What Crepe, Je T’Aime

This past Sunday I lost one of the most important aspects of my life. The restaurant that I worked at closed without warning. The news came at the end of a soul-crushing shift and several months of non-stop work weeks liberally sprinkled with hive inducing stress. Three days later, I’m still in a state of shock and wandering through my days as if through a field of fog.

You’d think that the end of such a mentally and emotionally exhausting experience would come with a sense of relief, be a breath of fresh air, etcetera etcetera. What no one, besides my now ex-coworkers, seems to understand is that I have lost an incredible community, even a family.

There are no words to describe the connection that my coworkers and I had and hopefully continue to have. Back of house, front of house, management, even ownership; we all banded together in a safe, supportive haven. The love that I have for each and every person is monumental.

My manager was (is) my mentor, my role model, even one of my best friends. The number of times that he was there for me, the support he provided to me, the things he’s taught me, the books he’s introduced me to: I can never ever be grateful enough for these things. I have never met a more selfless, ridiculous, adorable person. This is a man who has seen and done so much, has experienced so much hardship in his life; yet continues to be full of cheer and a thirst for knowledge, continues to help everyone he meets, continues to give of himself so much that sometimes I’m concerned he’ll give himself away completely. I am forever thankful that I met him, and I hope against all hope that we will stay friends for the rest of our lives.

All of the servers, hosts and SAs I’ve worked with this past year: you’re all incredible as is the kindness and patience and humour that you’ve all shown me and the company. May you all find your calling, may you all be successful and happy: I wish you only the best for the rest of your lives. You all deserve it. I love you all so dearly and I already miss your daily company.

Although I respect all the owners, I can truly say I love only one. I shan’t name names, but if you see this post you know who you are. You took in so many broken people and gave so much for our comfort and security, I can never be resentful that you left shortly before we closed. Fingers crossed that we’ll work together again someday, and if not, that wherever you find yourself you will be prosperous and satisfied.

All of my kitchen staff. God. I will never have that much fun working with a back of house staff again. Never again will I wander into a kitchen and feel so comfortable. I regret deeply that you seemed to get the short end of the stick so often, the amount of work and effort you put into taking care of us and our customers didn’t ever deserve to be repaid with such disrespect and disregard. We may have had our differences, but at the end of the day you were the engine in the car that we all loved and couldn’t bear to give up. I love you all, thank you for putting up with everything. I’ll miss the group smoke breaks.

The fact that I met my boyfriend at work deserves special mention. The fact that everyone from the top tier to the bottom was so supportive and accepting of our relationship deserves special mention. I don’t recommend shitting where you eat (my father’s wise words) but it worked out pretty well for us, I think. There were some awful times, there were some awkward times, but nothing beats having someone at work who will comfort you in times of stress with a hug and a kiss and a stupid joke.

Despite everything, despite all of the complaining that we did, and all the times we hated each other and hated our job, the people that I’ve met at What Crepe will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t imagine finding a new job and not working with any of my wonderful staff again. But everything ends. It’s time to move on. Let’s stay in touch kids.

I love you.
Arina.

Just Sick About The Whole Thing

I’ve recently been sick, hence the lack of posts by yours truly. My illness, while exhausting and completely gross, did however make nice subject matter for this post. One of the most frustrating things about working in the service industry is that you have to be physically present to make money. There’s nothing I’m more jealous of than paid sick days and paid vacation time.

When your income relies on daily take-home cash, more than one day out of commission can be incredibly crippling. This is why you’ll often find your server with a case of the sniffles or surreptitiously coughing into their elbow as they bring you your coffee. We don’t like being there when we’re sick, only in very special cases is it rewarding to sneeze in the general vicinity of a customer’s food. Not to mention trying to keep yourself bouncing around from table to table with a smile on your face is a million times more difficult when you feel like your brain is wrapped up in cotton. Unfortunately, your measly 10% tips make up a vast portion of our rent so in we trudge, armed with painkillers and Mu***ex.

I’m lucky enough to work for and with people that are very understanding and would much rather you felt better than showed up to work dripping with snot. But we’ve all heard horror stories of people getting fired for being sick for a couple of days. There’s a surplus of people wanting your job, if you’re not there to perform it why bother keeping you around? And there’s always environments where your coworkers cherish their days off far too much to cover for you.

When I went from being a full-time student to being a full-time server this change in attitude toward being sick was a little disorienting. Never before in my life did I dread getting sick. And of course, as a nice little taunt from fate, never before in my life have I gotten sick so often (although that may have something to do with the fact that I’m young, dumb and full of…well…point is I don’t take care of myself very well yet.) When you’re working on a final project and you need a work day, you can fake being sick. When you’re on the verge of giving up the ghost, you need to go into work because you have to pay the water bill this month.

The other problem is that if you’re a server, your work probably doesn’t offer health insurance. Unless you’re a young ‘un like me and your parents still have you on their plan, chances are you’ll have to pay exorbitant fees for medical services (there’s a can of worms Arina doesn’t need to get into, health insurance and attitudes toward illness in this country.) Which sets you back on your money situation even further.

This is getting a bit repetitive. Suffice to say that illness and working in a restaurant are not the world’s best couple. If you’re a new server and haven’t had to deal with this yet here’s a few quick tips:

  • If you feel yourself getting sick, immediately shut down your social life and go to bed early
  • Fluids are your best friend
  • Make sure you have the phone number of everyone you work with, get your shift covered as far in advance as you can
  • Don’t take pain killers on an empty stomach and switch out your coffee for tea
  • Don’t get sick if possible

Very basic stuff, probably not very helpful, but there it is. Essentially, the job where you’re exposed to a million germs a day is the same one you can’t not go to if those germs start taking over your weak little body. If you have awesome coworkers like I do, they’ll bring you soup and send you nice texts with kissy face emojis. That’s pretty much the only upside to being a sick server.

Thanks for bearing with me,
Arina

Meet Your New MisManager

Today’s rant is brought to you by poor management!

 

But, seriously. We’ve all dealt with it, service industry or otherwise. We’ve all had that manager that just completely ruined a job for us. Personally, I’ve had more than my fair share and I’m about tired of it. Is it really that difficult to hire a manager that doesn’t just generally suck?

 

I didn’t encounter my first awful management experience until I had my first serving job. The restaurant was owned by a local dude, and he did most of the managing himself. He had a couple of lackeys, but they served the sole purpose of dealing with floor problems (discounting, taking complaints, closing shifts, etc.). This particular owner/manager liked to attach emails to our schedules that listed the many, many things he disapproved of over the previous week. Sure, I understand trying to let everyone know what they need to work on. Is it impossible to add some reaffirmation and back-patting amidst the blatantly rude, negative commentary? As an employee that directly handles the people paying your bills, you probably shouldn’t piss me off too much.

 

“Oh, wow, all of these servers look so miserable!”

“Hi, I’m not telling you my name and I’ll be handling your business today……Do you want something to drink? By the way, I hate my job.”

“Goodness, I won’t be returning to this establishment, everyone was so disgruntled!”

 

Like, why would you make it your personal goal to make sure the faces of your company were consistently painted with disdain?

 

After about a year of this, the restaurant was sold to another family. Hip-hip-hooray! Oh, wait, here comes THEIR version of bad management. Get this. The manager they bring in has never worked in a restaurant. Ever. Not as a server, cook, busboy, nothing. At least the last guy used to work in a kitchen.

 

So, new guy, never been in an eatery except to eat, promotes someone under me to manager. Great first impression. Next comes the overall disregard for the fact that I’ve been there longer than anyone, combined with the piling of meaningless tasks to quell my anger. No, running the Facebook and creating the specials menus because you’re a.)lazy and b.)unable to use proper grammar or even spelling (PEOPLE SEE THIS PAGE!!!!!!!!!) are not promotions, and sure, I’ll do it for free to make myself feel important. Meanwhile, said manager is standing in the kitchen eating a quesadilla and distracting the workers from the fourteen tickets waiting in the window. Oh the tacos for table twenty-three? They can wait another half hour, whatever. Keep joking with the line cooks. And the table that had to wait an hour for cold tacos (because instead of running food like a decent human you decide ringing the bell incessantly will get the job done) doesn’t need their meal comp’ed. Good thing I have to wait for you to finish your meal to void it out.

 

And, like the rest of us on the floor, you’re wondering why this other manager he promoted isn’t helping. Wanna know why? Because she is also the acting bartender and her rail is full. Not to mention I’m also waiting for her to muddle my lime and mint for that mojito I put in twenty-five minutes ago. Why, why, why would you make literally the only person not able to leave their post the floor manager? What the hell is wrong with you?

 

Moving on to the next restaurant. Three managers, plus the owner’s over-involvement. Wow that sounds so efficient I can’t wait for this! Wait, I have to wait until Sunday to find out if I work Monday morning? Oh my.

 

Finally quit the first restaurant due to the manager forcing us to serve people that had been kicked out (for good reason) and went for broke(r) at the second place. At least I like the managers on a personal level. And they treat the staff like family. But, wait, families don’t run businesses. Again, for good reason! Cue dysfunction, constant spats and still no schedule until Sunday! What is going on, seriously?

 

Now it’s time for the new general manager to take over. We imported him (from Chicago!). He used to work in restaurants, works in advertising or something of that nature. Actually has good ideas and a relatively high level of motivation. So, why did nothing change? Let’s revisit the owner’s overinvolvement. Did you not hire people to run this business for you? So why are you not letting them run it? Sit back and collect the cash like a real business owner! Ugh. Oh, wait, you’re gonna fire our promising new GM and replace him with the manager I quit my last job because of? Bye!

 

In short, the last two years of my life have been managed very poorly, and if that doesn’t taste like soy sauce I don’t know what does. It’s a ‘salty’ reference, laugh. I need it.

 

I Quit,

Tucker

A Lesson in Virtue

This isn’t a majorly salty rant. It’s more of a quiet “ugh.”  But this week’s griping is brought to you by the people who just can’t wait. I understand that when you go out to a restaurant, you expect to be served and greeted promptly. And Lord knows, in our reviews we focus on greeting times and serving times to an excess. But sometimes, and this is something Tucker and I both understand, it’s just not possible for a server to get to a table in a timely fashion.

When you go out to eat on a weekday, there’s a good chance that there will be only one server on the floor. This is just a fact of the industry. Weekdays are not generally a busy time and having more than one server on is just a waste of money for the restaurant and cuts down on tips for the servers. Generally, this works out okay for everyone.

Sometimes, however, the gods look down upon us and feel like having a little fun. Those are the days when several tables come in at once, and somehow they’re made up entirely of the most impatient human beings ever to walk this Earth. They all have to get to the airport (which, by the way, is ridiculous. If you have somewhere to be please do not go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, you’re setting yourself up for failure) or are on a lunch break or are the VIPs of their own minds.

In cases like this, do not doubt that your server has seen you and acknowledged your presence and is trying their damnedest to scoot their poot over to you. But if you take a look around you’ll notice that there are several tables already sitting down, there’s food in the window, and your server is running to the computer with eight books under their arm. Once your server does get over to you, snide comments about how you’ve been waiting for someone to get around to you are only gonna piss them off and the chances of you getting top notch service will drop. Just keep that in mind.

The thing is, even with fantastic supporting staff like hosts and bussers, a server is one human being. Being a server does not give you three extra arms and the ability to move faster than the speed of lighting (roar of thunder). Just as I’m sure you’ve felt overwhelmed when you have three projects dropped in your lap at once, or when all four of your kids need to be taken to separate soccer practices in different parts of town, our brains get overloaded when it’s busy.

Personally, I get really stressed out when I can’t attend to a table on time. I want my customers to have a really good experience no matter the circumstances. And when I apologize profusely for making you wait, I mean it. I take pride in my work and doing it well. But sometimes it’s out of my control, the only way I can make up your wait to you is by saying “I’m sorry”. Please don’t attack me and make me feel like shit about holding you up. I already feel like shit about it.

Quick shout out to the people that understand though. You don’t understand how much of a relief it is when you trot over to a table breathlessly excusing yourself and receive a smile and a quiet “don’t worry, you’re busy, I understand.” Props to those human beings. Karma has your back.

In conclusion, I guess I just want to say patience really is a virtue. When it’s busy I want to be at your table but I just can’t be. Please understand that and don’t take it out on me. I’m a mushy little human with feelings and you’re hurting them and that sucks.

Much love,

Arina

Tipping for Dummies

Some of you may be curious as to what the title of our blog, ‘autograt,’ is referring to. Or, maybe I just needed an easy way to open this post… Either way, I’d like to take this second of your life to explain. ‘Autograt’ is short for ‘autogratuity.’ Autogratuity is a tip that is automatically applied to your bill to compensate for the service you received. Sort of like when labor is factored into a bill from a mechanic. Obviously servers are not doing nearly as much manual labor as a mechanic, but you get the idea. Some people understand the need for such a thing, but many feel that tipping is an optional practice. This would be the part where I rant.

The wage in Michigan for servers is $3.10 an hour. It’s less in some places, more in others depending on the cost of living. As any intelligent person can figure out, the amount is decided on with current minimum wage and tips factored in. The reason our wage is so low is because we are expected to earn tips. It’s really not complicated math. Tipping is also pretty simple math. The rule of thumb is 15% according to Google. In the service industry, our scale tends to be:

  • 10% is looked at as a bad tip; one you receive when you know the customer is going to be an ass and purposely make them the last priority, probably because they ordered their drink before you ask how they are or don’t say please.
  • 15% is an okay tip, one you grumble about to your coworkers but can safely guess came from someone that looked up how to tip or have never known someone that worked in the industry.
  • 20% is a tip you get from someone that knows how to tip and thought you did your job, no more, no less.
  • Anything over is a tip from a regular, friend, or customer that you really meshed with and made them feel like family.

All of those percentages, however, are a baseline.

We give out lunch cards, with a free lunch as the prize for completing it. The reason for this is in part to bring back customers. The other intended purpose for these cards is so that even those that don’t tip on our discounted lunches will feel a little more comfortable leaving a tip on the free lunch day. As of late, I have been refusing customers that did not tip on their free lunch card a second card. Not necessarily ethical, but let’s analyze why I made this decision. First of all, the lunches you are eating have been discounted as it is. The fact that you’re leaving no tip, or even anything less than two dollars, is absolutely offensive. Second, you’ve gotten eight of these discounted lunches to fill your card and I couldn’t even afford my own lunch with your lack of tipping. Finally, your lunch was free to purchase for you, but for the restaurant, and all of its employees, it cost time, money and a fake smile. So, no, you DON’T get a new lunch card.

I used to work every Tuesday at a place that did $1 Taco Tuesday. You would cry if you knew how many tips I didn’t get, or worse yet, how many tips were the table’s coin change. Okay, your taco is a dollar. How much do you think it costs to make a taco? I’ll let you in on a little secret… More than a dollar! And let’s not mention the line of people out the door or the understaffed servers running around like roadrunners with Alzheimer’s. You got six tacos, all of the sides, five refills on your soda and at the end of the check you give me seventy-eight cents?! Get out of my restaurant.

People do not seem to understand that while they’re enjoying whatever discounted food they ordered, their server is in the kitchen tossing salads (and not in the fun way), baking and plating your dessert, filling and running sodas to their other five tables and literally thinking of seven (at the very least) things they need to accomplish within the next two minutes. Let’s not forget that they also have to clean up the salsa your messy child dumped on the floor or the sugar you couldn’t aim into your coffee. And guess what? Groupon does NOT cover the tip.

You’re asking yourself, “Well, golly, why doesn’t poor Tucker just use that handy autograt thing all the time?” The answer is that I am not allowed to. Autogratuity is handled differently at every restaurant, but the rule tends to be that it is only allowed on tables of six or more. Some restaurants don’t even allow using it in the first place. The reason it tends to be used for large tables is because such a large amount of work goes into big parties. Set up, using other servers/food runners to carry out multiple trays at once, entertaining large numbers of people at one time, clean up and everything in between those things that you ask for on top. And if autogratuity is added, awesome, you’re guaranteed 18% of the final cost of the meal. Not bad, until your table argues with you about it and you have to ask the manager to remove it. Thanks for that blank tip line, hope to see you soon.

The point? While I’m writing my rent check, I can see every single face of every single bad tipper from the last month burning in my brain. Good luck next time you sit at my table…assuming I haven’t refused you. Always tip on the full price of food, always take into consideration the extra work you’ve made your server do for you and always, ALWAYS remember that $3.10 does NOT pay rent.

Clocking Out for the Night,

Tucker

Hosting, Party of Over It

Imagine you’ve got guests from out of town staying in your home. There’s quite a few of them, but fortunately you’ve been planning for this visit for a while so you’re prepared to comfortably situate everyone. It’s the evening of their arrival, and everything is set. You’re not very excited to see them, they’re kind of a needy bunch, but you know you can handle them. Then comes the long awaited knock and you make your way to the door, putting on your most gracious smile and trying to feel welcoming.

Now imagine that when you open the door, there’s two people on your step. But these are not the people you were expecting. Maybe they’re acquaintances from high school. Maybe coworkers. It’s hardly relevant. What matters is that there they are outside your door, and they’re telling you they need a place to stay. But it’s not just them, they’ve got more people on the way. When you ask how many more, they kind of shrug and look at each other for the answer. One says “seven” and the other says “three”. They shoulder their way into the house and all you can do is step back so as not to get trampled. You say there’s really nowhere for them to sleep, every square inch of the house has been claimed already.

They start poking around the house, pointing out empty beds and saying “Well this looks just fine we can squeeze in here.” Your protests that those beds are for someone else are met with disdain. There is another knock on the door and you leave your uninvited guests to their snooping. Here at last are your long-awaited visitors, right? Wrong. Outside are three more people you haven’t seen in years, and they have the same story. They need a place to stay. They’re not sure how many of them there will be. Maybe 10?

You can’t say no to any of these people. There’s just no way. And they keep coming. Groups of five, eight, fifteen. You can’t keep up. They’re leaving their things everywhere, blocking off hallways, perching on any available surface. And they all want things from you. They’re thirsty and hungry and tired and in need of a shower. As you start on one task, someone interrupts you and gives you three more.

In that situation, how would you feel? Like a trapped animal? Overwhelmed? Would you be fighting back tears? Probably. Welcome to the life of a host.

I’ve worked in the service industry for two years. In that time I’ve filled many positions, all of them frustrating in their own way, but I can safely say that being a host in a restaurant is one of the most thankless and defeating of jobs. And if anything can make you lose faith in humanity, it’s going to be hosting.

For some reason it’s very difficult for guests to grasp that if you have a large party, it’s probably best to make a reservation several days in advance. A restaurant does not have infinite seating, it’s not Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. And there’s a good chance that if you come in on a weekend, it’s going to be packed already. You’re not the only people that have the day off, and you’re not the only ones with something to celebrate.

If, however, there’s just no way you could have picked up the phone and let us know that your entire extended family has a burning desire to eat our food, could you at least have some idea of how many people you’re bringing in? It’s very simple math, I’m pretty sure they taught you how to count in kindergarten. Saying that there’s going to be somewhere between two and fifteen people doesn’t help me and it definitely doesn’t help you.

Once you do decide that you and all your friends and relations simply must go out to eat, and you know how many of them there are, let me do my job. When you come in and I have to seat you, there’s several factors I have to consider. Keep these in mind:

  • If there’s more than one server on the floor, each of them will have a section. That means there’s a limited amount of tables they have to attend to, and they’re all in the same general area.
  • If there are sections, we’re probably seating in rotation. For instance, if there’s three sections, I have to seat the first section…wait for it….first. Second section gets seated second, then the third. Again, very simple. I know who’s next in rotation, you don’t.
  • A busy restaurant means the servers are overwhelmed and the kitchen is probably overwhelmed. If I don’t immediately seat you but there are tables available, it may be because I’d rather you wait to get the service and food you came for than having you dissatisfied with your experience.
  • Empty does not mean unclaimed. If I tell you that there’s a waitlist, don’t point to a table and say “Well, what about right there?” I know it’s there, but somebody with slightly more forethought than you called ahead and reserved it. It’s like dibs. And dibs have to be respected.
  • Servers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Customers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Bussers have to be able to move around the restaurant. There are set pathways, and four of you trying to sit at a table meant for two will definitely mess those pathways up. I don’t care that you’re okay with squeezing in together, how comfortable you are with your personal space makes no difference to me. You’re going to be a fire hazard.
  • This also means that your stroller, luggage, etc. cannot be in the walkway. There may be a table available in the back corner that would fit you comfortably, but I cannot put you there because then your baby would be in the direct path of our hot plates and giant trays. I do actually care about your safety.
  • If I put you on a waitlist, you’re on the waitlist. I’ve taken your phone number and you will receive a text when we’re ready for you. Checking in every thirty seconds just distracts me from being able to find you a spot.
  • On a slightly unrelated note, if you tell me you’re in a rush we’ll try to do everything we can to help you out. But keep in mind that full service restaurants usually have to actually cook the food before we bring it out to you. And full service restaurants that are full upon your arrival are probably making the people who’ve come in before you a priority. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re wonderful, but the guy at the table next to you has been waiting for his food for twenty five minutes and everyone is stressed out about it. He’s getting his meal first, no matter how many planes you have to catch. If you wanted something quick, you’d have been better off going to a McDonalds.

Now, I realize that all of that was a little harsh. It’s not that hosts hate their customers, it’s not that customers are terrible. But as with all things, a select few bad experiences will ruin it for everyone. So just keep in mind when you visit a restaurant that hosts are people too, and that there has to be a level of respect and consideration for the people working for you. That’s really all we’re asking for. Unexpected large groups are unavoidable sometimes, but if you really must come in, at least be polite and understand that we’ll try our best to accommodate you but it may take a minute.

Respectfully yours,

Arina