The Insane Waiter

Running wild on customers, chefs, owners and managers since 1997. I bring to you, The Insane Waiter. What do bring to your table? A crisp bottle of San Pellegrino ? Perhaps a lovely seared Sashimi Tuna? Start off with a wonderful bottle from Tuscany perhaps? Why I'll be more than happy to bring you your White Zinfandel and Chicken Caesar. No you can't order the mac and cheese off the kids menu and sorry no, we don't serve cheese sticks....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back into the hornets' nest

Coming back from vacation is usually an ok thing as far as work goes. A bit of a re-charge is sometimes necessary in life and I was looking foreword to a good couple weeks before classes start.

Of course when I returned I walked into a shit storm instead of the relaxed pace of late summer.
Recently we were given employee surveys from the corporate office, it seems like they finally wanted our opinions on management/business issues.

I refused to fill one out, I worked for a company that surveyed their employees once and they openly mocked the opinions of the surveys directly in front of the staff. No changes were made that would positively impact the business and if anything management held a grudge against the people who gave their opinions.

Well back to present day. They surveys were turned in and management released a memo to the staff with certain changes to policy as well as addressing policy that was already in place. As usual they ignored the entire concept of communication and made their usual arbitrary and petty decisions.

Most of the memo was common sense, a manager read the memo in a staff meeting and much of it was the same show up on time/have a clean uniform type deal that should be expected. There was a couple of points that they tried to rush past that clearly had some people upset.
In the last year our place of business has had a complete reversal in the culture of the restaurant. We were originally a hip restaurant (how I hate to say that, I hate hipsters) with a quirky staff that displayed their individuality in both their appearance and their personality at their tables. This was encouraged by the management and owners at the time. Short of walking in with green hair and a Mohawk you were fit to work.

Apparently this “vision” of how the restaurant is to be has changed. The memo addressed a this, and many were upset.

First off women are pretty much encouraged to dress like men, hell I’d even rather have them look like the Stepford Wives rather than the frumpy clothed, minimal make-up and no personality mold that the restaurant wants.

This is all fun and games for a corporate restaurant, but come off it, the reason many of us wanted to work for this restaurant was because it was the exact opposite of what it has become.

If you’re a male who has ear-rings, tattoos or facial hair you’re screwed as well. The memo states restrictions on the above as well.

It seems you have to ask permission from management to change hair styles, color or to grow facial hair.

That is the funniest part of the new policies to me.

You’re allowed have a beard/goatee/mustache/sideburns…

You’re just not allowed to grow them.

A bit more was mentioned on the whole scheduling thing. They reiterated that we were not allowed to call in sick and had to cover the shift with another employee, that one is always nice.
As well they are restricting the way we trade or pick up shifts from other employees. I’ve found that if the manager on duty doesn’t like the person you are trading with they simply won’t allow it.

Even more difficult is the new policy preventing shifts from being traded as long as management has shifts they still need to cover. We have been running short staffed for most of the summer, as turnover has been unusually high (I wonder why).

Every week management puts up a sheet detailing shifts that they need covered (mostly from former employees that have fled or been given the ax).

Well if each and every one of the open slots in not filled, there can be no shift changes, doesn’t matter if the desired shift is on a day that isn’t covered. Its their way of offering us an “incentive” to cover the shifts that they themselves cannot.

The issue of request off dates and such has been hardened as well. It has also been reiterated that if we need time off we are to clear it through our management and take our vacation “pay."
Since most of us are part time there is no vacation pay.

That means no guaranteed time off.

So pretty much everyone is pissed off.

Management is pissed off at us for being pissed off as well, making a shitty work environment in the last couple weeks.

Every pre-shift meeting is the same, the GM harping on unimportant issues repeatedly while the place burns around him due to the actual issues that matter. Then they ask why morale is low and wonder why people aren’t walking around with a smile on their faces.

“We want to be a place where you should be proud to work!” GM declared.

Ok, treat us like adults and at least look at issues from our point of view, not your biased view or
that of the oh so holy “guest.”

A manager shouldn’t necessarily bow to the demands of the staff, but a view that takes into concern the consideration of the staff would be appreciated. After all when one man thinks you’re an idiot that’s one man’s opinion, when the world feels that was I wonder if they might be correct.

And so it goes when you ask the opinion of the staff, instead of consideration to the issues we brought to the table, we were responded with petty regulations and petty vengeance that can only be wielded by those with middle management authority.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Out of town

So yeah, taking my vacation after all.

I covered my shift by trading for a crappy Saturday lunch shift, which I promptly gave away to someone else. Even though I still feel it was management's responsibility to cover a shift that was in the middle of my vacation.

Here's how unreasonable and irresponsible this whole thing turned out to be. Not only was I the first person to request off that day, apparently I was the only person. So it was not like there was a deluge of requests that had to be met, so pretty much there was absolutely no reason to be scheduled.

Since scheduling manager was no help I went to her nominal superior, we'll call him the "good" manager. Every store has one, and usually they are the only reason things go right.

In asking for an explanation of why I was scheduled in the middle of my time off when it was apparent that I would be out of town, I found out a few things.

First off he told me that the scheduling manager thought she was doing us a favor by only scheduling us one shift during our vacation. That way it would be easy for us to cover said shift by trading or giving up the shift to another employee.

Except two people were disciplined because no one could trade of pick their shift up. They technically could have even been fired.

Here's a favor, if I'm out of town and have communicated this fact with you, don't fucking schedule me. I shouldn't have to scurry around looking for someone to work for me. What if I can't find someone?

Am I supposed to drive back, work the one crap shift, and then continue my vacation? Am I supposed to give up my vacation for only one shift?

So I communicated with management and told them they had six employees that they did this to and that we are all ready to head up to human resources for a little chat if this situation is not resolved.

This issue has been taken to the GM, so we'll see what happens.

Other than that I'm off, catch you all next week!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


One of the few tangible benefits of working a service industry job is the flexibility. Whether it be a schedule that works with classes, a full time job or vacation, it is one of the true perks of this job.

Well I suppose I should be careful what I wish for, I’ve always been a proponent of wait staff/bartending being treated like a “real job” in many areas such as paid time off, benefits, respect towards sick days as well as following Department of Labor statutes, shocking, I know.

Of course we won’t be getting any of that on a decent scale, the one thing they have decided to give us is a static schedule, taking away one of the few things I like about this type of work.
First off, fearless leader wanted to take away “request off” shifts completely and let the staff work out days we need off amongst ourselves.

Because that’s what we get paid the big bucks to do, the management’s scheduling and “work it out ourselves.”

Secondly if we wanted be able to take time off we were to use out vacation pay (I made $150 for the week after taxes at minimum, the usual amount I make for one of my shifts). I suppose the part timers (32 hours and under) just wouldn’t be able to take a week off since they don’t qualify.

However one of out few competent managers managed to talk him out of it. I’ve seen server revolts before friends, it isn’t pretty, and one was brewing. I made it quite clear the shit-storm myself and others were preparing in response if this arbitrary decision was to come to pass.

Since this initial plan fell to the side, fearless leader and the minions did what they do best. Exert their authority in the lamest ways possible, be reactive instead of proactive, vindictive instead of professional and most importantly, to show who is in control.

They start fucking with our schedules and our request offs.

Requests off work kind of like this at my and many other restaurants. Usually you talk to a manager a few weeks to a month in advance and write it down. We have a book that has a certain amount of slots on each date, get in early and you should have no problem. As in all realms of life, fail to communicate and get in late, well it may be questionable if you get the time off.

So far a half a dozen of us have been affected. All of us communicated our vacation/time off needs months in advance, all of us put it in writing so there would be no questions. This is what happened to the six individuals, the names have been changed as usual to protect the innocent.

Jessica was the first case. She had requested when she was HIRED that she needed a week off in July to go on a cross state biking event. Cara put it in writing and was given the week off, with one exception. Management had scheduled her a crappy Tuesday lunch shift in the middle of her time off, like she was to drop her vacation plans for one shitty shift.

Alicia is our second case, she has family in Ohio and was visiting them for the first time in months. She had plane reservation for certain dates and certain times, management was aware of this in writing. They scheduled her for a shift that would occur while she would be sitting at O’Hare Airport on a layover. She missed her shift, was written up, and threatened with termination.

Third case is Tony and Cara, they are a prototypical restaurant couple. Been together for years, work the same shifts and pretty much kick ass. Every summer they go on a week long camping trip, they requested off two months ago. I think you see where this is going, Tony was scheduled one shift in the middle of his request time, Cara scheduled two days before they were to return.

They barely covered their shifts.

By this time every one of these employees had talked to management. In some cases they were listened to politely, in others certain managers took liberties with their income, sections and cut them off of profitable parties. As well they are mysteriously in trouble all of a sudden and being scrutinized instead of being allowed to do their job and make a living.

At any rate nothing was done…

Tim was scheduled the night he requested off , his girlfriend who he cares about was leaving town.

Stella was scheduled on a weekend she had her child and a family function, request off denied.

Then there was my situation. Every August I go up north and fish for a week. Frankly the prospect of this trip is the only thing keeping my sanity intact as far as work goes. A month ago I went to the scheduling manager and told her what week I wanted off. I was told to put it in writing and I did, as well I filled out the request off book, I made it to the very first spot on every day I needed off.

I bet even you 10% tippers could figure out what happened.

I received every day off I needed, except for Thursday’s lunch shift, three days after I leave the state, three days before I return.

I immediately went up to the scheduling manager to issue a complaint, I tied the nice guy approach.

“So what’s up with that lunch shift next week? I won’t be in town.” I said politely (believe it or not).

Using incompetent manager byline 173 from the handbook she snidely said what I expected her to, “That’s why they’re called requests and not days off.”

“What am I supposed to do if I can’t cover it, stay in town and work one shift for the entire week, and miss vacation?” I said, my demeanor taking a sharp, condescending tone.

“If you have a problem with it we can talk about this in the office.” She snapped back at me.

Which is manager code for I’ll find some reason to write you up, reduce your section size or otherwise act like an ass.

“I don’t think that will accomplish anything,” I said, “maybe I’ll take it to human resources instead.”

“They’ll tell you the same thing I told you.” She replied.

“I wouldn’t be to sure about that, regardless, I won’t be in town next week, that you can count on.” I said.

She just shot me a dirty look and returned to leaning on the wall, the only thing she does with competence.

To be continued Thursday, after I get some results…

Friday, August 03, 2007

What to do?

All right, I’m going to answer this one because the exact situation happened at a restaurant I worked at a few years back…

“Related topic: I'd like to know -from your perspective - what I should have done in this story.Location: upscale steakhouse near Hartford, CT. Price: Apps, Drinks, Entree's, Desert & tip ~ $120 for 2 people

My wife got a babysitter and went out to celebrate something or other. Since we were dropping $25 on the babysitter and $100+ for dinner, we only do this every couple of months. Hey - living in New England is expensive! Anyway, we go to one of our favorite restaurants. It is a nice steakhouse near Hartford, CT. You do occasionally see kids there, but mostly it is couples or groups. Anyway, we are about 30 minutes into our meal (steaks had just arrived) when the FIRE ALARM starts going off. The assistant manager (I think) comes around and tells everyone that it's ok, it was just a malfunction but they have to wait for the fire department to arrive. He then opens some of the emergency exit doors. Now it is early April and about 45 degrees outside. The draft from the outside air is starting to feel cold (my wife puts her coat back on) and the FIRE ALARM IS STILL GOING OFF. They do no evacuate the building (it was just a malfunction, he said). After 20 minutes of trying eat and have a conversation with my wife (with the FIRE ALARM STILL GOING OFF!), I give up and we put on our coats and go outside to the patio to get away from the noise. After about 10 minutes on the patio, the fire trucks show up and 2 minutes later the alarm is off.

We go back inside and finish our (now cold) meal. The assistant manager comes by again and closes the doors and offers a personal apology, but nothing more. How should I have handled it?If I get an actual response, I'll let you know what I did.Thanks!”

First off tip the server still, regardless of what the manager did or did not do.

Secondly, the manager sounds like an idiot. Open the doors when it is cold out? Its bad enough that there are sirens blaring. I don’t understand why he would open the doors if it was just a malfunction.

As far as the alarm still going off, most businesses don’t have the option of turning alarms off, either security, the police or fire department have the ability, surely for insurance/legal reasons.

It has nothing to do with turning off the alarm from the inside, you pretty much have to wait for the authorities to show up.

So after all of that, the restaurant has a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Pretty much at an upscale restaurant you will be dropping minimum $50 a head, before tip. If the management comps everyone in the house not only will that cost thousands of dollars, it could cost him his job. If there is no compensation they risk having every customer in the joint not returning. The old management saying that goes a dissatisfied customer will tell ten friends and they won’t patronize the business could be applied as well, though I think that one is mostly bullshit in the company manual.

On the other hand you do deserve compensation for the inconvenience. I have always been a proponent of compensation that can guarantee the return of a customer and not a straight out comp, such as free drinks next time or a free appetizer on your next visit, something along those line. In this case compensation on your current visit seems in order. I would do a combination of both.

If I was a manager in this case I would personally visit any tables that I could and authorize my
staff to grant 50% discounts on entrees and appetizers, that way the business could at least cover product cost or defray the cost at the very least. As well I would personally hand out my business card to each table and apologize, on the back of the card I would sign my name grant some kind of discount/free item for the next visit.

That way the guest is covered and feels all warm and toasty about a manager sucking up to them and the business is covered as far as any loss and the customer is more likely to have a return visit.

As far as what happened at my restaurant, the alarm went off for about five minutes, we were mostly empty due to a holiday weekend and most customers were fairly understanding. Except for one.

They were a name dropping friend of the owner and decided they were the owner by proxy.

They demanded the manager pay for everyone in the restaurant and set them up with drinks (They weren’t even eating, just having cocktails).

Management promptly ignored their demands and stated that our management, not they, were in charge and would decide on the proper response.

Name droppers threatened to tell their good friend, but like most name droppers they didn’t do shit.

We bought drinks for each table and all was good, name droppers sulked in front of their pink martinis and weren’t comped shit.