Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blah, blah, blah.

I realize I haven’t had much to say lately about life at the café.  I’ve posted little celebratory entries about our successes.  Those successes have worn me to an absolute frazzle.  Last night, I sat down to write a “catch-up” post.   I typed for an hour before I realized that I had no chance of making what has been going on in my life funny, interesting or entertaining.  It’s just been like slogging uphill through a downhill lava flow.
I’d like to say that we’ve turned a corner, that we’re confident now that we’re going to make it.  And there are those days when I look out into the dining room and understand that this is not a restaurant that is going to be closing its doors from lack of sales any time soon.  But generously interspersed among those days are the ones when people stay aggressively away, and I am beleaguered by negative speculation:  Did we make someone sick?  Did we slight the wrong person?  Did we finally make the mistake that is going to spell our doom in this unforgiving little town?  And I’ll realize that someday I may be able to rest in the confidence that we are a success, that we’ve been fully embraced as a fixture of the town.  But that day has not yet come. 
As I continue to face down the challenges, great and small, that the restaurant throws in my face, I’m starting to get seriously worn down.  I’m wondering, why?  Why do I KNOW that if I have to be away for a day or even a few hours, my crew is going to get slammed?  Why do I KNOW that if we take pains to be prepared for a busy rush, it is perversely NOT going to happen?  Why, after two years, are these the only things I can accurately predict about my business?
And I am sick to death of trying to keep the place adequately staffed.  Staffing has been a thorn—no, a stiletto—in my ass since day one, and that has remained an infuriating constant.  I can safely say that I have two girls that are utterly dependable.  They are the two girls who remain of the original staff.  It is a huge bruise to my ego that I have not been able to personally recruit any employees who have turned into ultimate successes. 
Flaky Cook is back in a new incarnation, and she has been the polar opposite of her former self.  She shows up, she works any hours I give her, she has even begun to take on some responsibility for the operation as a whole, rather than donning the apron, going through the motions, and cutting out the door as soon as her shift is over. But her history keeps the question mark tattooed on her back.  I try to ignore it, but I will always know she is capable of completely flaking out on me.  It’s probably best to keep that in mind.
My staff was cut by 25%, and the scope of my labor pool seriously reduced, when I made the decision last month to stop employing high school students.  Let’s just say I came to the realization that hiring high-schoolers was a failed experiment.  I have enough trouble trying to manage irresponsible adults who can’t give priority to what they do for a living.  I can’t take responsibility for molding the characters of kids whose parents have not felt compelled to impart any kind of decent work ethic to their progeny.    
Then there is the case of Assistant Cooks Number One and Number Two. Hired in early 2007, they were supposed to be the foundation of my future staff.  I’ve worked very hard to make cooks out of those two…and they both had the natural talent to be successful at the job.  And for awhile, it looked like they might just be my first recruiting successes.  But alas, it was not to be.  Surprise.
Number Two is gone.  She worked her last day a week ago.  She finished her pharmacy tech internship and immediately dropped us like a hot rock to accept a “real” job.  I did everything but stand on my head to work around her schedule and give her the hours she needed/wanted while she was in school, and this is the thanks I got. 
Which brings us to Assistant Cook Number One.  The one I have been training and grooming for over a year to step up and take on some real responsibility once she finished her high school completion classes.  (And who has consistently assured me that this is exactly what she intended…) As I did with Number Two, I’ve stood on my head to accommodate her school schedule, and played tug-of-war with her recurring personal dramas.   She graduated last Sunday, almost two years late (she’s nineteen and a half).  I wish I could say that the way is clear, now, for her to focus on her job and take on a huge role at the café…in short, for her to make good on her promises to me.  Unfortunately, it looks like I am losing the tug-of-war with her drama.  The job gets shoved further and further down her priority list as she skates from one “crisis” to another.  She is starting to look and perform very much like Flaky Cook did just before she disappeared off the face of the earth last June.  I don’t expect Cook Number One to be with us a whole lot longer.  In fact, I’ll be surprised if she lasts out the month.  And I am anticipating a painful and dramatic termination.
Of course I’ve tried to bring on some new talent to at least soften the blow when Cook Number One does go down in flames.  And of course this has been the source of even more frustration.  In desperation, I brought back a girl who begged for me to re-hire her after SHE quit with no notice back in January.  She wasn’t exactly the best available athlete; she was the ONLY available athlete.  So I brought her back.  Let’s just say that she hasn’t done a night-and-day metamorphosis a la Flaky Cook.  She was an adequate-to-poor employee in her earlier tenure.  And she hasn’t changed an iota.  She is little more than a warm body.  But that seems to be the best I can expect, these days.
Then there was the girl I hired in March.  The one I hired against my better judgment, but was convinced by a combination of desperation and assurances by people on my staff who knew her to give her a chance.   At first, I wanted to believe that this temporary loss of discernment was not going to come back and bite me in the ass.  She performed no less than adequately-to-poor.  She showed up, most of the time…  With a little coddling (and who have I NOT coddled in some way to keep them on the schedule?) I thought we might make it work.
Two weeks ago, she called the café in hysterics, wailing that she had to quit so she could go into re-hab.  For heroin.  Jumpin’ Freakin’ Jehosophat….!  If you think that didn’t have me seriously questioning my judgment, not to mention my powers of observation…
So …I ended up writing it anyway, didn’t I?  I told you it wouldn’t be funny or entertaining or even interesting.  It’s just the same old long, sad tale of woe.  I realize that I’m wallowing around on the bottom of the roller coaster just now, and that it will surely head on up to another peak soon.  In fact, last week, probably because we were down to our lowest staffing level in over a year, we did some record business.  And then yesterday, with a new girl to train and an adequate staff on the schedule, I wondered if we had forgotten to unlock the doors.  Which is why I’m so bloody exhausted and frustrated that everything looks black to me.  
We have two new girls starting this week, one girl who is back from college for the summer, and I have two more good prospects waiting in the wings.  So maybe in a week or two, things will be improved to the point where I won’t feel like I’m crawling up Mt. Everest with the whole restaurant strapped to my back. 
I’ll let you know.

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