Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day Off Blues

I took a day off yesterday. I mean, I didn’t just wait for a convenient day to come around; I took one. It was entirely a matter of self-preservation. I’d stretched myself beyond my capacity. For two weeks before the Sauerkraut Festival, I had fretted and worried and tried to plan and organize, to the extent that my chronically depleted brain could plan and organize.

AND I have been sick, with some bug that my young crew members brought back from "Rock Fest"—the local popular music orgy that they had all begged for the day off to attend back in the last week of August. The one lucky break I’ve had since we bought the restaurant is that I have managed NOT to pick up every germ and virus that rampaged through town, and my staff, for the past year. A miracle in itself, considering the cocktail of stress, sleep deprivation and poor diet I’ve lived on for the last fifteen months. Not so lucky with this little virus, though—a particularly nasty one, with fever, sore throat, and head congestion so severe I was deaf for two weeks. I hadn’t felt this crappy, literally, in years. 

Made exponentially worse by the fact that I couldn’t BE sick.

With my two cooks in training reduced to working evenings and weekends, my schedule has consisted of working every day, including two or three double shifts a week thrown in for good measure. I’ve steadily deteriorated from competent admiral of the fleet to a churlish, oft-flogged swabbie. Last Sunday, I was called out front to deal with a customer complaint…and I handled it SO poorly, I realized that I was rapidly approaching total burn-out. And the last thing that restaurant needs is for me to burn out.

So even though I had already posted a schedule which had me working yet another seven-day week, I sat down Sunday night and re-wrote the thing. A little thinking outside the box (and begging) accomplished what I needed: an entire day with absolutely no contact with the café. I honestly couldn’t remember when my last day off WAS, so I looked back at the old schedules hanging on the wall. August 23rd. Ah, yes! Summer! Back when I still had a complete staff… In fact, I realized I’d only had two days off since our nutsy-busy Scandinavian Festival back in mid-August. That was information I didn’t really need…it only made me feel more desperate to get out of there forat least one day.

The list of things I could do, that I wanted to do, with an entire 24 hours off started to grow: Clean the house. Take the dog to the beach. Do the "Goodwill sort" through my overloaded closets. Go up the river to the outlet mall. Go to Binyons and get new glasses (which I desperately need.) And the husband wanted me to meet him and a business associate for dinner. Sigh! Not only was twenty-four hours not nearly enough time to accomplish all this, but I quickly realized I didn’t have the energy for one-tenth of it. In the end, I chose the closets, the shopping, and the dinner. And the rest of the day, I pretty much sat around and stared at the walls. So I didn’t have a productive day. It was restorative, though.

But of course I couldn’t keep my mind completely away from café issues. And I couldn’t completely banish the nagging guilt for wanting, needing to get away from there. It’s not that I’m a control freak, though I think you need to lean a little in that direction in order to run your own business. I just feel like I wanted this so much, I shouldn’t feel negatively about it, EVER. I should always love being there, always revel in the freedom and the self-determination. Of course, that’s a crock, and I know it. But that doesn’t keep me from carrying the guilt around anyway.

I indulged in a little self-assessment as I puttered around the stores. I realized that I haven’t figured out where my "off" button is. I just keep going full-speed until I run out of gas. That’s the way I’ve always been, no matter what job I’ve had. My work ethic is to go to work, work until the job is done, and then go home. I’ve never done a lot of socializing at work. I’m very much a "nose to the grindstone" kind of person.

The problem is, you really can’t apply that sort of work ethic to your own business, especially when it’s a hospitality business. First of all, the job is NEVER done, so you end up just working and working and working; you do go home, of course, but you’re still working. And working and working. And if you don’t turn yourself off, make yourself STOP working, even for short bits of time, you work too much. And then you start to hate the thing you started out loving and wanting with all your heart.

And this thing about not being social on the job…this has been the biggest problem for me. 

Not only am I not a normally social person, but the harder I work, the more exhausted I become, and the more I draw into my shell and just want to be left alone. And you cannot do that when you are in charge of a restaurant. You need to set an example for the crew, and you need to be friendly with the guests.

I’ve always known that I was going to have problems in this area. I’ve managed restaurants, and my solution for this particular deficiency of mine was to make sure I hired people who could DO that part of the job for me. For the most part, that has been a successful strategy. But, especially in this tiny café, with no real "back of the house," I’m too visible. Everyone knows I’m there all the time, and everyone knows I’m the owner. The regulars expect ME to greet them, and chat, and treat them like they’re the only customers in the restaurant. And, yes, if I want to be successful, I should do that. And when I’m rested and full of energy (and caffeine) I can almost passably play that role. When I’m exhausted, stressed out and have a million things on my mind—which is all the time—I suck at it.

And now it’s time to get ready and head to the salt mine once again. Let’s see, what’s on my plate today? Write next week’s schedule, see if the new lighting has arrived yet, plan the next promotion, design the new table tents, find out what’s going on with the sign, source a new bread bakery, source a new food purveyor, look through applications, hire two more people, but try to make sure everyone is still getting enough hours… But first I have to make soup and don the apron to cook lunch. Gad…I’m tired already.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This and That and the End of Summer

Just a little fly-by in case anyone thinks I’m in divorce court, or the hospital, or the loony bin…

The fight turned out to be a not-so-big deal. I didn’t go off and get all offended because I realized that I had started the whole mess. He felt like an ass, I felt like an ass, and we kissed and made up rather quickly. Being as how we ARE each other’s support network, we can’t let anything blow us apart for too long. All better now!

The event, however, sucked. Based on our sales trends for the entire summer, I was expecting at least a 25% increase over last year. As it turned out, we did almost the same sales for the day as 2006. The first part of this week, I just felt like someone had let all the air out of me. We’d spent a lot of money on advertising, equipment, and food stock that we ended up not using, but that didn’t irritate me half so much as the fact that I had expended so much energy—something of which I am in seriously short supply these days—on a non-event. Well, we learned something, anyway: Yes, the entire community does party right outside our doors at the Sauerkraut Festival, but we have to remember they bring their own food

So, this week, we realized that business is winding down from the summer. Folks have shot their wads getting their kids back into school, and eating out is going to take a lower place on the totem pole for awhile. I’m developing some ideas for enticing the eating public to brave the gloom and the rain to come and join us for a winter meal. And I’m looking forward to the holidays… I was able to get out of town for a rare evening of shopping "over the hill" last night, and found all kinds of goodies at Pier One. Holographic sequined spiders and a black velvet web…

Let the decorating begin!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tough Going

This is one of those nights when it’s really crashing down on me. Our biggest sales day of the year is coming up this weekend—on Saturday, our community festival takes place right outside the doors of the café. Last year’s festival was the busiest day of 2006, with sales for that one day equal to almost half what we were doing in a normal week back then. In an effort to maximize our opportunities (what with having the community block party right outside) we’ve gone out on a limb and advertised a "Wine Garden" for that day. The festival itself has no alcohol venue. So we have chosen to become "it." What am I thinking?????

I have no clue what kind of attendance we should expect. It’s our plan to have wine tasting, wine and beer by the glass, and a munchie bar. Haven’t even completely firmed up the menu, and here it is almost Thursday. Sigh! I know it will all come together in the end, but I just wish I was a little more on top of things. Doesn’t help that I am chronically stressed out by a million little details of the everyday running of the restaurant, and perpetually exhausted as well…

So I have this whole load of worries that I’ve been carrying around since we decided (at the last minute, more or less) to do this thing. And so, tonight, the husband and I proceeded to celebrate our arrival at home after a long and slightly disorganized dinner service at the café by…having a fight. A real knock-down drag-out, by our standards. Doesn’t matter what it was about. I mean, it does, but the story is long and convoluted, and you kind of "had to be there." In other words, it was a stupid fight, and if you tried to explain it to someone outside the relationship, they’d say, "UhhhWhat????"

The thing about it was, I was really taken aback by how mean we were to each other. I mean, the gloves were off from the get-go. And that just isn’t the way we argue. Or at least, it hasn’t been up ‘til now.

Yeah, we’re both totally stressed out. And we’re both weary to a degree that we never thought possible. But…I don’t know. Is that a good excuse for treating each other like crap?

And here’s the really crappy part: I know it’s my fault. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve gone through some insanely stressful days at the restaurant. Like the huge Sunday breakfast I had to cook by myself because my two "cooks in training" were both out of town and my "cook’s helper in training" decided to call in sick. The only one available to help me out was the poor husband, and I was SO freaked out that I was an absolute bitch to him. I can’t believe the things I said to him, the way I treated him, but I was so overwhelmed, I had absolutely no control over the things that were coming out of my mouth.

So, tonight, here we are standing in our kitchen at home, duking it out…and I can’t believe the things he’s saying to me. I can’t believe that he’s calling me names and accusing me of every nasty thing under the sun. And I am absolutely livid…until I realize I’m looking in a mirror. That I am reaping exactly what I have sown. And I just want to cut out my own tongue and strangle myself with it.

I know that if it came to a choice between our marriage and this stupid restaurant, there would be no choice at all. But I really don’t want to have to make that choice…