"All That And A FREE Bag of Chips…"

April 25, 2011

We had a large group (20 people, on two tables of 10) the other night, and their servers did an admirable job of taking care of all their demands.  And they were demanding, rearranging every dish on the menu with more substitutions than a hockey game.

When it came time for entrees to be served (we were all shocked they actually ordered some, and didn’t make a meal out of salads and appetizers) the server at one of the tables made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting to order the Veal Chop for one particularly pretentious woman (we had already nicknamed her “Divalicious”);  and of course it was ordered Medium Well.  You got it: 15 minute fire time, at a minimum, to get her another one.  She has refused to accept my server’s apology and her offer of anything else on the menu.  She is now in full-on Righteous Indignation Mode, and basking in the attention she is getting from her table-mates.  She waves her server away, refusing to even speak to her.  So, my number is called, and I had to go over and try to make things right.

I apologized profusely for her server’s honest mistake, and gave her the bad news about how long her Chop would take.  Miss Thang rolls her eyes, big time, and asks to see the menu.  She orders the Trout.  I thank her for her “patience”, tell her it will be on the house, and we get it out and on the table in under 3 minutes.  I go back after a bit, apologize again, and make sure she is happy with her dish.  She is wolfing it down and nods her approval, without even looking up.   She is nowhere near the last person eating when the table is cleared, and her plate is literally licked clean.

When it comes time for the bill (separate checks, of course) my waitress comes over and says that the woman is now refusing to pay for her one drink (which she nursed for the entire 90 minutes they were at the table after sending back her first choice because it “wasn’t pretty enough”) AND she’s refusing to pay the service charge, saying “The Manager said it was on him…”  So, a free entreé wasn’t enough?  Whatever.  I comp out the rest of her check, and my server is just laughing because this woman is being such a ridiculous caricature.

So, as they are leaving, Chef and I are at the podium chatting; and as the group is heading out the door,  I start doing my “Thank yous and Good Nights” to the rest of the party who, truthfully, weren’t all that much trouble after we got past the ordering phase.  Miss Thang stops by, and I was so irritated with her I didn’t even make eye contact.  She reaches into the dish of Jolly Ranchers we have at the podium, and starts fishing through them, searching for the Sour Cherry ones that were apparently the only ones “pretty” enough for her.  She drops one, two, three, four, five of them into her knockoff Louis Vitton bag.  She finally notices me standing there and looks up.  I look her dead in the eyes and say “Haven’t you had enough free stuff for one night?”  Chef bursts out laughing so hard he almost choked.  I spin on my heels and leave her standing there, in mid jaw-drop.

At what point in their lives do these women suddenly become such self-absorbed pains in the ass?  You know that quite possibly they were once very sweet little girls, with pigtails and all that crap.  So, do they just wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Okay.  Time to start acting like a bitch”?  Or is it a long apprenticeship, watching Mom and aunts and sisters put on the Bitch Coat and wear it?  “Don’t worry baby, some day you’ll get to be a bitch too…”  Reality shows on MTV and E Network serve as their training videos; and then they test out their skills on Dad and probably their teachers.  Building on these minor successes, they soon become the full-fledged real deal; and now no one is safe, from cab drivers to store clerks to the counter guy at BK.  Well, check that shit at the door, girlfriend.  I ain’t playin’…


"For Once In My Lifetime…"

April 17, 2011

An entry in the “For Once, Everything Goes According To The Plan” category: we close at 10pm on Sunday nights (one half hour earlier), and tonight we got no 9:50 table of two star-crossed lovers that wanted to order one $8 appetizer and gaze into each others eyes for two and a half hours, until I wanted to stab them in said eyes with a salad fork. We got no solitary, scary dude sitting at the bar, staring at the TV until Sports Center was over. Our last table sat at 8:15pm, the bar emptied out at 10pm when the NBA game ended; and I beat the kitchen out the back door for the first time in over 3 months. George Peppard would’ve been proud..

"I love it when a plan falls together..."


"Night Sweats In Broad Daylight…"

April 4, 2011

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been contemplating making yet another career change, or if it was the spicy BBQ pork sammy for lunch today, but I have just woken from the Mother of All Waiter Nightmares.  Those of you that have had them will know what I’m talking about when I say they come from out of nowhere.  I know I’m still in the restaurant business and, granted, I have some waiters at work who ARE nightmares; but I haven’t worked a shift as a waiter in almost five years.  Waiter Nightmares?  After five years?

I’ve written about Waiter Nightmares before (click and read), and about how I had learned a kind of “Directed Dreaming” technique, ala “Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors”; so I can usually pretty much just sit back and enjoy the comic relief that comes with the absolute futility in most Waiter Nightmares, somehow knowing that this stuff could never really happen. But today’s was scarily different.

This one started at Chops in Atlanta, except that it wasn’t Chops.  In my dream I knew it was Chops, but the dining room had absolutely no resemblance.  Some of the waiters were guys that I worked with at Chops, as was the Manager, and the room was that kind of Boys Club Steak Housey kind of place with button-tuck booths, men in suits, cocktails clinking, etc.  I am back to work there, and it’s my first night back.  I don’t think I’d gone through any re-training, I think they just threw me out there.  I do remember being strangely happy to be back to work there.  Most therapists at this point would say, “Maybe you should look at that…”

I had just arrived at work, and was saying hello to some of “the guys”.  Everyone is shaking my hand and welcoming me back when The Manager tells me I’m working solo (Chops was team service with a partner, although I had some living Nightmare nights there when somebody no-showed and I DID work solo) but I will have a smaller station, over by the bar.  No prob, it’s my first night back and I’m feeling pretty bulletproof.

So, I’ve got my waiter jacket on, and my little metal badge with a number on it; I’ve got my notepad, my Cross Pens, corkscrew, crumber and all that crap.  I’m feeling good, cocky, ready to take some tables.  I had found my station in the gigantic restaurant (they’re usually gigantic in my nightmares), four deuces and one four top all in a neat little cluster near the end of this horseshoe shaped bar, and it all seems pretty manageable; after all, I’ve worked here before and know the drill.   Then I notice that the Host is walking away from seating a single diner at one of my tables, a professional looking woman in a business suit with briefcase.  I know what you’re thinking:  what kind of useless Shoe Clerk am I, to be having a Waiter Nightmare over a SINGLE!!??

Anyway, I greet madame, and get her a cocktail, a Manhattan or something I think.  She orders:  Spinach Salad to be followed by an 8oz. Filet, medium.  I don’t remeber ordering the salad, but after a couple of minutes I notice it’s on the table and, yikes, she’s almost done with it and I haven’t fired her steak yet.

I’m mildly panicked about the fire time on her Filet but, hey, it’s Chops.  They have about a billion 8oz. filets in the broiler at any one time on busy nights, and maybe I can use my one “New Guy Get Out Of Jail Free Card” to get them to rob another table so Milady won’t have too long of a wait.  But first I have to get to the POS and fire her order before I can go throw myself on the mercy (Ha!) of the Sous Chef.  And, as they say in the Circus, this is where the fun begins…

My cockiness and confidence is beginning to waver a little as I realize I don’t know where the POS is.  I walk out of the bar, into another gigantic dining room that is almost completely empty, and over against one wall is a POS touchscreen about the size of a 52″ plasma TV.  I make my way over to it and, of course, it’s a system I’ve never seen or used before.  I manage to log in, find a screen that looks like a table map, and double tap the icon for my single diner’s table (#63).  But instead of neat rows of buttons, or screens that have actual menu items, the screen looks more like a website; one of those really hard to read websites that was designed by some genius who thought red letters on a black background would be a good idea.  Almost all of the screen is taken up by pictures and advertisements for cars and other stuff.  Way down at the bottom are lines of uber-tiny type, hyperlinks to click on for menu stuff; but the type is the REALLY tiny stuff you get at the bottom of a company’s website where they put stuff like “Privacy Notice.  Site Map.  Contact Us.  Careers.”  And it’s a touchscreen, so every time I try to double tap a tiny link I get the wrong one, and some other gigantic window opens with more pictures and ads.

Now I’m really starting to freak because I know that spinach salad has been cleared and my single is sitting there, tapping her fingers, waiting for that Filet, and wondering where the hell her idiot waiter has gotten to.  In my panic state, and willing to try anything I can think of to navigate this behemoth screen, I decide that there’s not enough light in the room to see it properly, so I take it down off the wall and carry it over to another corner where some sconces are beaming spotlights down on the carpet, creating circles of light in the murky room.  Strangely, there are no wires; and, strangely, this doesn’t even factor into my thinking as I pick up this unusually light, strangely wireless, and utterly useless Piece Of Shit.  Under the glow of the spotlights on the other side of the room the screen is no more readable than it had been on the wall.  And I still haven’t fired her steak.  And, even with the panic really starting to set in, I’m thinking, “Shit, all these steaks are ala carte.  I didn’t ask her about sides!”  I figure I’ll deal with that after I get this DAMN STEAK FIRED!

Still tapping at links, still getting the wrong screens, I try turning the screen around, rotating it, thinking if I can get a closer look at these damn tiny hyperlinks, I would actually be able to read them.  I’m trying to hold it out in front of me, like some massive artist’s sketch pad, and the screen is rotating with the movements, like on my wife’s Droid; so every time I turn it to make the links closer, the screen changes and they move back to where they were before.  Now I’m totally sweating, full blown dread is setting, yet all Mr. Sensitve To The Needs Of Others here, can think about is “I wonder if someone else needs to use this terminal…”  This turns out to be an non-issue, as I look back across the room to see that the screen I have taken down has been replaced by an even LARGER one, about the size of a small billboard, a veritable  JumboTron of a POS.  In my panic I’m willing to try just about anything to get this one stupid, stinking steak fired, and I consider going over to the giant screen, thinking the type must surely be larger on that one, right?  Just as I’m putting my screen down I see the link for “Fire” at the bottom and hit it.  I set the screen down on the floor, and start sprinting back to my station.

As I approach my tables, I am mildly relieved to see that no one else has been seated in my section during my adventure in the Gigantic Room with the Gigantic POS Screen.  The only catch is that my station is now somehow outside, and it’s starting to rain.  Guests at other tables are being moved inside by their waiters, but my single is standing up and looking around.  She starts picking up all her stuff, briefcase, purse, and is grabbing the silverware and napkin off the table and walking off toward the inside area.  I catch her and relieve her of her burdens, and tell her I will usher her into one of my “Inside Tables”.  I don’t know why or how I knew I actually had inside tables, but I did.  Except I don’t know the table numbers, so I don’t know if I’m seating her at one of my tables or someone else’s.  It doesn’t seem to matter, and I’ve still got to get to the kitchen to tell them to hurry that 8oz. Filet which, despite my being out of my station for what seemed like an eternity, has not arrived.  And shit!  What about those side dishes?  I forgot to ask her.

I get my single diner situated at an inside table in a dining room that is now a gigantic white event tent, like they set up at wine auctions.  I know I still have to get to the kitchen, but I can’t stop myself from helping the Manager.  He’s trying desperately to get tables set up for all the people coming in from the rain.  The tables are all 72″ banquet rounds, with one flipped upside down on top of another, so I take my place on one side of the two tables to help him flip the inverted one off.  I’m waiting for him to flip the legs up and lock them into place when I notice a stack of 6 B&B plates sitting on table we are about to flip over.  The Manager has not seen the plates, has locked the legs on his side into place and flips the unusually light table off the other one, sending the stack of B&B’s flying.  Oddly, they all stay together in one stack and fly out onto a road that is outside an open flap of this massive circus tent of a dining room.  I’m waiting for the sickening crash of shattering china, but instead hear a metallic clang; and I realize the plates must have been sitting inside of one of those metal plate covers.  Huh.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Anyway, I still need to get to the kitchen, get that Filet on the fly, and then get back to my section where I still didn’t know what the fuck the table numbers are.  Shit!  And I need to ask her about those sides!  I contemplate just ordering her a baked potato.  I mean everybody likes those, right?  But that would entail a return to the JumboTron POS again.  It’s at this point I see a guy that I used to work with about 10 years ago at another restaurant, who is apparently now working here.  Nothing about this strikes me as the least bit strange, and I stop him to say hi; but he doesn’t know me from Adam.  He does know enough to remind me I’m covering his lunch shift tomorrow, though.   Even though I haven’t been back to check on my one and only guest, I somehow know with all certainty that 8oz. Filet is NOT on the table yet, and I am a total loser.  This is when I wake up to my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand and thank God for text messages!


"Sunday, Bloody Sunday…"

January 26, 2011

Well, hello.  It’s been a while; how’ve y’all been?  Me?  Oh, fine, just fine.  Why yes, I have been working a lot…

After coming to the realization (duh!) that I make my own schedule, and that I really need to take two entire days off each week, my work routine has settled down a bit.  I still have split days off as the restaurant is closed on Mondays, and the other manager has a commitment that makes Tuesdays off impossible for me; but I’ve kind of gotten used to it.  It’s almost like a 3-day weekend every week, if you don’t count the 10 hours of work right smack in the middle of it.  Such a rude interruption…

Really, though, the only aspect of my job that I even mildly dislike is the schedule;  and that only because it involves working Sundays.  No, not the dreaded brunch as I would have opened an artery long ago if Sunday Brunch were required.  Just like Jeff Golblum’s line in Jurassic Park, that “life finds a way…”, brunch also finds a way, every week, to suck.  We are open for brunch and dinner on Sundays, the only day we open the doors during daylight hours; but my “keyholder” manager is there on Sunday mornings, and God bless her for it.   That, and HBO On Demand are the only things that make working on Sundays tolerable, barely.   I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the bosses at my two previous jobs for giving me almost four years of Sunday-free work schedules.  As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

Sundays, and the people who dine out on the 7th Day, are a different breed of cat altogether.  You see people out to dinner on Sunday nights that you never, ever see any other night of the week.  They say in the Bible that God rested on the 7th day, and the leper colony we get in each Sunday is your proof.  My theory is that all the people who dine on Sunday nights crawled out of the primordial ooze when God took His one day off because He, too, just couldn’t deal.  God was at home, in His sweats and wife-beater with His feet up and Sports Center on the tube when these people snuck their way into the evolutionary cycle.

And just to add salt to the gaping wound of working Sunday nights, and simultaneously drive a dagger into the heart of our check average, we offer a three-course “supper” for $20.  This is just to make sure that we not only get the weirdos, but also the cheap weirdos.  We have people who ask if they can split the $20 meal.  Really?  Look, if you don’t have enough money to eat out, just stay home…

Last Sunday night was a classic.  Knowing the check average is always down, and often cover counts as well, I was sympathetic to my staff’s need to make a little coin even on Sundays; so I went with a lean crew.  Three waiters, one bartender, one food runner, one hostess and I did over 120 people; and all of them came in at once.  The parties of 8 and 9 started coming in around 7:15, so we were all sufficiently lulled into complacency by then.  And they kept coming through the door, like extras from The Walking Dead.  We have an alarm system that makes a “beep-beep” in the back kitchen when the front door opens and, as I am back there madly buffing glassware and silver to keep us afloat, it was going off to the beat of Funkytown.  Let me take you down, beep-buh-beep, to Funkytown, beep-buh-beep… as more and more piled in.

In the midst of all this fun and good times, my bartender decided now would be a grand time to cut his hand, taking me off the floor and him out of a very busy bar while I triaged his wound.  I found our sparsely stocked First Aid Kit, (and someone please tell me why it is that restaurant First Aid Kits are either stocked to the hilt with eye cups, defibrillators, and enough stuff to treat the victims of the Haiti earthquake, or they have just three band-aids and some dull scissors?) and got his hand wrapped; but the bleeding just wouldn’t stop and the kitchen had run out of latex gloves.  Perfect.  Now wouldn’t this be an excellent time for the Health Department to stop in?  I got on my cell, called in a “Stunt Bartender” who, thankfully, was both nearby and willing to come in: go figure.  She arrived about 20 minutes later and jumped into the fray.

I had just barely hung up the phone when my hostess, who was still doing restroom checks despite being drafted into service running food and bussing tables, informed me that the toilet in the Men’s Room had backed up.  Dealing with the shitty situation in the bathroom brought new meaning to the term “Manager’s Log”.

As I was pushing the mop bucket from the restroom back into the scullery, I noticed that there was no one on the Sautee Station in the kitchen.  The sous-chef informed me that he’d had to send one of the cooks home because he had been caught drinking the cooking wine in the back, and was drunk.  Perfect.  He told me this as I was helping one of my weeded servers process the nine separate checks from a party of really snotty Nelly Queens who had decided they needed to leave, now.  All I needed was a good, old-fashioned computer crash to really make my night complete.

So then, another server comes up to tell me that the four-top on 72 wants to “speak to The Manager.”  All restaurant mangers know that these are words that are generally never followed by anything good; and a big Shit Sandwich is most likely coming your way.  As a manager, I like to remain in the background, offering support to the staff.  I am like an Offensive Lineman in the NFL.  The only time my number is called out over the PA system is when something bad has happened; but instead of “Holding, number 72, offense…” and the touchdown is called back, it’s “Overcooked Veal Chop, table 72…”

The tidal wave of business is beginning to withdraw from the beach, and the crew is starting to pick through the rubble, straightening out the beach chairs and umbrellas; so I cinch up my tie, shoot my cuffs, and head on over to 72.  The gent at Position 3 who, as I was seating them, had made an off-color joke about the “diverse” crew and the “war zone” of the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant, had appointed himself spokesperson. They are four very old, very Jewish people.  Oy.

“Lizzen, I just vant to tell you some-zing, here…”

Okay, here we go.  Open wide for the Shitburger, and make it a double.

“Our soiver, fen-tehs-tic!  And the Duck, to die for.  We loved it all.  Job vell done…”

I was speechless, as an ear-to-ear, decidedly non-shit eating grin had commandeered my face.  A perfectly mashugana end to Sunday, Bloody Sunday…


"More Thanksgiving Stuff of Legends…"

November 25, 2010

Back in The Day, when I was a fledgling line cook on his way up the culinary food chain of Napa Valley, Thanksgiving had sort of become a Holiday of Accommodation for me.  With a new-found disdain born of my recent experiences working with “the real thing”, my thinking went that if it wasn’t straight out of Ecoffier, my wanna-be French nose was in the air immediately.  How could I possibly sit by and subject myself to overcooked green beans and dry Turkey after I had spent all week making Sauce Écrivisse, trimming bones for Carré D’Agneau En Croûte, and slicing beautiful loins of milk-fed Veal?  Would I, yet again, have to suffer through another meal of those “time-tested recipes” used by my Mom and Aunts for years?  I had become such an ass, as Thanksgiving up to then had been a perfectly fine dinner we all enjoyed together, over-cooked turkey notwithstanding.

One year, I decided to take the reins, and took the pompous ass thing to new levels.  I called my Mom to inform her that I would be preparing the most vital portion of the Thanksgiving meal: the bird, the stuffing and sauce.

“This year, we are having Red Wine and Cognac Marinated Turkey with Wild Rice, Sausage and Chestnut Stuffing, and Wild Mushroom Sauce, and I’m doing the cooking.”

“No, Mom, not gravy.  Sauce.”

“No, really I want to.  Mom, it’ll be great.  I can do it.  Mom…”

Mom grudgingly agreed; the grudging part came mostly from her being forced to relinquish the all-important control factor of the dinner.   But also, if I pulled off the coup I was attempting, she would finally have to admit my career choice was actually valid.  For years now, she had been patiently waiting for the day when I would put down the knives and pans, go back to school, and get “a real job”.

The recipe called for a 48-hour marinade of the massive 21-pound bird I had purchased.  At the time I was a true bachelor who worked in a restaurant kitchen, which meant that at home I had one or two old frying pans, a motley assortment of  utensils, and nothing in the fridge except Dijon mustard, beer, and a bottle of Old Crow in the freezer.  I ate at work.  So preparing the meal I was attempting, and doing so at home, meant borrowing pans of suitable sizes and a vessel to marinate a bird the size of a Dodo, from the Chef.  We were closed at the restaurant for Thanksgiving, and I assured him all equipment would be returned unscathed on Friday. 

Home, at the time, was up in Angwin, a sleepy little conclave of hippies and Seventh Day Adventist college students in the hills, nine miles up from the restaurant in St. Helena.  My parents’ house, where the clan would gather, was in Napa, twenty miles or so down-valley.  Without realizing it, I had become what every self-respecting Chef Di Partie dreads:  I was a Caterer.  Restaurant cooks have a saying, paraphrasing Nancy Reagan:  “Just say No To Catering”.  Catering is always fraught with the potential for disaster and the need to be constantly “stomping out fires” when the main course for the event goes sliding across the floor of a van en route to the site; or some essential ingredient is left back at the prep kitchen, thirty minutes away.  My Thanksgiving adventure would prove no different. I loaded the groceries, my frozen Pterodactyl, and all the equipment into the back seat my 1971 Chevy Vega (one of a series of $250 cars I had back then) and headed for home around 10:30pm in a driving rainstorm.

The Chevy Vega, even in showroom condition, was a poor excuse for a vehicle; and mine could never be confused with anything remotely resembling dependable.  It had transmission issues, bad suspension, and a passenger-side window that was stuck either halfway up or halfway down, depending on your philosophy and that day’s weather.  Of course I had no insurance, no valid driver’s license, and about three cups of gas in the tank.  I told you I was a true bachelor restaurant cook, didn’t I?  But pride and reckless youth were powering this adventure and so A-Catering I will go…

About halfway up the hill to Angwin, the Vega decided to live up (or down) to its reputation.  The rear axle of this 70’s Detroit P.O.S. is held together by a small horseshoe-shaped pin, which secured the right rear wheel to the axle rod and left rear wheel.  As I rounded one of several hairpin turns on the road up the mountain, with my little car Loaded For Bear with pots and pans, the World’s Largest Turkey, as well as 5 or 6 bags of groceries, this pin decided that a rainy night in November on a dark mountain road would be an optimal time to let go. It disintegrated, detaching the right rear wheel from the axle assembly and turning my car into a three-legged Billy Goat. The Vega’s right rear side dropped with a sickening thud and some disconcerting grinding noises. It’s a particularly odd sensation, to be looking out the driver’s side window and see your right rear wheel passing you on the left, and disappear over the cliff on the other side of the road.  I managed to limp the Vega off onto the narrow shoulder, and began to assess.

I was at least two miles from home; and it was 10:30pm, and pouring rain.  Of course, this was back when Cell Phones were still the size of a shoe box, and pretty much a novelty item for people like Gordon Gecko, so I had no one to call and no way to call them anyway.  A triage of the situation called for leaving the Chef’s equipment locked in the dead car and hoping for the best.  I hoisted the bags of groceries onto my back, and started walking the last leg of the journey.  To add insult to injury, the last mile of the drive was up and over a 7% grade and down into town.

You never realize just how friggin’ heavy a 20-pound turkey is until it needs to be carried uphill, in the rain, in a plastic grocery bag while getting soaked to the bone.   Stumbling along a pitch-dark mountain road with six bags of groceries can cause one to ponder one’s career choices; and the drive and determination to not let Mom be right, yet again, and pull off my first Thanksgiving Dinner despite the obstacles, was fading fast. Just as I was seriously considering spinning the bag with the Turkey over my head and letting it fly for the first time in its life, headlights appeared behind me.  My next-door neighbor, a contractor, was on his way up the hill, returning home from tarping over an exposed construction site down in the Valley.  He zoomed up in his massive Ford F-250.  I loaded my stuff in the back and, after doubling back to the corpse of my Vega for the borrowed kitchen equipment, we arrived home and off-loaded.

The Thanksgiving meal was a roaring success, with the red-wine marinade turning out a bird that was juicy and magnificently bronzed.  The Wild Rice Stuffing and Mushroom Sauce were big hits too, even with my uncle, Big Mike, a staunch traditionalist when it comes to Holiday meals.  Friday was spent retrieving a used 1971 Vega rear end from the junk yard and I came away from that Thanksgiving with a new-found appreciation for the complexities of gray green beans, Durkee Fried Onions, and Sweet Potatoes topped with tiny marshmallows.

I suppose it could have been worse…


"Night of The Living Applicants…"

November 17, 2010

I have noticed a tendency for my personal financial situation to closely parallel that of the rest of the country.  Whenever those “leading economists” make their statements about job loss or stock markets dropping, my income tends to fluctuate in kind.  Could be that, like many people, I tend to be frugal when times are tight, and then spend like a sailor when they get better.  Maybe I’m just more average than I like to admit and get easily swept up in economic waves.

But most of the time, I am slightly ahead of the curve and my personal finances tend to improve, with the rest of the country following shortly thereafter.  However, I am rarely, if ever, mentioned by those “leading economists” as one of their  “leading economic indicators”; but they’d have a much better grasp on the situation if I were.  “Leading economists are pointing to an increase in the GNP, a rise in housing starts, and Naptive Napkin’s newly-fattened checking account as signs of the beginning of a turnaround…”

And so it is that this month will truly be the beginning of the end for any recession, depression, or other blips on the radar of the country’s financial woes, as I finally have a job.  One hundred forty seven days of job searching, with almost as many interviews, has yielded results.  I found The One I’d been looking for and am planning to hold onto it like Grim Death.

Life is not without its little ironies, and my new position is certainly not lacking in that department:  after ending my longest stint on the unemployment role in my 40-plus years of working life, I am now in a hiring role. I inherited a somewhat understaffed restaurant crew, so I am now on the flip side of Craig’s List.  The downturn in the economy has produced a “seller’s market” for employers.  That, coupled with a somewhat poorly worded ad has flooded the Inbox on our Craig’s List account with an alarmingly large volume of applicants.  Every time I log on to see what the chum in the water has stirred up, there are two dozen or so more emails.  It’s like I’m the guy barricaded inside his house in Night of The Living Dead, with hordes of applicants scratching and clawing at my doors and windows. The Zombies have put on a tie, shuffled over to their computers and hit the Send button.

The unintentional humor in resumes is inescapable.  You’ve really got to wonder if these people seriously read these things before sending them.   Here’s a bit of advice from a guy who, until recently, was out there gnawing on the flesh of prospective employers with the rest of you: spell check, use the Shift button at the beginning of a sentence, and use the punctuation keys for something more than making a Smiley Face.

Here is an actual response I got.  Really.  This came in an email, with the caption:  “Where do I send my resume?”

She could've at least listed her relevant experience in the form of a Tramp Stamp...

A piece of another one, where using the pre-formatted Resume Wizard was a good start, but follow through and proof reading was a little lacking:

“Walter’s Clothing    01/2006 – 05/2006
Store Clerk   address 66 Decatur St.
Stock and inventory
Customer service
Cleaning and closing the store

Aramark    08/2006 – 09/2006
Cleaner
Trash detail
Cleaning  Aircrafts
Assisting the Supervisor

Company Name    Dates of Employment
Job Title
Responsibilities
Responsiblities
Responsibilities

After several days of sneaking silently out to look at the messages in our Inbox, being careful not to stir up the Geeks and Freaks lurking there, I now have a new clarity on why it took me so long to get hired.  I was literally lost in the shuffle. I should’ve been sending pictures of me in my Tidy Whiteys.

Now on the receiving end, I am buried in the corpses of the under-qualified and the just plain silly, trying to find the living amongst the living-dead, and I need to cut to the chase.  Skimming quickly through the cover letter, I open these people’s attachments, scroll down to the “Experience” section of the resume, and if they have misspelled “restaurant” or have listed five jobs with four month’s tenure each, they are toast.   Next!

So, a lesson for all of you still out there in Job-Seeker Zombieland:  there’s about a 30-second window of opportunity for you to make an impression with a resume.  At least try to make is a good one.

"We-are-self-start-ing-people-per-sons-who-think-out-side-the-box..."


"Be All You Can Be, Even If You're Not…"

September 9, 2010

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.