Monday, September 6, 2010

“You’ll Never Work In This Town Again!”

This is a direct quote from my General Manager, Randy Froschheuser at the restaurant I just resigned from. He wanted to make sure I quoted him in my next blog.

This was a quote made in jest, of course. As always, Randy was extremely supportive in my decision to follow a new path and see where it takes me. He calls me his surfer chick… just waiting for the next wave to catch and see where the tide goes. I like to think that this IS exactly how I am, although I know more than anyone else that I have been sitting comfortably on the beach for just a little too long. His support simply confirmed that I am ready for a new challenge.

As an hourly employee with a strong work ethic, I couldn’t ask for a better boss than Randy. His quote made me release a pure, genuine laugh and instantly gave me inspiration for this blog as I felt compelled to tell a story about this man whom I’ll always remember and never work for again.

About two years ago (give or take), Randy fired me. He never actually had a chance to use those exact words, but when I walked into the office late that Saturday night, I knew he had made the difficult decision to let me go. Not difficult because of what I had done, but difficult because of who I was.

I’m what I like to call a “late in life” server. My high school years were spent as a Sandwich Artist and then in college, I took the retail route (seems the majority of us are given the two roads to follow; the other being food and beverage) before getting into the sales side of the hotel industry after graduation. However, when nothing else in my life both fulfilled me and gave me a steady paycheck, I decided to apply for a job at a casual dining restaurant to help make ends meet.

I can truly say that serving is a job that I actually enjoy. It’s fairly stress free, doesn’t require a huge amount of thinking and comes with little to no responsibility. Plus, if done well and with the right establishment, it can produce a much higher income than even the average “good job” that one can get right out of college. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the restaurant I work for is this particular establishment, but it has certainly been sufficient while I scrambled around aimlessly on my most recent trail.

The movie “Waiting” is a fairly good depiction of life as a server in a casual dining restaurant, although, honestly – if I worked with Ryan Reynolds and got to see that six-pack on a somewhat regular basis, not even $20,000 could get me to leave. However, I digress… I have made some great friends, some pretty decent money and even learned a lot about the basics of preparing food. Unfortunately, the absolute worst part about the job is the people that I wait on.

Don’t get me wrong, I would say that it’s about 70/30 as far as perfectly normal people vs. the ones I would be willing to serve a hate crime sentence for. However, that 30% can really get under my skin and if I’ve already had a bad day, my frustration is amplified to the point of boiling over. I will admit, after my brief six-month stint as a manager, my tolerance as a server has improved dramatically and I don’t get quite as angry as I used to. Now, the only people that really tempt me to engage my weapons are the regular drunks that come in two to three times a day and ask me ridiculous questions just to hear themselves talk, or the rude, demanding and offensive ones that forget they are paying just $10 for a pretty decent burger and get unlimited refills on their strawberry lemonade.

Again, I digress…

The irony about that whole night two years ago is that it was probably one of my top ten biggest nights financially, certainly one of the highest ever at that time. Unlike other nights, though, where the money flows easily and everyone is happy and friendly, this night mirrored the home of Hades. I got my ass handed to me. I remember I was a closing server and it was one of those evenings where I clocked in only to find out I had already been double-sat and it never stopped from that point on. I ran and ran, was bossed around all night long, had terrible support from the servers around me and while I mentioned how much I love Randy, since he is the General Manager, the stress level in the kitchen is always noticeably higher when he is there as opposed to one of the other managers who is most likely just trying to get through the night so they can collect another paycheck.

Needless to say, when asked to pick up a table out of my section at five minutes to closing time, the words “Happy Camper” did not compute.

I did it anyway, of course and, of course, the party of two were not exactly dressed to impress as they grumpily sat down at a table and barked out a drink order without looking at me. They proceeded to order two steaks and eat with their heads down, shoveling the food into their mouths and grunting almost inaudibly their satisfaction when asked how everything was.

At the end of the meal, I dropped their check, cleared their plates and waited for payment. I ran their credit card, thanked them for their business and went to the back to finish up my sidework before having to clean my fifteen tables that I had picked up throughout the evening. When I went back out front, the credit card slip was sitting on the table waiting for me. The bill was in the neighborhood of $30. Sloppily written on the tip line was my “thanks” for the service. One dollar.

One dollar?

One. Dollar.

So, even though I knew it was the stupidest move I could possibly make and even though I had well over a hundred and forty of those dollars in my pocket already, I walked to the front where the couple was raiding our mint basket and handed them back their copy of the receipt where I told them I adjusted their tip and I would be happy taking nothing for my services that night. Then, to prevent the follow up statement of “Don’t let the door hit you in the…” well, you get it… I turned on a heel and stomped back to the kitchen.

The couple asked for the manager.

After speaking with them up front for a few minutes, Randy came back and asked me if what they told him was true. Still defiant, I said yes. He simply said “you shouldn’t have done that”, walked away, and that was the last I saw of him for about an hour. I knew I was in for it. I knew for certain I was getting written up. However, it wasn’t until I walked into the office and looked at Randy that I knew it was much more serious than that.

By this time, I had already cooled off and was now just feeling humiliated for my behavior. I immediately told Randy that what I did was wrong and that I simply lost my head for a minute. I said that it was something he could count on me to never do again as it was not worth losing my job over.

“What makes you think you haven’t already lost your job?” he replied.

That’s when I started to cry. Not because of my stupid move (well, yes, that was part of it), but I cried the way one cries when they find out that a parent is no longer angry with them for something they did, but are now disappointed. Randy was disappointed in me. I knew he had to fire me. His values and morals as a General Manager never wavered and this kind of behavior was absolutely unacceptable. I wept because I knew that I was better than what I had done and now Randy was going to have to make the decision to let one of his best employees go because of a momentary lapse in judgment that was made out of anger and stupidity.

I took responsibility for what I did, told him I understood what he needed to do, but asked him to reconsider anyway. I assured him that this was not something I was going to take lightly and that I wanted a second chance to prove to him that he didn’t need to be disappointed in me. Truly, I think I wanted that second chance to prove to myself that I was a better human than that. I don’t need to make people feel stupid and cheap in order to confirm my frustrations with society. Anyone who has ever been in a tipped position knows that poor compensation for services provided is just part of the territory. I had someone hand me a $50 bill for no reason whatsoever and I didn’t have to work for it at all. In the service industry, the pendulum swings both ways but in the end, it always seems to work out just fine. I knew that being a good and productive server meant looking at the money made each night as a whole, not to dissect individual tips on tables and let it ruin my evening. I knew all this and wanted Randy to give me another chance so that I could prove my worth.

We spoke in length for about 45 minutes. Even though it was already coming up on 1:00am and I knew he had a lot of work left to do in order to shut down the restaurant, he took all the time necessary with me and, in the end, he told me that he was going to take the night to think about everything. Knowing Randy, I knew this meant that he had changed his mind. I also knew that it was the first time he had ever changed his mind about firing someone after such an offense. He was taking a chance by keeping me employed and I made an honest vow right there to never make him regret his decision.

I told him that I was concerned about one thing and that was that no matter what happened this would always be something that would be held over my head, like the lingering dark clouds after a fierce storm. In that moment, Randy looked at me straight in the eye and with absolute conviction, he told me that he would never mention the incident ever again.

And he never did.

Within a year after all this, I received the honor of becoming Employee of the Month twice and then was entered into management with Randy’s blessing. When I was getting ready to go into the training portion of my management program, which would be taking place in another store, I took some time in the office to thank Randy for all his support and also to let him know how much I respected him as a person for never mentioning that incident. Without missing a beat, he said “I told you I wouldn’t and I keep my promises”.

On a side note, like so many other dumb things I do, I don’t regret returning that tip. Yes, I feel bad, however, I’ve thought a lot about that couple since that night. I’ve made up a few stories in my head but the one that keeps me humble is the one where the couple is down and out, having led a life of difficulties and struggles and one night a year, they decide to treat themselves to a “date night” where they eat a decent steak and share some time together without the daily grind of life weighing them down. And maybe they couldn’t even afford to give me that dollar, but they did anyway because they wanted to show their appreciation. I’m reminded of this story every time another server complains about a tip or if I receive a less than favorable one myself. I remember that not everyone has it easy and that tips are absolutely voluntary. Again… that’s the nature of the business.

I’ll miss working for Randy. Like I said before, he is easy to work for because of his consistency and strong work ethic. I sort of feel bad about writing this blog as he had asked me that night not to mention this to anyone as I know he didn’t want people to think it was acceptable to do what I did. However, I hope he will forgive me as my ultimate intention is to praise him for the tremendous boss he has been.

I am very confident that I will be successful as a writer. I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but it is my passion and I have the love and support to make it happen. Most importantly, I want it badly. With that said, should things go a bit pear shaped or if it turns out the time is not right for me as a writer, I may find myself back in the service industry. However, I know it will be for a different restaurant as I have spent all the time allotted for me by the universe in that particular job.

I will think of Randy and remember him fondly many, many times for the rest of my life. And when I hear him say “You will never work in this town again!” like he did the other day in his humorous way, I can only hope that, once again, he is right.

3 comments:

  1. Tina,
    You have been brainwashed dear. One thing that Brinker is well-known for is attempting to convince people to not think for themselves and to live like robotic, monotone suck-asses. You are totally justified in doing what you did. Is it Brinkers standard or policy? No. But, please, dont gush about how wrong it was. Those people were more than likely rude, unappreciative and NOT broke. They had $30.00 didnt they? Your comment was not, ultimately, the most professional or wisest one. But, we all do things in haste, out of frustration, fatigue, etc. Arent WE human too? A write-up would have been suitable, unless you were a "repeat offender". Just a hunch, you werent.
    Basically, having a backbone and guts is more-so what makes the world go round. I would have asked for forgiveness and told the guests you were broke and tired, etc. The truth, correct? Brinker is a company that is run by people that fear for their lives, living paycheck to paycheck, who continue to accept a sub-standard, keep the man down, approach. They are a conglomerate of dogs, pressing a button to get another treat. Your story is disgustingly conforming and makes me want to vomit. Grow a backbone. Next time, know you're worth more than the dollar and shake the managers hand and get the HELL out of there. Smile as you close your car door and waive bye-bye in the rear view mirror.
    By the way, hows the writing career going? See...wouldnt it have been a favor that would have saved you 6 months of "Brinker management" bullshit? (a waste of your time)

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  2. Does "growing a backbone" include taking credit for your opinions and comments instead of leaving them to "anonymous"? Just curious...

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