I’ve been using “Writer’s Block” as an excuse for not posting anything these past few days, but I just haven’t felt like I’ve had any material. My blog topics always hover in or around food, wine and the restaurant business; and while I have certainly had no shortage of food (as my scale can attest) or drink, I haven’t been “in” the restaurant business for over three months now. Ninety-eighty days and counting, that I’ve been an unwilling part of our country’s unemployment statistics. I guess I’d have to reduce that total by 6 if I was to count the week-long tryout up in New England with a restaurant group looking to open an outpost here in Atlanta. I mean, they did pay me, as well as cover all my expenses.
It’s not that I haven’t been looking, or even had an offer or two. If you counted them all up (which I have, since I’ve had the time) I’ve been on 22 interviews for 11 different positions. I hope I’m not putting the curse on things by saying so (like I do by washing the car to make it rain), but I may be nearing the end of my long drought. I have had five interviews now with a very high-quality company that’s in an expansion mode, even in this economy. It is run by real pros that have their act together, and they can actually afford me. This could be The One that could actually turns into a bona fide career move. I’ll know more after an excursion up North again (different state this time) to meet the big bosses. My fingers are almost disjointed, they are crossed so tight.
This last one has so far included three hour-long phone conversations, as well as two in-person meetings. They also had me go undercover to their place here in town and have dinner. All they asked was that I write up a synopsis of my experience and submit it, along with a receipt, and they’d take care of everything. Well, the dining experience was less than stellar, which is good news for me as they obviously need some help there; but bad news for them as things are a tad bit worse than they had thought.
After over 25 years in “the biz”, no matter where I dine I can’t help but notice service faux pas and over analyze the food and beverage. I always notice the busboy that puts his elbow in my face when clearing, or the server that needs to stand closer to his razor and maybe go out and buy a steam iron. Friends that dine with me know that if I suddenly drop out of the dinner table conversation and start looking around, I’m “seeing” the place through the restaurant version of what John Madden called “Linebacker Eyes”: always on the lookout for a problem, taking everything in, always seeing the big picture. My wife or our friends will stop in mid-sentence, and say stuff like “Uh-oh, what’s wrong?” or “Oh no, he’s not happy…” I can’t help myself. I turn into Dexter, and my Dark Passenger just takes over, until all I can see are the cobwebs in the corners and the complete lack of ice in that Iced Tea refill; and it’s not even my Iced Tea! It can be truly maddening.
So, it was no real struggle to commit my insights on this covert dinner to paper (keyboard), and my review was no less than five pages and 2500 words. I told the whole truth and nothing but, God help me, hoping that doing so wouldn’t kick me out of the running. I mean, don’t ask if you don’t want to know, right? Well, shit-howdy if the exact opposite didn’t happen. I submitted the receipt and my laundry list of their defects and screw-ups, along with just enough insights and suggestions on how to correct some of them. I held back on the rest. You don’t get to drink this milk until you buy the cow, baby. The next day, I got a call back to meet with the Director of Operations, in person this time. When he arrived for the interview, he pulled out a hard copy of my review notes and went through it point by point. He had shared it with the other Mucky-Mucks, and they loved it. He even commented very favorably on my writing skills.
I’ve always had a nagging bit of a self-esteem problem when it comes to job hunting, especially when it involves a step up the ladder. No matter how many successes I can count in my professional life, and there have been many, whenever I am interviewing and trying to sell myself to prospective employers, I always seem to mentally fall back to the Groucho Marx philosophy of “I will belong to no club that would have me as a member.” Even though I’ve always gotten every job I’ve ever really wanted, I find myself wondering why the hell would someone hire me to run a business. Then I look at people who have positions and careers I want to have (and could easily do), compare their skills and experience to mine, and wonder who in the hell it was that they had to blow to get their jobs.
I can’t speak to “real job” situations (outside of the hospitality and restaurant industry), but looking for work and interviewing in my business is all smoke and mirrors. You are never closer to perfection than when you are filling out a job application. Most restaurant mangers know that, with all the drunks, dope fiends, and sex addicts in line for a job in our industry, going strictly by the resume can get you in a heap of trouble. Anyone can write, or pay someone else to write, a resume that will make them look like Mother Theresa. No matter how many times they got drunk, stole, or sexually harassed an employee, and got their ass fired, they can still manage to look good on paper. And I can’t believe that HR people are surprised when they call references and get nothing but glowing reviews; you’d have to be a moron to put anyone on your references that wouldn’t recommend you as Citizen of The Year or want you to marry their daughter. The best and surest method in our business is to bring someone in for a tryout.
Since most tryouts are not paid, and prospective employees are not covered by Worker’s Comp if they get injured, having people tryout is not in the strictest sense, legal. For that reason, and the fact that they’ve probably had a labor lawsuit or two to lighten their pockets, corporations mostly eschew the tryout. Not being able to take advantage of this much more accurate barometer of someone’s abilities, corporate restaurant companies rely heavily on their resumes, interviews, pumped-up references, and the recommendations of their favorite Resume Pimp, the recruiter. And so they may end up hiring someone who looked good on paper; but then they wake up the next day with their picture-perfect first date lying next to them under the covers, Prom Dress thrown over the nightstand, with hair looking like Albert Einstein and make-up that looks like a tropical fish with a hangover.
This is where my crisis of confidence can get a little confusing, and starts to do a sort of “Studio Fade”. At first glance, seeing the title of Chief Operating Officer after a name on a business card can be intimidating. But I buoy my confidence with the idea that this person may have ever only done one or two impressive things in their entire professional lives to get that acronym of C.O.O.; and one of them may have been writing a resume. I can tell myself that, in all probability, the only real difference between them and me is the fact that they have the job and I don’t.
So my ability with words to clean and gut a restaurant like it was a large trout, may end up separating the wool (me) from the chaff (the rest of the field), and actually land me the job. That, and the fact that I’ve got more semi-colons and animal analogies at my disposal. Shit, John Starks made an NBA career off of one dunk over Jordan and Scottie Pippen, a feat he never came close to repeating; so I am really OK with getting a job I really want, just because I wrote an essay.