Tuesday, May 30, 2006 by Ospite.
0 notations

As I've mentioned a couple posts ago, the wave of applicants has been more than steady. It's been almost military. 90% of them go into the "No" pile.

I was standing relatively near the front this afternoon when 5 men of hispanic heritage open the door halfway and peer in. The leader of the group stepped inside, leaving the door partly open so the other four could stand there with shulders and feet inside.

In a thick accent - "Are you takin applications?"
"Yes, would you like one?"

He turned and waived to the Four who snuck in as if they were crossing border patrol at midnight. They huddle behind the leader saying not a word, nervous eyes flashing around the restaurant. The comedic presentation was difficult to not laugh at. They all piled around the Leader as he passed out the applications, giving them directions in Spanish.

My boss walked by and exclaimed, "Make sure I get those apps. right away."

Now, some of you are thinking, this racial profiling is horrible. Let me inform you otherwise. I have yet to meet a Central American I didn't like. They are kind, respecful, and competative in their work ethic. They are tremendous employees. They are willing to work long hours and put the restaurant very high on their priority list. Why? Because they understand something we Americans take for granted; work. We tend to work to get rich. They tend to work to put food on the table...in this case literally. They understand and appreciate that hard work pays off, and getting your hands a little dirty has a good amount of dignity in it.

So here's to you, my nervous Applicants. I hope to see you soon.
Thursday, May 25, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

I had been running around the floor for only 15 minutes. I had come in late and was attempting to pick up the slack caused by the wait staff doing extra work I'd do. It was early enough that I had only 3 servers working the floor. Max was in dire need up bussing help, for our busser had called in sick. Wednesdays aren't remarkably busy. I stepped up and went after the remaining glasses on Max's table. Sliding them into the racks in the kitchen, one wet iced tea glass slipped from my grip and launched itself for the floor.

My reflexes engaged and I went to grab the glass before it shattered on the stainless steel dish bay. My reflexes were not quite fast enough. As my fingers closed around the top on the glass the bottom reached steel/glass impact and the glass shattered...with my fingers closing around the rim.

The explosion sent shards every direction, including into the middle finger of my right (dominant) hand. The edge made contact under the center of the fingernail, cutting straight down and to the right. Suddenly I was aware of the pain used by the Spanish Inquisition to find heretics among the masses. I have to admit, the amount of blood was impressive.

So now I have two problems: 1) I have shattered glass everywhere and 2) my finger is dripping a rich red blood onto the floor and the dirty glasses in front of me.

Cold water and papertowels first. Sweeping the floor second.

The latter one achieved, I walked swiftly to retrieve bandages and then briskly to the bathroom, gripping my finger tightly as the towel became red. I burst through the door and put my finger under the icy water, forcing myself to clean the wound and check for glass. Between keeping it clean and trying to apply enough pressure to stop the bleeding, I had completely ignored a customer washing his hands next to me. He simply stared at my hands while his were remaining motionless under the stream of water coming from his faucet. I tried to read his face. Did I just make this guy sick enough that he'll complain so as to get something comped from his meal? Or is he the sort that can't handle blood?

He looked mildy green, fading to white and exited quickly thereafter forgetting to turn off his sink.

After I bandaged the finger, cleaned up my mess and wandered back onto the floor, his server came up to me.

"What the hell did you do in there?"
"Nothing. Cleaned and bandaged my finger. Why?"
"Because that guy stormed from the bathroom like he'd seen a ghost. White as a sheet, he grabbed his jacket and took off without a word. At least he hadn't ordered yet."
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

3pm marks our slow period between lunch and dinner... slow meaning few customers meander in, This is the hour that all our business issues get taken care of. The tech is in updating our computer system. The new cleaning crew is getting instructions from my boss on how to properly clean the sauté section of the kitchen. And applicants for summer jobs are coming in droves.

I've begun sorting the applicants into "yes" and "no" piles. Let's begin with some hints from the trattoria's first line of defense against the onslaught of eager wannabe restauranteurs:

1. Bring your own pen. When an applicant asks to borrow one from me, they'll get a cold look as well as a reluctant writing utensil. Nothing says that you're not ready for the job faster than not being prepared enough to fill out the application without assistance. And don't you dare "forget" to return my pen. Either offense will get a note written on the top of the app. that says "didn't bring pen" or "forgot pen and stole mine." A note like that will get you in the "No" pile with ease.

2. Dress appropriately. For a woman - Showing excessive cleavage and enough thigh that your buttocks almost emerges from the skirt no longer gets you the job. I don't want bimbos working the floor. Dressing sexy to entice me into an interview simply tells me that you've gotten where you are in life based on your good looks alone. It also tells me you'll try and cut corners because you're beautiful and think you can get away with it. Remember that you'll be wearing an apron, oxford shirt, and black pants along with a tie... The curves are barely noticeable. Respect, dignity, responsibility, intelligence, outgoing demeanor. Remember those words, for they will land you a second interview. For a man - No jeans please. You don't need a suit, but don't think that just because you wander in to fill out an app. doesn't mean you're being judged from the moment the door opens. Shirt and tie. Dress for the job. Unless you plan on being a dishwasher. In which case, be awake, alert, off drugs, make eye contact, and know at least 100 words in English.

3. Come during an appropriate time. Don't walk into the middle of the lunch rush expecting to receive an application, fill it out, and talk to the manager. In fact, don't come in at that time expecting anything other than a table and a good meal. Showing up during a rush tells us you have no restaurant experience. No amount of pináche will make up for that mistake. "No" pile. Monday through Thursday, 2pm to 4pm. If you're unsure, call ahead.

4. Ask the right questions. How many tables are there per section? When are your busiest times? How many waiters do you employ presently? What shifts are you looking to fill? Are you looking for anything particular from your waitstaff I should be aware of? etc. Meaningful questions that give us a glimpse at your work ethic and sincerity. Sell yourself, but subtly.

As a rule, my restaurant doesn't hire summer help. They look for qualified people to make some amount of commitment to the trattoria. Writing this only reminds me of the 5 people who stated they'd return tomorrow to speak with the Service Manager, even though I explained he wouldn't be available. It's going to be a long day tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006 by Ospite.
1 notations

Normally I try and leave early enough for work that I miss rush hour. Unfortunately, today was no such day.

Caught in the left lane, soon needing to make a right hand turn, I dodged traffic, cut someone off and ended up sitting at the stop light next to the same guy I cut off. It wasn't an intentionally brutal traffic move, just aggressive driving. I had to make my turn.

Sitting next to me at that light, he rolls down his window, followed by a barrage of slang profanity I prefer to not utter here. I ignored him completely, which made his anger worse. Turning to look him dead in the eye, I paused, then punched the gas when the light turned green. He peeled out, hot on my heels and I used more aggressive tactics to lose him.

Road rage is getting far too brutal in this country. Headlines swept through my mind as I entered the trattoria. As I was considering the fact that he wouldn't have "called me out" if we were in a restaurant, or shopping, or even golfing, and thinking his behvior is ridiculous, I looked up as the door opened. He walked in.

The look on his face told me he had not followed me there, but rather was looking for an early dinner. The loss of color, in what had been flushed cheeks 5 minutes earlier, told me he sized up my 6'1" frame and compaired it to his waif-like 5'6". I'm not an intimidating guy, but I think he decided his odds were bad. I smiled. He turned around and walked out.

It was going to be a good night.
Thursday, May 11, 2006 by Ospite.
2 notations

I'm sure most of you are aware of the upcoming Mother's Day. This is our second busiest day of the year after Valentine's Day. Like Valentine's Day, we create a separate reservation book and take larger parties than normal. There are several reasons why MD is worse than VD and I'm not exactly looking forward to it.

1. Customers don't splurge on MD. They are out for dinner or lunch with mom because they feel inclined to treat her to a meal once a year. Sometimes the meal itself is the present for her...i.e. time spent together is the present. While that's all well and good, it means they are probably cheap and trying to get away with spending as little money as possible. Or they're broke. Neither one works out well for us. But really it's a lose-lose because if they are present people, it means they've already spent money on the present and they're hoping to spend less on the meal and use it more like a gesture to mom: "gift and a meal...clearly I'm impressive."

2. Mother's Day diners don't understand that while we like that they want to spend the special time communing together, we really need them to eat and leave so we can get to the next party in the book. Seriously, I'm expecting tents and sleeping bags at the tables this year. This is an occasion to milk the event for all its worth. These parties will stay until we've bussed the tables, taken the checks and then given them evil looks for 40 minutes. Camping is inevitable.

3. It's the family's "special day" out together. Everyone assumes they will receive special treatment because this is an occasion for them. A holiday. News flash: It's everyone's special day. Suck it up and realize you're not the only ones celebrating Mother's Day. It's a wild concept that there might be more mothers out there that you or your own mom. Don't look for a sympathetic ear from your wait staff for walking in with 16 people and saying "But it's Mother's Day and we're all together as a family...surely you can take good care of us. It's a special occasion." There is a danger we might actually laugh in your face.

4. For some reason, people don't understand the concept that Mother's Day is an annual occurrence. It apparently springs up on some people and they are shocked by its arrival. They will call me either Saturday or even Sunday and attempt an 8top reservation. I am expecting about 20 calls Sunday at noon for reservations of 8 people or more at 1pm. These callers need to be tarred and feathered. After that, they need to be informed that it's possible to book reservations for Mother's Day sometimes months in advance. The first reservation I took for MD was on the first week in April. I thanked this person profusely, and when they come in on Sunday, I will shake their hand, and give them a free dessert. Alright, I'll probably just shake their hand. Either way, just like guys sooner or later learn they need to book Valentine's Day reservations earlier than Feb. 13th, restaurant goers should understand Friday is simply too late for the party of 23 that has family in from Ohio and Nebraska that I "absolutely must have room for."
Saturday, May 06, 2006 by Ospite.
2 notations

It's late and we're almost closed. We have a single woman awaiting the remaining 2 for her party. They are 25 minutes late and our trattoria is too busy to hold a table for her without a reservation, which she's fine with. As her annoyance grows, she decides to call the incoming delinquents. She hangs up, visibly annoyed.

"Sir, you're going to have a party of 20 coming in in about 30 minutes."
"I'm sorry, did you say 20?"
"Yes...apparently my other two have multiplied themselves by 10."
"We can't sit a party of 20 this late."
"I told them that but they didn't care. They are hoping we can all split up."
"I will see what we can do, but I make no guarantees."

Dead on in 30 minutes, 10 walked in the door. The first gentleman alerted me they could split up and I had already planned for two parties of ten. As I attempted to seat the first group and begin the festivities, one man defiantly stood and approached me.

"Listen, we've got to sit together. That's the whole point of coming to a restaurant together so we can sit. Together."
"I'm sorry sir, but I simply cannot fit twenty people together at this point in time. It's late and my staff at this hour is not prepared for such a party."
"Sure it is. What you'll do is set up tables in that back section over there."

There's a certain type of customer that assumes if they get in my face, get a little aggravated and start to make a scene that I'll cave, giving them whatever they want. Just because you run an office of 100 employees, get your minions to scamper at your very gaze doesn't mean you can walk into my business and assume you're the top of the chain of command. We provide a service at our disgression, we are not your servants. When someone gets close enough that they are in danger of stepping on my toes, I don't back, I find it humorous. So at this point, I'm almost laughing at this guy for telling me how to best run my business.

"Sir, I can't do that. I have no servers back there."
"You will just take one off their other sections and move them back to take care of us."
"That I won't do. Without a reservation, a walk-in party of 20 can't simply take over my restaurant. Those other tables are paying customers and their servers need to continue taking care of them. I am going to split your party up."
"I'll just talk to your superior and he'll fix this."

At that point in time, my "superior" walked up, for he had heard the conversation.

"OK, you're his boss right?"
"I am."
"Listen, here's what you're going to do..."

That's when my boss turned a deaf ear and walked away.

With a wicked grin on my face, I turned to the disgruntled arrogant suit. "So sir, would you like me to split the party or do you want to wander to the next place to see if they'll accept a party of 20 without a reservation only an hour from close?"

He turned around and decided to be the bigger man by mocking myself and my fellow employees to his peers, who tried their best to ignore him. It was quite obvious he had made all of them uncomfortable.

The initial women whom I was using as my liason came over to me.

"So, can we b*tch about these pricks together then?"
Monday, May 01, 2006 by Ospite.
2 notations

Food. It's why we're here. It's a perk of the job. Free meals, discounted meals, quality dishes prepared by someone else. There are times when it can be torture to a starving, been-on-the-floor-for-12-hours-without-a-break restaurant staff member to watch an army of food march towards the tables only to be half eaten and then thrown away.

Two women wander into the trattoria. Designer this and that, clothes that scream money, bodies that scream personal trainer, checks that scream "I'm hungry enough to feed the entire Roman club team." They order the calamari (which is decent, yet shockingly high in calories), then the house salad, then one attacks the huge lasagna dish while the other wades through a massive bowl of pasta. They ate only four pieces of the rubbery cephalopod, retossed the salad without actually ingesting any, and stabbed the main course with the forks. This escapade takes about 2 hours, by the way. After staring at their food over an energetic conversation about nothing at all, they order dessert. Cheesecake and a lemon thing. Now, our cheesecake is quite delicious and it almost pains me to see it not fulfill it's dessert destiny and be eaten. When two bites are removed from it and the second simply sits on the utensil and never reaches the mouth, my heart hurts for the cheesecake. They ate about a tenth of their meal and walked away "O my GOD we're so full!" The remainder of their food was thrown out.

It is this behavior that spawns several resultant behaviors in restaurant staff. Two of which are either loathing the patron for splurging and wasting, or being delighted by the extra food, taking it in the back and eating it. Don't be shocked...not many do this, but some.

We have one particular waiter who watches his tables like a hawk. You'd think he was paying attention to their refills, or just to make sure they get the best service. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. He first decides whether or not the person looks attractive enough to share food with. If the woman is hot, sexy, adorable, cute, or possibly simply average, his mindset is "If I'd make out with her, I could share her food. If I could share her food, then I can eat off of her plate after she leaves." If the woman does not reach the high standards he has set, or the targeted patron is a male, then his observations turn to "which sections of the food he touched or might have breathed on excessively during the meal." If the food seems as though it might hold an untainted portion, it will be cut with a knife, the offending food removed and the remainder consumed.

98% of us other staff feel as though this is grotesque. I was under that impression until the other day when a personal friend came in. Her boyfriend was visiting and they popped by for a bite and a hello. I treated them to dessert and my friend did not have the room to finish hers. I had not eaten dinner and the remainder of her cake was staring in my face as I passed. I fell hard. Scooping up the plate, I made a mad dash for the kitchen where I grabbed a fork and dove in.

"Alriiiiight. 'Dead cake.' Toss me a fork."
"Actually, this came from a table."
"Please tell me you're kidding."
"For f*ck's sake man, have some dignity!"

I had stumbled upon the perfect way to keep the jackals at bay. Granted, I had to give up a small piece of respect from each employee. In the long run, I think it will be worth it.

At your service, Ospite

I am not in the restaurant business, I am in the people business. I use every opportunity to people watch, because to me, even the most mundane is fascinating.

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