Dishin' That: Tough town, tough restaurant manager

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My friend Jacquelyn’s management style was intimidation.

The hard line from the diminutive 26-year-old redhead was impressive, considering it was the early 1990s, when political correctness and sensitivity were in budding vogue.

Jacquelyn’s store (as multi-unit restaurants are called) was in downtown Lynn, Massachusetts. It was not a place many people sought out, but she was a profitable general manager running a high-volume, fast-service restaurant.

Lynn was infamous for drug trafficking and gang infiltration. It was a scary place, but in spite of the location, the store was among the chain’s top producers. Everyone credited it to Jacquelyn’s steely-eyed intimidation of her customers, as well as her crew.

Not bothering to knock, she would walk into the men’s bathroom and scream at partiers get out. She gave pizza to cops in hopes they’d stop by more often, and figured out how to bypass corporate pay structure by giving out “bonuses” to male crew members willing to stay until closing time. Not many people liked her, but everyone respected her.

Jacquelyn was a conundrum for the tightly wound corporate machine. She broke rules by giving hiring preference to pregnant women, and homeless kids who promised they’d shower daily. Simultaneously, she sent managers-in-training home when they gave her attitude, after working her own 60-hour week. And, she made it a habit to miss general manager meetings because they were “a waste of time.”

Once, we were walking to the bank a half a block away and were robbed at gunpoint by a guy in a hoodie and ski mask. Although a rebel, Jackie wasn’t stupid and always followed the policy of two people making a deposit. Frozen in her tracks and refusing to hand over hard-earned profits in such a cliched scenario, I screamed at her.

“Give him the bag, Jackie. GIVE IT TO HIM!”

After the police investigation cleared us of any insider shenanigans, we were grilled by corporate. I took it all in stride, but am traumatized still at the recollection of fear for my life. Jacquelyn, while grateful to be among us (she’s a mom now), remains incensed.

After the robbery, we were inseparable, talking marketing strategy for her unique demographic, and curly hair styles for ourselves. Our future husbands became best buddies, and eventually, the four of us bought a beat-up boat and sophomorically named it Wet Dream.

Years later, my kid’s dad and Jacquelyn became competitors, vying for a promotion. It nearly cost me my job, to say nothing of my marriage, when I put myself in Jacquelyn’s corner.

Peas and Qs

Talk of restaurant people experiencing full-tilt customer craziness from gravitational pull of the full moon is more reality than folklore. And the “supermoon” this past Sunday night was no exception.

Moonstruck myself with The Weatherman’s impromptu invitation for a school night adventure, we went over the bridge to a South Portland eatery typically off my radar. The place he chose oozed with calculated charm and so many appealing menu items that I was in decision-making overload.

But this time, it was our server who was moonshine-loopy in her deflection of our most basic requests. Stalking the table, she rushed us to order when I was lingering over my cocktail, and insisted we place everything at once, which I clearly did not want to do.

Taking and entering full orders at once makes life functionally easier for the kitchen and wait staff in terms of timing and coursing the food. It also ensures diners won’t pass on a second round of food choices after filling up on bread and an appetizer. And it reduces the possibility they’ll camp out at a table. I’ve experienced, understand and respect this mentality, but found it inappropriate in a place that primarily features appetizers, salads and small tasting plates.

Spotting a respected business ally and his family, The Weatherman told our server he wanted to buy their first round. Stating she couldn’t transfer their order or void it out to add the cocktails to our tab, she blamed the ancient point-of-sale system. We were presented with two slips of paper and a pen (the bill for their drinks) before we had finished our salads.

I resisted my primal urge to howl BS as our server didn’t want to take the time or effort to accommodate us. Even if the computer system was too antiquated to transfer part of an order from one tab to another, there is always a void option. Surely the manager on duty could have made this a seamless task, instead of an uncomfortable production.

The food was well presented and tasty, so hopeful, things will be different when the tides return to normal ebb and flow.

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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