Saturday, December 17, 2005

Nick and Tony's - The Final Days

For anyone who wants to eat at the popular Chicago Italian restaurant before it closes, here is my schedule. Ask for me. I'll be working at Nick and Tony's:

Sat 12/17 4:00p - 11:00p
Mon 12/19, 11:30a - 2:30p
Tue 12/20, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - maybe 9:00p?
Wed 12/21, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - 9:00p?
Fri 12/23, 11:30a - 2:30p
CLOSED for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

We're supposed to close on Dec. 30, but there's no telling.

Work has become tense. People gather in small groups to trade the question, "What are you going to do?" One of my co-workers disgustedly declares he's giving up on trying to give good service. Another co-worker asks me if I have any shifts I want to get rid of. Everyone wants to make as much money as possible in these last days since we don't know what will come next.

But it's actually much better than my Arthur Andersen experience. At Andersen, people who'd worked there for years and years had a very painful time accepting that the 89-year-old business could really fail. Andersen went from being the accounting industry gold standard to being an abandoned (by its clients) ghost ship in a period of two weeks. It was very scary to feel the earth shift underneath us like that. All many could do was deny it was happening even while they panicked.

It seems restaurant people are more resilient: they know restaurants blink into existence and blip back out all the time. They don't become as attached and they don't expect a restaurant to last forever. You really can't depend on a restaurant to be stable, although they can be for a surprisingly long time (like Carson's Ribs, the place I left, but which seems destined to live forever, oh well). Restaurant work also doesn't provide health benefits, family insurance coverage, a pension, any retirement or severance packages. A restaurant isn't going to take care of you in your old age.

And maybe restaurants earn less loyalty because "business as usual" can sometimes include the practice of shutting the place down without telling the employees. A couple of co-workers have told me about times they showed up for work, only to find the doors locked and the place out of business (one person said the restaurant still owed people wages). If a restaurant doesn't lock its doors abruptly like that, it still tends to wait as long as possible to tell employees that it's going out of business. If it doesn't, everyone will find other jobs and leave the management trying to run an establishment with no workers. It's management versus workers and everyone looks out for themselves.

There's a very high employee turnover rate in the restaurant industry. Bussers, servers and kitchen staff move from one job to another as they need to. We'll find other jobs although in Chicago, January is the worst time to be looking.

So come on down to Nick and Tony's one last time (1 E. Wacker, at the corner of State and Wacker, right on the river). And Merry Christmas.

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