Archive | September 2012

When I Grow Up

I’m asked almost every day what I plan to be when I get a “real job.”

If you’re not one that works in restaurants, you may not understand why this is so interesting a question. In fact, if you work in “the industry” as a means to another end, you may not understand either.

Thing is, it’s not your fault.

The way that the restaurant business is viewed by a large majority of people who either dine or work in one is as a pass-through – a place that you will land in for some time, and probably not return. Whether a post-grad JD waiting for Bar results, a high school student wanting extra money for a telescope (too obscure?) or a regular dining customer, many people consider a restaurant to be a transient thing, something through which they flow like pollen on a waterfall. A major flaw, however, is in the fact that a business so driven by third-party satisfaction is ever possibly presumed to be completed by anyone with such an attitude. That is, how can you achieve a level of greatness in what you do if you are not completely committed to it for the entire time that you do it? And if you’re not interested at being great while you do it, how then will you master the pieces of your “real job,” making up the sum of parts, that you find less enjoyable than others?

In the hope of excellence, there is the occasional bump in the road that drops us directly onto our asses to remind us that we are very little different than the animals from which we evolved. We are very able to be humbled, and yet resilient enough to get up and correct, even better ourselves forward. This is an amazing task for a species – yet we settle so often at the precipice of mediocrity. And why? Because of the great lines such as “it’s not my job” and “I don’t plan on doing this forever,” the same transient behavior has started to mirror the transient perception – that, in fact, it’s ok to only care about a job in hospitality only so much. Don’t take it too seriously, because you’re not going to do this forever.

Interestingly enough, it’s these people that get stuck doing it forever. They are the ones that, bitter about their job, sink into a pit of gossip and anger, complaining about everything that takes place in a restaurant, and all the people that work there. From the start to the end of the shift, there’s nothing they’d rather do less than work – and this translated to their guests as well – leading to a worse tip, leading to more bitching. Wouldn’t you know, when the time finally comes to find another job, the mentality does not change, but the position DOES. So, as the gossiping crap-attitude continues, eventually this person is let go from the company that, regularly, is driven by type-A personalities that have no interest in that bullshit. What’s left? Back to the restaurant business. The world of forced hours, and random days off. To the person forced back into the world they hated, the word “hospitality” does not exist in any form, as it’s too choc-full of altruism for someone to understand, and doesn’t offer enough commiseration for their needs.

My feelings on this are strong, because so too are my feelings on professionalism within the industry. The pride with which some of us try to hold ourselves, in this world of such low expectations for service, defines many of us, and our inability to convey that with fellow restaurant employees – nothing should take priority over the moment in a restaurant, and the moment should be entirely about your guest. It’s a zen moment when you capture, as many of my friends have, that feeling like the table, station, or floor is yours. You are invincible because your guests want for nothing. You are invincible because they will come back to let you care for them again and again, and even pay you to do the same. This is what we do. To become intoxicated with the endeavor to succeed by creating an experience, and satisfying desires of your hosted guests is to know what it means to be a true restaurant professional, and not a wandering mercenary en route to to something “better” or more “permanent.” Done right, there is nothing that is either.

I may be asked almost every day when I plan to get a “real job,” but I’m not so sure I need one.