Saturday, February 25, 2006

Thrill of a New Job, Pt. II

Each morning the servers, the sous chef and the bartender come by the hostess stand and look at the reservation sheet. When it doesn't look very full, they express disappointment. Much more than at either of my previous jobs, everyone at the Grillroom seems to urgently need every day to be busy as hell.

In spite of the discouraging reservation sheets, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday it was busy. When it gets REALLY busy, of course, it’s harder to manage reservations and seat people, the servers have to hustle and sweat, and the cooks in the kitchen, known as “the line,” can fall behind. On Wednesday at one point, the general manager (GM) said to me, "The line is in the shitter so we might want to hold off on seating anyone else right now" (it took me a few seconds to decode this sentence, but I got it). Later when the GM was telling the assistant manager about it, she somberly recounted that it had been so busy the line had problems and the servers were running. She concluded by saying, "It was just a really hard hit." She didn't sound happy about it and made it sound like this ordeal.

Which it was! It WAS an ordeal. When things are very busy in a restaurant, life is more stressful. And that's why I appreciated the way Nick and Tony's was sometimes busy and sometimes not so busy and sometimes downright slow. I didn't mind having to hustle on Saturday nights if it was balanced by a slow Sunday night. I didn't mind busy lunches because they didn't happen every single day. Slow shifts meant less tips, but they also made for a more relaxing day and I never complain about relaxing days. I don’t have any problem with a slow shift, as long as every shift isn’t slow.

But every single morning, every single person at the Grillroom expresses to me how much they want us to be VERY BUSY and if the shift is not as busy as Christ on speed, they complain. I want to say, “Really? Do you really want to be completely BURIED and end up in the weeds and have to hustle and sweat? That makes you happy?” I'm starting to wonder if I really fit in at the Grillroom. My ideal work environment is NOT a place that's constantly busy, busy, busy. My ideal work environment has slow days and busy days and in-between days.

On Friday the Grillroom wasn't as busy as earlier in the week and everyone acted like it was this big failure. The Grillroom has 50-65 tables (depending on how many tables they split up to make tables for two) and on Friday we used every table at least once except for three of them. That's slow? Not to me. I'd call that "a day." Not busy, not slow, not good, not bad, just a day. But the GM seemed disappointed by it and so did the servers and even one of the line cooks when I wandered into the kitchen at 3:00 said, to me, "A slow day." I wanted to say to him, "Would you rather have the line go into the crapper every single day?" He’s a line cook! He’s not counting tips. He’s not paid by the plate. What the hell is this mindset?

Do I just not belong in a restaurant? Unlike management, I'm not driven by the need to beat last year's sales. Unlike these Grillroom servers, I'm not THAT hungry for money-money-money. And I certainly don't have a constant need for the place I work to be packed with people. I'm fine with an occasionally empty restaurant. An empty restaurant just means I take it easy, I don't buy groceries today, and better luck tomorrow. I don't whine and moan. I like balance. Balance means sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Balance, dammit!

Could it be that restaurants are staffed by drama addicts who need the adrenaline rush and I’m just not that much of a drama addict?

I don't know. I enjoyed working at Nick and Tony's so much I think I need to look for a place that’s more like that: sometimes busy, sometimes slow, more families, a bright dining room, medium-cost items.. I don't need to walk out the door with hundreds of dollars every shift if it requires me to lose five pounds in sweat and stress each time. Or is the restaurant experiment over? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I wouldn’t know what field to go to next, anyway.

I don't know. I don't know. But between feeling like a fish out of water and the consistently discouraging feedback I’ve been getting about my performance, I'm close to writing this job off and once I do that my morale will be in the crapper along with “the line” and I know what happens then. Once I've decided I don't want to be at a job, I start making mistakes, no matter how hard I try to do well. Once my morale goes, it's just mistakes mistakes mistakes until I get fired. Is that how I want to exit Restaurants America?

Well, I guess there are worse things.

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