So after service today, I'm getting acquainted with one of the elders of the church I've been semi-regularly attending the past few months. (Yes, I attend church sporadically, and trying to become more of a regular like I used to be.)
We're still in that polite chit-chat phase of conversation where he's asking, and I'm telling him, "what I do", when my phone vibrates in my pocket.
It's my employer, and I tell my new-found elder friend "Wow, speaking of.... I think I have to go."
Experience tells me a phone call at this time can only mean ONE thing. I have about two seconds to make a decision we restaurant people really, really, really hate making.
Here's why : if you work at a restaurant and you receive a call between 11am and 1pm, or 4-6pm, you can guarantee they ain't calling about your paperwork, about your schedule request, or about your general happiness and well-being. You're 99% guaranteed when you see this call at this time that someone didn't show up, and they want you to drop what you're doing and get there now.
Today was in fact the second such phone call I've received in the short time I've worked here. I take a breath, make my decision - and answer the phone - knowing full well what I'm going to hear.
"Guy this is Mike
(my top boss, the restaurant's General Manager, and not his real name of course)...
"We're Getting Hammered. Can you come in?"
Hmmm, sounds like it's not a no-show after all, just some unexpected surge in volume I guess.
Well, there's only so much any manager can predict a week and half ahead of time. You schedule your employees the best you can based on reservations, last year's numbers, and current local events, but it's at best an educated guess .. that the amount of staff you've scheduled and the amount of walk-in traffic for any given day will meet at a happy medium.
But every restaurant person knows - whether based on a concert, a convention, a surprise blockbuster movie release, the weather, or some freaky phase of the moon.. sooner or later you're going to caught with your pants down, and there will be more customers walking into your restaurant than the amount of staff currently scheduled can humanly handle.
So whatever lucky manager finds him or herself at the helm on the day this happens (and it does) also finds themselves leaving the most obvious immediate needs of the staff and the customers behind for a few minutes, and finds themselves on the phone, calling in reinforcements to handle the next 1-6 hours.
Mike has been in this business as long as I have, and I think he knew solely by the fact that I answered the phone what my answer would be.
My answer was not in question if fact.
My only questions - still feeling like I'm a new guy at this place - were along the lines of "Is he just going down the phone list of waiters hoping someone will answer?" (the most likely possibility) or "Did he especially call me because he thinks I'm a strong enough server to handle this big unexpected influx of business?
"Or is it just simply because I've said Yes in the past, and right now he needs bodies?" Yes people, these are my insecurities at present, and here I am, sharing them with you.
But I do have to consider that beyond the most obvious phone list option, given that every second he spends on the phone is feels like like minutes away from his guests' needs, did he really make a choice to call me...... maybe out of alphabetical order?
Was I at, or near the top of his list, I mean?
Especially if he only had time to make few calls? In short, am I a "go-to-guy" already?
And it's not just ego or insecurity that makes me wonder this. Go-to guys who come through when the manager really needs get the better schedules and sections eventually, you see. They get thrown bones, large parties of rich people, stuff like that. Proven dependability and flexibility (combined with at least some competence of course) really pays off in this business.
So I answer the phone not because I "feel like working today," but because I know at this juncture in my career here, answering this particular call might make about a difference of thousands of dollars in my net income this coming year.
Well, I'll never know for sure, but (back to the story - sorry!) based on so many years of doing this, I walk in at about 1:00pm with my adrenaline already pumping, knowing good and well what I am probably about to face.
Happily and perhaps stupidly answering that call to walk into a busy shift already in progress is - in restaurant life - very much akin to happily and stupidly jumping into a mosh-pit. (Don't ask me how I know this.)
The two possible outcomes are that you will skillfully thrash about riding some perfect wave of popularity and bliss, or - the much more likely outcome - is that you will fall, and be crushed underfoot by people who will never know your name.
I have in fact, once in my life when I nineteen years old, handed over my apron to a manager and walked out of a waiter shift only literally crying. I had to tell the manager on duty simply "I can't take this" and go. After a good cry and taking stock of my life, I did come back an hour or so later - embarrased and ashamed - buy felt I needed to help clean things up after leaving my co-workers (and my only friends at the time, haha) in such a bad situation.
Point is, waiting tables really can be that bad at times. So back to the story (sorry again!) you're the "new meat" when you walk into a busy shift already in progress - and for a few minutes it seems like every-fuh-reaking-body wants a piece of you.
Right off the hostess - who has been instructed not to seat anybody else because every waiter on staff has more new tables than they can even say "Hi! Be right with you folks.." to - sees you walk in and wants to seat you the two groups that have have been waiting the longest - right now and before you even clock in. Of course you say "sure" but the thing is, you don't even have a real section because you weren't on the "floor plan" for the day, and so she seats them about 900 feet apart from each other and tells you where to find them.
Then your co-worker, your teammate.. (and in typical restaurant circles perhaps your nextromantic partner) sees you for the first time and says "Oh my God! They called you in?!? I'm so glad to see you!! Can you please take three cokes to Table 12, and greet 107 for me?"
And that manager - who called you in and hasn't spoken to the hostess in the last 45 seconds - observationally knows that some other overwhelmed server has not yet greeted a new table that was seated 110 seconds ago - and he/she instructs you to "Quick! "Pick Up Table 25"... And you're still just trying to clock in.
But I know that agreeing to this madness is the decision I already made, when I picked up that phone. In this case, I had time to mentally "brace myself" before being crushed underfoot.
At my age and with my experience, I can now walk into this situation willfully, looking to make some "phat cash" hopefully. Truth to tell, I kinda get off on it in fact. I walk in knowing that all hell has broken loose, that I can help, and I so walk into it this crazy situation... Smiling.
Once clocked in and greeting tables, I'm running on adrenaline and instinct. I'm not even really "talking to" my guests - I'm just grunting and walking off as fast as possible.
Don't think me rude please, but there's nothing you have to say that I haven't heard before, and I'm going already off to the next three things I have to do even if you did. Whatever happens, I'm well-trained, I know the moves and will hopefully execute them as perfectly as I am capable of. But there's no time for chit-chat right now, okay?
I do know how bad this sounds admitting it and all, but what the guest doesn't realize in this moment, is that it's either this style of service from me for as long as it takes, or they can be still standing in the lobby while I enjoy my Sunday afternoon with my wife. So hopefully you won't judge me too harshly either, okay?
But even if you do, it's just all part of what I agreed to when I picked up the phone, as does every server who does so.
Well, turns out, it didn't really happen this time. Last time I answered such a call (my second week here) I sold over $1000 at lunch, made bank, and from that point management knew that "I could hang."
That day, you might say I became a man, here anyways.
This day tho, things had largely died down by the time I and another called-in arrived. I got two tables immediately and was asked to pick up another one. Then not much else. All adrenalined up, and no place to go. What a waste of two Red Bulls.
Occasionally it happens that way too. I made only $40, but something much more important happened. Mike stopped me early on (I thought to tell me to go pick up another table) and said "Hey - thank you. Seriously..." and walked off to do whatever the next three things he had to do were.
And while I did later have a busy and stressful dinner shift, I also won a sales contest for the first time. I sold more of our Filet Oscar specials than anybody else, and got to take one home for dinner to share with the Doxy Lady.
Boo-ya. Favor with management AND free red meat.
Not a bad day.
Thanks for reading Guy's Waiter Blog : Chapter 8 "Getting Hammered"
Read other chapters starting at TheWorkingGuy.com's Table of Contents page