Its been a goal of mine to make the career of restaurant-management-professional one that is not maligned but rather respected. If you think about it, here is someone who leads a team of 50-125 people or more, depending on the size of the biz and their position in it. They are often charged with being marketers, salespeople, HR pros, emergency handymen, line cooks, therapists, you name it. YOU try managing so many different personalities while anywhere from 300-1000 guests each with their own needs, idiosyncrasies, tastes and opinions come through your doors every day.
There are many reasons why I love what I do. Here are a few in no particular order:
1. One of the only businesses that make AND sell its product under one roof. If you think about it, restaurants are almost unique in that respect. The rise of fast-casual chains like Chipotle have taken this to the Nth degree, where you are seeing your food being constructed in front of you with a wide range of options to personalize your meal. If you buy a car, somewhere in Detroit or Ohio or Japan is a building you will never see, with auto workers you will never meet creating a product that you will only see weeks or months later once it arrives in the showroom.
In our thing, restaurants bring in raw materials and create the dishes in house. Yes, some ingredients or even whole dishes may arrive frozen, depending on the quality of the concept or the philosophy of the owner, but the transformation from that to finished product occurs in house and then immediately to your table. What this gives me is the ability to receive AND give instant feedback regarding our efforts. You can’t call up the guy in Detroit who installed the bumper on your car and tell him “great job” or “WTF – this thing rattles like its full of gravel?!”. Don’t like how your steak is cooked, no problem. No need to make an appointment to get it fixed. I can get it done right then and there AND coach the cook on proper technique all in the span of minutes.
2. The last meritocracy: what I’ve found early on is that restaurants don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, thin, fat, tall, short, gay or straight. Whatever. If you can kick ass, turn out great food, handle up on your section, tackle the bar on a busy Friday night then you are one of the chosen. I believe the reason for this is when the shit hits the fan, the guy next to you may be your only savior and who cares if he likes sex with guys while you prefer girls. WHO GIVES A FUCK JUST HELP DIG ME OUT OF THE WEEDS!
Not to mention, the kind of diversity we have in restaurant life just makes it more exciting to be around. Cultures and traditions and attitudes and preferences all get mixed together and shuffled, especially when you’re around your co-workers more than your own family. And at the end of the night, when you’re sitting in a bar listening to a new coworker tell you how they recently came to America, are working two jobs to send money back home and you know they absolutely killed it at work next to you tonight, well, perhaps your life is enriched somewhat by sharing the experience.
3. The people: the reason I’ve stayed doing this for so long. Restaurants attract a wide range of folks – young people in college, single parents, professionals that cooked or served during school who’ve decided that things like eating and having a roof over their head makes their ego irrelevant and they will gladly fall back on former experiences to survive (see recent recession..). Some come for a while, some stay forever and most will tell you that it was some of the most fun they’ve had…ever. The long shifts, the late nights, the sex, drugs, rock and roll. Its all real…and it happened.
I remember one episode early on in the relationship with Melissa, my ex and mother of my two boys. We met her mom Ellen and stepfather Richard at their house for dinner for my first time. My soon to be brother- and sister-in-law were there as well. As we sat around the table, Melissa’s mom asked everyone about work. Maury and Laurinda both worked for Verizon at the time, so their stories were predictable tales of office and cubicle life. Melissa at the time was herself a server in a restaurant so she had some type of exposure to the life but was going to school and wouldn’t be serving permanently..
When her mom Ellen turned her elegant gaze to me and asked about restaurant life and how I liked it, I was momentarily stuck. What do I tell them? Hey folks did you know that after hours we have to get absolutely hammered to forget the shift we just had? Can I tell you about the late night cleaning crew lady who, to make extra cash, performed blow jobs on her male co-workers in the bathrooms they were polishing? Can I tell you about the star of an 80’s TV show set in Miami who, while publicly professing to be on the wagon, shuffled about at our opening grasping a coffee cup with a lemon precariously balanced on the edge as if he were drinking hot tea, all the while sneaking to the service well to have the bartender top him off with straight Patron? Can I tell you about the storage house behind Full Moon Cafe that was a tornado of drugs and other debauchery? The Saturday nights at Chili’s in Tulsa where (due to the draconian liquor laws in that state) we would panic around 8:30, knowing the beer store was closing in 30 minutes AND not open until Monday. Cash was immediately flashed and given to a poor busser or barback with demands and a list. Since they couldn’t bring the purchases back into the restaurant, the next step would be to climb up and secure the booze on the roof of the building! It being winter and all the liquid gold was perfectly kept chilled in the ever-present winter snow.
Do I tell them these episodes and more? Uh no..
I chose to take the high road and not frighten off my future in-laws.
“I love it Ellen. Its decent money, every shift is different and my coworkers are a lot of fun”.
I guess she’s reading this now and hopefully laughing about it. Plus I did help give her two amazing grandsons so there’s that.
Enjoy. And push the fish tonight…its about to turn.