Dishin’ That: It hurts to be thrown under the bus

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Over the years I’ve shared many stories about my illustrious Restaurant Creative Consulting Team. Although a few have punched out for the last time, we still find excuses to get together for birthdays, babies and general foolishness. With the exception of busing each other’s tables, we pick up right where we left off.

I am told this type of camaraderie is found, to some degree, in other industries, too, but I find it hard to fathom. Do those coworkers find themselves at the end of a fourth, nine-hour shift, shoes off, drinking wine from a coffee mug, and singing something akin to “Kumbaya?” Probably not.

However, not all hospitality environments are as cohesive, and I was saddened by the story of a friend who told me he was thrown under the bus by someone he considered a close colleague. Not just under one wheel, but to the full 18 wheels of upper-upper management.

I had to concede it was somewhat serious situation. His actions could have injured a customer or coworker, and was the result of unprofessional haste. He readily agreed it was a “monumental cluster,” and as a professional, was furious at himself. He vowed to be more careful.

But he was astonished that someone he works with side by side on a daily basis ratted him out.

“Yeah, it was bad. We’re like partners, you know, like cops, and are supposed to have each other’s backs. We talk about everything, and haven’t held back with each other on stuff worse than this,” he said. “Instead, I got suspended. Now, after four years, I don’t ever want to talk to the guy again. It doesn’t erase my carelessness, but was that really necessary?”

Seeing both sides (my friend’s a bit more clearly), I could imagine his sense of betrayal. The potential for harm was there, but the reality is no one got hurt. With the intent of helping my friend grow professionally, and protecting him, his buddy should have reamed him out for sure. But going all the way to the top, to the hands-off owner, took it to a different level.

Grateful for the support I’ve received over the years, I recall being called out (and doing the calling) various times. It didn’t feel good, but it was done in a safe environment.

With the exception of police and firefighters, I’m still unsure those outside the hospitality industry can understand the level of cohesiveness that develops from years of working obscene hours in close physical proximity.

But, for my hurt and suspended friend, that doesn’t really matter now. Life is hard enough as it is, and work, regardless of the industry, doesn’t have to be a minefield.

It’s all about coffee mugs full of wine and the Golden Rule. Let’s live it.

Peas & Q’s

Q — My wife recently tried to make a reservation for six people at the end of May at a well-known restaurant in Portland’s Old Port. We know this is near Memorial Day weekend, and were willing to come mid-week, on three different days. We were told there was no availability from 5:45 to 9:30 any of those nights. How can that be? We were also told we could try walking in because they save a few tables, but that doesn’t make any sense. — Rob H., Kittery.

A — Many restaurants use the sandwich method of taking reservations. They will book the very early and very late slots, knowing peak time will take care of itself. I understand it’s a frustrating process, but one that works to maximize seating turnover.

The rule of thumb for many places is to take reservations as far as four to six weeks out, and it seems like you fall in that range. Try speaking to a manager. Your extra effort and flexibility may snag you a table.

Also, many people play the “just-in-case” game and will book multiple reservations, deciding where to go at the last minute. This robs the rest of us for seating inventory and is bad restaurant karma. Please don’t complain about an inattentive hostess or a bad experience if this is your scam.

And finally, as the least photogenic person on the planet, I apologize for the “Where’s Natalie?” photo contest delay. It’s coming.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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