Friday, December 27, 2013

Hostess with the Mostess

Applebee's gave me the escape I was looking for in the small town life I was living. While I was there I tried my best to keep the guests and the servers happy-not an easy feat, as the servers were typically more surley than the guests.

Each server walked in with their own personal agenda, and it was my job to have each memorized so I wouldn't 'screw' them over that day-a rather debutant behavior for service staff. Nonetheless, I would try to keep all the families with little children in the same area, avoid giving a single person a booth that seats four (even when they insist) and maneuver around sections where the servers were trying to I leave early.  It was an incredibly thankless position, one rarely with a win-whoever wrote 'The Hunger Games' must have been a hostess because even being the last man standing-doesn't mean you've won.

When my efforts were thwarted by an insistent guest wanting a window seat or a booth, it was only a matter of seconds before the server would be at my hostess stand demanding to know what I was thinking or asking me if I'm stupid.  Some servers would have the audacity to enlist the help of a manger, but most others would beg a coworker to take the offending table-sometimes money was exchanged.

Money was frequently passed around. I'm not sure anyone really made out any more rich-because after taking money to pick up a table or a shift, the same server doing the favor would need a favor the very next weekend.  If we could have just marked the twenty (the going rate for a shift) with a blue marker-it would be fairly easy to follow it around the restaurant.  This type of internal bartering, wasn't exclusive to Applebee's-this is typical of any restaurant. Beg, borrow and steal is transformed into: beg, bribe and barter-and the wisest servers kept track of all their outstanding favors, like a crime boss, just waiting patiently to cash them in.

If the favor wasn't eagerly returned by the indebted party, their integrity was often put into question and they would find it increasingly difficult to have any more favors done for them.  Integrity was treated like your credit score- and you wanted your number very high.  

Even managers played this little game, asking favors from servers if someone didn't show up or if there were too many of the 'B-squad' working a Friday night.  The manager with the most power was the scheduling manager-they gave the good shifts to the senior staff.  The fastest way to get the best shifts would be doing favors for the managers-the proverbial 'yes-man'. Sucking up to the managers wasn't the best way to increase your integrity with the rest of the staff, favors were, but it was still effective.

Hosts had so little to do with any of the internal politics. We had the smallest amount of pull behind the scenes, but it wasn't rare to be treated, temporarily, as though we had some power. We were good for short-term favors. I won't pretend as though I was above it.  I took money from servers  and guests alike and never batted an eye. I made less than minimum wage and then got tipped out-on a Friday, after it was split between all the hosts, came out to about $25/night.  If a guest was going to slip me a twenty to move them up the list-I would do it.  It wasn't about being fair-it was a game and there is strategy involved. I simply played the game.

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