In The Weeds: What a Meltdown
“What a meltdown” was a classic catch phrase at my restaurant during most of 2008 and 2009. It was uttered dozens of times per shift and could be used to describe anything from the kitchen getting behind on tickets to a server being so weeded that he had lost all cool and had digressed into classic “busy face.” You’ve seen it, right? Look for a server who is head down, brow furrowed, lips pursed and beads of sweat popping up just below his hair line. He is walking very aggressively and performing movements in a jerky fashion but not really accomplishing anything. What a meltdown. It always produced a laugh from the surrounding staff before one of us would jump in to help out. (Full disclosure: It was me who was often being bailed out of a meltdown.)
When I read the leaked massive meltdown email from Paradou owner Vadim Ponorovsky, I immediately thought, “Dang. I bet he regrets that.” But no. No, he doesn’t. To catch you up a bit… I posted the full email last week but the long and extremely F-bomb laden short of it is that Ponorovsky was super pissed that his servers had failed to collect email addresses from guests, presumably so that he could send them some SPAM newsletters. Highlights include:
“Effective immediately, any server or host who fails to collect at least 20 emails per week, will be fined $100. Anyone failing to collect at least 20 emails for two weeks in a month will be fired immediately. No matter what. No matter who you are.”… “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ASSHOLES?!?!?! How many times do we have to tell you how important it is that you collect emails. Everytime we have a slow night and you make no money and you sit there bitching about how you make no money, remember its because youre fucking lazy motherfuckers. YOU SHOULD ALL BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY!!!!!” … “So if you dont respect us enough to do the little that we ask you to do, then GET THE FUCK OUT YOU FUCKING LAZY DISRESPECTFUL ASSHOLES!!!!!”
When asked to explain his email, he told New York Magazine’s Grub Street,
“Out of the whole e-mail, the only term I regret is the ‘lazy mothertfuckers’ term. The other profanity is a part of how I speak— I view curse words as basically emphasis adjectives.” Ponorovsky says that his background in marketing and advertising inspires him to run Paradou “without any layers. There’s very much a peer-to-peer relationship with the staff.” He says, “If you talked to anyone who ever worked for me, I could say without any sense of self-aggrandizement that they’d say I was the best boss they’ve worked for.”
The best? Really? Why have all those grateful employees not jumped to your defense on the message boards? Maybe they are too busy writing you thank you notes. In his email to the alleged tipster,
“If the people who work for me are not happy they can find employment elsewhere. I do not hide. I speak my mind. They get praise when they deserve it and they got this because they desrved it too. I have no time for your childish sniping. And if anyone on my staff feels that they need you to defend them, they’ve chosen very poor champions.
Now please kindly go fuck yourselves or each other.”
I must say, his gift for profanity reminds me of the description Ralphie from Christmas Story gave about his father. “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.”
And Ponorovsky just keeps talking. And I can’t look away. I can’t! After he and his wife, who answers the phones, started receiving death threats….
“This has now hit a point beyond civil discourse,” and adds, “You can quote me on this: Any time, any place (and you can put my personal e-mail, email@example.com), these fucks, if they want to send me an e-mail, I will crack every one of their fucking heads and make the streets run with blood. I will not have my family threatened by anyone. I will fucking slaughter all these people and dance on their heads.”
Okay, I’ll give him that one. Death threats aren’t cool. Reverse death threats that include dancing and cracking heads are kinda cool. At any rate, the public seemed pretty shocked and outraged at the way Ponorovsky treated his staff. I don’t think we industry types were too surprised. Surprised that he emailed it, yes. But surprised that a restaurant owner went bat shit crazy and used…gasp…cuss words? Knock me down with a demitasse spoon. The inroads that corporate America’s HR departments have made for the last 25 years in sensitivity training, political correctness and sexual harassment are pretty much lost on restaurants. Even the big corporate chains have all the right manuals and training classes, but once that’s over, it’s right back to the boss sleeping with his direct reports, the chef throwing tongs and expletives, and the staff thinking of new and exciting ways to break the rules.
It may seem that I’m contradicting myself because I always defend restaurant workers and the hard work and effort they put forth. But I’m not, and they do. I firmly believe that most servers and management have the guest’s best interests first and foremost every night. What I am trying to point out is that restaurants always have been and always will be a sort of subculture. It may be that they operate at night and on weekends. They employ all types of people from wannabee actors to finance MBAs to moms to drifters. You don’t typically find that cast of characters at an accounting office. When discussing this subculture over drinks last night (Monday night…when industry people go out for drinks), my server friend hypothesized that working after dark and being in the alcohol trade may be what separates a restaurant culture from say the culture at H&R Block. Maybe really sensitive and PC people eventually find their way back to daylight work and coffee, leaving the seedy underbelly to those of us who kind of like the seedy stuff.
To leave you with a full picture of the dichotomy in which restaurant workers often find themselves, I am including an industry video produced by the National Restaurant Association. This was shown at one of our annual training meetings a few years ago at The Capital Grille, and I actually got a little misty eyed with pride. Then we all put on our uniforms for service and chef may have said something rude but effective like, “What the fuck is your problem? I told you we were out of salmon!” What a meltdown.