Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth

I never had any problems with Friday the Thirteenth. I didn’t even realize there was going to be one this month until about Wednesday. But even after I figured it out, it didn’t bother me overmuch. Thursday the Twelfth has always been my bugaboo. And I figured having my day off cancelled by (everyone else’s) illness had satisfied the bad-luck requirement for this go-round. I went to bed Thursday night thinking that Friday would probably be gravy after that. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Friday was every bit the day from hell. First thing in the morning, the café was overrun by a group of people who started arriving about 8:30 and eventually set up a presentation for a pyramid marketing scheme… in my dining room. Without calling for a reservation, or even coming up to the counter when they arrived to ask if it would be okay for them to do so. They just walked in and took over the place. So I had this noisy, not particularly well-mannered crowd of anywhere from twelve to thirty “local business people” swarming all over the restaurant for 2 ½ hours. They spent thirty dollars.

I asked them to leave at 11 am, explaining that we would be getting busy for lunch and we would need the table space (for real customers who wanted to buy a meal, but I didn't say that.) Without actually saying the words, I did make it very clear that they were not welcome to walk in and take over my restaurant unannounced whenever they felt like it. They, in turn, made it very clear--loudly and not very politely (surprise)--that they would not be back. Fine. Good riddance to your sorry “It’s-all-about-me” asses and your gargantuan sense of entitlement.

The stress of that ridiculous confrontation nearly sent me over the edge. After a lunch that started out slow and finally got busy (I strongly suspect that the presence of the crowd spilling around and out the doors of my restaurant served as a deterrent for our regular lunch patrons) I was SO ready to get out of there. Had to. Needed to be somewhere, by myself, just to get my head reassembled. California Chef had emailed me the night before and said he was feeling much better and wanted to return to work on Friday. I literally counted the minutes to 2:00, when Chef would arrive and I could run out the door, get in my van and burst into tears.

One fifty-five rolls around, no Chef. Two o’clock, still no Chef. I start to get a really bad feeling. Squeeze myself into my “cloffice” to check my email. Come to find that chef has emailed (somewhere around 9:30 that morning) that he has decided against returning to work today, if it’s okay with me. Of course it’s okay with me, if you’re still sick…but the way to communicate that on the morning of is NOT by email. Like I have time to run to the computer every five minutes when half the kitchen staff is out sick. I’m sure he was thinking that, like any normal 21st century techno-junkie, I am always connected to the internet and my email via cel phone (the phone I recharge about once every three weeks and do not carry on my person as a matter of principle.) Yet another of those generational brain-farts that make it so easy for me to manage my staff…

And so, I end up working thirteen straight hours. Finally get to sit down and take my one meal break of the day around hour twelve. And we were busy. Which is the one saving grace of the whole thing, because I think it would have been the ultimate bitch to work that hard and grind through that much emotional stress without at least the reward of decent numbers on the till.

I hate days like that. I haven’t had one in a long time; in fact, I truly think that, after three years, I shouldn’t have them at all. SHOULD NOT have those days when I feel like I’m carrying the whole thing uphill tied to my back with a shoelace. I do not want to have those days when I email to my spouse and business partner: I have had it. I want to sell this place and move to St. Thomas.

Truthfully, it did cross my mind that it might be time to cry “Uncle.” And not because of my staffing problems, or having to work thirteen hour days, or feeling like I’m dragging the cafe up a mountain by the hair. It’s because of the people. The “customers.”

Yes, I’m a serious introvert. And getting out there among the people is the most challenging part of this thing for me. Twenty years ago, when I pushed myself to do that as a manager working for somebody else, I always felt rewarded for the effort. I always came away with the sense that the people really could be the fun part of the job at times. But not anymore.

Times have SO changed. The tenor of this century is rudeness, false entitlement, get whatever you can get. It’s perfectly okay to say or do anything. If you get away with it, fine. It’s up to the other guy to call you on it, if the other guy can screw up the courage to do so. Because he knows you’re not going to back down without a row. People just do…whatever, and dare the world to tell them they can’t. Courtesy? Consideration for others? Even the slightest notion that there’s someone else in the world besides you? Not a chance. And it just isn’t fun, fulfilling, or even vaguely appealing to run a service business when one has to deal with that over and over, every day.

Maybe I am a hopelessly outdated old relic. But I am consistently flabbergasted by the things people will say and do these days. If I give it up, if I hand over my keys and hang the “for sale” sign in the window, that will be the thing that drove me to it.

So, this post is supposed to be about thanks. What am I thankful for, here on day thirteen?

Maybe that I came this close, but I’m not going to quit. Not today.

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