Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us that week to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Running a restaurant in the OC is a challenge. The bigger the shop, the more headaches, heartaches and unexpected disasters will be a normal part of the program. Being at the helm of all this entropy is difficult, to say the least. Put the people factor on top of everything else and it adds an epic wild card to the situation. Restaurants aren't like surf shops or gas stations where you have a fairly straightforward product and delivery system with not many types and/or numbers of employees. Good news for most restaurant managers is people are generally easy to deal with (except in Corona del Mar) and usually don't go out of their way to act like selfish jerks (also, except in CDM). If you're wondering what it's like to do their job and the best way to deal with them, here's some things to consider.
1. They Are Horribly Overworked and (Generally) Pathetically Underpaid
Unless they're high up the food chain with PF Chang's or El Torito, a restaurant manager probably isn't making much money. (Heaven forbid they are on salary – then said managers are really getting screwed.) Even the lowliest of lunch servers get to work their 5-hour shift, leave with their 100 bucks in tips and lay on the sand in Huntington. Meanwhile, their much-abused manager is stuck back at the shop checking deliveries, working the line covering for a sick cook, fending off shady salespeople, dealing with a police report from over the weekend, unclogging toilets or handling one of the thousand other headaches that happen every day. Let's face it, the poor wretch who runs a shop is at the whim of the restaurant Fates and their siren song will cause him/her to wreck their hulls upon the rocky shores of over-commitment every time.
2. When Good, They Are Great; When Bad, They're Just Awful
I've been around the block and back again and I've seen very few mediocre managers. The stand-outs are amazing but when they are bad (Whew!) look out! Good ones? They make everything effortless and drama-free, gliding from one problem to another, solving each with the greatest of ease. That front of house purrs like a well-tuned Ford 350 Cleveland tearing up the blacktop on an open desert highway and great managers know that a kind word to an employee having a rough day is better than a harsh admonition. They also know that a simple "thank you" goes a long, long way all around.
Bad ones? Well, they are just the worst. Where do I start? Creating drama where there is none (in order to feel important) is just the beginning. Harshly criticizing servers in front of clients, gossiping loudly about private shop business, finger pointing instead of problem-solving, big egos-small skill sets: the list goes on and on. In The Biz, temperament is everything. Managers who don't have the right one are horrible to deal with. Avoid them if you can.
3. You Are Probably the Least of Their Worries
Okay, customer service is the backbone of the restaurant industry but keep in mind that your need for an itemized reprint of a check from three months ago for your accountant is probably pretty low on a manager's priority list. That doesn't mean you are not important, 'cuz you are! Just be aware that while that manager is smiling and nodding while discussing whatever your need du jour is they are pretty likely to be a boiling cauldron of foodservice angst underneath that veneer. Which bring us to our next topic…
4. It's a Significant Possibility They Have a Prescription Drug Problem
Industry types are oftentimes on edge, hung over or just plain ready to party (Maybe all three at once – that's why God created Xanax!) If you are wondering why that manager at some random shop never returned your call about a reservation, just keep in mind that they might not have even been aware they were at work when you spoke to them on the phone, much less remembered what day you wanted to come in for your kid's big birthday party. Good managers either keep it low key or can function just fine right after that three-day Palm Springs booze and cocaine bender. (Someone once asked me if there were any managers that didn't party to excess at times; I've never met that mythical creature). Bad ones? They're the ones that look like something out of Dawn of the Dead at the host stand, nursing a Bloody Mary and chewing on that pot dispensary Twinkie when you come in and ask for a table.
5. They Couldn't Cut It As a Server, So They Made Them Management
This sounds like a personal dig but it's not. Some people are just nice to be around and, although not everyone is cut out to wait tables or tend bar, oftentimes those same ones turn out to be very effective behind the scenes. Hell, show them how to run the books, schedule employees, handle POS and off they go! Smart, motivated, and having good chaos management skills are the most important qualities a restaurant manager can have; the nuts and bolts of the job are the easy part. Seriously, we're not building satellites in the clean room at Lockheed Martin here.
6. They Might be Doing This Because They Can't Do Anything Else (Or Don't Want To)
Good managers are the latter of the above. Maybe they have a lot of outside experience, just plain 'ol brains or (like me) detest the 9 to 5 cubicle-dweller lifestyle. The Biz has its foibles but, for independent souls, it's a great way to make a living while avoiding the societal pitfalls that can turn your life into a long, bleak non-stop march to your end days. The other ilk feel trapped, constantly reminded that this is their lot and it shows. Sadly, they oftentimes take it out on others around them.
Forewarned is forearmed, they say, so consider yourself prepared the next time you interact with someone running a shop here the OC. In fact, query up front "Do you have a prescription drug problem?"
Tell 'em I said to ask.
Want more of Dave's rantings/ravings/ramblings? Check out www.dinnerwithdave.com for the latest!