Friday, July 5, 2013

Theory 7: Everyone should work in a restaurant, Part 2

Perfect Moment - Spotted these fellas on my way home.

In last week’s post, I explained that I’ll require Sharky and the Gnome to do restaurant work at some point in their formative years to gain real-life working knowledge of language, sexism, nepotism, favoritism, overcoming mistakes, and coping with stress. There may come a time when Sharky and the Gnome want to rip off the apron and walk out. I know. I “stuck it to the man” a few times.  Yes, kitchen managers and co-workers can make you crazy, but the customers, oh, the customers can make you mad enough to spit. Or quit. By the way, they are not always right. Typically, they are flat out wrong. Restaurant nation, feel free to finish this sentence, “Servers hate when customers _______.”
I know I hate:
·         When parents croon, “Tell the lady what you want.” It’s so obnoxious, especially when you hear it twenty times in one shift. Plus, don’t we already know what the crumb picker wants? Chicken tenders, plain hamburger, extra plate.

·         Customers who look at the menu and say, “Decisions, decisions.” Stop trying to convince everyone you can quote a president or theorist. Just decide.

·         When people order decaf. What is the point? Do you swim in your socks? I bet the same folks fish in waders and eat Egg-Beaters.

·         People who order extra lemons, squeeze them pulpless into a water glass, and stir in ten packets of sweeter. That ain’t lemonade. You are a tight wad.

·         Vinegar and oil. We all know you are trying to act sophisticated in front of your friends. Admit it, you really want Thousand Island. Plus, that’s the same oil we use in the deep fryer and the same vinegar we use to clean the coffee maker. Bon appétit!

·         Soup. Cottage cheese. Hot tea. Really? Really?

·         Customers who run the waiters to death. Don’t get all “lord of the manor” on us.

·         Breakfast customers who don’t tip 15% or more, just because it’s breakfast time. Breakfast servers wait on twice as many customers, carry twice as many dishes, and make half the money. Show respect.

·         Customers who discuss the tip with the server. So degrading. You never hear a server say, “You did a good job ordering and eating your nachos.”

·         Non tippers – you suck. You just never know what that server is dealing with personally or in the kitchen. Err on the side of kindness. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip. Delicious worked with a girl at Heidelberg who became irate after a big table of tour-ons (half tourist, half moron) stiffed her. She chased them out of the restaurant, through Ober Gatlinburg, all the way to the Tram station. Just before the doors slid shut, she flung foul language and their pocket-change into the Tram and said, “Here, you need this more than I do!”

How to quit
Tall Child (a salesman) and I (a public school teacher and writer) have great work ethic. Our jobs are important, crucial to our well-being, and MUCH appreciated. But, there’s only so much one can take, especially in the retail restaurant business. So, if Sharky and Gnome have to toss the apron, they can learn from their familial predecessors how to do it with flair.
·         My uncle, Mule, was kitchen manager at a pancake house for a few years. When he quit, he just showed up unannounced on his day off and said, “Hey, I just came by to pick up my paycheck and tell you that yesterday is my last day.”
·         Zero’s purvey moves got old (see last week’s post) so I decided to ditch the job.  My college sweetheart, a huge Richard Nixon fan, coached me on how to confront Zero. After my shift, I went to tiny Zero’s tiny office and said, “I am quitting. You are dishonest. You can’t talk to women the way you do. This is America. You don’t have Jody Cantrell to kick around anymore.”
·         Big Booty J, then 18, began her first shift at Howard Johnsons. As she puts it, “a table full of Yankees ordered ice cream sodas.” BBJ, being from the Deep South, had no clue what an ice cream soda was. Instead of attempting the impossible task of making the dessert, she deserted. She sprinted out the back door into the Smoky Mountain mist, in uniform.
How to get fired
Another summer, BBJ, madly in love with townie stud Gravy, waitressed at The Wagon Wheel, a.k.a. “The Spoke.” (The dimmest lit eating establishing in Gatlinburg.) BBJ called in sick on Friday and showed up for her Saturday shift with a motor-cycle windburn, ski-boat sunburn, and Budweiser headburn as a result of her “sick day.” A fellow waitress met her at the door and said, “Thar ain’t no use you comin’ in here. You done got fired.”
When business is slow, servers get mischievous. A bored Delicious and another waitress grabbed a plus-sized co-worker, slid open the beer cooler, and pushed her down into the frozen box. Her plump rear was wedged between metal sliding doors and ice cold beer. She was giggling so hard she couldn’t climb out. Delicious and her buddy took on the challenge of seeing how much crushed ice they could throw up the girl’s pencil skirt, from across the kitchen. All three got caught. All three got fired.
My uncle (brother to Delicious) worked at Hobies, where waiters could eat free but from a limited menu. He couldn’t resist the off-limits fried Rainbow Trout. Sneaky and good-looking, he sweet-talked a waitress into forging an order every night at the end of his pearl-diving shift. Each evening, he wrapped the plated contra-ban delicacy in aluminum foil, grabbed silverware, and slid home to enjoy his meals. By summers end he had 12 place settings of Hobies dinnerware, the nickname “Trout,” and no job.
Yes, the band bus is hot and heavy, but there’s something special about summer kitchen chaos. Delicious (a UGA graduate then English teacher) fled Georgia in late May in the summers of ’67-‘71. She hustled tables in numerous eateries in the arts and crafts community of Gatlinburg. She admits she was far from professional and her main goals were to make enough tips to buy a twin-pack of Ruffles potato chips and a twelve-pack of Budweiser every night. She’d wrap up her side work around 11 p.m. and crowd into a car with crushes and friends and head to Newfound Gap parking lot to drink, eat, flirt, and watch the spectacular Smoky Mountain hot pink, purple, and gold sun rise. The course of humanity was altered when the meat grinder at Steak & Lobster broke down. On July 3, 1972 of the kitchen at Howard’s Restaurant, Delicious (5-10, lean, with a jet black “real” shag haircut and a summer creek tan) sashayed with her drink tray into the kitchen and saw a blonde, curly headed boy with wire-rimmed glasses and a cigarette hanging from his mouth, its ashes a half-inch long and falling into the hamburger meat he was grinding. He worked at Steak & Lobster and had to do a quick meat-grinding run to Delicious’s workplace. She said, “What’s your name? I’ve never seen you before.” Taken by surprise, he sheepishly squeaked out his full name. His nickname growing up was Pot, because he stayed outside and filthy as a little boy. His nickname in Gatlinburg summers was Smoke. Ironic? Go figure. The cooks, Butch and Jim, told Smoke, “She is warm for your form and hot for your bod.” They also told Smoke that Delicious had a wild streak, which was not true. See Theory 4:  Don’t judge a woman by her accent or her breast size. In great anticipation, the next time Delicious swung open the kitchen doors to pick up her sizzle platter of steaks, a fired up Smoke asked Delicious, “Would you like to go for a Jeep ride tomorrow morning?” She said, “Sure.” August 19, Delicious drove home to Columbus, Georgia to teach junior English. September 16, the madly in love Smoke and Delicious got married. Two years later they welcomed their first child. ME!
Tall Child missed his chance, thus I am tasked with enlightening him as we dine.  But, Boppy (his mama) taught him well, thank goodness. One extra-lemon episode during our courtship and I would have 86’d him on the fly. My brother-in-law “J-Bird” and my sister-in-law “The Debutante” recently engaged in a heated argument debating the merits of public school vs. private school.  After about twenty minutes, J-Bird asked me, the TEACHER, “Don’t you think children need to be around people from all walks of life to learn how to interact with them and work with them? Don’t you think they learn more about life in a rougher public school instead of being in a private school bubble?” I summarized, “There are fantastic public schools and terrible private schools. If you want your child to master academic content, give her the safest, most intellectually challenging school—public or private. If you want her to learn the facts of life, give her one summer in a restaurant.”
There’s no better crash course on EVERYTHING hard, hilarious, and human. Sharky got a taste of the retail restaurant business last spring when his baseball team held a pancake breakfast at a local Chili’s.  He had to brush his hair, brush his teeth, WASH HIS HANDS, and show up at 7 a.m. to serve brave diners (mostly smitten grandparents) pancakes, bacon, and hot hot hot coffee.  His #1 customer, my cousin Fuzz, a former Golden Corral waitress herself, told him, “I’m going to make you work for it, Sharky.” Sharky and his buddy made three trips (as a pair) to begin Fuzz’s breakfast experience. 1. Coffee 2. Sugar 3. Cream. Two hours in, I looked to see a slouching Sharky in a booth (a no-no) with his own stack of pancakes and a mug of Dr. Pepper. I should have yelled, “Animal, get back in the kitchen!”
You learn a lot about yourself and others in the restaurant setting. Your patience, virtue, character, and composure are tested in public. For many years after I retired from the restaurant business, I missed the unique opportunity to demonstrate grace under fire.  But, thanks to Sharky’s athleticism, I have new venues in which to strive for self- control while squelching sarcasm and rear-ended behavior: basketball gyms and baseball parks.  Which reminds me of Theory 8: In youth sports, parents are the true performers.

See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn!

Sharky and friend couldn't take the heat. Had to get out of the kitchen.

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...