Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tales from the darkside, Part II (Special Valentines Day edition)

In honor of Valentines Day I thought I would go back to telling some of my restaurant tales.  Why, in honor of Valentines Day do you ask?  Ahhhhh, the question shows you have never worked in a restaurant.  Valentines Day is one of "those" holidays.  The ones that people working in restaurants live to loathe.   These are the holidays which bring people out in droves but have their own unique awfulness to them. You'd think that would mean that people working in restaurants love those holidays, ahhhh wrong! 

Valentines Day goes on your list of holidays which are hated and dreaded in the restaurant business, why?  Well because they bring people in whoare often not people who go out to eat regularly and non regular restaurant diners are more likely to be way more demanding and demeaning and not tip much, because they just don't get the whole concept of tipping in the first place.  These people come on the busiest days/evenings of  the year, wait for hours (usually at a place which doesn't take reservations) and then are annoyed a expect their server to not only bring their food out at the speed of light, but run your keester off with the free bread and drink refills because they feel if they are paying for it, they might as well eat and drink as much as possible (and I mean stocking up for winter volumes here). 

Valentines Day is the "best" of these terrible holiday experiences.  The benefit of Valentines Day is that you get mostly couples or groups of couples (read, no kids and no single diners to bring those check prices down), plus in at least your higher end joints, they mostly have special "Valentine themed" menus which means you are paying 10-20 percent more for your New York Strip then on other days.  Also a lot of Valentines diners will opt for the entire dining experience do the whole drinks, appetizer, entree dessert, although I have had my 2 Lasagnas/Water with lemon folks on the day of love too.   The downside (besides the Lasagna/water people) is that you still get a lot of people who are not seasoned restaurant diners, which means even if they know how to order, they still don't know how to tip, so often you find yourself averaging less than 15% on Valentines Day, even though your sales are through the roof.  And the people around you that you need to tip-out (busboys, bartenders, expediters, etc.) expect more than the usual because things are so busy and they just figure as a waiter you are raking it in and therefore you need to pay them in kind (and don't forget these people always know who are the good tippers and if you are not a good tipper, you often do not get service from them).  Having yourself on the shit list of the busboys means that they will let your tables sit dirty for as long as possible, which means it takes much longer to clean your tables, which means they take longer to have new guests seated at them which means you make less money. It's a delicate ecosystem of it's own.

On holidays the kitchen 'goes down' (meaning that they cannot keep the orders coming at a good pace and you invariably end up waiting a much longer time for your food).  When the 'line' (the people who make your food) goes down, then invariably everything else in the kitchen goes down with it and that bleeds out into the rest of the restaurant.  The kitchen going down puts pressure on prep, which means they are also not putting out bread, salads, sides of vegetables, desserts and other stuff, which means everything starts taking a long time. It just turns into zillions of little fires that need to be put out by the person standing closest to them.  When this happens all the extra people they put on to prevent just this get put on other jobs (making salad, helping prep, rolling silverware), so the well oiled machine gets turned into a chop shop where servers need to do everything themselves.  Need coffee? You run to the server's station and guess what, no cups and all the coffee pots are empty.  You put on coffee and run to the dish area to get clean cups and you bring them, then you get your coffees and guess what, no cream, you run back to the walk in and you can't find the cream so you go to the prep guy and he stops making bread (which you also desperately need) to go and comb the walk-in for creamers.  You can't wait so you run to another wait station and take their last 5 creamers.  Then another server comes by and says that table 23 needs another two ice teas and a diet coke with lime.  Yeah, there are glasses and iced tea, but the ice bin is empty.  Back you go to the kitchen to hurry and grab two buckets of ice and run them out (and if you are really really busy, you say screw everyone else and you just selfishly taske your 3 glasses back ot the ice machine.  You bring them but don't have time to run the buckets back, because you notice that bread has finally arrived and you go and get 3 baskets, because WTF, might as well refill it now while it is there rather than run the risk that you will get back to your table after 4 coffees taking more than 15 minutesto find out they need bread.  This is the holiday rhythm.

Another crappy holiday to work, much crappier than Valentines Day is Easter.  Easter brings out the ladies in pastels and they are usually toting at least one grandma and a whole bunch of kids, who are hopped up on sugar from biting the heads off their chocolate and marshmallow bunnies but all wound up from having to try and sit still in Church all morning. They are just bundles of pent-up energy, whose parents want to get them busy eating (read: quiet, sitting and off their parents' last nerves).  So, you wait on lots of larger parties but because of the high ratio of children to adults, your check average is extremely low.  People tend not to drink much on Easter, because of the faimily setting and forget appetizers, the kids cannot sit that long, so usually it is an entree-beverage type of day.  Also large groups of people with lots of kids just means you are going to run your ass off for a family of 8, but the check is going to be really low meaning you make very little.  Even if you work in a fancier place which adds automatic gratiuity for parties of 8 or more, it is still hard to make out well on Easter.  Plus you probably run 5 times as much getting refills (I kept count on one particular Easter where I shlepped out 98 Shirley Temples on an Easter Shift where I served 64 customers (and guess what,  the bartender has the cherry syrup and ginger ale, so I have to tip him out for all of those, even though I don't get a nickle extra for them because they are covered by the all inclusive free refill). Techinically since they don't go on your bar sales, you could stiff the bartender for those, but if you do, guess what, on a busy night when people are drinking, your drinks will take forever.

Another sucky holiday to work is new year's eve, but this only sucks because you are stuck working rather than out yourself.  Actually New Year's eve is a good holiday to work, it's pretty adult focused, people drink and are usually pretty jolly and therefore generous.  Plus there is still the tiniest bit of that goodwill left over from Christmas.  Often people feel sorry for you having to work on New Years Eve and particularly if you can work it into casual conversation that you will be ringing in the new year cleaning out the soda machine without sounding like a used car salesman, that is usually always good for an extra 5-10%.  Still, usually you are cleaning out the soda machine, or worse at midnight. 

A lot of servers will always tell you that Christmas eve is awful to work too, but I always loved working on Christmas eve.  Being one of the few Jewish kids, I always volunteered for Christmas eve and it was always a blast. Christmas eve is typically not a very busy day, around lunch time you can get a rush, but things really start to wind down in the afternoon and a lot of restaurants close early, like at 8.00 PM.  I always volunteered to close Christmas eve and I always raked in a lot of cash.  Here's why.  Like I said at lunch there is a rush and Christmas eve gets you the "I'm sorry you have to work on Christmas tips" but around 3 or 4 in the afternoon things slow way down and what happens is management cuts the staff way down too (in the place I worked, there were only two waiters on after 4 which means we basically just split the dining room down the middle for the rest of the day.  If there were 5 waiters on, it would be a very slow shift, but because there are only two of you you get lots of tables, most of whom tip well.  You get a lot of people without big family gatherings to go to who are just grateful to find a place which is open and welcoming and like I said, you get the mercy tips.  Now, don't get me wrong, because it is just two of you and maybe a busboy, it is really, really busy.  They basically just seat the whole dining room so you can be waiting on 7 or 8 tables at a time.  But the cool thing is that a lot of your customers are cool about it, because like I said, they are just grateful to be eating at a place that's open on Christmas eve.  Normally I would work from say 12-close (which was 8.00) and I never walked with less than $175.  The downside was that when the place closed it looked like an autopsy and it took a long time to clean up everything. 

The absolute worst holiday to wait on tables (by leaps and bounds) is mothers day.  I have never found anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant that didn't have a special loathing for mothers day.  It just sucks like nothing else.  It is the busiest day of the year for most restaurants and in every restaurant I have ever worked in, it was not possible to ask for the day off on mother's day.  Even if you normally don't work Sundays, you're working mother's day.  It was easier to get out of the draft in the 1960's then it is to get out of working a mother's day shift.  They pretty much staff everyone on mother's day.  There is no lull, it is busy from the second the doors open until they close.  They put most people on a sort of swing shift where you work from like 11-5 and then 2-close and you just run, run, run.  Plus they put extra staff on mother's day.  Extra busboys, hosts and bartenders to keep things moving quickly out front.  Extra cooks and expediters and extra waiters to run food and refill ice bins and make coffee.  You'd think with all this extra staff it wouldn't be so bad, except that it is busy, you don't really get a break and you spend a full 8 hours just running back and forth.  And despite all the careful planning and prepping, all those extra people to ensure that things go smoothly, the restaurant goes down at least 3 major times and is on the verge of going down the rest of the time.  The place is like an ER for food all day long. 

If that's not bad enough,   the worst thing about mother's day by far are the customers.  I don't know what it is about this holiday, but it brings out the most backwards, rudest, crabbiest people.  We're talking rejected extras from the movie "Deliverance" here.  They are angry, hungry mobs all giving mom a day off from cooking (and by the looks of mom it is the only day off she gets all year) by going and waiting for 1.5 hours for a table and by the time they sit down all their good will toward mom gone and all they are is mad.  They order lots of fu fu drinks for the moms while their husbands guzzle draft beers.  They order appetizers, desserts and so forth, but they tip for shit.  They figure becaue they had to wait for a table, wait for bread, the 12 refills on their iced teas and everything, that you gave them shitty service.  I cannot remember how many times on Mother's Day I got a $5 or $7 tip on a $100 check. 

So, let's hear it for Arbor Day!

1 comment:

  1. So...what you're saying is that it really stinks to work in Olive Garden? Say it ain't so, Dana! ;-)