It always ends the same way

Four years ago, I took a big step up in restaurants to start my current job.  A co-worker’s girlfriend recommended me to her boss.  I interviewed and was hired on the spot.  I still remember the way it felt walking into the restaurant for that interview.  How impressive the building was.  How professional the staff all looked.  I didn’t see a server who looked younger than me.  It seemed like everything I had been working towards in my serving career.

I remember spending my first six months constantly fearing that I wouldn’t make it.  Worrying that I wasn’t up to par with all of the incredible servers I worked with.  I studied my training manual that whole time trying to know enough to slide by on being really knowledgeable about the food we served.  I did all the little extra things I could to try and be helpful.  My goal was simply not to be the first one fired from my training class.  Of the six people I started with, three still remain.  No training class before or after can boast such longevity.

For those not in the restaurant business, I should explain that four years in a restaurant is the equivalent of a couple decades in corporate America.  After five years, they give you a gold watch and force you to retire.  I have seen over 100 servers come and go.  Only one manager still remains from when I started.  The General Manager when I started is now the Regional Manager.  The Regional Manager when I started is now a VP.  Even the guys the chain is named after are gone.

I survived uniform changes, major sidework changes, menu changes, and countless policy changes.  I watched co-workers leave after all of these changes.  I’ve survived firing sprees that took the jobs of some incredible servers.  I’ve grit my teeth when new managers came in and said, “great servers are a dime a dozen.”  I swallowed my pride when I was told prior to my first interview with the local paper about this blog that I shouldn’t mention the company name because, “I might write something to embarrass them.”  I didn’t take it too personally when I was passed up for numerous promotions over the years.  I grit my teeth every time I had a conversation with my regional manager while he sat in front of a plaque bearing my name that said “Best Server” from the local paper even though he never even congratulated me.

Years ago a regional training manager at another company came up to me quite excited.  She had a new phrase she thought of and wanted to know what I thought of it.  I braced myself for this nugget of wisdom and she said, “you should appreciate what appreciates.”  I was a bit underwhelmed.   She explained that in accounting, all of the equipment in your restaurant depreciates every year.  The only thing that becomes more valuable with the passing of time is your staff.  I understood her logic, but wasn’t sure the catch phrase was quite perfected.  Looking back, I think there was a great deal of wisdom in those five words.

I don’t really want to get into the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I am still incredibly grateful for the opportunity that was extended to me four years ago.  It has given me the opportunity to work with some incredible people and make some amazing friends.  Who knows how my life would have been different if I hadn’t taken the job.  Likewise, if I was better utilized this blog might not exist.  Maybe these thoughts would have been memos and pre-shift meetings rather than posts and chapters. 

What I do know for certain is that I am incredibly optimistic about the job I begin next week.  I only took two interviews on this job hunt.  I turned down three others and only sent out five resumes.  I took the one where I interviewed with the owner.  Where he expressed a desire to have someone with my experience and knowledge join his team.  He openly admitted that he was interested in hearing new ideas on how to make the restaurant better.  I don’t think it was just lip service.  It was strange to hear someone who runs a restaurant actively seeking input from others.  I had forgotten what that felt like.

I suppose part of the reason for writing this post is therapeutic.  There is a greater moral to this story for others though.  Managers, appreciate what appreciates.  Loyalty only extends so far.  If you are not appreciating your staff, someone else will.  Servers, remember that your loyalty also only extends so far.  Make decisions based on what is right for you, because a corporation will always make decisions based on what is right for them.

Part of me is sad to leave.  At the same time, I am incredibly optimistic about starting a new chapter in my life.  I’ve never held a serving job as long as this one.  I spent twice as long at this restaurant than any other I have been at.  I have spent more waking hours in that building than all but a handful of places I have been in my life.  I trained over 75 servers, built an impressive core of regulars, and countless times, “took one for the team.”  Still it ends without fanfare or gratitude.  Such is the nature of the restaurant business.

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