Wednesday, August 15, 2007

As Luck Would Have It...

Jeez, I made that sound awfully dramatic, didn’t I? Did the place burn to the ground? Were we closed down by the OLCC (Liquor Commission)? Did every major piece of equipment pick that day to roll over and play dead?

No, nothing as earth-shattering as all that. I just discovered that at the end of this month, I will be losing most of my staff. Again. Out of nine girls on the payroll, I will, for all intents and purposes, be losing six. One is going back to college as of the end of the month (which I knew when I hired her), one is expecting a baby in October and only wants to work through the end of this month. These two departures, while a bummer, were not unforeseen, and I had anticipated hiring one or two more girls to beef up the staff at the end of the month.

However, when I walked into the kitchen Monday morning, I was greeted with a huge pile of "schedule requests" from everyone else. One girl—completely out of the blue—dropped the bomb that she will be having surgery (don’t ask) next week and plans to be out for a month. One of my "cooks in training"—again, without any forewarning—decided to sign up for an "intensive" course at some career college and informed me that as of the beginning of next month she will only be available to work weekends. One of my high school students, who will also be going back to school next month, requested off the day of our community festival, which basically takes place right outside our doors and causes us to be crazy busy. And my other "cook in training" has been telling me for months that she was going back to school in the fall, so I know her availability is going to be drastically reduced.

I was about to write that I cannot get a break when it comes to staffing this restaurant. That’s not completely true; I have two dependable, trustworthy employees who have been with me since I bought the place. One of them has been at the cafe since the doors opened in 2005. And without the other, my good and faithful "D", I know I would have perished long ago. Unfortunately, it takes about 260 labor hours a week (not including administrative time) to run the place. And I’ve found that I can’t expect anyone to work actual full-time hours…even "D" starts to burn out if I schedule her for more than her normal 35-38 hours a week. And we need four people on shift during any given rush period. So, obviously, my two decent employees and I cannot do the job by ourselves. We do have one other girl who is not planning to leave or go to school or have a baby. And she has been begging me for more hours. But she is, of course, the most useless piece of dead wood on the staff and I have been planning on cutting her loose at the first available opportunity. Sigh!

We’ve been hobbling through the summer with these nine girls on the payroll. It’s actually worked out well, because everyone has asked for so much time off that they are getting all the hours they seem to want. And there were enough bodies to staff the place while I was gone for five days doing our Scandinavian thing. I suppose I should be grateful…and I am.

But I just can’t seem to find the solution to my labor puzzle. If I have more than eight staff members, everyone gets so few hours that it’s hardly worth having them at all. It’s difficult to train employees who work less than fifteen hours a week. You teach them something, and by the time they have the opportunity to perform the task again, they’ve forgotten how. My two high school girls were hired in January. During the school year, I held them to less than fifteen hours a week on purpose. So I ended up with two girls who were never completely or properly trained. But I kept them on staff hoping they would pick up more hours and more training, and hence be more useful, during the summer. Then they both ended up taking so much vacation time that they are STILL marginally trained and mostly unhelpful.

And I can’t beg, steal or borrow an experienced cook. Check that…after the traumas I’ve lived through with the experienced cooks I’ve had, I don’t even WANT an experienced cook. I’ll take a knowledgeable apprentice any day of the week. Unfortunately, those seem to be in short supply as well.

I had some mutinous thoughts this past weekend. Stacking the constant barrage of setbacks and headaches that have come with ownership of our very own restaurant against the relative ease and smoothness with which we cranked out a café month’s worth of sales in four days from our cramped but comfy little trailer… The eighteen-month escape clause in our café purchase contract started looking mighty attractive. "If we could just find three more events just like this," I thought, "I’d ditch the restaurant in a heartbeat."

to be continued...later.


  1. Lisa, does the high school have any kind of internship program from which you might be able to draw kids who are looking for credit as well as pay?

    I can't bear to think of your giving up.  It makes me smile just to think that there is a cafe in Scapoose where I can go for good food and good friends.

    I do realize that I'm not the one doing the work...   .l

  2. Internship, aprenticeship, some darn thing. After all, lunch is one thing they cant outsource to Inda. NOt from lack of trying, I'm sure.


  3. Oh, the thing about reading journal entries backward?  You get balled up ... LOL.

    Lisa, as always you will puzzle through the puzzle and come up with a solution.  If you have a local vocational school that allows internships, you might get a good student to work days ...

    I say "thank you" every single day that 'our Mike' shows up for work.  Without him, we'd absolutely be lost.  And it took us nearly twenty years to find him!