Sunday, April 18, 2010

One of the Crappiest Weeks Ever

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I had just made it through one of the crappiest weeks ever.

Now, I know I have had much worse weeks. Like everyone else who has endured life on the planet for more than half a century, I’ve weathered illness, disaster, deaths of loved ones. But those things are in a different category. The term “crappy” would trivialize those life-changing, soul-wrenching times.

But this week was an undeniable shit-fest from the word “go.” I endured all kinds of indignities, up to and including a serious brush with the shadow of divorce court. How about a Crappy Week Re-Cap (Re-Crap?) a la those wonderful (and long gone) Ten Good Things Lists (you knew it was only a matter of time, didn’t you?)

1. First thing Monday morning, my longest term employee--one of the two who are left that I “bought” with the restaurant--hands me her two weeks’ notice. She tells me she feels like she put in her five years, she just doesn’t enjoy it like she used to, and she has a lot of vacations lined up for the summer that she doesn’t want me to have to worry about. Truthfully, this girl has been a steady and dependable presence, and I will miss her…but it IS time.

In the way of all things (at least for me) the change for which I believed I had opted last July when I hired California Chef is taking an entirely different form than I had anticipated. Rather than a kind of gradual metamorphosis, with disenchanted old employees dropping off one by one, it has been much more of a tug-of-war. While I slung my ideas for change over my shoulder and endeavored to drag the café forward, the old employees planted their feet and pulled with all their might in the direction of “We Like Things Just The Way They Are.” It appears that now, nearly nine months later, the rope has snapped, the old employees are tumbling out the door en masse, and the restaurant is going to shoot forward with a vengeance. Can’t say I was really prepared for this turn of events, but it is what it is. We’ll make it work.

2. California Chef is fully recovered from his bout with pneumonia. One would think this would be a good thing, but of course there is a bug in the ointment. During and just after his illness, while I was being particularly solicitous of him and basically running the restaurant by myself, he seemed to have finally developed a respect for me that he had heretofore lacked. I thought, “Ah, now we can finally conduct a healthy business relationship based upon mutual respect. The sky is the limit!” Um…or not.

Is this a generational thing? Have the twenty-somethings upon whom I must depend to run my restaurant (because I can’t run it alone) simply been brought up unfamiliar with the concept of “respect?” For anyone or anything? That would not surprise me, given the political/pop-culture climate of the past ten years-- the years of their coming of age. Respect is a hopelessly outdated concept. But I have to say, ancient relic that I am, I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to relate to and motivate these children. I am not/cannot be their “friend,” and there seems to be no comprehension, on their part, of “boss-hood.” They can be eager and cooperative as long as they are in the mood, but they’ll turn on me like a snake at the slightest provocation. There is no carrot I can dangle in front of them, no stick with which I can threaten them, to alter their performance or their attitude toward me or the job in any appreciable way. They make up their own rules--which I do not know and would doubtless not understand if I did--and when I break one, I suffer.

So, Monday afternoon, I’m showing my twenty-six-year-old chef (yes, I am not only his boss, but I’m old enough to be his mother’s older sister…) how to perform a new task. He is going to take over the provision ordering, and I’m trying to make a point about why we order a certain item a certain way; and he says to me, “This isn’t the first time I’ve ever filled out an order, Sweetheart.”

And any small hope I had cherished that he has finally deemed me and my methods worthy of his respect, melts and runs down the floor drain.

3. I’m sitting in the dining room taking a rare food break, and a regular customer shows me an article in the local paper about, you guessed it, a new restaurant opening in town. Ugh! Looks like here comes the end of “random factors operating in our favor” when it comes to the business…

Seems that a local real estate agent has taken it upon herself to collect a ragtag bunch of small food operations and bring them together under one roof, that roof specifically belonging to the huge empty space a mile up the road which has, in its short history, housed three unsuccessful restaurant concepts. Mostly because it is a huge space, and carries a walloping $7000/month rent, no one yet has been able to generate the sales it would take to pay the bills. And no one is likely to, in this small town. But people just don’t seem to GET that. Ms. Real Estate claims to have the knowledge and experience it takes to “get the restaurant open and get it sold” to some unsuspecting soul, the like of which, according to P.T. Barnum, there is one born every minute. And it will require that the unsuspecting buyer be unaware of Ms Real Estate’s most recent history, which had her pulling the same “bait and switch” with a restaurant in the next town up the highway. Which went tits-up less than a year after she passed it off to some poor slob who didn’t know any better.

So now we all get to take the hit to our sales numbers while we watch another restaurant struggle into existence, limp along for a time and slump to an ignominious end within, what? The next twelve to eighteen months? Augh!

4. The air conditioning project that I have delegated to my husband and my landlord is going exactly nowhere. I cannot have another summer’s dinner sales ruined by our lack of proper air conditioning. But husband, landlord, and any and every local heating/air conditioning contractor we have attempted to enlist do not seem to understand the urgency of the situation. In the two days of over-sixty-degree weather we have experienced so far this spring, the temperature in my dining room has shot up to 80 degrees.

For whatever reason, we have the devil’s own time trying to get any work done on that restaurant. From floor stripping to HVAC maintenance to electrical work, we have been stiffed by just about every local small business that handles these sorts of things. And getting anyone to come out here from “the big city” is like trying to talk a Viking ship into sailing off the end of the earth. One after another, we make appointments that are either blown off without a word, or are called off or postponed to death. This is another instance where I hear how bad the economy is, and how small businesses are struggling, going out of business, laying people off for lack of work…and we have a job available and money to spend, but we can’t get anyone to touch it. WTF???!?

5. And then there was jury duty…

How can I describe (in less than a book) the debacle that was my unfortunate experience with that Constitutionally conferred civic duty? And the perfect storm created when my attempt to fulfill said obligation collided with the restaurant’s busiest day in months, a “B” team front-of-the-house staff (of which the over-worked husband was an integral part), the unexpected illness of a cook, and my cell phone lying forgotten on top of my dresser?

The resultant confrontation between my business partner and myself, carried on in the parking lot outside the restaurant as my unsuspecting foot touched the pavement outside my van oh-so-too-late to salvage the “Senior Night Dinner Service from Hell,” was the essence of the “serious brush with the shadow of divorce court” I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

It was, to paraphrase Lillian Gilbreth in Cheaper by the Dozen, not the penultimate, nor the ante-penultimate, but the ultimate straw.

And that was only Tuesday. Shell-shocked, brow-beaten and emotionally shut down, I had four more days--two of which were twelve-plus-hour marathons--to endure before the crappy week could be officially declared over.

So today is Sunday. Arguably the beginning of a new week (although it is actually the last day of the week on our staff schedule.) Husband and I have hashed out some of our issues (after going three days without speaking.) Staffing hassles at the restaurant have not let up for an instant. And I have the gift of two days off in a row (one of which is already 75% over.)

I have every intention of spending tomorrow doing anything at all that is not restaurant related--preferably fussing with plants and house and yard issues.

I’m so looking forward to a badly needed and richly deserved one-day vacation. And, please...a slightly less crappy week to come.

Monday, April 5, 2010

By Way of Explanation...

A couple of things inspired my previous post: It's kind of a nod to "Poetry Month" (sad and pathetic though it was); and, of course, something happened at the restaurant that upset and frazzled me (more than it should have, I'm sure.)

So I'm cross-posting the following from "Hot Flash Cafe." Perhaps it will help you "get" where the sudden desire to be invisible came from...

I knew it would be difficult; I knew there would be casualties. And I paid lip service (or pen service?) to all that a couple of months ago.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it happens.

Another of my long-term employees gave her notice on Saturday. I was kind of blindsided by the whole thing; especially since, not three weeks ago, she had sent me an impassioned email about how much she loved working at the café and how she felt like it was home and that she just wanted to work, so I needed to give her x-number of hours every week. So I was a little unprepared for the "I love working here, give me more hours, I quit" progression of events.

I suppose I should not have been surprised. When an employee is stressing out about the job enough to fire off unsolicited emails, you have to guess something is up. It's safe to assume they are not getting what they want, and, in all probability, what they want is not within my power to give. I'll remember that for next time, I guess.

Still, I can't help but wish there was an open line of communication between myself and my employees, so they would not be afraid to let me know when something is bothering them. I try not to act like the Wicked Witch of the West; I try to be understanding, try to be fair; I try to encourage and praise good performance as well as point out failure. Unfortunately, I've learned a few things about human nature. First of all, "fairness" is in the mind of the beholder. If I go out of my way to accommodate YOU, I'm being "fair." If I do that for another employee, it's "favoritism." Secondly, human beings are, apparently, deaf to compliments and hyper-sensitive to the sound of anything even slightly smacking of criticism. So there's almost no point in even bothering to praise. They don't hear it.

If I worked at it, I think I could set myself up to be considered a "friend" to all these young people. But I'm afraid that would involve abandoning any effort to improve or critique anyone's performance. And I'd have to take on the role of "Scheduling Fairy," accommodating their every request ("I need more hours, I can't work THOSE hours, I can't work with so-and-so, I need to take two weeks off starting tomorrow") with a placid smile on my face and a consoling pat on the back.

Sorry. I need to be in charge, need to be able to tell them what to do. Need to tell them when they screw up. Need to try to get them to adhere to my standards, which aren't impossibly high, by any means. So I cannot
be their friend.
Because then I would have no control at all. I have little enough as it is.

They say "It's lonely at the top." I couldn't agree more. The thing of which I am on top may not be huge or glamorous, or even particularly high. But it does consume most of my life force. So I keenly feel the isolation of spending seventy hours a week working elbow-to-elbow with people who are not—who cannot be—my friends. And because they are not my friends, it's inappropriate for me to feel sad and betrayed when they exercise their freedom and choose to move on.

Inappropriate. Yes. But there it is. To not acknowledge that I DO feel sad and betrayed would be like trying to ignore the elephant clinging to my back. But I cannot let that elephant flatten me. I have to peel it off, put it on the ground, pat it on the head and keep walking.

So, good luck to my dear departing employee. I hope you find what makes you happy at your new job.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

erase me...

what super power
would I have…
I’ve always
thought it would be
To fly but

I choose

just think:
do what needs doing
no one knowing
it was me
my hand doing the
cutting or the cleaning
the caress of encouragement
the push of frustration

and so remove
all the risk
all the challenge
all the heartache
of a world with no leaders
and no followers