AutoGrat 2 : This Time It’s Personal

Guess who’s back…….back again…..Shady isn’t back, but your two favorite service industry bloggers are!
That’s right, folks, we’ve decided it’s time to bring AutoGrat out of hiatus. Not only that, but we’ve brainstormed and come up with all new ways to bring you your weekly dose of server antics.
What does this mean for the future of AutoGrat? Well, for starters, we’re going to be more consistent with output, as well as expanding the scope of our blog.
To get a little more specific, we will be continuing our service reviews, but we’re going to be placing a little less emphasis on those – they get expensive and our schedules don’t always allow for a night out together. To fill the space, we’re going to be offering an inside view into establishments in the area with management and owners that we think are worthy of your financial support. We’ll be gathering information from fellow workers to get the scoop on the best and worst bosses around, as well as businesses that are supportive of both the environment and the local economy. On a similar note, we’ve decided it would be fun to take a deeper look into some of Ann Arbor’s ‘staples’ and explore their stories from past to present.
Among these new ventures we’re exploring, we plan to pepper our blog with content aimed directly at our fellow servers – from job listings in the area to our picks of the best server-related articles and posts we’ve stumbled across. In addition, we’re looking for guest writers to feature on our blog, so if you’re interested get in touch with us about getting involved. Our contact information is available below (as well as on the ‘Contact Us’ page), so feel free to use it to submit your ideas or any opinions, suggestions, etc.
Along with the new service industry related content, we both feel that this blog is an excellent outlet for getting a little more personal with our writing, so look forward to really getting to know your servers!
We hope our return post has whet your appetite, because the meal before you promises to be a filling one.
Recrudescently yours,
Arina & Tucker
autogratblog@gmail.com

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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

Good Eggs

Although these posts are meant to be devoted to the people at our table, the customers that enlighten us or entertain us, this week I wanted to take a minute to talk about the people lurking behind the scenes with us. Coworkers can be a source of irritation, a fount of frustration and even anger sometimes. But they can also be the best support system, the best comedic relief, the best friends.

I’ve been lucky enough to encounter such good eggs at every one of the places I’ve worked. It seems to me that working in the service industry is a great bonding experience. No one will ever understand you breaking down in tears after some asshole yells at you in front of other customers like the people you serve with. We’ve all been there, and we’re all there for each other. Even rolling your eyes at each other after a brief encounter with an obviously ridiculous table gives a sense of belonging.

And it’s not just commiseration in the face of problematic customers or even your management. Spending almost every day of every week with the same group of people gives you no choice but to get to know them better.While that sounds a tad like Stockholm Syndrome, it’s far from it. More often than not, the people you work with end up being really cool. I’ve met some of my best friends through work. I met my roommates through work. I’ve laughed and bonded with so many of the people I’ve worked with, it’s hard to put the appreciation for that into words.

When I went to get my first (and as yet only but that’s inconsequential) tattoo, one of my coworkers at the time went with me to hold my hand and distract me with funny stories. Whenever I have something I need to get off my chest, I know there’s going to be at least one person at work I can confide in. If you’re looking for a place to live or someone to go to a concert with, there’s no one that will have the hookup quite like the people you work with. Smoke breaks wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if someone else (or four someones) didn’t come outside with you.

I’d like to mention that, especially in the industry, it’s important to become close not only to the people you share a workload with (in my case, front of house staff) but also to those that have entirely different duties (the back of house staff, for instance.) Too often there is a sense of hostility between the kitchen and the servers. Pointlessly so, as both parties can benefit from a good relationship with each other. You never know when it might come in handy, manipulative as that sounds, and in times of stress it’s always better to feel like you’re all in it together.

Whether it’s a quick hug when you come in looking bedraggled or an earnest word of praise when you do something right, coworkers provide bright pinpricks of light in what is ultimately a defeating and exhausting environment. Take a moment to think about the people you work with and let them know how much you appreciate them whenever you get a chance. And if you work or have worked with me and you’re reading this, you know who you are and I love you. Hit me up sometime, let’s hang out.

Mushily Yours,

Arina

Sava’s

Everyone knows Sava’s. It’s where you take your parents when they drive up for Parent Week. It’s where you have your baby shower and celebrate your engagement. But does it live up to the hype? As the self-proclaimed townies that we are, we’re familiar with Sava’s. We’ve eaten there once or twice, but never really taken the time to analyze the service. We embarked on our quest in full review mode, notepads at the ready.

Instead of the warm welcome we expected, we received a brief glance and no other recognition. Once we requested a table for two they again disregarded us to discuss where to place us. The hostess that led us to our table surprised us with light, friendly conversation before leaving us in the server’s capable hands. He arrived fairly quickly, considering how busy it was, and promised that he would be with us shortly. After doing a quick round at his tables, he returned to us and asked for our drink order. Arina’s inquiries about the house drinks were met with an expert recommendation. Our drinks arrived promptly, accompanied by the evening’s specials. After we ordered our appetizer, he informed us of the 86 list (for those that don’t speak server, an 86 list is the list of unavailable items). He returned to get our entrée order and further proved his knowledge of the menu by helping Tucker decide between two items.

The appetizer came and went pretty quickly, and although he didn’t ask how it was he made a point to keep our table clean and clear. Like a seasoned gardener, he cleared the weeds but kept us watered. Our food arrived with a smile and tasted delicious, but our server seemed to lose interest in tending to us until we requested boxes. Tucker’s soda did not receive the same attention as our waters, but the server offered dessert as he cleared our table. He apologetically let us know that the pudding we had chosen was no longer available, so we went with our second choice. As he left to put in the crème brulee, we had to call him back to request coffee. Though we declined cream and sugar, he brought it anyway. Whether this was intentional or not, it worked out for the best as the coffee was a bit bitter for our tastes.

He graciously accepted that our checks needed to be separate and presented them lickety-split. The checks hung out with us for a minute, but after they were all taken care of he wished us a good evening and thanked us for our business. We left the table overall pleased with the service, but were once again disappointed by the hosts’ lack of concern as we departed.

The experience was by no means exceptional, but we had a nice time. We recognize that the evening was a busy one for our server and he did his job as well as he could under the circumstances. The only real qualm we had with our outing were the hosts. With the reputation Sava’s has, we expected that the staff would strive to make our visit pleasurable from start to finish. Even so, we would say give Sava’s a try if you haven’t already.

Your Humble Servants,

Arina & 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