Dishin' That: Tips for job hopping, and other napkin notes

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Unless it is an upward and onward career decision, and those greener pastures really are greener, leaving a restaurant job is an especially vulnerable move. But, this is the time of year when playing musical restaurants is common.

All jobs have considerable pros and cons beyond money pocketed at the end of the day, and those considerations mean different things to different people. How many times have you heard something like “The money is too good to leave, but I can’t stand this one jerk I work with. That, and the place is ready to implode.” Or, “I mostly love the job. The pace is good, the food is excellent, and the people are great. It just pays so badly that I can’t live on it.”

Last month, out for an impromptu happy hour, I found myself facing a familiar bartender in a “right place, wrong guy” situation. More confused than usual (me, not him), the bartender asked if I wanted Cabernet or Miller Lite. “But, this is a cosmo-happy stop,” I said out loud when I realized the music had stopped for him.

Explaining he switched jobs because he was guaranteed a specific, set schedule, he asked me to warn people with pointers about job hunting because the new gig wasn’t what he expected. Assuring him I revisit this topic annually, we jotted notes on a cocktail napkin usually reserved for phony phone numbers.

The real result of this meeting of the minds was no cosmo. Instead, here are our top tips for weighing a new or different restaurant job.

1 — Is the person interviewing you the decision maker? Can that person speak definitively when you discuss available shifts, rate of pay, tipping out and reporting policies, vacation requests and average sales of each shift (to guestimate your own projected income)?

The restaurant may “just be collecting resumes at this point,” or fishing in case of a major staff malfunction, but politely ask who makes the final decisions. Flux is part of any restaurant’s charm, but if the person interviewing you can’t answer the most basic questions with some certainty, keep looking.

2 — Talk to the steady customers. If you’re job hopping, chances are pretty good you’ll know a few people who make the circuit. Regulars love to have the skinny on their favorite hangouts. They usually know who’s in trouble and why, and are more than happy to tell you the details. Most importantly, they know how well the staff is treated. They’ll know if management plays favorites, and how the last new person fared. Just be careful and stay positive. If they’re spilling someone else’s beans, they’ll soon be spilling yours.

3 — Ask yourself if the place is a good fit. The bartender I collaborated with was lulled by the promise of busy happy hours that would be enhanced by his experience. “All I am is a ‘beer-tender’ these days, because this is so different from where I used to work. I’m always happy when I have a job, but I’d rather make a little less money, and be someplace more my style. I know it sounds crazy and it may not matter to part-time or seasonal people, but there has to be a balance between money and liking your job if you do it six days a week.”

Peas & Q’s

Speaking of regulars who know best, my long-time customer/friend James is always trying to get me to work in places he frequents.

The same evening of our chance meeting at a Commercial Street coffee shop last week, I received a phone call from a restaurant owner/ex-boss who I’ve always liked and respected. Imagine my surprise when I took the bait and went in to visit him about newspaper stuff, only to discover James and Carla saving me a bar stool.

Doubtful there’s even a position open at that busy restaurant, it was James’ lovingly manipulative plan to get me to go back to work there.

However, like this week’s collaborator pointed out, not all places are the right fit, and such was the case with this gold mine. Difficult to pass up (even if there is a job opening), this place is home to one of the best cosmos in town.

Shout out to James, with nothing but love for all involved.

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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