Burned Again

Have you ever been burned?  The blotchy red spots on the forearm, the nerveless fingertips, and complete adaptation to sweltering hot surroundings are as common to cooks as the figurative burns they’ve endured.

Most cooks, or chefs, if you insist, have been burned so much they couldn’t estimate the total any better than they can balance a checkbook.  I don’t imply they are inept at math, rather there must be something missing in the personal finance department if they wound up in a professional kitchen for any extended duration.  It’s impossible to spend any length of time as a chef, or cook, as I prefer, without having done the job of two or more people for the same lousy pay generally associated with the labor of one.

What’s the reason for the extra work?  Some hack they spent countless hours training, not just the particulars of the restaurant menu, but those essential skills for the job in general, didn’t show up.  Countless are the hours after the accountants consider the trainee trained that the coaching—for knife handling, cleaning, maintenance, birds and bees, reacting and improvising, whisking, scrubbing, car repair, and, of course, drinking and smoking—continues.  All just a mere fragment of the endless list of things which Station One Cook will teach Station B Cook.  But for some unknown reason, Station B Cook will wake up one day and decide he’s finished. And never tell anyone.

It happens all the time.  I wonder if there are other professions out there where employees not only don’t give notice, but not even tell anyone they quit?  Imagine depriving yourself of such a satisfying experience, of telling your boss, “Boss, you won’t be able to tell me what to do anymore!”

Ask any line cook what he intends to break when he’s finally had enough.  They spend hours daydreaming about knocking over towering stacks of glass racks, or doing the log-walk on a keg they plan to steal on “I quit” day.

Some professions have letters of resignation.  The thought is laughable to the restaurant industry.  We ask a two weeks notice, but we’re ready for you to walk out that door.  We have to be.

Other professions have employees who can call in sick, or take a vacation with very little impact on the other employees.  Not the restaurant.  But it will survive without you.  Good restauranteurs pride themselves in making due with less, or without entirely.  Good schedule writers can lose half of their staff and still cover every shift—through some trick or another—and do so without even an hour of overtime paid.

In fact, job abandonment, or “no-call-no-show,” is so prevalent in the restaurant business that an enormous percentage of management hold the positions they do simply because they kept coming to work.  I know several restaurant managers who never excelled at a single position in the building, and yet, because of attrition in the restaurant, and their longevity, they became “the boss.”

From there, where everything rolls downhill, it is almost impossible to go wrong.  At least, so noticeably that their position is terminated.  Even the most feckless managers, so long as they continue to show up, can stay under the radar and advance because the problem continues into the higher ranks!

Yes, I’m sorry to say, even managers and your vaunted Chefs burn bridges.  The problem is this: There are too many places for them to turn and they can find work—anywhere.  I wonder, on occasion, what dope would hire such a loser, only to remember, well, they fooled me.

I was eating in a relatively empty national chain restaurant several years ago when my young wife and I thought that our food was taking too long.  (By the way, food is always prompt when the table conversation is interesting.)  After hearing the table next to us say they had been waiting forty minutes, we hailed the manager.  She apologized, and assured us the food was near completion.

About fifteen minutes later the table next to us got most of their food.  We were growing impatient.  (I think we were car shopping, which is a painful and stressful process on the salary of a cook and a waitress, so yeah, the conversation probably wasn’t great at the time.)  After a little coercing, the manager confessed the kitchen had walked-out.  My wife generously offered my assistance, to which the manager refused, telling us further the front door was locked and they only had three tables with open checks.  It would surprise me if I learned the manager returned to work the next day, and if she did, now several years later, she is probably the District Manager, never mind the fact that she couldn’t feed three tables without her kitchen staff.  We took our free meals to-go.

To dive deeper into the issue, take a look at the Addiction in the Restaurant Business article and enlighten yourself to one of the possible reasons Station B Cook left his or her post unmanned.  There are some managers who are simply impossible to please, and sometimes you can’t blame a person for quitting, no matter the notice he or she gave.  Eventually, even within the restaurant with the feckless managers, those no-call-no-show cooks are weeded out, and the durable, resilient cooks find their niche.

The no-call-no-show cooks will someday burn out entirely; abandon their last restaurant or cooking job.  I’m here wondering how it will happen to me, and if I’ll turn to the burned-out-cook pasture that is food salesmanship.

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2 thoughts on “Burned Again

  1. Pingback: Crowd-Pleasing: How to Make Every Stinkin’ Guest Happy | The Sober Sous Chef

  2. Pingback: 5 Life Lessons I’ve Learned by Cooking | The Sober Sous Chef

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