Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day Off Blues

I took a day off yesterday. I mean, I didn’t just wait for a convenient day to come around; I took one. It was entirely a matter of self-preservation. I’d stretched myself beyond my capacity. For two weeks before the Sauerkraut Festival, I had fretted and worried and tried to plan and organize, to the extent that my chronically depleted brain could plan and organize.

AND I have been sick, with some bug that my young crew members brought back from "Rock Fest"—the local popular music orgy that they had all begged for the day off to attend back in the last week of August. The one lucky break I’ve had since we bought the restaurant is that I have managed NOT to pick up every germ and virus that rampaged through town, and my staff, for the past year. A miracle in itself, considering the cocktail of stress, sleep deprivation and poor diet I’ve lived on for the last fifteen months. Not so lucky with this little virus, though—a particularly nasty one, with fever, sore throat, and head congestion so severe I was deaf for two weeks. I hadn’t felt this crappy, literally, in years. Made exponentially worse by the fact that I couldn’t BE sick.

With my two cooks in training reduced to working evenings and weekends, my schedule has consisted of working every day, including two or three double shifts a week thrown in for good measure. I’ve steadily deteriorated from competent admiral of the fleet to a churlish, oft-flogged swabbie. Last Sunday, I was called out front to deal with a customer complaint…and I handled it SO poorly, I realized that I was rapidly approaching total burn-out. And the last thing that restaurant needs is for me to burn out.

So even though I had already posted a schedule which had me working yet another seven-day week, I sat down Sunday night and re-wrote the thing. A little thinking outside the box (and begging) accomplished what I needed: an entire day with absolutely no contact with the café. I honestly couldn’t remember when my last day off WAS, so I looked back at the old schedules hanging on the wall. August 23rd. Ah, yes! Summer! Back when I still had a complete staff… In fact, I realized I’d only had two days off since our nutsy-busy Scandinavian Festival back in mid-August. That was information I didn’t really need…it only made me feel more desperate to get out of there forat least one day.

The list of things I could do, that I wanted to do, with an entire 24 hours off started to grow: Clean the house. Take the dog to the beach. Do the "Goodwill sort" through my overloaded closets. Go up the river to the outlet mall. Go to Binyons and get new glasses (which I desperately need.) And the husband wanted me to meet him and a business associate for dinner. Sigh! Not only was twenty-four hours not nearly enough time to accomplish all this, but I quickly realized I didn’t have the energy for one-tenth of it. In the end, I chose the closets, the shopping, and the dinner. And the rest of the day, I pretty much sat around and stared at the walls. So I didn’t have a productive day. It was restorative, though.

But of course I couldn’t keep my mind completely away from café issues. And I couldn’t completely banish the nagging guilt for wanting, needing to get away from there. It’s not that I’m a control freak, though I think you need to lean a little in that direction in order to run your own business. I just feel like I wanted this so much, I shouldn’t feel negatively about it, EVER. I should always love being there, always revel in the freedom and the self-determination. Of course, that’s a crock, and I know it. But that doesn’t keep me from carrying the guilt around anyway.

I indulged in a little self-assessment as I puttered around the stores. I realized that I haven’t figured out where my "off" button is. I just keep going full-speed until I run out of gas. That’s the way I’ve always been, no matter what job I’ve had. My work ethic is to go to work, work until the job is done, and then go home. I’ve never done a lot of socializing at work. I’m very much a "nose to the grindstone" kind of person.

The problem is, you really can’t apply that sort of work ethic to your own business, especially when it’s a hospitality business. First of all, the job is NEVER done, so you end up just working and working and working; you do go home, of course, but you’re still working. And working and working. And if you don’t turn yourself off, make yourself STOP working, even for short bits of time, you work too much. And then you start to hate the thing you started out loving and wanting with all your heart.

And this thing about not being social on the job…this has been the biggest problem for me. Not only am I not a normally social person, but the harder I work, the more exhausted I become, and the more I draw into my shell and just want to be left alone. And you cannot do that when you are in charge of a restaurant. You need to set an example for the crew, and you need to be friendly with the guests.

I’ve always known that I was going to have problems in this area. I’ve managed restaurants, and my solution for this particular deficiency of mine was to make sure I hired people who could DO that part of the job for me. For the most part, that has been a successful strategy. But, especially in this tiny café, with no real "back of the house," I’m too visible. Everyone knows I’m there all the time, and everyone knows I’m the owner. The regulars expect ME to greet them, and chat, and treat them like they’re the only customers in the restaurant. And, yes, if I want to be successful, I should do that. And when I’m rested and full of energy (and caffeine) I can almost passably play that role. When I’m exhausted, stressed out and have a million things on my mind—which is all the time—I suck at it.

And now it’s time to get ready and head to the salt mine once again. Let’s see, what’s on my plate today? Write next week’s schedule, see if the new lighting has arrived yet, plan the next promotion, design the new table tents, find out what’s going on with the sign, source a new bread bakery, source a new food purveyor, look through applications, hire two more people, but try to make sure everyone is still getting enough hours… But first I have to make soup and don the apron to cook lunch. Gad…I’m tired already.


  1. Alleluia for the day off!  

    And since scheduling is on the to-do list- could you try to at least get one such day every other week if not every week?  You know it would help you immeasureably, I hear that in this post.

    And as for the working until the job's done and how depleting this is when you have a job that's never done thing, I so hear you.  I struggle with this in ministry big time never done.  Guilty about time off.  Sigh.

  2. Lisa.  Find the 'off button' for your guilt.  About anything to do with your restaurant.  Really.  Find two or three hours a week and just do something. Walk the dog. Anything that takes your focus from the restaurant and puts it elsewhere.  What hubby and I have found helps -- for each of us it is different -- he takes his mountain bike out for an hour or two a couple of afternoons a week.  Me?  I take the dog for a walk or I go to my 'real' job.  LOL

  3. Would it surprise you if I told you how much almost every line of this resonates with the realities of studying for and being in ministry? The relentlessness, the needing to be attentive to people, the "can't be sick" part, the need to intentionally and determinedly set time apart for yourself?  Your cafe and my future ministry -- both ways of nourishing people.

    You do realize that you are engaged in a great spiritual enterprise, right?

  4. You poor thing!  You have got to make time for yourself.  The business won't fail if you are gone once a week.  Sounds like what a couple of my managers are going through right now....

    This is one of the reasons why I quit my job at the law office and took a job working for others.  There is more to life than career.  You are important too!

    I personally love working with the public now that they are not murderers and rapists and thieves (oh my!)

    I've missed you!


    PS  I'm back!  

  5. I hope you've snagged another day of since you wrote this because, you deserve it.   Treating yourself with care and preventing burn out is the best way to keep all the balls in the air.