Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stop yelling, I'm standing right here

My first serving job was in the suburbs.  A family owned restaurant that served traditional lunch to appease the daytime working crowd and then switched its theme to a Global infused menu in the evening.  I came upon the place when I saw a review for it in the Tribune and discovered it was located less than two miles from my home.  I went there for dinner with my spouse and another couple and we were very pleased.  I came back the following week, asking if they needed an extra server on the weekends as I had been out of the work force for 18 months after having my second child.  When he saw my resume which consisted largely of an accounting background, he asked if I wouldn't mind being an office manager/bookkeeper/part-time server because he just lost his FOH manager and had extra responsibilities that needed to be covered.  I was ecstatic for the opportunity considering what I came in originally inquiring about.  The owner was the chef, while his wife and two middle school children helped out whenever available.

I learned very quickly that my new boss had a habit of yelling.  He spent most of his time in the kitchen, but wore many different hats.  He greeted his guests, met with wine reps, and handled phone calls that related to offsite events for extra income.  My point being, he was always around. He had a short temper and was not afraid to show it.  I figured out not too long afterwards that was the reason his manager quit abruptly on him.  The worse part was being around when he scolded his wife.  I could tell by the look on her face, she was always embarrassed and she responded by just standing there which made matters worse.  Ten months later, I found another job and left the madness behind.

My next serving job was at a Tapas restaurant that was owned by three friends, all of Greek ethnicity.  Talk about male chauvinism - all the male servers received the best stations, got the highest covers and were treated with glory.  In addition to this, I never did anything right in their eyes.  It was either I was not fast enough (we ran our own food) or didn't flirt enough (let's just say there were plenty of inappropriate comments made), yet I stayed just over a year because I made some good friends there.  Soon after, I left when a respectable opportunity came my way.  This one took me to the North Shore, and appeared to be very promising.

In my latest server gig, I worked among chefs that came with reputable backgrounds, hailing from some impressive restaurants that reigned in the city.  I was elated.  Most of the chefs I had worked with previously, learned their way in the kitchen with no culinary degree.  I was amongst folks that had a true passion for food and I couldn't wait to learn the ropes by working side by side with them. What I learned was, although they were more publicly respected, more knowledgeable, more advanced, some of them were just the same.  They yelled, they threw tantrums, and they treated you with little respect unless you bestowed the respect they so earnestly sought.  I didn't get it. Don't they realize they can't accomplish such a thing by trying to instill fear in you?

I finally got into the city.  Gosh, did it feel awesome.  I grew up in Chicago, so returning to the city felt like home to me.  I began working at a new steakhouse concept in River North where I had much more responsibilities.  I assisted with putting together the wine list and was able to exercise additional wine tasks which required me to be a part of FOH meetings and deal more with the upper management peeps.  You would think that with that in mind, the executive chef, who hailed from New York, would extend some respect my way.  Nope, he was another yeller.  The difference between him and everyone else was at least one time he came back and apologized to me when he realized he had stepped over his boundaries and that I was right.  Wow - everyone looked at me in shock because most chefs never do this.

One of my recent positions, turned out to be one of the most disappointing environments I have ever been in.  To be yelled at in such a way that your goal is to intimidate one of your vital sources of income was unlike anything I've ever seen and I've witnessed a lot.  Sometimes, it's not even about the yelling, but the choice of words that depreciate you and make you want to tell the person on the other side to fuck off.  Instead, I maintained composure.  I kept my dignity and didn't say anything, in hopes of making the other individual feel like a jackass.  Alright, so maybe I didn't succeed, but I got the hell out and in the end - that's all that matters.

My point of the story is this, "Stop yelling, I'm standing right here.  I am a person with values and feelings and I work very hard, harder than most people in this industry.  I will go above and beyond if you show me your respect in exchange for my loyalty.  I don't mind hearing you out or being corrected, but talk to me like an equal, not someone you enjoy belittling.  Finally, understand I have a life outside my job, just as you; don't expect me to give you 24-7 if you don't honor my credentials when I am within our work space."

Maybe in culinary school, there's a class labeled:  Yelling at your peers 101, I don't know for sure because I never enrolled in one.  I do know this, I have met a handful of very talented chefs that have earned my respect because they listened to what I had to say, because they knew deep down inside I cared about my position and meeting the needs of the guest and restaurant, and because they knew we were both on the same page and our goal was to work in harmony.  These are the ones I remember well and always refer folks to if they're looking for a restaurant to visit - these are the ones I'd give my back to because I know without a doubt they'd do the same for me.  To these few about to cook - I salute you.

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