Sunday, February 3, 2013

Never Run a Restaurant

There are things that everybody seems to think they know a whole lot about.    I wouldn’t walk up to a chemist and tell them they are using the incorrect solvents.  First off I have no idea if I am using the correct terminology, second I can’t determine exactly what is and isn’t a solvent, and thirdly it would be incredibly stupid.  I have some vague understanding of chemistry due to my incessant book reading and perusing of the internet, I did pass my high school chemistry lass but that’s about it.  But for some reason everyone thinks they know better when it comes to food.  To an extent I used to think the same thing which was about as stupid as the chemistry example.

One of the first nights the restaurant I was “managing” was open there was a particular incident that stuck in my mind over several others.  I put manage in quotations because it was really like trying to keep order in a tornado.  We were busy are there was a gentleman and his son waiting impatiently at the door.  The person who was supposed to be greeting our customers was off doing god know’s what.  I was running around fixing problems with point of sale system that no one actually understood how to use (only moderately disastrous).  Seeing them wait impatiently I smoothed back my hair, already made slick from exertion and nerves, and tried to bring myself into a semblance of put togetherness.  I informed them there would be a shirt wait.  The teenager, whom I will refer to Asshole junior for this example, jabbed his finger in the air and belched out something to the lines that a table was open.  He was correct but he lacked several points of understanding.  I will list those momentarily after I recount this story.  I politely insisted that I would do the best I could and have a table ready as soon as possible as we were a bit busy.  This was quite obvious to any observer as we had waitresses whirring about busily tending to their tables.  Not getting an answer and having precious few moments I departed.  The father stood there silently.  He loomed, like an attack dog at the ready of this vile little spawn.  I ran about looking for a server not underwater with work.  Then I looked for  one I could actually trust finding one who had a moment I conferred with here and yes she could take another table.  I didn’t run to the back because we were actually fully staffed in the kitchen, our expeditor had shown up on time and was completely sober.  The only issue was the front of the house was all fucked up.  After securing the table making sure the shiftless busser’s had actually done their job, instead of occupying themselves with he usually persiflage, I raced back to the entry and informed the pair of assholes that they could be seated.  I saw a mischievous grin from Asshole junior and I knew they would never step foot back into the restaurant.  He took such glee in saying that it was alright and that they were leaving I stopped listening to the words and only took bits of them.  He parroted some of my earlier words about being busy and they sounded perverse coming from his lips.

They left and I felt defeated, hollow, angry.  This would be a common theme. Sadly there is a great deal of  giant assholes who treat people who work in restaurant’s like shit.  I never could quite understood this fundamental flaw in so many people.  I remember in college an acquaintance would wait for the group to leave and swipe the cash tip off the table.  Had I known at the time I would have slapped the taste out of his mouth or at least dressed him down so thoroughly he might melt into a creature of pure shame and humiliation.  I recall being yelled at angrily by patrons who acted as if I had sodomized their parents for not having their food out in a timely manner.  One lady was crying.  I think it was more at her husband’s explosion anger and the prospect of actually having to live with him for the rest of her life.  Working in the restaurant had people treat me, an educated reasonable adult, like I was pond scum incapable of rubbing out a thought if it might save my life.  I was treated as villain and an idiot.  And this was after a refund.

Back to an earlier point that people often do not understand.  Just because there is an open table does not mean there is an open seat.  Here is a few reasons why.  There are only so many tables each person on wait can handle at once.  Really shitty one’s can only handle three at most.  And sometimes you just need warm bodies so you can’t have a full wait staff of competent people.  Good ones at least five tables.  If you have fifteen tables and three waitresses chances are you can’t have all the tables full at once.  Also there is the back of the house.  Did all your cooks come in today?  Did they just get paid the day before and they spent four fifths of it on coke and booze?  Did they sneak any alcohol in from the bartender?  Are they pissed off at the wait staff enough that they’ll mess with them by either fucking up the food and letting it get cold without notifying them?  Is the host actually prepared?  Is any of your wait staff in the breakdown lane?  Did we run out of something.  Is someone currently crying on staff?

This is just the beginning of the headache faced by someone trying to run a restaurant.  I only wish this stuff wasn’t true.  I normally don’t like to make assumptions on groups of people and label it as true but restaurant people are fucking broken.  Also, sadly, everyone is stealing.  Maybe it’s comping food or drinks when they shouldn’t.  Maybe it’s pouring too much booze into the drink instead of the standard one and half ounces.  Maybe it’s they was people manipulate the point of sales machine.  Or how they forget to tip out bussers or bartenders.  Or maybe it’s simply the cash drawer being light or stock disappearing.

Here is a quick list of why running a restaurant is a bad idea.  It will be missing quite a bit but I don’t feel like dredging up all my bad memories.

If you enjoy being able to trust people and do not like harboring intense paranoia you should be doing this.  I have never felt such rampant paranoia and mistrust ever.  I actually found out people were spying on me.  I was one of the managers.  And one of the owners was spying on me without consent from the other owner.  I was lied to constantly.  Like the time an employee told me about the concert they were going to.  Then the next morning when they had a shift they were mysteriously sick.  I outright confronted them and they denied being hung over.  And that was a person who I considered a friend.

If you are not used to get yelled at and treated like shit by customers turn around.  I had a particular customer who I know came in simple to be a pain in the ass make a complicated order he knew would be fucked up, eat half, complain and expect a comped check.  Obviously the wait staff hated him.  But instead of doing the responsible thing, like making sure this awful human being had what he wanted so he could leave they ended up forgetting about it until it was too late and fucked it up.  The only solution was make sure I or someone else went into the kitchen told the cooks what the special request were, double check the slip and double check with this jerk bag his order.  At this point it was ego stroke about being taken care of so a minor mishap no longer concerned him.  He was happy to be treated so well.  This was beyond the wait staffs comprehension.  I can’t blame them as swallowing our pride and smiling to such awful people is soul crushing but it is your job.

If you don’t like firing people go home, because you’ll need to, a lot.  I had to tell a busser with ablack eye and who had, seemingly, extra muscles that most humans weren’t afforded that he would no longer be working for us without explicitly stating that everyone besides his buddy the cook hated him and he sucked at life.  I was pissed because out head busser put up the schedule to early with some notable cuts.  This large, possible dangerous, human being was looking for questions.  I spun it so thoroughly at the end that he shook my hand and walked out happier than when he came in.  I did not enjoy it.  Not because I thought he might snap and attack me but because I had to tell him I was taking away his livelihood.  This is an ugly, ugly thing.  I had to fire more people and every time I felt ill even when they had been acting in a manner so brazenly stupid after having warnings about said behavior.

If you don’t like fire drills don’t do this.  And I mean constantly.  People will quit in the middle of shifts, call out at the last second without finding a replacement, get into arguments, and alert you to disasters only at the last second.  There is always an issue with ordering food.  It’s never enough, it’s not right, the supplier fucked up, the food went bad because it wasn’t labeled right and it was stored wrong.

If you like a normal schedule and need sleep.  Say goodbye to any weekend.  Say goodbye to sleeping or having a social life.  I had Monday and Tuesday off, kinda.  I got calls almost every day.  The first few weeks I worked all seven days.  I would show up at ten in the morning and leave around one thirty in the next morning.  It was ugly.  My schedule calmed down but I was never truly away.  I got calls on days off.  Emergencies in the middle of the night.  Shifts to be covered.  Fire to put out.  I lost perhaps around ten pounds the first month, maybe more.  I looked like and felt like shit.

If you expect people to be trainable this is not a good job.  This fucking hurts the most.  I know that there are stupid people.  I also know that there are stupid people who can still learn a whole lot things.  But the laziness, the arrogance, and outright intentional ignorance was mind blowing.  I would stand in front of the point of sale machine calmly speaking in plain English trying desperately not to be condescending, while desperately wanting to be, explaining how to push fucking buttons to make shit work so I don’t have to fire your ass.  They stared blankly like cows and shook their heads yes when I asked they understood.  Hours later I would get a frantic call.  I would calmly explain to the poor idiot who got caught in the whirlpool of stupid how to fix the issue for the wait staff I had explained the same problem to earlier.

If you don’t like, drama.  I don’t mean petty high school drama like “Susie’s totally likes Brad but her friend Donna does too, that bitch.”  I mean drugs, extra marital affairs, constant arguments, lying, stealing, violence and felonies.  The back of the house is a special place.  They have their own rules and behavior that isn’t acceptable anywhere else.  Pinching nipples, grab ass, constant harassment and name calling is the light stuff.  Physical violence can and will happen.  I almost knocked someone out and I am not at all quick to go to that route.  I know too many bars where people have been roofied.  I have been shocked to find out who was sleeping with who.  I was especially upset when it involved a customer.  I know too many sob stories that I wish I didn’t.

That’s just a snippet.  I haven’t even begun to talk about menu’s, inventory, sales people, advertizing, or proper process.  There is a reason why some many restaurants go out of business.  Everyone thinks they know best but they have no idea.  So if you have this urge to open up a new vegan place that cater to all the hipsters or a new bistro pub that will be just perfect in this area do yourself a favor and just burn a stack of money instead.  I was only in the business for a year and it threw my whole life into a tail spin.  I’m still a bit angry to this day.  I’ve let go an incredible amount of hate that I harbored.  I used to say if I only I knew what I knew now but I just don’t care anymore.  It isn’t worth it.  I have nothing I need to prove in this arena.

So I give this advice so that others may really give pause as to whether they really want to put their sanity and financial well being at risk.  I won’t say I told you so if you ignore me because I know all too well the sting.  I’ll just wish you well and hope you get lucky.



  1. I think I'll take my life savings and open a restaurant. It sounds like it would be a good idea.


Thanks for posting. You are awesome!