My first serving job was at a now defunct restaurant chain, The Good Earth.
The money was terrible, the food was beige and bland and the whole place had this funky cleaning solution/curry-ish smell that attached itself to your jeans and was superhero impervious to any type of laundry detergent.
I don’t think they even served curry-so there is THAT mystery.
My General Manager at the time was Kurt. He was a tall, lanky man who always looked like he wished he were somewhere else, he wore the same pair of pants everyday and grimaced when he attempted a smile, which wasn’t often.
I, of course, immediately developed a crush on a fellow employee who was completely out of my league, not only was she older and beautiful, she was part of the most elite club imaginable, she was a “Night Server”.
She might as well have been Scarlet Johansson or Princess Leia.
I was waiting tables one weekday afternoon, Kurt was on duty. I was a closing server, so after lunch “rush”, we would send home most of the servers and leave the closers to wait on any straggling guests until the Night crew came on.
We got crazy busy. A tour bus or something comparable must have let out because all of a sudden I had 6 tables of four or more guests.
If you know anyone who has waited tables for any period of time, it is almost a rite of passage for them to to have at least one “Serving Nightmare” in which they get busy and can’t keep up, no matter what they do, they just keep getting farther and farther behind.
Its like running in quicksand.
This is where those dreams come from.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get all the orders in fast enough, and there was not enough help for the kitchen so food was slow and everyone else was as swamped as me. Kurt was nowhere to be found.
Shockingly, only one guest asked to see the Manager, I finally found Kurt and asked him to go by. I could see him speaking (and grimacing) with her as I greeted a new table and took their drink order. I figured he would understand how overwhelmed we were and how hard we were trying.
He did not. He approached me while I was actually talking to table, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside. (lawsuit, much?)
He asked me what happened, didn’t wait for my reply, looked me straight in the eye and said “You are the worse server I have ever seen”, and then he told me I was fired.
I was devastated, but not so much about the job, but that Kurt (or anyone) would be so blind and insensitive to the obvious situation. Why would he treat anyone this way?
During orientation, didn’t he say we were a” team”? Was I really the “worse he had ever seen”? Based on this one day?
My mother had always treated the people who worked for her with tremendous respect, and if it came to it, firing someone was often a tearful, visibly painful event for her.
Kurt was a douche and a terrible manager.
But he made me realize a couple of important lessons that I am grateful for:
Respect is something you have to earn. Don’t be a Kurt.
The most important “product” your business will ever have is its people.
Coaching is an underappreciated skill.
I got my next serving job within a week, I became one of their best servers, got promoted up through all levels of management and finally to the corporate level. I worked for them for 10 years before leaving to open my own restaurant.
I saw Kurt years later, he was a manager at 50’s style diner, as part of his uniform he had to wear white pants, a name tag and a paper hat.
I thought he had never looked better, and the burger was delicious.