Saturday, August 13, 2005

Food business war stories

Thanks to several decades in the food business, I am partial to stories about the business, especially anything illustrating the variety of human experience that is sure to surface when you start dealing with thousands of people. There are stories of medical problems, technical glitches, food disasters (or successes) and robberies, but the best stories are about the public. When any food business opens the door, the curtain rises on a stage. When good actors know their lines the play goes well. But when the players lose their places there can be hell to pay.

I discovered Waiter Rant a few weeks ago (via The Anchoress, who got it from Amy Welborn) and have been reading the stories ever since. The writer's day job is as a waiter, but when he takes to the keyboard he is clearly on the way to putting together a book. If he plays his cards right, and is fortunate enough to have a smart publisher who realizes that since most of America has spent at least some time in food service -- many more than the military or secondary education, I would guess -- there is a good market for well-done books about the nitty-gritty details of the business.

The latest Waiter Rant vignette is typical, and fun. In under forty-eight hours there are already ninety comments in the thread. Lots of people can relate to his stories. [Uh, language advisory for prickly readers...]

I take a deep breath and try and get my temper under control.

Suddenly another customer, an older gentleman lunching with his wife, speaks up, “Watch your mouths guys; you’re in mixed company here.”

Goatee laughs the old man off.

Now I’ve been a young man. I’ve done many of the stupid things these guys are doing. I pray for patience. But I remember when I acted like an idiot someone, my father or another older male, smacked me into line. I walk over to the table.

“Hello gentleman,” I say cheerily, “are you enjoying yourselves?”

“Yeah,” Goatee giggles.

“Good,” I reply, “But I have to ask you gentleman to watch your language.”

Goatee bursts out laughing.

“Or I’m kicking you all out,” I continue.

Now they’re looking at me.
“Excuse me?” Goatee asks in shock.

“Find your manners sir…..” I start to say.

Goatee starts to blush.

“……and find them now.”

The boys are quiet.

“Thank you gentlemen,” I say departing the area. The old man nods gratefully,
The trio keeps it on a low level the rest of the meal.

Goatee glares at me contemptuously once or twice. Oh well. Life’s tough.

I was looking at some old stuff I collected from a Message board and came up with this from an assistant manager who was witness to an embarrassing encounter between his boss and another boss two tiers up the flow chart. Life in a cafeteria is not always the picnic it seems to be.

I was just thinking today about all the times my DM and other officials embarrassed me over the years. Too many to count and recall, but one in particular still sticks in my craw to this day...

It was a Hot, Humid, Summer Sunday afternoon around 4PM, 60 some people in line for the early dinner rush. By this time, we had served almost 400 people. Not overly busy, but when you are short 3 line servers, leaving you with a 72 year old salad server and a mentally challenged high schooler serving bread, you feel like you have served 10,000. My GM was already in a fowl mood, as she oftenwas on Sundays, everyday really... but I digress, and in walks none other than....the King of the company and his lovely wife....

At this particular time, the dining room was trashed, the line was backed up and forgive me, yes 2 pans were empty on the line. The GM was running the line and I was trying to run the customers down the line as quickly as possible. He walks up and down the line without a Hey Y'all or nothing and pulls out his cell phone. Maybe he was calling to order a pizza, I don't know, but my curiosity was building by the moment. Then he looks up at the line, sticks out his finger and beckons my GM rudely off the line with "You! I need to see you now."

She walks off the line by the salad bar. As if he was Chef Paul Prudhomme himself, he started pointing to food items and loudly saying " MY line, NOW."

He walks out into the dining room and pulls out his cell phone again. He had called our DM and was ranting loudly on his phone in the middle of the dining room stating how incompetent the management was at this unit and the food look disgraceful!! By this time, most of the customers in the line and dining room were all staring and ears perked. My GM left the dining room in tears and he followed, his wife standing bewildered by the cash stand.

Ten minutes later my GM walks out of the office, pocket book in hand and out the door she goes. The King comes out with an "I did good" look on his face not realizing he had just run off a 22 year veteran, who was merely caught on a "bad" day, turned to his wife and stated, "lets eat at Red Lobster"

"Good. Please do" a nearby customer uttered, and he turned and yelled down the line at me, YOUR DM will be here in 2 hours, I suggest you get this mess cleaned up. I totally lost respect for him that day, not that I had a whole lot for him anyway. Mind you he had been in a month before praising us for our $8.75 check average and new unique food items on the line. He invited my Gm and I to join him and his wife at their table and we yapped for an hour, he wasn't too concerned about the line and short staff issue that day.. what was the change?

My GM quit that day, and the big boss followed suit that following month. A regular customer came up to me a while later after he had left and things had quieted down and asked me "Who was that rude gentleman who just came in here and turned this place upside down?"

I was glad to say that was the CEO of the company and kindly added with great sarcasm how "proud" we were of his leadership and accomplishments...

She replied with a simple "Oh, in other words he's an asshole." The lady was about 75 years old and words like that just didn't seem right coming out of such a sweet looking "grandmotherly" person.

After that day the GM was replaced twice, the check average returned to mediocrity, the customer counts fell drastically, and 5 months later the unit was closed. I quit soon after the first new GM came in. The first indication he wasn't going to work out was when he came in asked me when he could take his lunch break.....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The more entertaining story was the latter. I once happenstanced upon the former [ next blog ] and thought it had merit but quickly lost interest. The story from the anonymous message board was well-written and entertaining.

I once had an encounter with a CEO ( food business ) on a day when he and his executive team were handing-out awards to their charges in our region. By happenstance ( there's that word again ) I got to talk to him as he was "working the crowd" before the extravaganza officially "kicked-off."

He sauntered by while I was talking to a fellow peer and said hello. He had a dazed look on/in his face that me and my buddy instantly noticed. We deduced later while analyzing our "interview with the vampire" that his condition was probably chemically-induced ( i.e. prozac, wellbutrin, etc. ) His eyes were 3 quarters open and glazed.

"Maybe he's tired, cajunballsauvin," I told my buddy, trying my best to give him ye old "shadow of a doubt."

"Yeah, right," was his reply.

Well, the festivities began and the cheerleading team went to work.
The new COO told us he was going to lead us into the promised land-the stock had risen by $2.00 per share. His paln was working and he and the executive team were on cloud nine.

"We will celebrate our good fortunes in the years to come, and I will show you HOW to celebrate."

I picked up my $250.00 for my unit's 2nd place finish for profit but didn't get a watch like the number 1's. The cheerleading team made us clap and cheer and soon it was over.

After the meeting, life at the company was never the same. My old associate was fired after being robbed in his new unit. Seems he was cleaning his unit at night to supplement his salary. Others quit or were fired. 9-11 was next along with questionable promotions, and soon the stock went to a quarter a share followed by chapter 11.

The Anchoress may be a hit with the "hip" crowd and a former "flower child" of the 60's but not with yours truly.

Au revoir. P.S. I have never heard of Catfish so you may count my reply as yet another in a series of real mccoys. Regards, Bo Regard