Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Junior Waitress

I was asked to start earlier than my rostered time, so I figured I would have to clean the floor. Walked to work in fierce winds, under a darkening grey-green sky. I am feeling ok about the shift - I have collected the mail, procured some wine for later, purchased cereal for tomorrow; looking forward to earning some money - I lost my Sunday shift when the restaurant closed for the staff Christmas party.

I walk in to find the dining room in chaos. The tables are everywhere and only two of them are completely set. What the hell is going on? I ask The Manager. Apparently, she doesn't know either. She arrived at work to find the same situation. She looked in the wage book to discover that Junior Waitress went home at 11pm last night. Really late for a Tuesday, especially in a slow week. If she went home that late then the whole dining room should have been set up.

I start on the floor. A couple wanders in at 5 pm to see if we are open. I expect that we are, but I tell them 5.30. At least let me get you a table, I think. We have a couple of reservations whose tables need to be fixed first. Fortunately the couple comes back, right on 5.30. It gets busy from that point. I am still resetting tables at 6.30 with customers in the restaurant - not ideal. A steady flow of people, including a walk-in of ten. I re-arrange the tables for them. It's basically a busy night, for the three staff. I do the floor, Joe does the pizza, and The Manager (also a chef) works the pasta section. Everything runs smoothly. There are some good tables, with large bills. The Owner will be happy. Co-incidentally he happens to be in as he has friends dining on table two. I collect a tip from every table, including one that totals 15% of the bill from table two. All tips in our restaurant being split equally between the wait staff and the kitchen, Joe and I rejoice when I split the tips later in the night.

Later The Manager tells me she has a resume for a new waitress. Marco will be leaving soon, and summer is fast approaching. We look at the roster. The Manager looks at the note left by JW stating that she can't work eight days out of ten after New Year's Day. I think I'll get another new person as well, she muses, maybe someone who wants to work one or two nights - so everyone else can have a night off. I'll give her JW's hours - going away for ten days in January is not acceptable.

During the night Joe and I corner our delivery driver, Emma. She works seven nights a week. Was it that busy? What happened? We demand to know. Neither of us are the type to engage in gossip, but we smell a rat. During the September holidays I worked on shift with JW. She leaned on me to do her work for her. Waitress, there's wine on table six, Waitress, I need six espressos on table twelve. Sure, on a busy night everyone helps each other out, but you don't expect someone else to do something that is a fundamental part of your job, on every table. Then I would come in after she had worked and realise that half the setting up work was not done. What was done would sometimes need to be done again. Not only has she called in sick twice in recent weeks (and been spotted out and about), but she committed the mortal sin of not showing up for a shift without notice (twice) and did NOT get fired. Joe and I lost any respect we had for her at this point. Turns out that Emma left about 9, and sure, there were two or three late tables, but they came in after the movie, for coffee and cake. No way should she have gone home at 11pm, with the dining room not set up. Four-way discussion ensues between Joe, Manager, Emma, and I. I tell them about working with Junior Waitress in September - Manager was unaware. I have worked these shifts with Marco and with Manager. They are experienced, they know what to do, and sure, it's busy, it's stressful, but it works. If one of us needs help, we ask. We communicate. We all work together. Manager asks - how was the wine and coffee being done, when whe works alone? Emma replies - Owner was doing it for her. She's been here five months. Summer is about to hit. It's going to be frantic. Not acceptable.

Junior Waitress, you don't know it yet, but you are about to be fired. You may well be gradually replaced until you no longer have any shifts left. You may be young, you may be cute, you may have charmed the pants off The Owner. But let's face facts - that is not enough in this job. If you still cannot open the wine at the table, if you still cannot use the espresso machine, if you can't do the general floor work that needs to be done, then you have no place in this restaurant (or any other) on a busy night, let alone the busy season. The Owner will not come to your rescue and open the wine and make the coffee for you. Nor will the rest of the staff. When we have a hundred tables turned three times a night, no-one is going to be there to help you. We have all offered to show you, teach you, provide solutions. Sure, the restaurant's bottle openers are crap - I bring my own from home. It's Italian. It has a serrated edge. It cost me $6 at the bottle shop across the road, the same one you walk past every day. Best investment you will ever make if you want to keep this job. Waitressing can be fun. But it is also a hot, dirty, low-down, hard-working job. You have to move fast, think on your feet, and be prepared to get hot, dirty, sweaty, and work your butt off. If you don't want to do that, or you can't handle it, then get the hell out. I was willing to help you, I am always willing to help someone out. However, your unwillingness to learn has eroded our willingness to help you. The Manager has now
discovered that your work is below standard, careless, and altogether not acceptable. Next time you say "Waitress on Sea, there is wine on table six, I will not go willingly to do it myself to ensure that the customer has a seamless experience in the restaurant, I will say, well, fucking open it! I have twenty of my own tables, without worrying about minor details on yours, details which should be covered by you actually learning to do your job. So, farewell, Junior Waitress, and I welcome the experienced person who replaces you.

Wine of the Day: Wynn's Coonawarra Estate 2004 Riesling
Crisp, clean, and refreshing. A nice change from the red wine.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Open Letter to the Owner

Dear Restaurant Owner,

Thankyou so much for hiring me and giving me an opportunity to work in your restaurant and earn money. I am sure it will quickly be established that I am experienced, efficient, and good at my job. If I am lucky I will also fit right into your existing team without too much difficulty. As a working professional I endeavour to get along with everyone. As a member of a very small team in your restaurant, I realise that we must all work together to get the job done.

There are generally two types of restaurant owners. Those that work in the restaurant and those that do not. As the owner of this particular restaurant, you appear to have established several roles for yourself:
1. Working on the floor when it is busy, or wait staff's day off
2. Working the pizza sectionas an assistant when it is busy, or the pizza chef's night off
3. Answering the phone and taking orders and talking to customers, and assisting pizza section, while generally issuing nonsensical commands

Last night, as the other member of the wait staff was absent, it was very much appreciated that The Manager worked on the floor. As someone who is also an experienced professional, it was a joy to work with her. Particularly as it was a very busy night, one that would generally require three staff. One that reflects the fact that we are moving into the summer season. It was, in fact, one of those nights that is generally referred to among the staff as getting 'hammered' or 'slaughtered'.

As your employee I will endeavour to do my job to the best of my ability to ensure that your business remains successful and profitable. As people who enjoy a working relationship based on dignity and mutual respect, when you are working as the floor runner on a busy night and say that I should run the floor, and to advise you what needs to be done, then when I do so I expect that my request will be carried out. I will not ask unless absolutely necessary and I will always ask politely and respectfully.

If you are not prepared to do what you have stated and carry out requests from the designated floor manager, then please do not work on the floor. It would be appreciated if you could find some other task to occupy your time, such as slicing pizza or washing dishes, or any other task you can construct for yourself to create the illusion that you are actually working. If, however, you are going to act as the runner, and carry out a request and leave it half-finished, and then ask me to do it while I am in the process of doing twelve other tasks with a mental list a mile long, please get the fuck off my floor so I can do it myself, from the beginning, properly, from start to finish. This will help to avoid both customer complaints and the burden of added stress on the wait staff.

Thank you for your attention to the above matter.

Yours sincerely,
Waitress on Sea

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Locals

Last night the restaurant was not very busy. Most of the customers were local regulars. The Pizza Palace makes most of its money during peak season, but it is still dependent on the regulars to get it through the winter and the slow nights.

Many of the locals are retirees. Others are young families; some are local professionals and business owners. Town on Sea is really small. Once you know these people, you are known in the community. Last night, Marco, the waiter, was talking to one couple about selling his boat. He has met them through their son, and the fishing network. Next week he is taking the couple sailing.

Often the locals will come in and order the same thing every time. Many have a special order that the chef will make for them. We have a “Local’s Card” to entice people in, which gives the customer a 10% discount on the bill. One couple in last night, comes in every few weeks, they are one of my favourites. They usually come in late in the night. I guess they would be in their late thirties or early forties. They have kids. The amazing thing about them is that they are always happy, they always have such a good time together (even when the guy broke his leg and was on crutches). They are always laughing, telling jokes, talking together, clearly enjoying each other’s company – and they are always, always, polite to the waitress.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wednesday Night

Not much to report. It's been quiet lately. The Manager says this is because people are getting ready for Christmas - spending their money on presents and organising their holidays. It surprises me because we didn't drop off that much after the September holidays (madness!). Weekends are still busy - busy enough, in fact, that we are back to two wait staff on every Friday and Saturday night - hooray!

We had a few early tables in, mostly couples. This is good, as when it's busy you get a lot of turnover, but also, if it's not, we can go home early. Didn't really expect it to be busy as a huge storm swept in during the afternoon, and the rain settled in for the night. Sure enough, we had a party table of eleven at 7pm, and after that, nothing. Big tables can be painful, but these people were really polite and nice.

The only thing that did happen is after the big table arrived, after about five minutes while I thought they were still looking at menus, one of the party came into the kitchen to see whether they should order there or was I coming to the table? This is one of my pet hates. Customers - please do not come into the kitchen for any reason. We know you're there. We're busy. You're on my mental list, and I will get there. I know it's not that busy, but I do have seven other tables, and as you can see, I am busy making desserts for one of them. I am not hanging around in the kitchen drinking coffee or reading a magazine, and thinking about when I will come and serve you.

Got to go home at early at 8.45 pm in a downpour! Nice to spend some extra time with The Man.

Introducing Waitress on Sea

I live in a small town on the Australian coast. It is an extremely popular tourist spot, especially in summer and school holidays. We have great beaches, we are surrounded by national park, and the weather is great. Recently I took a job as a waitress at a local pizza restaurant. I had searched extensively for work in my chosen field. However, it's a tourist town, school holidays were about to start, and there were loads of waitressing jobs available. Great to have those hospitality skills to fall back on!

In the the restaurant we serve gourmet pizza, pasta, and seafood specials when there's a good local catch. It's always busy in the holidays, and usually on weekends. Right now we are in the 'in-between' - the period between September holidays and Christmas holidays, which start on Dec 9. After this point we can expect wall to wall people every night.

The town I live in is very small. Locals are few, and tourists are many.