Friday, June 29, 2007

Wish Me Luck

I have decided to terminate Mr. Hawaiian Shirt, should he surprise the hell out of me and actually show up for his shift this morning.

I was up most of the night wrestling with this decision. Just after my alarm went off, having achieved perhaps forty-five minutes of real sleep, I suddenly had a vision of this disaffected drug addict bursting through the doors of the restaurant with an assault rifle and taking out my plate glass windows, my espresso machine, me, and my six-months-pregnant little counter girl.

Of course, I know this will not happen. It is merely the deranged workings of a sleep-deprived mind.

A little positive energy sent in my direction would not be taken amiss...

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Here is the story of Mr. Hawaiian Shirt Cook's possibly extremely short tenure... 

After his sparkling debut on Father’s Day, I decide to take him at his word and allow him some latitude. He is so convincing about his skills and experience, I figure he will have no trouble at all learning our menu and our systems. I turn him over to my staff to show him the ropes, and step back to see what happens. He seems to get along well; all reports are positive.

Then comes Monday. I have scheduled myself to work with him in the kitchen on Monday. He seems disconcerted. "I thought you hired me so that you wouldn’t have to be in the kitchen?" He gets all wound up showing me all the great things he has done—cleaned this, reorganized that. And he wants to tell me all about the wonderful ideas he has. But when the orders start to pour in...he still doesn’t know how to make our turkey sandwich.

Monday is not a good day. He is a huge ball of overwrought kinetic energy. He can’t do or say anything right, albeit at 100 miles an hour.  He can't put an order together correctly to save his life.  He makes comments that show a disconcerting lack of understanding about how our kitchen staff relates to the counter staff. In short, for all his twenty years experience and having owned his own restaurant, he

I try to decide if working elbow-to-elbow with "the boss" made him disastrously nervous, or if he is certifiably hopeless. And I’m afraid I don’t do a very good job of masking my dissatisfaction with his performance.

Tuesday morning, Hawaiian Shirt Cook is scheduled to open. I am supposed to be at work at 11 am. It’s almost a day off—I am to work a "short" ten-hour shift. I have not set the alarm. I’m confident that I will awake naturally at my usual 7:30 or 8:00 am; at which time I will roll over, pull a pillow over my head, and go back to sleep for an hour. And still have plenty of time to get something done around the house before I have to get ready for work.

At 6:15, the phone rings. This is never good…

It is the husband. Hawaiian Shirt Cook has contacted him on his cel phone. He will not be coming to work today. He will need the day off to go to a memorial service for his wife’s aunt.

I will need to drag my butt out of bed three hours earlier than I had planned. I will need to go to work. I will need to work a double shift.

I am not happy.

Wednesday and Thursday are Hawaiian Shirt Cook’s scheduled days off.

Should I have faith that he will reappear at his scheduled time on Friday? Or should I make arrangements NOW to cover the shift for which—based on all I have learned about human nature in the last twelve months—I’m 75% certain he will not show up?

And what if he does show up? Should I fire his butt before he turns into the same pain in MY butt that his predecessor was? Because he sure looks like he’s headed in that direction…

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Somebody Goofed

…or not...

If heaven sent this guy, they mis-picked. 

Maybe I ought to try QVC…

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can't Quit Now


Last Monday, a guy dressed in his best Hawaiian shirt walks up to the counter at the café and asks to see the boss. It is my day off, so of course I am there. Guy says he’s got over twenty years cooking experience, owned his own café for five years, and wants to know if I’m hiring.

Hardly able to control my gleeful giggle, I say "I’m always hiring" and hand him an application.

He goes away and comes back with the ap all filled out. He has references. He has a consistent work history going back a decade. The last place he worked, he was at for over two years.

He is not 17 ½ years old.

And he really wants to work at my café.

I keep thinking he can’t be for real. I give myself monstrous bruises from pinching myself so much.

I try for five days to find time in a crazy busy week to interview this guy. I finally sit down with him on Saturday after closing. We talk for 2 ½ hours.

I finally ask him, "When can you start?"

"Tomorrow," says he.

"Okay. Tomorrow it is."

Sunday morning, my assistant cook—the only other cook on the payroll—calls in sick. New cook, on his first day, bails my ass out big time. This is a man who knows what a spatula is, and is not afraid to use it.

So now, in place of Flaky Cook, who never in her tenure with me managed a forty-hour week, did not want to work nights, and was not too keen on working weekends, I have a guy who is begging me for any and all hours I will give him. "Can you give me forty hours?" 

"Are you kidding?"

This, I guess,  is why I have no intention of cutting my losses, getting out and retaining whatever little bit of sanity I still have lurking in the back of my mind.  Yet.  Every time I think I’ve reached the absolute extremity of my endurance, the Almighty throws me a bone.

How can I not hang in there to see what’s at the bottom of the next barrel?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dealing With Crap

Owning a small business has been an ongoing lesson in dealing with crap. Manners and work ethics being what they are in 21st century America, I have had to seriously adjust my crap tolerance level. Time was, I wouldn’t even consider putting up with the kind of bullshit attitudes to which today’s young people subscribe; NO employer would. Fifteen years ago, I used to tell potential employees during their initial interviews that the first two things I required of my staff was that they show up and wear the uniform. We would laugh…they would get it. These days, even those tiny acts of responsibility/courtesy are beyond the ken of most job candidates.

I am NOT a micro-manager. Many years ago, I developed the theory that my job as a manager was to give my people the tools they needed to do the job—the training, the equipment, the authority—and then let them do it. I had a lot of success with that formula in the past. But it just doesn’t seem valid anymore. First and foremost, an employee needs to show up, and be willing to accept training. If I do manage to get ones that show up, they aren’t too keen on being told what to do. How do they expect to learn the job? Osmosis?

I have put up with behavior from employees that I never would have expected, much less tolerated, in the past. A couple weeks before she finally quit, my late flaky cook crossed a major line. One night, we were slammed at dinner and ran out of everything. I left a message on the prep board for the opening cook (who just happened to be the one responsible for creating the things we ran out of) that I was "not happy." Flaky cook stormed around the kitchen for two hours the next morning; when I came in at 9:00 and asked her how she was, she replied, "How dare you criticize me where other employees can see?" As if I had dressed her down in front of the entire crew in the middle of a shift.

My first thought was to preserve the peace and smooth ruffled feathers. I told her, "Well, dear, there’s only one other employee here, and she is a counter girl who has no interest in, and has probably not looked at, the prep board." And then I got to thinking about what she had said to me. How dare I criticize her? How DARE I? I DARE because I OWN THIS RESTAURANT. I have every right to point out an unacceptable performance, and I’m sick to death of tap-dancingaround prima donna employees. It was then that I realized Flaky Cook’s days were numbered. Unfortunately, I also realized that I had to bite my tongue and let this incident slide, because I was all too aware of how difficult it would be to replace her mediocre, unreliable, insubordinate ass.

Around about the middle of this past week, two weeks post Flaky Cook’s ignominious exit, I began to second-guess myself. Had I somehow tipped my hand too soon? Certainly I hadn’t told her that her days were numbered, but one way or another, she anticipated my intentions; and decided she was going to beat me to the punch. After working four consecutive open-to-closes, I started to wonder whether I wouldn’t have been better off letting the café revolve around the dramas and moods of Ms. Flaky Cook. In the interest of self-preservation, if nothing else. The realization was dawning that there was a vast difference between being capable of being the only real cook in the restaurant, and actually being the only real cook. And, of course, with us being short a real cook plus one cook-in-training, it has been busier than hell. Customers can be counted upon to smell blood in the water…

Which brings me full circle to the crap-tolerance issue. I am the kind of person who has always had high standards. High personal standards, and high standards for the quality of work I will accept from the people who work for me. I’m in no way a perfectionist…and I always believed that my expectations, while high, were no more than a bit of a stretch for an even moderately decent employee. But it’s become obvious that what could be considered acceptably high standards fifteen years ago, are the impossible dream in the twenty-first century workplace. I still haven’t figured out how to get people who will just show up and wear the uniform, much less fulfill any of my loftier ideals—like being able to perform the most basic functions of the job without being asked over and over and over again.

It bugs me no end that I am going to have to lower my personal standards in order to keep enough people on the payroll to run this restaurant. There are times I wish to god I could run it by myself…and yet, I know that satisfying feeling of having a crew that has really clicked. I’ve had it before, and up until now, I’ve naively assumed I would have it again. But with each passing day and each incident of unbelievable crap I have to let slide just to keep a staff, it becomes more obvious that "having it again" is not going to happen. Slowly, my goal has shifted from having a good, cooperative, well-trained staff, to having bodies to plug into positions.

My dilemma now is, where is the bottom? What is the absolute minimum I will require of an employee? Where is the line of discipline that they absolutely may not cross? I’ll have to turn my entire way of looking at this issue completely upside down. I’ve tended to look up—to the goal of what traits my ideal employee would have. Now, I have to look down—to the minimum I will accept. Instead of "how good can they be" it will be a matter of "how bad can’t they be."

I’ve never had to do that before. And I just don’t feel good about having to do it now. 

Somehow, it seems so defeatist, so faithless, to give up on the younger generation this way. 

But it is what it is, I guess. And unless I can figure out how to run this restaurant entirely by myself (which would involve splitting into at least six different "me’s") I’m going to have to get with the program.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tales of Woe

We did have smooth sailing, didn’t we? For all of about a month and a half. Forty-five days, give or take, during which I started to believe I might have a chance at making this entrepreneurial thing happen after all. And then the scales tipped and I have been thrown entirely off-balance once again.

I went to bed at 7:30 Saturday night. Actually, I started out with the intention of grabbing a few z’s while waiting for the husband to emerge from the coma into which he had fallen upon returning from the inaugural Tillamook Farmers’ Market. Where he had spent six hours huddled next to the oven, trying to fend off the cold and rain, and selling nothing to nobody. I put in my ten hours at the café, came home and puttered around with some housework, but I just ran out of gas. I crawled into bed in the guest room, so as not to disturb the husband (or to avoid him disturbing me) and pulled the covers up over my head.

I slept like the dead until midnight, when I got up, changed into my pajamas and then dove back into bed. Between menopausal insomnia denying me the respite of sleep even when I am fifteen degrees beyond exhaustion, and the joints in my fingers and wrists aching so much that sleep would most likely elude me notwithstanding my hormonal status, I’m amazed that I slept as well and as long as I did. I must have finally hit the wall.

Staffing problems continue to bite me in the ass. I can only choose from those who apply, and they’re not exactly beating a path to my door. The applications I do get are either from entirely over-qualified professionals who are new to town and are maintaining their paid unemployment status by handing out resumes to every employer in town, or from very young people who have never had jobs and have not got the slightest idea what having one is all about. I have tended to choose from the latter category, because I suspect someone with a master’s degree in genetics probably doesn’t really want a job at my café. But I haven’t had much success with the young ones, either. Apparently, they want to work here because they think it will be fun. When they find out that there is actual discipline, responsibility and hard work involved, they lose interest almost immediately.

Last week provided me with a couple of stark examples of why not to hire the youngsters… 

First, there is "J," whom I hired about two weeks ago. She seemed to be catching on pretty quickly in the kitchen. And, since Ms. Cook flaked out on me, I’ve been casting about in every direction looking to beef up the kitchen staff.

Fast forward to the eve of "J’s" third week of employment at the café. On Sunday, she comes to me and whines that she cannot work a certain day that she has been scheduled because graduation practice is that morning, and if she misses the practice, she can’t "walk" (participate in the ceremony.) This is unusual news for me, because I would swear during her interview that she told me she was "out of school," which I assumed meant that she had already graduated. AND the schedule has been up since Friday morning, and she is just now realizing that she has a conflict. And things only get worse from there; ultimately the graduation/job conflict deteriorates into this girl informing me that her whole week will be filled with graduation-related activities that conflict directly with every shift for which I have her scheduled. She keeps telling me she is "so sorry" and "please don’t be mad at me." 

In truth, I am pissed about the situation, but I decide to cut her some slack since she is a new employee, and perhaps I didn’t adequately explain the process of asking for time off when she came on staff. She somehow gets my home phone number and keeps trying to call me at home about the whole mess…this does not make any points with me, either. 

When she finally gets in touch with me, I tell her not to worry, it’s going to be rough, but it’s water under the bridge, and we will start off fresh the following Monday morning.

On which day she waltzes in five minutes late, goes directly to the bathroom, and finally reports to her station five minutes later. And then writes on her time sheet that she arrived promptly at her scheduled start time. God dammit!

Then we have "K," who applied at the café because the local Credit Union, where she has worked all during high school, is not going to offer her full-time hours after she graduates. "K" wants to start making more money to save for school. She is a nice girl, a sweet girl…I really like her. But her status at the bank changes daily, apparently. Saturday afternoon, she comes to me with a NEW schedule that the credit union has given her. After I practically tied myself in knots trying to schedule around the OLD one, they have changed her hours, and—you guessed it—every one of her shifts conflicts directly with what I have her scheduled to work. And next week, they have decided that she will be covering someone’s vacation, and they have her scheduled to work almost 40 hours. Leaving her completely unavailable to me. God freakin-dammit!!!

So, in the past week I have lost one cook entirely. Of my two remaining cooks (who are actually still cooks-in-training) one leaves tomorrow for a three-week vacation, and the other has just started a five-nights-a-week class and is not available to work any nights until mid-July when the class ends.

And I realize today that neither of my new hires is going to be of any use whatsoever.

At whom do I wave the white flag?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Where I Stand Now

Today, I delivered the non-refundable deposit the seller of the business we’re buying insisted he needed, in order to quit holding "other offers" over my head. So now, more than at any time up until now, this looks like a done deal. How I would love to be breathing a sigh of relief. How I would love to be looking forward, unconditionally thrilled, to assuming the captaincy of my own ship. But this whole exercise is turning out to be like a game of "Whack-a-mole." Have you ever played "Whack-a-mole?" It’s the arcade game where you get a big padded mallet, and you use it to pound these little mole-heads back into the holes they pop out of. As soon as you whack one mole, another pops out of another hole. Sometimes two or three at the same time.

So, I whacked the "financing" mole. And I mashed the "mollify the seller" mole. And I’m working on wrestling the "OLCC" (liquor license) mole back down into his little hole. But, what’s this? A monstrous head just popped out of a crater the size of a manhole.’s the "present owner’s overly-emotional manager" mole! Mr. Present Owner has gone out of his way to warn me that this girl’s family has lived in the county for a hundred years, and that even the appearance that she has been ill-treated in the transition could cost me big in terms of community relations for the next...century. Oh. Thank you so much, Mr. Present Owner!

I have met this girl. She is very nice. She is sweet. She is eminently likeable. In fact, everybody likes her—customers, staff and (obviously) Mr. Present Owner himself.

She is the absolute antithesis of me.

Nothing can strike more abject fear into my heart than the prospect of dealing with a sweet, likeable, fragile psyche. I am the personification of the bull in the china shop, when it comes to personal relationships. I have no guile, no political savvy, no off button. As a general rule, whatever is in my mind just falls out my mouth. I know enough not to be outright rude or abusive, but somehow that makes the situation even worse. It really hurts my feelings when people don’t get me. If I had a rhinoceros-tough hide to go along with my social ineptitude, it wouldn’t matter to me that I make such a god-awful impression on most people the first (second, third, gotta-know-me-for-a-year-before-you-can-tolerate-me) time I meet them.

Mind you, I only have to work with this girl for two weeks. And Mr. Present Owner has already promised her a generous severance package. All she has to do is work with me long enough to allow me to get my feet under me concerning the day to day operation of the place. But when you combine what he has been so "kind" as to tell me about her, and what I know from having interacted with her for a couple weeks a year ago, I know that she and I will get along like gasoline and a match.

I am scared shitless.

Monday, June 4, 2007

No Rest For The Weary

I’ve not felt much like writing lately…at least, not like writing about my life. I thought I’d take five minutes this morning to write (vent) about happenings there-in.

Flaky cook did indeed manage to re-appear at work on Saturday and Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend (though I wasn’t informed of her intentions until very late on Friday) so I WAS able to take my long-planned vacation. After stressing out about it for two days, I REALLY needed it by the time if finally became a reality. Weather in Seaside was not very nice, though. Lots of clouds, some rain, some wind, cool temps. I would rather have found somewhere that I could lie in the sun all day. I’ve HAD my vacation for the summer, and I still look as white as I did in mid-January. Sigh!

Returned home Monday, everything went rather smoothly on Tuesday, and then I get a call on Wednesday morning that flaky cook has failed to show up for her scheduled shift. Apparently, she has decided she no longer wants to work for us. Did not hear from her again, and in fact have not seen her since. She showed up to pick up her final paycheck when she knew I was not there. Jeez. Thirty-eight years old, with a teen-ager of her own, and she has no more class or manners than a kid. Things will be a little tough around the cafe for awhile, but we are well rid of Ms. Cook and her constant drama, I think.

Pickings are still slim in the local labor market, though. I’ve hired three new girls, and they are all YOUNG. Eighteen or just about to turn so. I’m thinking if I am having trouble communicating with the twenty-somethings, the teen-agers ought to be a real challenge. I have no idea what motivates children these days. They don’t seem to need or want the money, so I’m not sure why they even work. It’s almost more for the social value than anything else…and I cannot have the café turn into the local high-school (drop-out) hang-out.

So I worked a lot of long shifts last week, and have pretty much shot through any re-invigoration provided by my short vacation. I feel like I’m about a hundred years old…my hands are killing me, my right knee is giving me crap. I had just got to the point were I was able to separate myself a tad from the hash-slinging part of owning the restaurant and then Ms. Cook craps out on me. One step forward, two steps back. 

It's going to be a long summer.