Sometimes the little engine just can’t

I remember the interview as if it were yesterday. The smarmy young man in high top sneakers was everything I didn’t like about the restaurant business: a braggadocios, “peeing contest” type who name dropped with every sentence.

I get it, you worked for “so and so.” Not sure exactly what that meant, but it sure meant a lot to him.

“So, Jake, tell me about yourself,” he had said, ironically while holding my resume in his hands. A resume that I had been required to bring on my own.

“First of all, my name is Jeff, not Jake,” I said.

“Oh,” he said waving the resume as if it were a fan.

Obviously, he hadn’t even bothered to look at it. And in fact, never did, not once throughout the entire interview.

So, I did what anyone would do, I started at the beginning.

“I worked at…”

I didn’t get very far. He interrupted me, to tell me that several people who had worked at that same place, now worked for them.

“OK,” I said.

The interview went on like that for a few minutes. He wasn’t interested in me; he was interested in him. Having been a bartender for some time, even at that point, I did what bartenders do when someone really wants to talk. I let him talk. What he didn’t do was inquire, which I thought was odd considering he didn’t know the first thing about me, and I was the one applying for a job.

He talked about all that he had done for the company, whom he knew, where he had worked.

Now, I had seen this before in the corporate restaurant world. My first bartending job was for one of the largest restaurant corporations ever, at one time controlling over 600 different restaurants. They didn’t care about you as an individual, at all. In an environment like that you get pretty good at counting to the penny and measuring to the 1/8 ounce, because if you don’t, you aren’t there very long. 

Nobody liked working there. But most of us were young and doing other things: going to school, working as interns, it wasn’t a career. And that restaurant was a machine, churning out employee after employee, manager after manager, and customer after customer. It was cookie cutter and it was successful.

Then one day corporate decided to change the concept overnight. A new menu and a new paintjob and they reopened the doors.

It was a disaster. The customers hated the new concept. Sales plummeted, and with the sales so did morale.

Corporate addressed this problem by blaming the staff for the decline in sales. As if the servers, whose very livelihood depended upon those sales were deliberately and maliciously sabotaging the company.

To what end, they never explained.

But then came the crazy. The company began to arbitrarily institute new policies and procedures every day, only to reverse them, only to then reapply them. It was chaos. Nobody knew what to do when.

Then the corporate gang would show up.

“You’ve got to do this,” and “you’ve got to do that,” would say the corporate officer standing in the middle of the service area in the middle of service.

We came up with a saying “It’s bad enough that you aren’t doing anything, but now you are in the way.”

The problem was, they didn’t see it that way. They fired a bartender in the middle of a Friday night shift for putting drinks into the wrong glass (we were out of the right one) and for refusing to handwash every single glass on a night that we were making over 500 drinks.

“I’ll help you,” the corporate guy said to me.

Instead of helping me, he critiqued me. He never made a drink, or cleaned a glass, or bussed a table, or took an order. Instead, he stood in the way criticizing what everyone else did.

It was apparent that he was actually incapable of doing any of those jobs himself. But he was sure adept at criticizing.

“So, Jake, do you see what I mean?” asked Mr. High-tops, in my more immediate present.

I did. And when they called back, I let it go straight to voicemail.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-“Hire up” is what corporations often say. Especially the ones that can neither train, develop, evaluate, or attract, talent.

-“It’s the employees’ fault,” the death knell of a corporation.

-In my experience corporate officers are often great at taking credit, but pretty lousy at accepting responsibility. 

-“Three Years of Experience Needed” is what every job that pays entry level minimum wage asks for.

-I have never worn high-top sneakers to an interview, neither as the interviewer nor the interviewee.

-All of those restaurants are now out of business. Just saying.