First Watch Cafe: Rockville, Maryland

I was on the road this week, yet another of my family’s frequent trips to Washington D.C, and I figured there was no reason to cease and desist the great blog progress. Manifest destiny, etc. (Disclaimer: this blog does not support the views of Andrew Jackson and his cronies.)  Hence, my first solo review.

A quick Google search led our family to the First Watch Cafe in Rockville, Maryland. This is a chain, which your reviewers generally steer clear of, but I had little choice in the matter. Near as I can tell, the place focuses on breakfast, giant pots of coffee for the table, and a lack of brand consistency (you can take the girl out of graphic design…)

When we arrived, the place was already crackling with the raw terrifying energy of a breakfast rush. No host or “seat yourself” sign greeted us at the door, which has nearly the same effect on a restaurant patron as a concussion. Our internal GPS recalculated several times before the kindly manager came to rescue us. He quickly soothed my bristling server fur with a couple of jokes and a willingness to help us situate ourselves in a way that suited us and our resident four year old.

He left us with a smile and some menus, and that was our last instance of human contact for a good five minutes (i.e. an eternity). When someone finally showed up, it was a frazzled trainee with half a pot of coffee. He mumbled his name, fumbled for his book, and bumbled taking our order. His ignorance of the menu sank my heart into the depths of the Atlantic, and his lack of focus would surely have redirected a ship on auto-pilot into a cliff.

We weren’t off to a good start. A fresh pot of coffee and our other drinks not only took overly long to show up, our server delivered them with all the grace of an untrained beluga. I love being proven wrong, however, and I was not disappointed. Shortly thereafter, our server quickly dropped off a fresh pitcher of water and pre-meditated syrup.

There was a lull in action afterwards, which gave me an opportunity to observe the rest of the restaurant. The place was obviously going through a round of training, I noticed several servers giving pro tips to their trainees regarding pre-bussing and such. As previously mentioned, the place was hopping, but from what I could see not a single server was in the weeds and there were no dissatisfied customers.

Our food arrived within fifteen to twenty minutes, which is  an understandable ticket-time based on the number of people filling the relatively small space. Our server had not yet mastered the art of balancing several plates in his hands, but placed the correct food in front of the correct person. My breakfast took longer to show itself, but was hand-delivered by the manager, with a reassurance that my request to add mushrooms had been fulfilled. He also noticed our empty coffee pot (which I’d strategically moved to the edge of the table) and must have passed on the information to our server, for we received fresh coffee soon thereafter.

The rest of the meal passed relatively uneventfully, with a reasonably timed check-in from our server. He was obviously busy elsewhere, though, for although he grabbed one of the empty plates on our table he ceased showing his face until everyone had been finished for several minutes. He delivered our check promptly upon request, but I’d advise him to keep his checks better organized to avoid rifling through a mess of wrinkled papers for a good minute. A check drop-off must be like our favorite kind of flatulence, silent but deadly. Once again, the manager proved himself my favorite employee, for he was pleasant and humorous while cashing me out at the register.

The experience was not mind-blowing but fairly pleasant. With a little bit of confidence, our frazzled trainee has the makings of a fine server. The management and senior employees obviously care about the comfort of their customers, which is always nice to see. I’d love to see how everyone functions at a slower pace, but there’s no better time to judge a staff than in the middle of a rush.

If you’re ever in Rockville and looking for a good breakfast, First Watch wouldn’t be the worst choice you could make.

Arbor Brewing Company

Around the time we went into hiatus, I began work at Arbor Brewing Company. ABC just celebrated it’s 20-year anniversary in downtown Ann Arbor, and rightfully so.

For our first ‘endorsement’ post, I’m going to be shameless and promote my workplace.

The brewpub has been a huge deal in the Michigan beer scene, not just for it’s amazing beer (I didn’t even drink beer prior to working here) but for it’s amazing work being eco-friendly and locally supportive. The owners are probably the kindest, most dedicated people I’ve worked for in the restaurant industry. Their hearts are just as invested in the business as their finances, and I’ve found that to be a rare occurrence in this line of work. They are constantly looking for ways to innovate and expand their reach, and they do it all with their many workers at the forefront of their minds. Their most recent announcement to renovate the restaurant came with a full-staff meeting and an open door for ideas and opinions, which was met with a more positive response than I’ve seen from any staff I’ve worked with when such an announcement was made.

The management team that has been chosen to lead the staff is just as amazing. The group of women that run the day-to-day functioning of the brewpub are all huge-hearted and just as dedicated to the cause as the owners. Seeing a functioning management staff is just as surprising to me as the owners are, and I can’t express how refreshing it is to work with competent individuals that actually take the time to interact with their customers – whether it’s a complaint or just a curiosity, there is no doubt that a manager will take time out of their day to ensure your needs are met. And beyond the actual managing duties, they shine in their capacity for compassion. I’ve witnessed more hugs and one-on-one chats between managers and staffers than I can count, and the follow-ups that display the true depth of their love for their workers. I’m so used to taking care of myself – on the floor and off – that I’ve had a hard time accepting the managers for what they are, and have only recently opened up to their support, but it’s been an eye-opening experience. Is this what good management really looks like? Can’t say I’m disappointed.

As for the servers and hosts I work with, I don’t have a single negative thing to say. Though it’s a bit difficult to establish yourself among them, once they befriend you they take care of you. I’ve been shown so much support and kindness by my colleagues…it’s outrageous. And every single one of them takes their job seriously. So many beer experts in the ranks, it’s crazy. Everyone is so eager to learn more, too. I can’t even tell you how many questions are asked when a new beer comes up, or how many opinions are offered when we update menus. The way they handle customers is just as passionate – the beer savants can recommend a brew to a new guest that will almost always be exactly what they want, and they’ll have no problem explaining it to them in depth. And the pride everyone shows for Arbor Brewing is wonderful – everyone really does their best to represent it, from staying up to date on the goings on to making sure that everyone is recycling properly.

Honestly, before working here I had no idea just how wonderful of a place it was – I knew the food was good, I knew the servers seemed like ‘alternative’ people, but I just couldn’t know the depth of passion behind that. I really do recommend everyone give it a try, whether you’re a beer snob or just have weird dietary requirements (we accommodate vegan and gluten-free like no other) you’ll find something to make you smile, from a staff that strives for that smile. Employed or not, I support Arbor Brewing Company from their rooftop solar panels to their soon-to-be renovated basement bathrooms.

Shamelessly Yours,
Tucker

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

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.

Hiatus

Hello, all!

A quick update for those that are curious about the status of AutoGrat.

Currently, Arina, myself and our roommate Lexi are in the process of finding a new home! With that being our top priority, not a whole lot of dining out has been happening. We’re all trying to save as much as we can in as little time as possible. That also means that we’ve been working our little bums off. Six days a week at work does not leave a lot of time for anything but necessary home upkeep (which we’re also slacking on, admittedly).

In addition to the moving process, I have recently quit my job at Heidelberg and started two new jobs. Being a new employee in the service industry is not an ideal thing – I have very few regulars, I don’t get the best shifts and I’m exerting as much energy as humanly possible to impress and prove myself to my new bosses. Not to mention the new POS systems, menus, policies, etc. that I’m having to learn…it’s not the best time to be Tucker.

And to top off this delicious stress cake, we have a locally made no-wifi frosting!

So, for the time being I regret to say that the AutoGrat Blog will be on hiatus until things calm down for us and we have more reliable wifi access.

We sincerely thank everyone for supporting us thus far, and we will be back as soon as we can! Please stay tuned for our next review and subsequent posts.

Thanks for Dining with Us,
Tucker

We’ve Got That Summertime Sadness

Being in the service industry is a lot like being a gambler. Sometimes you walk away feeling wealthy and unstoppable, but the majority of the time you leave work with an encumbering sense of lost time and nothing to show for it.We’ve neglected (again) reviewing this week, and the reason is very simple. We’re broke. Summer is a great time for a lot of people, but when you serve in a college town and the population has decreased by almost half you learn to hate it a little. Sure, it’s nice out and you can actually enjoy being outdoors, but forget doing anything that costs money. That includes going out to eat for your blog.

So, while we attempt to pay rent and utilities (and our phone bills and co-pays at the doctor and blahblahblah adult life) and provide nourishment for ourselves, please excuse our lack of reviews. However, if you DO have the urge to engross yourself in our reviews, feel free to write us a check! We’re always accepting donations. (We’re only mostly kidding)

Anyway, we just felt it prudent to inform you of our situation and explain our lack of restaurant excursions. Please forgive us, and even without the reviews continue to check up on our blog.

With all that being said, we’ve decided we’d like to begin accepting ideas for non-review postings. If you’ve ever been curious about the restaurant industry, or just would like to hear our (sometimes) snarky opinions on things, send us an email! It’s listed under the ‘[contact us]’ label, but we’ll add it on at the end of this for anyone that isn’t quite so tech-savvy. Also, feel free to let us know if you’d like us to explore any restaurants in our area for future reviews.

Thanks so much for your time and viewership!

Your Servers,
Arina and Tucker

autogratblog@gmail.com

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