Saturday, May 24, 2008

Going With the Flow

Wow! It’s been over a week since I posted anything.

The truth is, I’ve just been tired and strung out and overwhelmed by the café for the past few weeks, and I think my tales of woe are probably getting a little boring. I so desperately need a couple of weeks where I can just put it on cruise-control and give myself a little bit of a rest. Unfortunately, this "economic downturn" (read Bush Administration cluster-f**k) we’ve been experiencing has kept me chained to the restaurant, whether I am there or not. I cannot afford to take labor costs, food costs, or sales for granted, not even for part of a day.

Take yesterday, for example. First day of the Memorial Day weekend. Last year’s numbers indicate that we will not be particularly busy. People on their way out of town and all that.

So, after a slow lunch grinds to a close, I look around and decide that there’s no reason to keep my tired body upright any longer than necessary. I outline detailed instructions to the good and faithful "D," and head for home. Where I promptly fall asleep in my recliner. Husband arrives home a few hours later, and we decide to mosey over to the café and let them feed us dinner.

We arrive. We sit. The place is not exactly hoppin’, but it’s not empty either. We order our dinner, and a few more parties come wandering in. As we wait for our food, it becomes obvious that the floor staff is getting a little overwhelmed, so we pop up and down, greeting and seating folks, take them drinks…take their orders…

Our food has hit our table, but we are nowhere near it. There are seven tickets hanging in the kitchen, and nothing coming out. No salads, no soups…I sneak back into the kitchen to help, and the head cook starts a litany of all the things we are out of (already.) Out of lasagna. Out of spaghetti noodles. Out of chicken parmesan. Out of soup. Almost out of salad greens. As I run around trying to re-stock the entire kitchen while we are trying to get orders out, I wonder WTF they were doing this afternoon during the two and a half hours I wasn’t here. Within ten minutes, I am speed-warming soup, have two pots of water going for more pasta, and am flinging instructions out to the husband in the service area, where he has set up our portable butane burner in order to cook more marinara and Alfredo sauce. 

Our dinner has been whisked off our table and thrown into the warmer, where it will heat up and dry out until such time as we can resume our meal.

So…..augh! It was busy, and it wasn’t pretty. And we had to comp some stuff. But I think all the patrons left happy. If it took too long for them to get their food, we acknowledged it and tried to make them happy. Not like in some places where your server hides in the kitchen until your food comes out, and you never hear so much as a "sorry this took so long." I don’t know if we recruited any regular customers last night. But I think we at least didn’t make any enemies.

And this morning…we were all prepped and ready for a busy day. But last years numbers lied to us once again (surprise); so here I am sitting in my recliner and finishing up this post I was too tired to wrap up last night.

I would like to tear my hair out, but it’s sunny and it’s a holiday weekend…so I think I’m just gonna go have some fun and relax while I can. I’m sure some kind of big disaster will come up before the weekend is over…

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I stayed up until 2:30 am with my computer in my lap, trying to decompress from an extraordinarily crappy day. The following is just sort of stream of consciousness, isn’t great writing and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I’m going to post it anyway. Because it’s my journal, and maybe seeing this in print will help me get over it.

It was a jolly day, all in all…

I had service men trying to tear the covers off dusty filter panels in the dining room ceiling in the middle of lunch.

I had the landlord pestering me about turning on the swamp cooler, then telling me it wouldn’t work and intimating he might want ME to buy a new motor for it (ummmm…NOT.)

I had the health inspector wander in on his twice-yearly "surprise" visit.


Just after I made the always difficult decision to terminate an employee who’s been hanging by a thread for the past two months, I had another employee call in and take her place at the top of the $#%* list.

That last proved to be my personal undoing today. I’m so upset, I’m numb.

Three days ago, we did a tremendous Mothers’ Day worth of business; the crew was laughing, singing, making jokes while cleaning up the horrendous mess. I was counting the money, I was dog-ass tired, but the happy voices lifted my spirits immensely. "This is it," I thought. "We have finally made it. We are a group of people that can laugh and have fun together, but we can turn on the afterburners and really crank out the food. This is as good as it gets."

Today was nearly as bad as it gets. One of my heretofore most valued young employees, after having called in sick once already this week, calls in a half hour before her shift with yet another personal crisis which will cause her to be unavailable to work. And all I could think was, "Oh my god, what is the MATTER with these children!?!"

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, what has happened to the good old fashioned American work ethic? This girl today called in to say her boyfriend had been injured at work and she had to rush over there and take him to the emergency room.


Let’s assume boyfriend really WAS injured at work badly enough to need urgent medical care. Then why didn’t WORK call 911 and have him transported to a hospital? Why did my employee have to play paramedic and ambulance driver?

Obviously, one of two things is going on here: Either the entire story is bull crap from start to finish, or employee’s boyfriend’s employer is really dodging a worker’s comp bullet. When I tried to encourage my employee to figure out some other way to deal with this "crisis" she acted as if I was the biggest bitch in the whole wide world. "I’m sorry…this is more important than any job…!" she huffed.

This self-same employee collared me after our last employee meeting and raked me over the coals about how I was punishing her for going to school (and requesting additional days off besides her school days) by not giving her enough hours to enable her to pay her bills. Obviously this was true, because a NEW employee was getting more hours than she was!

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with this schizophrenic "I need hours, I can’t work" bullshit. Today was really the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. This girl who basically accused me of being an unfair, punitive bitch when it came to doling out hours, and claimed that she, by right of seniority, deserved more than she was getting…calls in two out of the five days she has on the very next schedule. And then once again makes me feel like a bitch for questioning her reason for calling in.

Today’s story was at worst a lame lie….at best a ridiculous way for someone who "needs the money" to handle a crisis. I gave it some thought: Flashed back thirty-some years to when I was young and in love, husband-to-be and I were co-habitating, and maybe something happened to one of us at work. Would we have called our mate, or have allowed our mate to be called in a panic, to drag us to the emergency room?

No. We would have gotten transportation to the emergency room, got our x-rays or stitches or whatever, called our significant other and said, "Hey, I’m at the emergency room because I hurt myself at work. But there’s no reason for you to rush over here. I’m fine and I’ll see you when I get home." There would have been no panic, no crisis, no emergency. And, I’m sorry, part of making the decision to leave or not to leave work would have naturally been, "What bill am I now not going to be ableto pay because my paycheck will be x number of dollars short if I miss a shift?" (Even though we wouldn’t have had to worry about the hospital bill, because in those days there was a such thing as employer-provided health benefits that actually paid medical bills.)

But today, life is lived at 100 mph, punctuated by high drama and histrionics. Everything is a crisis. You don’t take a breath and think about how to deal with a situation with the least amount of panic and pathos. You run around like a chicken with your head cut off. You make (poor) snap decisions in the heat of the moment.

The last thing in the world you take into consideration is your job—especially a crappy, unglamorous job like cooking at a restaurant (ew!)—and the people who may be depending upon you there. You only work there because it’s what was available. You make it very clear at all times that it’s "just a job." Oh, you want every gimme and benefit of the job, but you have no intention of committing to it in return. Any more than you’ve ever committed to anything in your short life—parents, school, relationships. If you commit to something, that puts a burden of responsibility on you that you have no intention of accepting. Because then you would have to consider how your actions affect other people. It wouldn’t be ALL ABOUT YOU anymore, and we can’t have that. It always has to be about YOU.

So now I’m stuck with one of my longest-term, best trained employees either on the verge of quitting (or being fired) because every other thing in her life takes priority over her job, and I cannot count on her to fulfill her responsibilities at work at the expense of anything else. I was just about to hand this girl a great big piece of responsibility. I had discussed it with her the last time I worked with her. And now I have to put her on a back burner somewhere, only schedule her when I know that it won’t be a disaster if she craps out on me. If she decides to stay at all. I don’t want to fire her, but she’s useless if I can’t use her skills and experience in key positions.

And once again I’m left realizing that the only one I can really count on is myself. And that I cannot run that restaurant by myself.

And wondering if I just should not just give up.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Mothers’ Day at the Old Town Café

2006 sales (original ownership): $908.00

2007 sales (new ownership) $1211.65

2008 Projected Sales: $1500.00

2008 Actual Sales: $2178.85