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In the Weeds: Down in Flames

August 18, 2009

fireI’m currently in recovery from one of the worst working weekends I can remember.  There were plenty of fires, both figurative and literal.  Here’s a quick recap.

About a week ago, my new boss called me at home and asked if I’d be willing to work an off-site catering event on Saturday night after I worked my normal Saturday shift of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I enthusiastically agreed to do it.  Even though it would mean about 13 hours of work, I was excited to make the extra money and the timing was great because my kids are out of town with my husband, so no babysitter to pay.  Pure profit, yay!

I got to the bar Saturday morning and was eager for the day ahead.  I had invited several friends to come in for eats and drinks now that I was getting more comfortable in the job.  Let me just say right now that I owe all bartenders an apology for calling bartending slightly “lower brow” than serving.  I assumed that their jobs were easier and required less skill.  I now know that I’ve simply worked with GREAT bartenders who make it look easy.

The restaurant opened at 11:00 a.m., and I immediately had about six guests sitting at the bar for drinks and lunch.  The numbers steadily increased a little at a time and then . . . Whamo.  Suddenly I had an influx of people and I was smack dab in the middle of my first busy shift.  Well, busy for me.  By all accounts, I ain’t seen nothing yet and I’m going to get my arse handed to me when football season starts.   I was spinning and sweating and in the weeds.  Worse actually.  I was going down in flames and the guests knew it.  Of course, this included two different sets of friends, including editor Shannon who I had no time to speak to and pretty much gave crap service to along with everyone else.  Very embarrassing.   I’m pretty used to being great at my job, and I deplore being new and sucky.

The shift finally ended at four and I rushed to the off-site function, eating cheese sticks in my car because I hadn’t even had time to eat since Friday night.  I was mentally exhausted and a little emotionally fragile after beating myself up for such a crap performance.  When I got to the function and settled into serving food, I asked my fellow server if he knew how much we were being paid for the event.  He said, “Nothing.  No tips, not even hourly.  It’s volunteer because this event is a benefit for the Heart Association or something. You didn’t know?”  Uh… no I didn’t know.   I drove home after working four hours for free with aching feet and didn’t sleep much that night.  I was running through my game plan for my Sunday shift, which started at 8 a.m.  It was going to be way busier than Saturday because the restaurant was hosting a half-price brunch in celebration of its eighth anniversary, and we were packed full of reservations.  I did not want to blow it again.

It was raining so hard on Sunday morning that I was a few minutes late to work because I couldn’t see anything on the highway.  When I arrived in the parking lot, the lights of a huge fire truck cut through the downpour.  And they were at my restaurant.  I hoped that the storm had just tripped the alarm, but when I ran in the back door, it was obvious.  There had been a fire. My boss was sitting in the bar, looking stunned and soaking wet and talking with a fire investigator.  Luckily nobody was injured and the damage was isolated to the kitchen.  The entire staff really pulled together and spent the next two hours moving the entire brunch to our sister restaurant next door.  Tables, linens, glassware, food, liquor, mixers, pots, pans, coffee pots and everything else had to be moved across the parking lot in a torrential downpour.  When guests finally did arrive, we looked like wet dogs with really bad hair.  I was doubly panicked because I had spent the night planning my strategy for fast service and now I had to work a bar I had never even seen.  But the fire had been on the news and a lot of people didn’t show up.  I was never busy and only made about 25% of what I had expected.  Down in flames two days in a row.  I’m calling a mulligan for next weekend


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