Monday, August 3, 2009

Score One For The Old Ladies

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced at my restaurant has been staffing. It has taken three years, but we seem to have cobbled together a crew that mostly does the job and works well together. There are unique challenges associated with working at the Old Town Café—not the least of which is that any member of my crew has to be able to work elbow to elbow with me. Even after my most recent acquisitions of a chef/kitchen manager and a baker, I invest more hours than anyone else associated with the café into just…filling positions. Any and all positions. I am the ultimate cross-trained employee, and I find that I have to make use of my own services—STILL—more than I like.

Conversely, it has been more of a challenge than I have wanted to acknowledge for me to work so closely with…children. I can’t decide whether being childless myself has made it easier or harder for me to work with these young people less than half my age. On the one hand, I don’t have as much problem seeing them as adults as I might have if I’d raised a brood of my own—that were now approximately the same age as the people I depend upon to keep my restaurant functioning. It might be a little tougher for me to heap adult responsibilities upon these young shoulders if I was seeing them through a mother’s eyes…

On the other hand, I wonder if I don’t expect too much from them. They are, after all, still kids…I was one, once, too…back when dinosaurs walked the earth. I dimly remember having friends, going to parties, having a social life…and all the angst that went with it. I showed up to work drunk—ONCE. (I was nineteen…in fact, it was my nineteenth birthday.) I might have called in sick one or two times when I wasn’t really sick. I goofed off just often enough to prove I was a bona-fide, card-carrying KID. So I try to give my staff some leeway in that regard…

Still, it was more my habit to drag myself to work no matter how sick I was, even at the tender age of nineteen or twenty. The job needed ME, I needed the money, and work was a priority. That was handed down to me by my parents. These children who work for me now…they are a completely different breed of animal, and I have a really hard time identifying and accepting their priorities. Social life IS their number one—they engage in it and tend to it 24-7-365. Technology gives them the capacity to be in uninterrupted communication with their friends. Work, school, adult responsibilities—seem to be mostly unpleasant interruptions of their social connections.

I find it impossible to relate to that…and so, I feel uncomfortably distant from these children who work for me. And it’s hard, really. Damned hard to work so closely every day with a group of people with whom you share…nothing.

All this became a lot clearer to me this past Saturday. We were BUSY at the café, and understaffed, because half the socially-hyperactive twenty-somethings who make up my crew had requested the weekend off. My kitchen staff consisted of myself and “C.” C is the one employee I have that is of my generation—she is a couple of years younger than me. She had been the cook at the Senior Center until their budget was cut and they had to let her go…she came to me looking for part-time work to hold her over until she could retire in a few more years. So I was a little anxious about how we two “old ladies” in the kitchen might handle things if it got busy. But I had no choice, we WERE what was available.

Of course, we got slammed. We did 30% more business than the previous Saturday, with 25% less staff. Surprise. Never let it be said that customers can’t smell blood in the water…

Our twenty-something counter girls ran their butts off all day, started whining about getting their breaks around noon… One of them even wanted to go home sick, but there was no one else to call to work for her, so she stayed. The front-of-the-house staff was looking pretty ragged by the end of the day.

In the kitchen, the “old ladies”…ROCKED. Neither of us left that kitchen to do more than pee in seven hours. We kept up with the orders. We prepped as we went. We attacked the mess about an hour before close and were able to clean up and get out of there on time.

And we laughed. We enjoyed ourselves. We joked and commiserated; the two ancient, creaky, half-blind, hot-flashing cooks…got it done.

At one point, I leaned over and said, “You know, C, I think I know why I enjoy working with you so much. You’re MY AGE…! I SO enjoy being back here with somebody who GETS ME…”

She looked at me, almost with tears in her eyes, and said, “Well, thank you…!”

At the end of the day, I kicked her butt out of there because she’d worked seven hours without a break (and without even mentioning a break.) I could finish up the last of the cleaning by myself. C took off her apron, signed out and disappeared through the kitchen door.

A second later, she poked her head back into the kitchen, looked at me and said, “Thank you for letting me help you today. It was fun.”

And then it was my turn to blink back the tears…

1 comment:

emmapeelDallas said...

If I weren't in the workforce, I might not know what you're talking about, but I am and I do. The company I work for hired a new 30-something contractor last week. She immediately let all of us know she has an MBA (that she got online, in 10 months - I checked). But apparently no one told Ms. Hotshot that if you can't make it in, you need to notify your supervisor. She was a no-show Tuesday; came back Wednesday with no explanation. When asked, she said she'd called in...must have been the switchboard's fault...meaning, not her own fault, of course. And I know we're paying her big bucks. *sigh*