Monday, February 27, 2006

The Job Is Better!

What turned it around:

1. On Saturday night a friend talked to me extensively about my job situation. During a half hour conversation, we were able to identify that ever since I started working at Carson’s, I have always seen the hostess job as the hardest job in the restaurant, maybe because at Carson’s only the managers acted as hosts seating people. I always thought seating people was something I’d probably get wrong and should leave to the people in charge.

2. Realizing I had constructed my own blockade to success as a hostess, I desperately tried to figure out how to unblock it. How could I destroy the FEAR of failure that I’d believed in for so long? I tried meditating, journalling, visualizing, writing exercises. Still I felt scared of Monday.

3. On Sunday night another friend happened to talk to me about his social anxiety disorder. He gets very nervous and scared when he meets new people, but he still goes to parties because he has to try. He said living in fear and avoiding parties would make him feel much worse than the anxiety he feels when he goes to them. By pushing and challenging himself, he lives with less fear than if he gave into his anxiety and never left home.

At work this morning I still felt scared, especially as the rush hour of 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. got closer. What would it take to break the lock of fear I had created for myself? Knowing it was all in my head wasn’t enough. Knowing I had created this situation myself wasn’t enough. Knowing I could lose my job if I couldn’t pull it together was DEFINITELy not enough. Using the carrot-and-stick motivation anology, I know the stick does not work for me. It only makes me more scared.

4. Finally, it hit me: like my friend with the parties, once I have made it through this situation in spite of my fear, my life will have that much less fear in it. Once I've broken the surface of the water and freed myself of the paralyzing fear of this job, my life will be that much freer and more comfortable.

That was it: moving through the fear in order to have a life with less fear. That sounded like a GOOD DEAL to me. I wanted that, yes that was a carrot that would work!

Immediately I felt better. Just considering how much better my life would be when I wasn't ruled by this fear, caused it to lift. My anticipation of the aftermath of today’s lunch rush, when I would celebrate my new freedom from this fear, solidified my confidence and I went into today’s lunch hour with the certainty that the problem was already solved.

And so it was. I took control of the room, smiled more because I felt like it, stayed on top of the crowd and I rode that wave like Greg Brady before the fall.

And yea, verily, my life is better.

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.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thrill of a New Job

Okay, so at the end of last week, my second week on the job as hostess (cupcake) of the Grillroom, I felt an increased level of confidence and knowledge of the tasks. I felt far from 100% mastery (or even 75%), but I felt like I was definitely improving. Then the assistant manager told me I just wasn't fast enough and I needed to be getting these tasks down faster. About an hour later, she asked me, "So do you think you'll be able to wait tables here? It's three times as busy as Nick and Tony's and the customers are twice as important." I just looked at her. It is a very busy restaurant and I'd been wondering the same thing, but it was still discouraging to hear her voice it.

Yesterday, near the end of my third week, I felt an ever higher level of confidence. Now I'm getting it, I thought. Then the general manager gave me some feedback indicating that I'm still not as good at this job as she had expected me to be at this point. She said my response times aren't quick enough, I'm not gathering and assimilating information as I should be, and getting through a shift is requiring more of her than it should.

What do these people want?? This really is the best I can do. This might not be the restaurant for me. It doesn't have ebb and flow, just really busy lunches every day, every day. I like a place that sometimes has a fast pace, but that also has a slow pace at times. I don't like always being in the rush-rush-rush, hurry-hurry-hurry. If that's what the Grillroom is, then maybe this is a job I should reconsider.

But this is my best performance at this point, and I will NOT feel bad about it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sweatshirt

My 21-year-old University of California at Berkeley sweatshirt has finally died. I'd been wearing it to the gym every day so now I need to replace it. If I'm going to wear it every day I'd like to have something meaningful on it. Any suggestions of where I should shop for this sweatshirt, website or other?

Friday, February 17, 2006

People

Tonight as I rode home on the train at around 9:00 p.m, I was reading a story in which the author says she woke up each morning to the smell of the cooking fire. I thought, "I can smell that fire, too." I looked up and saw that three black kids, maybe middle school age, had a cigarette. The boy was inhaling and puffing while two girls looked on. I looked around the train car and saw two white women sitting behind the kids, looking very disapprovingly at them. Actually the whole train was glaring, but these two looked so upset at the sight of this kid spreading tobacco smoke on the train, I actually thought for a second they might say something. They didn't.

When I stood up, I felt just as disgusted with the white people as I felt with the smoking kid. Why are white people always so afraid to talk to black kids? I've been through this same situation a few times. I leaned over the kid with the cigarette.

"You do know you aren't supposed to smoke on the el, right?" I wasn't mean about it. Without looking at me, he pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and carefully put it out between his fingers.

"Thank you," I said. As I pulled away, one of the girls said smartly, "You doing all right?"

I looked her in the eye and said, "No," and moved back to my seat.

If the guy had been alone I think that would have been the end of it, but that girl was not going to let this go. She talked smack about me all the way to Rogers Park (they got off one stop ahead of me). "She look like my aunt. Scary! I'm gonna have nightmares tonight! Look JUST like her." I ignored her.

People.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Looking for a new career?

My new job as a restaurant hostess at The Grillroom is stressing me out. Why the hell can't I just pick one job and stick with it for a good long time, you know, and accumulate experience and become better and better at it and more and more comfortable with it and that's my area of expertise and that's what I enjoy and I stop jumping from one career to another so I way-too-regularly feel freaked out and overwhelmed and inadequate with a completely new skill set to master?

F%*@.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Favorite Date Story (this is good)

In honor of Valentine's Day, here is my favorite dating story.

He worked in the medical profession, in mental health to be specific. We had been having a perfectly nice dinner when the subject of smoking in public places came up. He mentioned how in the state of Michigan psychiatric facilities allow smoking.

“It’s one of the things that keeps the residents calm, so they let them smoke inside,” he explained.
“They let them smoke in the common areas?” I was surprised.
“Yes.”
“Really! Well, that’s not how it is in California. In California even in the psychiatric facilities, if you want to smoke, you have to go OUTside.”
“You've been?” he asked.
“Yup.”
Then it hit me: had I really just displayed knowledge of the inner workings of psychiatric hospitals?? There was no backing out of it now, but I just couldn’t bring myself to explain my breezy comment. So-o-o I just kept talking about something else and he was nice enough not to ask anything. Later I remembered this moment and la-a-aughed. I’ve been on a million dates, but never had I ever -- that's just sloppy dating!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Homage to Green Catfish

I give up. I just don't like alcohol. My 2005 new year's resolution was to start drinking and I did develop a taste for alcohol, by which I mean I stopped gagging when I drink it. But once I overcame my tastebuds' aversion, I noticed that I don't like the effects it has on me. I do not like the way I feel while I'm drinking alcohol and I don't like the way it affects me the next day (nausea, tiredness or just weaker workouts). Since I still don't actually LIKE the taste, I can say that I just don't like anything about alcohol. I was hoping that drinking would make me feel more like an adult, and it did for a while. But now I feel like a stunted teenager again.

A drinking failure.

Trying to feel like a mature, real adult by taking up smoking seems stupid (as opposed to the drinking attempt which was pure genius). But maybe I can take up quitting smoking. I'll wear a patch and carry nicotine gum with me. I'll pop it in my mouth and chew it furiously whenever I come across a stressor. I'll complain way too loudly about how annoying stray smoke is.

Yeah. That's it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hostess Cupcake

My new job as hostess (cupcake) of The Grillroom in downtown Chicago:

1. Banker's hours are nice: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

2. Whole new skill set to learn.

3. But much less responsibility than being a server (also much less money, but I think I can get by).

4. Love the extremely detail-fixated manager who gives me the micro-instructions I crave.

5. So far, I like all the people.

6. I'm struggling to RE-learn that waitressing lesson about not freaking out and panicking when it gets super busy, only now I have to not panic with a whole new hostessing skill set that I DON'T HAVE YET.

7. Trying to hold on to self-esteem, trying to hold on to self-esteem.

8. Still hate this common training phrase: "Use your common sense." My mother always told me I HAD no common sense and I believe it to this day. I sort of fall apart inside whenever someone tells me to rely on common sense because I figure if common sense is what a situation requires, I'm screwed.

9. I like being back on my early morning corporate schedule: gym at 5:30 a.m. and downtown by 9. Yes, I'm serious, I like this.

10. Can't say I actually ENJOY the job, since there's too much fear involved right now (see my blog slogan above), but things are looking good if I can just get this panic thing under control.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Grillroom! (should be sung)

Looks like there's a Blogger outage in ten minutes, so quickly -

Oh, my god The Grillroom is another world! Busy lunch shifts, sparkling dining room, decent hours (they close at 10:00 p.m. every night!), a very professional staff and an even tighter team than at Nick and Tony's, according to my colleague, Mike. Mike and I are both Nick and Tony's refugees, but he has more seniority than I do, so he's been working at The Grillroom for three weeks. I love Mike so I'm very glad that if I get to work with one person from my old job, it's him.

Maybe it's best that it worked out this way. I loved Nick and Tony's so much and was so mad when it folded, I'm sure I would have snubbed any job I worked at next. But after the Bar Louie experience I am primed to LOVE The Grillroom.

Life...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bar Louie - The End

I have worked my last shift at Bar Louie Dearborn! I worked the brunch/lunch shift today: 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I walked out with all of $37. Yup, 37 bucks. And it only took me seven and a half to earn it.

But that's it. No more complaining about Bar Louie. Tomorrow I start at the GRILLROOM.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vocabulary

Adjectives for when employment is unpleasant (in the form of a sentence):

“I can’t wait to leave this
fucked up
podunk
snafu
suckrat
crap-ass
sinkhole
mindrot
mood-fester
candyass
luck-blown
soul-sucking
sleep-stealing
job!”

Adjectives for when employment is pleasant (in the form of a sentence):

“I just landed the most
heartful
lively
fun-like
beautimous
symphonious
romantical
Monday-sweetening
Friday-fading
mind-rich
smile-beaming
soul-swelling
dream-filling
job!”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Re-Employment Joy!

Okay, so this is the deal I finally feel comfortable making public. When Restaurants America said they'd find jobs for all of us servers who were being laid off when Nick and Tony's closed, they asked us at which of their other restaurants we'd like to work. Everyone wrote down their first choice. For some it was One North, near the Lyric Opera. For some it was a manager-track program with Bar Louie. Et cetera. My choice was The Grillroom, at 33 W. Monroe, across from the Schubert Theater (now called the LaSalle Theater). The Grillroom has a more expensive menu than Nick and Tony's, excellent business and theater clientele, a nice big wine menu, good hours, great management, great staff -- all the things I crave in a job. And Restaurants America wanted to give me my first choice of a job at The Grillroom. It was all falling into place.

But The Grillroom, like many Chicago restaurants after the holidays, found itself with an excess of servers and a big dropoff in post-Christmas business. So they couldn't hire me, although the general manager said I would be first in line when they need more people in March. She said it was just a matter of time. So Restaurants America did what it could and placed me at Bar Louie Dearborn, for which I'm grateful, but they're in the post-holiday slump, too and just can't give me enough shifts to live on.

This week, The Grillroom general manager (GM) called me and said they still don't need servers, but they do need a hostess. So that's one of the interviews I went on yesterday: I sat down with the GM and found out the details of the job. It turns out I'll JUST barely be able to get by on what I'll earn as a hostess, but that's a whole lot better than quickly starving over at Bar Louie. And the GM says I'll still be first in line when business picks up in the spring and they need more servers.

Just now I called the GM at Bar Louie and gave notice and he says it's fine if I just finish my shifts for this week and then go work at The Grillroom.

I am so glad! I am so relieved! I am so OUT OF THERE! Hooray for me! I start at The Grillroom on Monday at 9:00 a.m. Congratulate me: I'm back at a job I WANT!

[MUSIC SWELLS "Don't Rain on My Parade!" - no, Barry Manilow's "Daybreak!"]