Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the Owner's Side and Why Yelp Sucks


      I received a sweet email back from the owner of The Disheveled Pluot. I was fairly civil in my descriptions, and thorough; I may have said that a small contingent of chimps could have handled the floor of her café better than her staff, but was otherwise kind. They were in the midst of several caterings, plus staff changes, she replied. All the problems I listed she was aware of and attempting to address. At least this was the gist of things. The sort of rambling nature of her email and proclamations of her "mission" to contribute to healthy food options in her area made me picture her thus: in her office sipping a long-ago cold cup of coffee, some unfinished paintings in the background, a long skirt tucked under her, with a sleepy cat stretched across the desk, paws poking on the keyboard as she typed her response; A dreamer, slightly disorganized, trying to figure out the day-to-day workings of a restaurant. She was a person, ultimately, behind whatever oddness I'd experienced.

     And this, my friends, is why Yelp blows chickens. While it sucks for servers to have to read something unfair about themselves on Yelp, what it is really to them? A nick off their pride? To an owner, their restaurant is literally their baby, except they paid a few hundred thousand dollars to conceive it. Everything is riding on peoples' perceptions of their restaurant, a perception that can be skewed but a few angry poo-faces on Yelp. Typically, Yelp brats have never themselves know the weight of ownership and are committing what amounts to graffiti, an act of vandalism, to get their jollies off.

     A restaurant owner explained to me how, 10 years ago, people would tell him to his face if they had a problem. He could bring them a couple glasses of wine on the house and make it right. Now everyone is so socially incompetent they wouldn't dare risk a confrontation with the owner over their too-salty food; they'd rather sulk about the experience, then write a "review" with some petty insults tossed in about the staff too.

     I once watched a boss lady turn into a puddle of mush after all the pressures of ownership started getting too intense. She wasn't always the best at what she did; disorganized (perhaps in the same way as the owner of the Pluot) and aloof, customers were frequently left scratching their heads after interactions with her. "Your hostess is terrible," I'd hear from tables as she was working the front desk. She was all too aware of the whispered criticisms around her, and, with mounting financial and life pressures, she just sort of toppled off the deep end mentally. Everyone assumed this boss lady didn't care, but the thing is, she actually cared too much. I've never had a boss who genuinely gave more of a shit about her staff, and that included worrying about making payroll so they could feed themselves. The last thing she wanted to think was that she was hopelessly bad at her job.

     Yelp as a means of bitching is a last resort to me. I use the site to make general recommendations about what is special at a particular business, or offer praise about outstanding staff members. But if I went on Yelp and blasted a place to smithereens, I would be assuming the owner doesn't give a shit. I did assume that at first in the case of the Pluot, but on speaking with her over a couple emails, it was clear that she does care. The service at her café definitely needs tweaking, but I will continue to have the respect in the future to address those issues in private.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Then You Ever Wanted to Know

Sooo.. the dubious honor of responding to a "tell me about yourself" survey has been lobbed in my direction. Since it is Fuck My Table doing the lobbing I will gratefully accept and try to make this as painless as possible for everyone.

Seven Things You Never Wanted to Know About a Wino:

1.  I was an online poker player before the Department of Justice decided to shut it down, casting the lot of us players into the same group as derelict slot machine zombies and horse race fiends. Poker was kind of, like, what I did in my free time, if only for small stakes; if I didn't have a loving boyfriend and two cats, I would have considered giving our "free" country the finger and moving to Canada. A recent ruling classifying poker as a skill-based game (no shit, how else could I have maintained a positive return on investment over thousands of games?) and a deal between two of the major poker companies to help get seized funds back to players has me hopeful. Bring it back bitches.

2.  Despite what my moniker suggests I don't drink wine very often. This past year I've developed a bit of a sulfite allergy. Even when I'm tasting wine at work (and thus spitting) I'll get splotches on my neck, which always prompts the mature individuals in the kitchen to ask me where I got the hickies. I'm hoping that reducing my stress level and improving my general health will eventually make me less sensitive. In any case, I don't feel like I have to be a drunk to nerd out on wine.

3.  I speak Spanish semi-fluently. Considering my years studying the language, traveling in Spanish-speaking countries, living and working with people who speak it, I should be totally fluent. But... I don't even know what my excuse is.

4.  I hate shopping. Every time I've had to cross the threshold of H&M to look for work clothes I start going bonkers the blaring music, the faceless mannequins in their cheap knock-off couture styles, those weird plasticy wedge shoes that I could never imagine tottering around in. And there's always someone at the register buying the store on their credit card, with a bored 20-year-old retail clerk ringing each item up at a snail's space. It takes effort not to throw my purse at the front of the line and run for the hills.

5.  Airplanes terrify me. Even seeing one fly by, my one thought is "I'm glad I'm standing here." Getting me on one is about as fun as trying to put one of my cats in the bathtub, and will result in a lot more scratches.

6.  I went to college for seven years. No, I wasn't flunking out; I took a lot of art, photography, philosophy, and other goof-off classes in junior college, and then proceeded to change majors four times once at State (settled on International Relations, with a minor in Journalism). I've come to grips with the fact that this perpetual restlessness has kept me from a "real" job. Doing the restaurant thing, I have enough free time to pursue my interests, whatever they happen to be at the moment.

7.  I'm OCD. I wash my hands probably 50 times a day, check and re-check then oven, iron etc. before leaving the house, constantly count anything that is striped. My boyfriend has learned how to "herd" me out the door when we are going anywhere and I start twitching out. "But, did I shut the closet door? What about the lights in the office?" "Yes, go!" Moo.

Anyone else care to join in the fun? I informally give this award to anyone on my blogroll.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bruised Fruit

     I had the oddest breakfast dining experience while on vacation in Monterey. Well I actually didn't get to eat at this place, though I tried to, twice.

     Because I think I might write an email to the owner, until I hear back I will call this locale The Disheveled Pluot. I always look for these type of organic cafés when I travel, places where smiling hippies serve flavorful, energy-packed pancakes loaded with blueberries, mochas served in big old-lady mugs with fresh-made whipped cream, and sides of nitrate-free (thus slightly less guilty) applewood-smoked bacon. If I'm going to get up at 8 am for once, this is how I roll.

     On first attempt, we crammed into The Pluot's tiny entryway area, behind two groups of three waiting for a table. We could barely see past them to survey the scene, but finally grasped that of the ten or so tables packed into the small space, not much was happening. No one looked about to leave and no one bothered to take our name down on a wait list. Shrug. So we went down the road and found something quick and tasty; the cappuccino at this other spot was on the bitter side but it was small sacrifice to avoid waiting list purgatory.

     The following day we showed up, the restaurant was still full but we were first in line, with a three-top stepping in behind us. Was I was finally on my way to mocha heaven? Nope; as we stood there with full view of the restaurant, we noticed that the sleepy, still air pervaded yet again. In front of us a man at a four-top was literally twirling around a check presenter with a credit card in the air, trying to get someone's attentionnot a good sign. His wife was trying to keep their baby from going ballistic, and she eventually had to escort the little one away, while he continued to flash his plastic. After several minutes a server finally appeared to take the card, and she at least said "hi" to us in passing. She didn't return with the credit card for several more minutes, and she didn't have anything else in her hands. I could have run around the block several times in the amount of time it took her to run the charge.

     Meanwhile, we watched the rest of the serverswe counted fouroccasionally dart out from behind the bakery counter to take an order or drop food then disappear again. There were long stretches of time where there was not a single server in sight, and tables clearly needed things. The only thing we could think was, maybe they were cooking the food? Why else would they disappear for so long? Two tables opened up and we waited, waited, for anyone to clear them. When that finally happened, and a server gestured for us to take a seat, no one reappeared to wipe the table, set it, or bring menus. We waited five more minutes before leaving. Since no one was on the floor, they didn't even see us leave.

     When we later checked Yelp, sure enough, people had split reviews: 4 or 5 stars for food, 1 or 2 for service. Almost every complaint was speed related. Two reviews were written while the customers were waiting for their food (oh the beauty of smart phones). An average time to have breakfast was an hour and a half. Clearly this owner just does not give a fuck, not one flying fuck about service. I will be curious to see if they even bother to respond to an email.

     Denied yummy organic goodness on this second go, we instead went for a tried-and-true diner that advertises "Good Eats and Crazy Waitresses." The slogan made me cringe but you know what? That crazy chick showed up at our table with a smile and had coffee, menus, and food out in short order. We left her a 30% tip.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Wino's First Steps

A wee bit of time here at the Wino and I've learned a few things:

Nice people finish last and so, apparently, do posts about nice things, judging by the anemic response to the last article. So far top posts have involved: stupid people, insane behavior, poo, and a certain undeserving celebrity.

Strictly wine posts don't work. I started off wanting to talk more about the business of wine buying but a couple things have hindered me: a) no one cares, and b) I can't seem to get fired up about it myself. I'd go to tastings and be like, "Wow, I should write something about this," and never get around to it. Now a story about crop dusting? I'll have that ready in a hour flat.

Other bloggers are super cool. They are at your left, check them out. Having some good laughs over their posts has helped me figure out what the hell this blog is about. And I've been surprised by how thoughtful and supportive they have been for this fledgling blog: Fly little wino, fly! 

Bitching about work is not only therapeutic, it has helped me identify things I need to "fix." Boss man and I had a long talk the other day on what we can improve on, and this weekend went pretty damn well as a result. My customers are still nuts of course, but having a positive work environment makes them more tolerable.

I've figured out what this blog is not. In response to that, I have a couple other projects in the works: One is a wine education web site that will attempt to make wine funny and interesting to your average non-caring server. I know a lot of people in the biz that need wine knowledge to increase their tippage, but don't want to pick up a book, and I don't blame them that shit is boring. The second project will be a photo/general life silliness site. Because people don't really want to look at pictures of my cats on a serving blog.

Thanks again for the views and positive comments! I'll get right back to writing more posts about doodie and inappropriate customers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Nicest Thing I Ever Did for a Customer

     I believe in niceness. I know this seems a bit odd considering the amount of bitching I do here, and maybe I indulge in the occasional passive-aggressive ploy, but at heart I'm a giant sappy-pants and am genuinely kind to others. So often though, thoughtful behavior goes unnoticed and unrequited. I supposed this is the root of my bitchyness; People's general lack of morality or niceness is depressing.

     The recipient of this act was hardly a likely suspect. He was slightly built and odd looking; picture Sméagol, with clothes, a tan, a mop of grey hair that was always askew, glasses and beady eyes. And, oh yeah, dude was definitely a Creeper. He was a counter regular at my first serving job in a breakfast café, remarkable because he would leave an assortment of change for a tip (usually under a dollar), and would stare at us with his dark, pinprick eyes, making the occasional off-color comment. Whatever he said was usually hesitant and choppy, as if he had little practice talking to people.

     I was alone at the counter one day, with just the chef and a line cook in the kitchen. It was early evening.  We had just started doing dinners, so we were painfully slow- not unexpected considering the porcelain cow sugar containers on the tables and other assorted farmhouse decor. Sméagol came in to purchase a coffee at the register. He was smiling and excited for once, saying more to me than usual, though it was difficult to understand; something about getting a new job, doing his laundry across the parking lot, whatever. He left and I was thankful he wasn't staying to eat. 

     We finally got a couple customers so I was busy setting them up for a minute, practically forgetting that Creeper dude had ever come in. When I cruised back to the kitchen I noticed something on the register counter. The outline of the object was unmistakable, grabbing my attention‒a wad of money.

     I picked it up. The bills were all hundreds. As I slowly counted them, seven in total, I was awestruck. It felt like a small fortune in my hands. This was more than ten years ago and it was the exact amount of my rent, which I was probably going to be late on given the incredibly slow state of dinners. I made good money during my day shifts but at night I was walking with like 20 or 30 bucks. I showed the chef and he was excited for me: "It was meant to be!" he said, "A gift from above!" I wasn't so sure about that. I tucked the money under the register, knowing it had to belong to somebody. I almost didn't want the responsibility of guarding over that money, but part of me prayed no one would show up to claim it and it would be mine.

     No way it could have belonged to Sméagol, I rationalized. When he came in, he always got the cheapest breakfast and left a nominal tip, and, from what I'd gathered, he'd just gone through a spate of unemployment. How he could rolling around with a wad of hundreds?

     But he appeared a half hour later, his rail-thin frame visibly shaking, almost white in spite of his tan. He'd just finished his laundry and realized something important was missing: his hiring bonus from his new job. "I don't know what happened," he said. He started explaining his activities in the last couple hours, how he'd checked the seat in his truck...

     I slowly, heavily walked to the register. "I think I know what happened," I passed him the wad of hundreds. "It must have fallen out when you were paying for your coffee." He was beside himself with relief, his "thank yous" tumbling out in stuttering succession.

     A week later he came in for breakfast. He smiled when he saw me. "Here, I have something for you," he said, and held out my prize:

     A See's lollipop. And from then on he improved his tippage too: instead of leaving an assortment of change, he started tipping a full dollar bill.

     As an interesting aside, I was fired from this job because they suspected me of stealing. Never mind that I was alone for months during those empty dinner shifts and not a dollar ever went missing from my till. One of my co-workers hated the boss and thought it was fitting punishment to steal from him. She didn't even need the money; she later told me, to my shock, how she went and bought potholders and other frivolous things to decorate her kitchen with the money. But I had been young and naive enough to let my rent problems be known, and my co-worker waited until she worked shifts with me to lift the money. She quit the day I got fired, as the jig was up. Needless to say, when this all came to light, we were not friends anymore.

     Also funny to note: the thieving chick was also an uber-smug hippie who would lecture me on recycling and want to go on nature walks and shit.

     I don't know what the conclusion of this story is. Morality is complex?  Morality is bullshit? Nice people get pooped on? I do know that I would have given the money back 100% of the time, even if it would have saved me from being homeless. My hippie co-worker would have kept that wad-o-dough, leaving Sméagol to rot, and bought herself a nice set of pots and pans, and maybe some decorative napkin holders.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dusting the Vampires

For an introduction to the art of winning see Part One.

Situation: Late-Night Campers

     In the home-stretch of the evening, after business has dwindled down to a few lonely tables, they appear at our door. The Lundershags, looking like two ghosts from the sixties: Tim, with his thick, owlish aviator glasses and buzz cut, and Sandy, with her hair pinned tightly, small face fringed with silver-blond bangs, and shoulders hugged by a white knit wrap. They quietly saddle up to the host stand, oblivious to the stir their presence has caused behind the kitchen doors. Despite their unassuming demeanor they are here for one thing: to get their party on.

     Los vampiros, the vampires, are here; the news always spreads as fast as breath to the staff, instantly eliciting moans of disappointment.  Plans of a big meal, a refreshing beverage, a conversation with a loved one, or just sleep, are now on a two-hour hold. The servers scurry to start counting the remaining tables, as whoever has the most is stuck closing, their turn to be chained to restaurant 'till almost midnightTag, you're it! As we say. Those who are already done immediately feel like they've scored the jackpot for the evening.

      This couple does their best to extend whatever rocking lifestyle they lived back in the day into the wee years of their lives. To start: a vodka rocks for the lady (with a large straw, not those dinky little ones) and a 100-proof whiskey water for the gent. They settle into their usual corner, and have another round or two before they even contemplate the menu. Little Sandy, despite looking like a doting grandma who likes to bake cakes, can put away liquor in a more controlled, efficient fashion than your average 25-year-old bartender. During their course of their meal, she has about three vodkas and finishes with a double Tuaca, and who knows how much more she imbibes before their usual bedtime of 5 am. They sometimes laugh a bit at us servers, as we are yawning as midnight approaches. Amateurs, they must think. 

     No one hates the Lundershags (well, no one except one of my bussers who has to wake up at 6 am most days) because they are kind and tip well. Though they wait until five minutes before closing to order, their routine is at least familiar and easy. They even invite many staff members of the restaurants they  mildly torture- frequent to their yearly Christmas party, complete with prizes, free booze and lots of food. They gravitate toward the oddballs, the musicians, the tattooed, the scruffy; they are funny to talk to and we enjoy trying to figure out what exactly they were up to 30 years ago. We treat them well, as they are part of our weird little family after all. The worst thing they've ever been subjected to at our restaurant is perhaps overhearing our busser not-so-quietly cursing up a storm in his station; At other restaurants, they haven't been always been so lucky.

Tactic: Crop Dusting

     Let's preface this discussion by saying that servers are not the most mature lot. With sleeping in late most days and the fact that it's easier to get alcohol than food when leaving a shift at 11 pm, the average maturity level of a server is about that of a trust fund kid who has just turned 18. Add to that a certain unhinged quality that comes from being berated like an misbehaving child for doing something as slight as forgetting to bring a straw for someone's water, and there is potential disaster afoot.

     A case of burble butt at work is a complicated situation. It's hard to find a good place to alleviate a little gaseous pressure, as there is, at every turn, someone who will be blown up by it. The best a server can do is run to the bathroom and let try to let the sucker go peacefully, all the while praying there won't be a customer waiting on the other side of the door, who they will have to sheepishly face. Now this is the behavior of mature servers, at a restaurant with nice management; For an unhappy crew, any gifts of hot fetid air can instead be carried around during service, locked and loaded for the staff to unleash at will.

     At a restaurant very similar to minesame prices, same style of food, even most of the same regularsthe art of "crop dusting" was at one time very popular. The game was simple: another server bitching about a shitty table? Oh here, I got that for you, and whoever had a stinker on deck would make a quick pass by the offending table and drop a stealth nugget of butt stench. Or a server was acting like a jerk? Again, a little walk through their station to let go some bottom rumblings upon any table who happened to be, say, enjoying an expensive bottle of wine. Unlike my restaurant, where we genuinely like the owners and would never dream of violating the air supply in such a way, at this spot the owner was a giant dick face. The servers spread their discontent in the form of noxious intestinal tumult, of which there was a seemingly unending supply; especially as their favorite shift meal was a creamy pasta dish, which they would load with fresh cut jalapenos. The UN could have posed a raid of the restaurant for the WMD-level of fire butt collectively held by the staff.

     It was almost inevitable that the Lundershags would be dusted at some point, as years of weekly visits had taken their toll on the staff. However, they ended up being the recipients of one of the most evil clouds of rot butt that the restaurant had ever seen.

     The servers were standing in the back server station, the one place where the boss couldn't watch them. The Lundershags were in their usual spot, maybe 20 feet away, one of the few tables remaining on a slow weekday night. "What shall we do?" the question was posed. One of the servers had the answerhe was Mexican, and his chili-eating habit had left him that night with some extra-fiery volcanic activity in his guts. He made a quick swoop through his station to straighten a few chairs, and then paused, tilting his rear slightly to the side. He returned to the server station grinning. The others servers didn't know it yet but he'd felt it; he'd just unleashed the hottest, most lethal of silent-but-deadlys.

     The servers almost immediately began to gag; the smell was thick enough to taste and strong enough to floor a 300-pound bouncer. They were flushed from their cubby-like server station and to the other side of the restaurant, watching in horror as the Lundershags were left to eat their meals under the settling fart cloud. One of my friends had to eventually brave this no-go zone to retrieve the couple's plates. Even with the stench in retreat it was still foul enough to make him hold his breath. The Lundershags bore the injustice brought upon them well While they looked sufficiently discomforted they didn't say a word about it, knowing perhaps that for their repeated incursion into the hollowed after-hours' space of the restaurant they would eventually run into some "playful" opposition.

     Whether the Lundershags ever deserved to be fart bombed to this degree is up for debate. They've never done anything to me, personally, to warrant this kind of wrath from my end. I will admit, however, that on a slow night when I'm closing server, and I watch them quietly creep up to the host station, I have this image the two of them silently chewing their food in a hot cloud of SPD to comfort me. I'm still thinking aww, damn, but at least I have something to genuinely smile about.