12.19.2013

I do try but I might...

Burning out.

I guess the gist of that thing I wrote a few months ago about writing and the "next step" is this: I am not a genius. I am not god's gift. But this is a fucking waste. It's not about money, or fame or status, it's just. I can write. I can DJ. I can make music (well not amazing stuff yet but the potential is greater, trust). Do I really have to be judged on how well I can rim salt on a glass? Because in my real, "meatspace" life, that is how I am being judged. It sucks.  If I don't excel at doing something that I don't care about, that doesn't really matter, and takes me away from doing whatever it is I can do to make this world a better place, I can't pay my rent. Capitalism is simply not efficient. I actually have this weird theory that if money were taken out of the equation, if all tasks were compensated equally, life could constitute itself in exactly the same way as it does now, all options still available, all arduous tasks still completed, without anyone actually disliking what they do for a living. Crazy? Hmm, I dunno.

… Among the many pieces that I can't seem to write, here's the theme of one: the restaurant industry sucks. It's over. It's not a hiding place for the maladjusted anymore. Expectations are high. And getting untenable. Customers are entitled. Capitalism. Yeah. But here's the hard part, and this is coming from someone who hasn't made it out yet.

I mean, yeah, you could be twenty-five and reading this and thinking "yeah I wait tables now but...". But what?

Here's the thing. Next time you are on the floor, or behind the stick, or whatever, just look at the person you are serving and realize that it makes sense to them that you are there.

Consider that. The ramifications. It makes sense. But does it? Does it really?

(and here's where this is no longer an essay but just brain hemorrhage)

As much as I hate it, I take it seriously. My standards of service are really, really high.

No individual request is unreasonable. Really. But once the ratio of requests to time falls too heavily towards the former… 

I could go four or even for hours without a sip of water. If customers keep coming all night, I could lose my chance to eat. I arrive at 4pm. I get home after 2am. That's a long time without food. And what's available after 2am? The nice organic healthy shit you spent too much money on? Nope. Let's just say, there are meats, there are cheeses, and there are various ways to combine them, and I pick one.

But again, no request is unreasonable, but here's the thing:

It's my job to treat you like you are the only customer, but it's your job to not act like the only customer.

"Your job"? Aren't you on a very short vacation? Someone else cooking? Someone else cleaning? Someone else making your drinks? Someone else cleaning up the pieces of what used to be a coaster?

Restaurants are a paradox to me. There's something satisfying about the simplicity. I make a drink, you tip me. If I work, I get money, if I don't, I don't. Somehow weirdly Marxist, though not quite. And yet.

Restaurants are the purest expression of capitalism available in the sense that they express most simply, one of the biggest problems:

the responsibility of the person who pays ends begins and ends with the payment, and there is a strict segregation between the time being payed for and the "other" time. Personal time.

The money can be good. It can be. But it's only useful outside of the time which earns it. You are paying me to not act on my own behalf.

I get it. You probably spent all day being paid to not do what you want to do so that you could do what you want to do at other times. But here you are, bitching about your job, and not realizing that you are now doing to me what you are complaining about because it was done to you, right? Except it's even worse.

How much did you work today? Eight hours? Ok. And was each hour paid at the same rate? Yes? Ok. Well, was each hour you worked today equally as valuable to your employer? No? Did they watch over you and change your rate of pay based on your productivity? No? Huh! How would you feel if that were the case. Bummed, I'm sure. After all, you are not a morning person. It takes an hour in the morning to ramp up to full productivity, say, from 9am to 10am. From 10am to 11:30am you work well, but then it's time to sort-of-half-work while considering what to each for lunch. And then you eat. No matter how many things you have to do, you eat. Because it's lunch, right? What else would one do?

So lunch from noon to 1pm and then there is the after-lunch food coma and the early-afternoon post-after-lunch-food-coma coma and then it's 3:30pm and your rush for a bit and then it's 5pm and then you sort of wind down and maybe browse Amazon and then it's time to go home. How much real work? Could you decide at various times to work harder or more slowly, even if amount of total work to be done didn't change? And again, did your rate of pay change based on the actual quality of the time you offered at various points throughout the day? No? No.

So here's the thing, you come to my restaurant, and you are the boss. You command my time, and you can decide how much to pay me for it. 

(Let's be clear. At all but the very best and fanciest restaurants, your server is getting paid around two dollars an hour, all of which goes to the IRS. I have been working at my restaurant for almost two years and I have yet to open a weekly paycheck. There is no money on them, they are just pieces of paper worth less than the cost of printing them.)

So you decide how much to pay me. There is a social contract. I work harder, I get more, but all of that action is taken on faith. I don't even know how much my time is worth until after you have left. And, and I speak as someone who actually gives a shit, and for all of the people who give a shit, who care about offering good product, who assume your job sucks just as much as mine and that you are treating yourself because you fucking deserve it… you know what affects the quality of the work I do for you, boss? Other bosses. It's not a question of, if I am not getting you water, I am getting it for myself. It's not a question of, well, if you don't order food, I eat. Nope. All you are doing when you walk up to my bar is dividing the time I can dedicate to my employers. You and everyone else. That's it.

When you make your special requests, when you ask too many questions, when you feel entitled, all you are doing is taking time away from other people. It's not my time. I can't make music or do my laundry or count the hairs growing on and around a vagina with my tongue. It's all your time, except not you, but ya'll. 

Here's a little secret. If you consistently get bad service, not at one place, but at all of them, the problem is you. Yup. You. Your ratio of time to money is off. You think you actually deserve more time per dollar than all the other people I am responsible for. (And since I am good, I feel responsible for all of them. I mean, fuck, I am the bartender, but if I happen to be running food to a table [not my job, and uncompensated work] and see you sitting there with empty plates in front of you and your companions, I am taking them [not my job, and uncompensated work].) Which means you tip less. Either in absolute value (which is generally true, as any experienced server will tell you), or, well, let's say I am waiting on two parties of two (two two-tops in industry-speak). All four people involved order exactly the same thing, let's say a $15 plate and a $10 glass of wine. So two $50 tables. Each tip $10 on their checks. If your table takes twice as much of my time compared to the other table, the work per dollar is much greater. The absolute value of the $10 becomes relative. Of course, if all I had to do was wait on four people, I wouldn't care. But that's rarely the case. As I have inferred, even if actual dollar amounts remain constant, the actual value become relative. At a certain point, there are too many people, too many requests, too many demands. The time you are taking from other tables actually affects the income from those tables as the quality of the service necessarily decreases once the amount of tasks to be completed over a given time period actually exceeds the capacity of the server.

I am rambling and this is not going to be edited.

Let's try this again. If you are actively preventing me from giving good service to other people, your tips become less valuable because they are weighed against the loss of tips from others. The more you ask of your server, the more money you are taking out of their pocket as the tips decrease from the dissatisfaction of the people your server is not helping. So even if you tip the typical amount )which the most demanding people generally don't, as their sense of entitlement is ontological), the actual income for the server is a net loss. So the smart server abandons you. You are stress and less money. Which is why you get bad service.

This all might sound cynical. Let's put it another way. A server can take care of, let's say, twenty people an hour, and has twenty-five people to deal with over the course of a particular hour. Either all twenty-five people get compromised service, or some people get better service and some people get worse service. From a strictly moral standpoint, who should get the inferior service? Simply put, the five people who think, ultimately, that they should be able to take more of the server's time relative to the actual ratio of service time versus absolute time. I'm not a technical writer. 

I dunno. I could have said something innovative here. There is a lot more to explore regarding the idea of multiple bosses and the insanely quick decisions that a server, ultimately, a contractor for possibly hundreds of people a night, makes regarding the relative value of labor in relation time. Could there be some sort of larger analogy here? After all, it's all speculation, it's a weirdly pure form of market… but I dunno. Ask me some questions. But try not to ask too many. There are other people waiting.

Back to work in twelve hours.

Don't seat yourself at dirty table. Don't arrive at or before opening time. Don't arrive ten minutes before the kitchen closes. Read all of the materials you are provided before asking me questions. If you want to make a substitution, confirm that the actual thing you want exists as a menu item as part of some other dish (assume the cooks only have the ingredients listed on the menu available to them). The more complex your substitution, the more likely your dissatisfaction. And now that you know that, if you are unhappy with the dish you have constructed, it's your fault. The mark of a good server is to limit options. He or she knows what can be done, and what can be done well. If your substation request has been turned down, even if all the things you want are available on the menu, your server knows something you don't. Why not trust that person instead of waiting twenty minutes, being dissatisfied, and then blaming someone else for your mistake?

Lastly, if you are a party of five or more, call ahead. Unannounced large groups are the epitome of the kind of insensitivity to others that has been described above. A party of a certain size, well, the work involved, it becomes exponential instead of arithmetic. There are eleven of you, and it's 8pm on a Saturday? Setting up your table just killed the service to everyone else, and once you order your food, everyone else's food will take longer. Of course, this could have all been prepared for. Had you called.

Oh and don't even get me started on large parties. Like you are doing me a big favor by holding your birthday party in my section. Thirteen of you? Reservation (thanks, seriously) at 7:30? That means the six tables we put aside for you stop being sat at 6pm. They are not making money for the house or employees for almost two hours before you even arrive. And of course, you linger. So really, the tables are dead from 6pm-10pm. Four hours. You spend $20 per person. That's $260 total, or $65 per hour. In  one hour of that four, I could seat and turn six two-tops, or twelve people. If they only spend $20 per person, which  is unlikely (smaller groups tend to spend more per person), that's already $240 per hour. Let's talk tips then. Twenty percent of that $260 is $52. $52 for four hours for the server. Even if there are only two turns of all of those two-tops, the $480 in sales (at minimum) is $96. If shit is busy, and those tables are occupied for all four hours, we are talking $192 in tips versus the $52. No-brainer there.  And even though one scenario involves the server waiting on a whopping 48 people over four hours instead of thirteen, parties of two are significantly easier to deal with, both technically (all your drinks and plates can be brought out and then later bussed in one trip per task), and also on a human level (i.e. no waiting until everyone is paying attention to read off specials, a higher likelihood of two people being ready to order at the same time as opposed to thirteen, etc…).

Um. That's it for tonight…

Love.

2 comments:

reykjaviksexfarm said...

Love right back

Great read. sounds like hell though...

:-p said...

It can be. It's tough when it becomes predictable. The same patterns play out over and over and you have to pretend to the customer like you haven't seen it all before… it's repetitive stress injury for the brain.

Turnover is high in the industry. Part of that is because people get sick of the industry as a whole and leave, but part of it is due to people just wanting to move on to a different place, just to deal with a different clientele or different food or different co-workers, just to keep the brain alive…