sure I was fully clothed here though, not  just in my underwear like previous episodes, but I can’t be sure.

So, I finally give up on this behemoth of a terminal and move on to the one next to the “Out” door of the kitchen.  This is especially strange as we have only one door in and out of our kitchen, and in this dream I am certain I am at La Toque, not some vague dream-created restaurant I have never seen before.  This particular terminal, that exists in my dream only, is at a 90° angle to the Kitchen Door; so that every time someone comes out, and it was often, the door hits me in the back, smashing my face into the screen.  The terminal is a touch-screen, so just as I have all the changes made and am reaching for the “Save Changes” button (which also exists only in my dream) someone comes through the door and my nose gets smushed into the screen, ruining hours of feverishly hurried work.  And this scenario is repeated over and over and over and…

I finally get so angry at the oblivious attitude of the crew that I scream out “Goddammit!” (This, however, is not something that happens only in my dreams).  One of the cooks, who in reality is a busboy at a restaurant I worked in 10 years ago (What the hell is he doing here, working as a cook?) says to me, “What are you going to do, cry?”   “What did you just say?!!”  I am so enraged I follow him through the kitchen, trying to catch up to him to tell him he can’t talk to me like that, although he just did.  He is walking away from me turning his head to see if I am following him.  He dodges his way around stoves, shelves and tables, so I can never quite catch up to him.  I finally corner him in the Walk-In and I can feel my anger boiling over.  And what do I say to him in a rage that feels like it is approaching a violent apogee?  “If you continue to talk to me like that you will end up in the HR Office!!”  Ooooh!   I am so scared!  As I say it I remember we don’t even have one; and feeling at once embarrassed for letting my temper get the best of me, and exceedingly stupid and impotent for making such a hollow threat, I wake up.

I have no idea what all of this means, but I’m sure some psychologist would have a ball anaylzing it; and it will be a long, long time before I take a Saturday, any Saturday, off.

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