Saturday, July 10, 2010

Being Unmanageable

There have been a couple of times that I've been suckered into "cross-training" for assistant manager positions. It wasn't that I ever intended to be an assistant manager ... I was just trying to get some hours while we were slow. One hotel made it a policy for a while to cross-train the entire wait staff. There wasn't much to the training - just minor closing paperwork stuff - but I do remember one manager who took this training very seriously. He had devised a series of trick questions that he would run by his trainee randomly throughout the night. The only point to the questions seemed to be to get the person to answer incorrectly. For instance, he would paint a scenario like "A customer comes up to the register to pay their check. What do you do?" As you went through the steps of asking the customer about their dining experience, processing the method of payment, etc, he would hold up his hand, eyes twinkling with excitement, and say, "Wait! Trick Question!! The customer doesn't bring their check to the register! The waiter is supposed to do that!" It was his big ol' "Gotcha" moment and he just lived for it. Consequently, even when we knew were being set up for one of these little traps, we just humored him. He had so few pleasures. It was especially fun when got him to "trick" us 2 or 3 times over the same thing. Shucks. When would we ever learn?

One of the hotels I worked for participated in a program with a University that facilitated placement of individuals attending their Hotel and Restaurant Management School in exchange for tax credits. These students were going in debt so they could work twice as many hours as the people they would "manage" for a fraction of their earnings. You've just got to admire that kind or dogmatism.
I like to think we did our best to save them, but there were some who probably still slipped through our fingers who were just beyond help.

The students hadn't been taught anything about how to wait tables, but the course appeared to be heavy on methods of discipline and these kids could hardly wait
to jump in and kick some waiter ass. I remember one of the gals who worked for a semester with us would run white glove inspections of the service areas after closing, often resulting in ridiculous directives, like the time she told another waiter and me to throw away ten pounds of coffee that had been prepped in filters for the morning restaurant, banquet and room service rush. She insisted we were not going home until that coffee had been "removed." Well, you can't put it back in the bags, even if you did drag them out of the trash, so I turned to the other closing waiter, pointed my finger at the stack of filled coffee filters and commanded, "CURTIS! EAT. THOSE. GROUNDS!" and then we both laughed ourselves silly.

Another management candidate was fascinatingly unpleasant in both appearance and demeanor. Very pale skinned, at least six feet tall, quite heavy set with an unruly mop of curly red hair that she kept tied in a nylon stocking (as in pantyhose - I'm not kidding) she would thunder through the dining room and scream at whichever server had been seated, "FOUR!!!" or "TWO!!" regardless of whether you were already in the process of taking your table's drink order or introducing the specials. She had been trained to let servers know how many people she had seated in their station, but she was unable to bypass this "training" when it was no longer needed. Precisely because she was such an imposing physical presence (with a voice like a litter of cats in a wringer washer) she did more than just startle the crap out of the customers, she frightened them. If she's working in the food and beverage industry today, it would almost have to be someplace like a cafeteria in a reformatory school.

I've worked with almost every variety of managers: Compulsive liars, coke heads, control freaks, sadists, drunks, corporate puppets, thieves, sexual predators, and the occasional reasonably sane individual. Restaurant and hotel managers were mostly people to work around, rather than any kind of asset to the bar and wait staff. I wasn't the kind to leave just because business was slow or tips sucked, but if I had to work with an unmanageable manager, well, "I was looking for a job when I found this one."

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