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In an effort to round out my training, I spent the second week working nights. Dinner service was a completely different animal – emphasis on animal. Lunch could be somewhat intense, with everyone trying to get in and out in under an hour, but the stress level never got above slightly uncomfortable.
Dinner usually started around 5:30 with a healthy bar crowd congregating in the front of the restaurant. The bar area was large, but the layout was terrible. The bar itself, sat in the middle of the room and wasn’t nearly as big as it should’ve been. With bad acoustics from the marble floors and a front door that spilled directly into the main bar area, it was one, loud, cluster-fuck.
I was scheduled to follow Kevin that first night; He was the Assistant General Manager and where Vivian’s approach veered towards high-strung, Kevin was relaxed and easy to work with.
“How are you liking it, so far?” he asked as we made our way from the back dining area to check on the bar.
“It’s great,” I said, struggling to find something else to say. “I’m learning a lot.”
“It’s a lot in the beginning,” he said, turning to me as we stood watching the bustling bar. “Just take it all in. The rest will come naturally.”
At that moment, the only thing I could take in was how handsome Kevin was. He had dark brown hair, neatly cut close to his head and blue eyes that reminded me of tranquil beaches in Mexico. Thankfully, his energy was such that the more I got to know him, the more of a sister-brother vibe I felt. This was a gift as I’d made plenty of mistakes mixing business with pleasure. I’d adopted a “Don’t shit where you eat,” motto several years back and Kevin’s unassuming energy made it easy to stick to it.
He wasn’t very tall – maybe about 5’8” − but he had a tall demeanor. We were awaiting the arrival of a new GM and until then, Kevin was in charge and he did it with such a natural confidence I wondered why he wasn’t GM.
“I’m not ready,” he said when I’d asked him earlier that night.
It seemed like he was repeating what he’d been told, not what he’d thought. “So,” he said, walking through the dining room. “Dinner service is a beast and I’d like to see you get as involved as possible. Don’t be afraid to jump in and take charge.”
I nodded with enthusiasm, hoping to cover my fear. How could I jump in? That was like telling a kid who just learned to walk on Wednesday that she’d be running a marathon on Friday.
“Tonight, let’s focus on the wire. I’m going to let you call out the tables, so you can get more comfortable talking on it.”
The wire. Ugh. I hated that thing for a million reasons. It was super intimidating to be heard by all. And when I say all, I mean two maitre D’s in the front and every manager in the house – whether they were on the floor or in the office. What’s more, I noticed that after 3pm, when Vivian would come off the floor and go into the office, she’d unplug her ear piece and the radio would be on speaker for everyone to hear.
“Table 28 – up, not set,” I practically whispered into the microphone, picturing everyone in the office gathered ‘round the radio, laughing at my timidity.
“Ha,” Kevin chuckled. “You’re going to have to be a bit more assertive than that. You look like a CIA agent, lurking in the corner and hiding the fact that you’re wired up.”
He stood firm, like he was readying himself in the outfield for a fly ball and reached for the microphone clipped to the lapel of his suit jacket. “Table 28 – UP, not set,” he spoke slowly and articulately for effect.
The other thing I hated about the wire was how it interfered with my newly acquired wardrobe. Keeping the tags on everything turned out to be a blessing because half the stuff I bought wouldn’t accommodate the walkie-talkie part of the radio, as it always had to be clipped to something.
“I keep an elastic belt in the office,” Vivian explained, showing me how she’d wrap it around her body underneath a dress that had no waistband. “See? I just clip the radio to that and I’m good to go.”
Good to go? That couldn’t be comfortable! I was going to have to re-think my wardrobe.
“Did you just hear that? They need us to pop up table 83 for seven.”
Once again, I nodded and pretended to know what he was talking about. The truth was, all I heard was muffled talking, static and “83.” Paying attention to the radio was like trying to listen to two conversations at one time. Not so easy when my own nerves were making a ton of noise and competing for attention in my head.
The Toby Show....................
“Heeeeeeey, pretty girl! I hear you’re with me tonight!” For training night #2, I was to follow Toby around.
Toby Treadwell was a one-of-a-kind.
Well built, tall and blessed with thick and wavy blonde hair, Toby looked like a Ken doll. He was always impeccably dressed in designer suits and expensive shoes on which he glided more than he walked. “My mama named us ‘up and wanted the trash to end with her,” he’d told me when I’d worked there as a bartender. “She gave us all fancy first and middle names so that we could go out into the world and stand a chance with the affluent.”
I was tempted to ask about his last name, but as upbeat and positive as he was, I sensed that Toby’s exterior was a perfectly orchestrated mask to hide a life of imperfection decidedly left behind. Plus, he was so good at acting “up,” using words like, “Dah-ling” and “Fabulous,” it was easy to get caught up in the façade.
Add the mastery with which he handled the guests at Le Volte and Toby was his own show – floating around the room, greeting people with blown kisses and surprisingly genuine gushes of “OH.MY.GOD! Look at how gooooood you look!”
In many ways, Toby was the face of Le Volte, as he had the most dramatic presence on the floor. Kevin certainly had a presence, but it was more serene and controlled. Toby was like light bursting into the room everywhere he went.
Following him for several hours was quite a challenge. He moved fast and my feet were achy from night before, making it difficult to turn and pivot behind him each time he saw someone he knew.
“I like to do figure eights,” he said, moving quickly from the bar to the back of the dining room. “If you just stick to your figure eights, you’ll always be tuned into what’s going on. Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” He stopped abruptly at a table for four. “You look FAB-u-LOUS! What are you wearing? Is that Versace?” He held his hand up as if to stop traffic. “Don’t tell me. I can’t handle it.”
The middle-aged-Versace-wearing-woman was thrilled at Toby’s over-the-top attention. She gushed and smiled, showing off a wrinkle-free forehead which could’ve qualified her to be a Botox spokesperson.
They chatted for a few minutes and I stood there, looking pleasantly interested while trying not to be in the way.
“Toby. Come back.” the wire squeaked in my ear. “We need 54 popped up for 8 people. Do you copy?”
Toby talked away, waving his hands, smiling from ear to ear, flashing his gi-normous dimples as I stood there waiting for him to respond to the call to set up Table 54.
“TOBY! DO you copy?”
I wondered why he was ignoring his wire until realizing he’d popped it out of his ear when he turned to Versace Lady’s party to say something.
I didn’t know what to do. The dining room was filling up fast and I knew that Table 54 needed to be set. But, what did I know about telling people what to do? I didn’t even know any of the Busboys’ names, so how could I get them to jump into action?
As I stood there, I pictured Kevin, sitting in the office, listening in, waiting for me to do something.
This was it – my big moment. I had to step up and be the Manager that I was hired to be.
I grabbed the wire with both hands and spoke into it, squeezing my eyes shut with angst. “Copy. Table 54 for 8.”
“Is it ready? Or are you setting it up?”
Oh boy. I thought I was done with this wire thing for the moment. “Uh, I’m setting it up,” I said, much more quietly that time.
“I can’t hear you,” the Maitre’D squawked back. She was losing patience. “Guys, does anyone copy?”
“Copy. Copy,” a voice came over the wire – Kevin’s. “I got it.”
And there he was, walking across the floor directing busboys to get the table ready to go. I felt like an idiot, standing there, frozen or should I say trapped, as Toby chatted away with Versace Lady.
Kevin was headed our way and I was sure he’d light into me for being such a timid, little idiot.
“Toby!” he called out from a safe distance.
Toby’s eyes moved towards Kevin while the rest of him stayed put as Kevin signaled for him to wrap it up. And just like that, Toby was back at my side, oblivious to all that just went down.
“I love her!” he cooed. “Let’s get back to our figure eights.”
The rest of my time with Toby was much of the same. Figure eights followed by dramatic greetings and long conversations, with me always feeling like a third wheel. I hated standing around, especially when I was there to learn something. Toby was a sweetheart, but I resented having to be his audience for four, long hours.
By the last hour with him, my feet were killing me and I could barely concentrate on anything except how miserable I felt. The restaurant was in full-force, making it challenging to maneuver around the droves of people packed into the dining room. My sore feet didn’t help matters as my balance was off and I almost fell into a guest’s chicken parm while trying to help get the table next to him set up for ten.
I was starting to panic and couldn’t get outside fast enough.
“Are you okay?”
I was operating in survival mode and couldn’t hear a thing over the shrieks of “OW!” slamming around in my head. Servers were coming up to me and asking questions. I could see their lips moving, but I couldn’t hear a word they were saying. The pain in my feet was so excruciating that I didn’t even notice Kevin standing in front of me.
“Liz? Everything alright?” he repeated, concerned.
I nodded my headed and forced a tight smile and followed him downstairs into the area reserved for private events. Limping behind him, I felt the tears welling up. I really wasn’t sure I could handle this. I was sore, tired, overwhelmed and really, freakin’ hungry!
“Let’s chat,” he said, sitting down and gesturing that I do the same.
I suppressed a moan of relief as I finally got off my throbbing feet. I hoped in doing so, I would regain my quickly deteriorating composure.
No such luck.
“So, I thought I’d check in and see how tonight went for you. Any questions? Concerns?”
I opened my mouth and out came a rather embarrassing, almost primal groan. And then, the tears.
“Oh no! What’s the matter?”
I couldn’t stop crying. I knew I had to, but all the angst and pressure from the last week and a half was draining itself through my tear ducts.
“I….I….don’t…..” I stammered. “…..know (gulp)….if…I..can..do…this.”
Kevin’s concern only made me cry harder. Why’d he have to be so nice? I needed someone to smack my face – hard – and tell me to snap out of it.
But Kevin understood. And for the next hour, he shared with me his journey from hard-partying server to running one of the busiest restaurants in Manhattan.
“Before I was a manager, I didn’t wear suits,” he said with a laugh. “My first month, I thought I would suffocate with this tie choking me.”
Still unable to speak, I just sat there, nodding and blinking.
“It’s going to take some time to adjust, Liz. Go easy on yourself. The shoe thing – well, that’s not going to change; so I suggest you get yourself some comfortable shoes.”
“Okay,” I finally answered.
Kevin leaned forward and put his hand on my knee. “You’ll see. Maybe management isn’t for you after all. But ya gotta give it some time, okay?”
The very mention of giving up sent a pulse through my body causing me to shoot upward into ramrod position.
“I’m not giving up,” I thought. “Not me. I’m no quitter.”
A Napkin Emergency..................
Flowing blouses were out because they got caught on everything and long necklaces found their way into monkey dishes of marinara sauce. It was hard to look at myself in the mirror and not feel like an old fart. Lunch service was less….sexy, which meant my dress had to be more conservative. And conservative wasn’t really my thing, so walking around in functional clothes was downright depressing.
Lucky for me, I had little time to think about all that. Life at Le Volte moved fast and I was pleased my 11-hour days didn’t drag.
“Liz, can you do pre-shift today?” Vivian asked, eyes transfixed on the computer screen in front of her. “I’ve got a TON of stuff to do.”
Vivian got on my nerves fast. As soon the as the “T” next to my name on the Manager’s schedule was removed, she pretty much checked out. Every day it was the same thing. There were about two hours to prepare floor charts, sign-in sheets and service notes for the staff and I did them all while Vivian would roll in twenty minutes late, huffing and puffing about something and how much “work” she had to do.
In the beginning, I was all too willing to accommodate. She was a senior staff member and as the newbie, it was my duty to eagerly take on anything that was asked of me. The problem was, Vivian’s TON of work consisted of surfing Facebook and ordering cheesy dresses from websites like bebe or Venus.com. Everything was drama with her and I decided it was easier to take her out of the mix than suffer the bitching and complaining that came so naturally to her.
“Hey Liz,” Chef Billy peeked his head into the office. “We’re missing a runner.”
Chef Billy ran the kitchen during the day and I could always count on him to keep me apprised of any wrongdoings of the staff. He wasn’t a jerk; he was just very by the book and I appreciated that. What I didn’t appreciate was the fact that he always came to me with the problems.
“Who’s it supposed to be?” Vivan asked, as she checked out seven different angles of a pair of patent leather pumps. “Liz. Find out who it is and call him to see where he is.”
“Ya gotta tell these guys to be on time,” Chef added before ducking back out of the office.
Wow. Those two could start their own Captain Obvious club. Sure, I’d only been there two months, but when you’re working 55 hours a week, you catch on quick.
“LEEZ,” Felipe, one of the busboys said, as he poked his head into the office. “We’re out of napkins.”
And so it went. Management – the ultimate experience in firefighting without the flames.
“Do we have enough for service?” I asked, picking up the phone ready to dial the missing runner’s number.
“Why are you just telling us NOW?” Vivian snapped. “We’re opening in 15 minutes, Felipe! Liz. You have to stay on top of these guys.”
Vivian was lucky Jorge picked up his phone or else I was going to lose it all over her. I had to stay on top of it? Ha! ‘Cuz she’s so busy shopping!
“Jorge, it’s Liz from Le Volte. Where are you?”
“Oh. Leez,” he said, the sleep still in his voice. “I over sleep. I sorry.”
Terrific. I knew how this was going to go. Most of the bussers and runners lived far out in Queens or up in the Bronx, so the chances of him coming in quickly were slim.
“How long until you can get here?”
I swear he stifled a yawn.
I rolled my eyes and snapped, “Get here as soon as you can.”
“You should write him up,” Vivian said, gathering her stuff and heading to the bathroom. “I’m going to get ready. Let me know if you need anything.”
And just like that, she went off to do her hair and make up and left me to figure out how I was going to get my hands on 100 extra napkins within twenty minutes.
Feeling Brand New.......................
The challenge of being a new Manager was less about how to make my mark and more about fitting in. I’d worked in many places where new managers came in all gung ho, ready to reinvent the wheel. Le Volte was a well-oiled machine, so there wasn’t much to change. For me, it was about gaining respect from my fellow managers as well as the staff.
Every one of the managers had been there since the place opened and their decisions came instinctively. Me, I had to learn the ropes by asking questions and making mistakes.
Lots of them.
The first was on a Sunday, when I was managing brunch by myself. Brunch was a pretty easy shift and not all that busy and I rather enjoyed running the show alone on those days. It was so chill that I didn’t even wear a wire which made everything so much better.
We hadn’t seen a table come in for at least an hour, and having worked slow summertime brunches, I felt for the staff. I wanted to be fair, and I wanted to be liked. I’d had too many managers that didn’t give a crap about the fact that people were standing around not making any money.
“I’m going to cut the openers,” I told everyone.
They were thrilled, of course which made me feel like a hero.
“Just make sure you fold napkins before you go.”
Cutting staff was a tricky business as you never wanted to do it too soon. During the week, I’d learned that we never cut before 2pm, unless lunch was completely dead. At brunch, the rhythm was different and I’d always struggled with whether I was keeping people around for too long. The truth was, I was still a bartender at heart and I’d worried way too much about the comfort of the staff and what they thought of me.
As I sat at Table 50 eating my lunch, we started to get some action. At first, it was a few tables of two which gave the remaining three servers something to do while they waited for the shift to end. And then, just like that, I watched the busboys start to scramble, setting up two tables for eight, a party of thirteen and a table of ten.
I dropped my fork and sprang to action. We were getting hit hard. I rushed to the host stand to see what was going on and I could barely see the Maitre’D amongst the crowd of people.
“Holy crap, Laura. Did a bus just let off?”
Laura – young and beautiful with dark hair and skin like a china doll, was about to lose her normally calm disposition.
“I don’t know, Liz. They all just came at once. I don’t know what to do.”
Neither did I. Lunch had gotten busy since I started, but I’d always had help. Vivian, for all of her shopping and “work to do” loved to come upstairs and save the day. That day, it was me, myself and I.
“Okay, well, let’s just get ‘em sat,” I said. “Do you have a wire up here? Good. I’m going to run downstairs and put mine on. I’m here for you Laura. Don’t worry.”
As I ran downstairs, I laughed at my false bravado. I should never have cut people so early. The remaining servers were going to get slammed and the kitchen – forget it. They were going down. I could help out, but how? I wasn’t comfortable as a server! I’d only get in the way. And the night managers would be coming in two hours. I couldn’t let them see me so out of control.
Working in a restaurant, I suppose, is a little bit like going to war. There’s no time for thinking. You just hunker down and do what needs to be done. And for the next hour, I ran food from the kitchen, bussed tables, took drink orders; I even made some drinks for the poor bartender, who probably got hit the hardest.
The kitchen was overwhelmed and the chef kept calling me on the wire to tell me how much the servers were screwing up.
“Ya gotta tell these guys, Liz, to get their shit together.”
“I get that, Chef. But with all due respect, NOW is not the time to discuss this.”
I had no time to polite or diplomatic. I didn’t need the Chef adding to my stress. It was a total shit show and all I could do was help everyone get through it.
Too Many Cooks................
“I heard you got spanked on Sunday,” Kevin said, his blue eyes dancing with pleasure.
“I sure did,” I sighed, doing my best not to show how mortified I was about the infamous Brunch Disaster.
“It happens to all of us,” he said, lightly punching my arm. “It’s actually a good thing.”
Ha! A good thing was Joseph, the General Manager from our sister restaurant a few blocks away and his decision to stop in for a quick fix of French Toast before going to work. When I saw him, I didn’t know whether I should duck into the bathroom and hide − I so wanted to do that – or to just stand there and start crying. (I wanted to do that too.)
“Tell the girls up front to go on a wait,” he’d said, surveying the room. “If you make anyone else coming in wait for like 15 minutes, it will space out the traffic.”
It hadn’t even occurred to me to stop seating people. Oh, how green I’d felt!
Joseph was tall and a little on the husky side. He wasn’t that old, but his energy was more fatherly-like and on that day, I needed that.
“Don’t sweat it,” he’d said in thick Long Island accent. “You’ll know for next time not to cut everyone so soon.”
Next time, I’d thought, NO ONE is getting cut. I didn’t care if they all hated me. I never wanted to go through that again.
Kevin’s comment stung. Though intellectually, I knew he was just kidding. I just hated being in the position where people might deem me incompetent. But, I had to shake it off because in the restaurant world, there was no time to dwell.
I so wanted to fit in with my fellow managers. Everyone was nice enough to me, but besides, Vivian, I was the only other female and as much as I hated to admit it, there was a bit of a boy’s club thing going on. Lunch, in their eyes was a write-off. Dinner was where it all happened.
One guy, Damian, loved to correct me at every turn. I didn’t like him when I was a bartender and I certainly didn’t like him as a co-worker. He was young and way too cool for himself.
As a rule, I always say hello to people. It’s just the polite thing to do.
With Damian, he’d look at me – or shall I say, look me up and down and never say a word. It was infuriating and uncomfortable. He was also so much younger than me – like 15 years. That made it even harder to respect him and his legend-in-his-own-mind attitude.
“Liz. Can you send an email to management – kitchen and restaurant – letting them know that someone’s coming to do the floors tomorrow morning?”
I loved when Kevin asked me to do stuff. It made me feel useful and I liked that he was starting to count on me.
What I didn’t like was sending emails.
Emails were probably one of the more stressful parts of my job. The distribution lists were endless with the owners and investors included on some. I never knew just who was reading my emails plus, I worried constantly about tone. Should I be straight-forward? Cute? Sarcastic? Funny? Looking at everyone else’s emails always made me realize just how unsure of myself I really was. Their emails flowed; with mine, I was lucky if they got to the right people.
The email for Kevin was straight forward and despite my stress about whether it was too long or short, I sent it off without a hitch.
Or so I thought.
Uh, hey, this is the Exec Chef in Miami. Our floors were done last week. Wrong distribution list!
UGH!! I couldn’t believe it. I had sent the email to all the chefs in our restaurant in Miami! How embarrassing. What’s more, he replied to ALL on the email, so now everyone knew. And sure enough, I got about ten emails letting me know I’d sent the email to the wrong people. I wanted to die. First brunch on Sunday, and now this.
I resent it with a quick apology and a few emoticons to express my mortification.
Damian, of course, didn’t miss the opportunity to send me a separate email outlining who to send mass emails to and who not to. I tried to be mature about it, replying with a “Thanks!” But deep down, I was pissed.
I really hated being the new kid on the block.
Thursdays With Toby..........................
“Hey Sugar Plum!”
It was Thursday which meant one thing – working lunch with Toby!
“I’m sooo glad you’re here,” I said hugging him. “You make everything better.”
Toby stepped back from the hug, still holding my hands. “You make everything LOOK better,” he said, twirling me around. “That outfit is hot!”
Toby was the master at making a person feel like they were ten feet tall and lately, I wasn’t feeling very tall. Frumpy and isolated maybe, but definitely not tall. I was grateful for the compliment because the silky, animal print shirt I wore felt so not “hot” mixed with my basic, black pants and comfortable wedge sandals.
I never thought being a manager would be so lonely. I didn’t know where I fit in. The staff and I chatted, but it’s not like I could have a deep conversation with them one moment and then write them up for being late the next.
Vivan wasn’t much of a conversationalist either. She had two channels – herself and complaining. I was losing my taste for both and as time wore on, I did my best to avoid her whenever possible. Lunch wasn’t always that busy, so most of my days were spent waiting until 3pm when the night guys came in and I’d have someone to talk to.
Except for Thursdays. Thursdays with Toby were electric, whether we had a full house or not.
“Let’s find you a husband today,” Toby purred into the wire as he did his usual “figure eight’s” around the dining room. “OH! I see one! Liz, Liz. What’s your twenty?”
“I’m in the back getting a bottle of wine,” I said, suddenly self-conscious; like the whole dining room knew he was scoping men out for me.
“Table 48, position 3 – blue shirt. He’s going to be your man.”
“Dark hair?” Linda, the maitre’D joined in over the wire. “Yeah, he’s a hottie.”
And that’s how it went. Toby would comb the room for potential suitors and I would play along, secretly knowing that with this job, there wouldn’t be much of a social life for quite some time.
Sure, I had my nights off, but by the time I got out of work, it was 8pm and I was still adjusting to getting up at seven in the morning. The few times I had gone out my eye stayed on the clock the whole time, vowing to be in bed by 11pm.
Plus, I didn’t have much to talk about except Le Volte.
“You can say good-bye to those friends,” a server told me early on, when I’d mentioned I was going out with a few people after work. “Le Volte will take that shit from you. Trust me.”
At the time, I laughed it off and told myself, as a manager, I knew better than he and that wouldn’t happen to me. Now that I was several months into management, I saw how maybe that server was right. I had nothing else to talk about except work. UGH! I’d become one of those people. Long, detailed stories of how Hasan the busboy showed up to work an hour late with a swollen cheek so large, it looked like he’d balled up a pair of socks and put them in his mouth. I’d had a hard time understanding his heavy Bengali accent to begin with, but his apparent toothache made him sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
My friends were good sports; laughing in the appropriate places and asking questions here and there. But I knew it had to be taxing – all that listening to things that had nothing to do with them. I contemplated getting closer with my colleagues, but that’s the thing about restaurant management. Everyone works so hard; there’s barely any time left over for play.
Plus, I wasn’t really a part of the crew. Sure, everyone was nice to me, but I left at 8pm. If these guys were going out, it was after hours; four hours before I had to get up.
“Liz! Liz!” my earpiece buzzed. “You HAVE to come to the bar. Forget blue shirt guy. I have FOUND-YOUR-MAN.”
Thankfully I had Thursdays with Toby!
Donde est Jorge?..........................
It was 12:15, lunch was in full swing and we were missing a food runner.
“Did you ask the other runners?” I asked Vivian, who was still in the office, cultivating her latest habit of staying off the floor for most of lunch service with her usual proclamation of having “loads to do.”
“Yep. Miguel said they were all here. But, I’ve only counted three, so far. Did everyone sign in?”
It was turning out to be a busy lunch and I didn’t have time to wait on the phone while Vivian checked the sign-in sheet. “Wire me, when you know,” I said, not waiting for an answer.
“Liz, Liz. Can you come up front? We’re getting busy up here.” Hearing Linda’s plea for help over the wire snapped me back to the day I got spanked at brunch. There was no way I was going down like that again.
“Let’s go on a 10-15 minute wait,” I told her as I squeezed through would-be diners anxiously awaiting a table.
“Okay, but these people are not happy,” Linda said quietly as I slid in next to her at the host stand. Before I could get to the angry people up front, Maddy, one of the servers approached.
“Uh, Liz. Table 46 waited a really long time for their meal and now they want to speak to a manager.”
I turned to the now, angrier people with my maybe-you-won’t-hate-me-if-I-say-this-with a-smile and said, ”Just give me one more second, okay?”
“Liz, Liz, come back.”
“Go for Liz.”
“It looks like Jorge is the runner for today. He didn’t sign in and I checked with Chef and he isn’t here.”
“Okay,” I say, nearing Table 46.
“You need to call him, Liz and find out where he is.”
I barely reached the table and the host – a handsome, elderly man – a la Charlie Rose – waved me down like one of those guys on the airport runway.
“Miss! Miss!” he yelled, despite my being less than a few feet from him. “Can you get me the manager? I need to speak to the manager!”
“We can’t go with just three runners, Liz. Try calling in the on-call person. See who can get here the fastest.”
Vivian was going on and on in my ear as the Charlie Rose look-a-like kept asking me to get a manager. Why did I have to deal with Jorge the runner? Last time I checked, Vivan was a manager too.
“Liz! Liz! Are you there?” It was too much for me. Vivian would have to wait. I pulled the wire out of my ear and approached the table.
“Hi folks,” I said cheerily. “What can I do for you?”
“I want a manager!”
“I am a manager, sir,” still with the cheery voice.
“Oh,” he sniffed. “I thought you were a hostess.” Score another one for the Boys’ Club! I wanted to tear that guy up and unleash a ton of equal rights on his ass, but instead, I listened to him rant and rave about how long it took for them to get their meals.
Ten years of bartending had prepared me for moments like that. After listening to a million stories I had absolutely no interest in, I’d gotten very good at making a person think I was listening, by honing in on a few key topics and nodding my head at the appropriate times. “Salads….ohhhh, right…okay. Mmmm hmmm, yes. Garlic bread.”
The truth was they weren’t even waiting very long, but it didn’t matter. That guy wanted blood and I wasn’t in the mood to talk him out of it.
“I do apologize for the inconvenience today, folks. Really, this is not a usual occurrence here and I hope that you’ll give us another try,” I said, like an actress settling into a long, monologue.
And then I went in for the kill. “Lunch is on us, today.” Pause, for effect. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
What happened next made the long hours, the constant pull of fires needing to be put out and my aching feet completely worth it. I had exercised my executive power as a manager and the rush was incredible! I wondered if this was how the President of the United States felt when he made his first big decision. Okay, it was only a restaurant, but watching that guy go from puffed up asshole to flat and listless in a matter of moments, was pretty satisfying.
All he could muster was a small, “Thank you.”
But, I didn’t care. I’d just snatched the control right back from him and I loved it.
Back on the wire, Vivian had an earful for me.
“Jorge just walked in. I told him to go and talk to you. You’re going to have to send him home, Liz.”
We’re going to have to let him go. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Let him finish out the shift and we’ll talk to him after.
Once lunch settled down, I’d emailed Kevin to let him know about Jorge’s showing up almost two hours late. Per Vivian’s word, I was prepared to send him home, but I’d done that once before with a new busboy that was late three times during his training. I’d taken it upon myself to send him home as I’d seen the other managers do in cases like that.
“It’s probably not a great idea to send people home without checking with me first,” Kevin said later that day. “Especially since you’re still learning the ropes.”
It was the first of many mixed messages I got from the entire management staff. I wanted to do it right but it was getting pretty frustrating when one person said one thing and another said something entirely different. I was beginning to second-guess myself in everything I did.
I wasn’t taking any chances with Jorge and once I knew he had to be fired, I was glad to have Kevin in on it with me.
We sat him down in the same room where I’d cried to Kevin about my reservations of being a manager.
Jorge, a short and stout guy in his twenties, looked nervous.
“Jorge,” he began. “Your lateness today has become a usual thing and it’s clear that we can no longer count on you to show up for your shift when you’re supposed to.”
Jorge just sat there, licking his lips and nodding his head.
“I hate to do this to you, buddy, but I gotta let you go,” Kevin continued with a stern kindness that tugged at my heart. “I have to think of the rest of the staff and ya know, if I let you come in whenever you want with no repercussions, why should they bust their butts to get here on time?”
I sat very still, nodding earnestly, ready to make eye contact with Jorge if he looked my way. Instead, he just looked down at the floor, his eyes welling up with tears.
I felt terrible. I wanted to reach out and touch his arm and say, “You’ll be okay, Jorge! I’ll help you find another job. I will!” I wanted him to say something that would make Kevin change his mind. I wanted to stop the noise in my head reminding me this guy was now out of a job.
After he was fired, Kevin and I escorted Jorge out of the building. When I stood up, I couldn’t believe how much my legs were shaking. I didn’t have the stomach to be the person who impacts another person’s livelihood.
“Keep it short and simple, Liz,” Kevin said once we bid Jorge adieu. “The first time you do it is the hardest. Trust me, it gets easier.”
I didn’t want it to get easier! I wanted Jorge to have his job back and be on time every single shift.
Being a manager sucked and despite my feelings of grandeur earlier that day when I bought table 46 their lunch, I realized it was stuff like firing people, and constantly staying on the staff to pay attention or do their side-work, that made up the majority of my days.
I missed my old life where if there was no toilet paper in the staff bathroom, I’d tell someone and it would get replaced. Now, I was the one people told and I was the one who had to make sure things got done. Maybe I was just tired – the long hours starting to catch up with me, but I realized I was beginning to despise my job and all the fires that had to be put out.
Maybe management wasn’t for me, after all.