Friday, June 21, 2013

Bad Day at the Restaurant? A Few Insider Tips to Ease the Grind of the Restaurant Life

I came across Advaita Kala's USA Today article and  it made me think about the hospitality industry and moving forward-even when all you want to do is throw in the towel.  I have worked in restaurants since I was 16 years old and even did a brief stint in a small inn-to which I will say, those who work in restaurants are brave and those who work in hotels are saints.  It is one thing to pick up after a group who do not have the courtesy to keep their eating space organized and tidy (although the server has to do his part too) for the hour or so they are sitting at a table.  It is quite different to pick up after people who have 'camped out' for a night or more and turned a single room into what looks like the aftermath of Animal House in solitary confinement.  

Over the years I have come up with some ways to 'cope' with the overwhelming angst and frustration that cycles through me in this business.  As much as we try to keep that smile on our faces-there are times when we feel the breaking point coming and the smile starts to look a little more like a sneer.  These coping mechanisms have preventing me from walking out (which I have never done), yelling at a guest and telling my boss to go f___ himself...oh wait, I have done that one (hey, its trial and error).  I thought I would share some of these tips with you.

When you want to quit:  I'm not saying don't quit your job, sometimes its justified.  I quit a great full-time bar manager position to bartend at a popular bar 20 hours per week because I wanted to finish school and there was no step down in pay.  Sometimes, as close to the people and places we get-in order to grow-we have to leave.

But, if you are in a place that is a good place and you know you're cycling through a stream of crappy tips, customers who ask for the world at a discount or staff who you're convinced were hired by the janitor-I recommend reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  I dont know what Bourdain would think about using his book as a survival guide, but it works for me.  He has a romantic, but crude sense of humor to this business-something that's required in order to survive it.  This book with help you through.  And a tip?  Dont loan it out!  You will never get that book back!  I have probably replaced my copy 8 times-and I'm low-balling this estimate.

When you're in a tip rut: We've all been there-even the best of us have had a slew of guests who came through that make you feel as though these people were all just released from a time-warp from the Depression and cant spare a dollar.  I know its frustrating and insulting-especially when you just did them a favor by scoring them something a little extra for free and they don't show any appreciation.  

What I do: first, I go through Ben Chakroun's list of 'Cardinal Sins' in Eric Ripert's On the Line to brush up on the elements of my service.  Since we cannot force the guest to change, why not get better ourselves?  What for, you say?  If you're making crappy tips from crappy people, why try to give them better service?  Because if you're getting crappy tips its for 1 of 2 reasons: #1: its them OR #2: its you.  And as a rule, I make darn sure, its never me!  So I get better and improve my odds.  Control what you can control-which is yourself.

When you have a bad manager: First of all, in an industry in which managers are vital to the running of an establishment-often, there is little training or experience required to be one.  Being asked to be a manager is always flattering, but it is always the worst job in the building.  Its essentially babysitting a bunch of drunk misfits who band together against you and make your life a 80+hour week of hell with few-to-no days off.  Which is why I dont manage anymore.  

Managers come in 2 forms: one has something to prove and the other was a friend amongst the misfits who got promoted.  The latter is usually the better overall manager.  They have been-there-done-that and know how to help you and when to back off.  The manager with something to prove is harder to deal with and generally takes about 6 months to 'cool'.  But if you're looking to get him to cool a little early.  I recommend getting him drunk.  Make him feel as though hes part of the parade of misfits-or at least wants to be.  This is not manipulation-this is high school all over again.  The manager usually feels like the dorky kid on the outskirts of whats going on.  So if you can include him (to a degree) they usually let their guard down and are easier to work with.  A word of the wise: careful what you expose them to right away-some managers will give you the slip and use it as ammunition.  Also, the best policy is the, 'what stays in Vegas...'-so they also know they can trust you to keep your mouth shut.

The hospitality business is wonderful and infuriating.  We can try to change it all we can, but sometimes its better to acknowledge you cant rationalize with crazy-so learn to work with it and think like a crazy person.

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