Update from the world of work.....$4.65/hr

I haven't had a great deal of time to update my job search, but the process has continued frantically. I had to hit the 401K again for money to pay necessary bills and have realized that what took 15 years to put aside, will, in all likelihood, not last 15 months. Truly a sad commentary about efforts to save for the future and potential retirement! I have recently been in a whirlwind of job interview opportunities. For a period of about three weeks, I have been scheduling interviews, sometimes three per day, in an effort to keep up with all the folks "who are so impressed" by my resume and my cover letter. Unfortunately, in many cases, this enthusiasm is tempered with a huge dose of "temporary, seasonal, part time, and a whole lot of "maybe, if the economy improves". I know that this is pretty common for the time of year, and employers want to gear up for the holiday frenzy, but at the same time, have no real idea of how to predict how the consumers are going to behave. I have heard many cite the outcome of our recent elections as the deciding factor for making employees permanent, offering raises and other benefits. In fact, I have had several interviews where I have received follow-up emails indicating the position was cancelled after the election results. While those who won re-election bids are feeling affirmation, vindication, and the notion that somehow the rest of the world sees things as they do, I am here to tell you that in the world of work, all is not joyous. I have interviewed for full time permanent positions, which after the election have been downsized to part time, no benefits, and temporary depending upon how business goes following the holiday crunch.

I did accept a position as a server in a new restaurant. The stated rate of pay is $4.65 per hour, and the orientation class made it abundantly clear, that at least for the immediate future, this would only be part time hours and there would be no benefits involved. In fact, each person is responsible for acquiring their own uniform and shoes, which must meet pretty specific guidelines. I was anxious to be doing something to supplement my income, and hopefully defer exhausting my 401K completely, and therefore, agreed to the terms. Being a new establishment, with all the employees new to the organization, everyone was required to attend training, orientation, complete online assessments, and so forth in the name of everyone doing things according to the company model for efficiency and service. The online assessment proved problematic for many of us, as the program simply closed itself partway through the process. As a third party was administering this assessment, there was no way for the folks on site to intervene and restart the questionnaire from the point at which it closed out. I have to admit to feeling that personality testing is an odd way to choose people to wait on customers at table. I am not sure that the ability to deal with all sorts of folks, in all sorts of conditions is measurable in that way. But when in Rome.......

Orientation consisted of a series of videos outlining the various aspects of customer service such as greeting customers, resolving customer complaints, correcting problems, and generally seemed to reflect common sense principles. I am once again staggered at the notion we have to educate adult human beings regarding saying "Please" and "Thank You" consistently. Wow, one wonders what parents and teachers do any longer. As a restaurant is a public place, it stands to reason that we will all be called upon to serve folks from all ages, races, walks of life. Once again, we need to be educated that all customers are to be treated with the same courtesy and respect? But, if it exists in the training materials, there is obviously a precedent, situations in these areas that have proved problematic, and hence, the inclusion of these seemingly simple Golden Rules for living having to be re-enforced and reiterated. We completed short quizzes at the conclusion of each video to insure that we all understood. Finally, we were instructed that we would receive phone calls indicating our schedule of "hands on training", by department, prior to the opening.

A week passed, and I became concerned. I had not heard anything further about the specific "hands on" training for servers. I wasn't unduly alarmed as the store manager had indicated that they would be bringing experienced servers in from other facilities for the training, and that in all likelihood, the servers had fewer skills to master than did the chef staff in the kitchen, so our turn might come last. Finally, I receive a call, at dinner hour on Wednesday, and as I didn't get to the phone quickly enough, I had to retrieve the message from voice mail. My schedule for training was on Friday between 6:00 and 10:00. Talk about cutting it closely! It was my understanding that the goal was for Saturday opening. It also occurred to me that they didn't specify whether training was to be in the morning or the evening, no designation of AM/PM in the message.....So, I called back immediately, and had to leave my own voice mail message, presumably because they were busy notifying the other servers. Did not get call back confirmation that training was supposed to be for 6:00-10:00 PM until well into Thursday, but hey, I wasn't going to assume anything as we are all aware of what happens if you assume things.

Friday, I arrive a few minutes early for training. The parking lot is absolutely loaded with vehicles. Are there really that many servers and trainers??? No, there are actually people inside, eating at the tables. Upon entering, I am directed to a closet for employee coats, and discover that the closet is not secure, so I have to figure out how to stash my car keys and distribute other vital things into existing pockets. Then I am directed to a person with clipboard who is supposed to show me the procedures for clocking in, but as of yet, I haven't any employee ID#, so that is going to have to wait for later. I am taken over to the side with another group of trainees, and we all have the same "deer in headlights" expression. This was supposed to be training! None of us had actually seen the inside of the restaurant before, having applied while construction and decorating were still underway. The first lesson was that everything we understood from our orientation regarding uniform was incorrect. The uniform items, which had been worn to orientation and not flagged as incorrect, were suddenly all wrong. During orientation, we had been told that they did not want knit slacks, which I presumed to be a safety issue and a possible fire hazard as serving staff would be in and out of kitchen areas during the course of their duties. To that end, I had located women's twill slacks in the appropriate color that had pockets in front, but not rear pockets.....I subsequently learned that women's dress slacks were required with belt loops and rear pockets, and of course a black belt to go with the belt loops....I now already have three strikes against me: wrong type, wrong fabric, no belt.....We are off to a great start. It didn't help that for the entire group of us, this was the first we were hearing these specific requirements. I was also berated because the white women's blouse did not have button down oxford collar. This was the first that I had heard of that requirement as well. Finally, we were all universally taken to task for not ironing our shirts and blouses before work. As the shirt was brand new, it never occurred to me to iron it first, but obviously military precision is required. Ironically, after making all of us feel about the size of gnats, we are issued our one item of company supplied uniform attire.
The full length aprons completely cover our shirt aside from sleeves, and also cover a goodly portion of our slacks as well, meaning that it isn't totally evident whether you do or do not have belt loops and a belt. Unfortunately, I am getting just a bit aggravated and frustrated at this point as I have spent money (and I am soooooo not about spending money at this point), and now, after I have taken tags off and worn it, I am being told that it is all wrong....There goes $45 dollars! Not to mention the fact that for the rest of the evening, we were followed about with continual harping about these uniform issues and how they must be 100% corrected prior to our coming to work the following day. Am I even scheduled to work on Saturday? Has anyone even told me yet where the schedule is posted? I don't even know where the time clock is and how to clock in.

As the evening progressed, I learned that training was not so much an exercise in explaining and demonstrating what to do, but rather public humiliation in front of co-workers and customers for things that you did not do correctly. Now I am not referring to mistakes with the orders from customers, but rather things like not putting the condiments and napkins in the exact right order on the table when you have refilled them. Or....perhaps not jamming sufficient napkins into dispensers. Not knowing where anything is stored or located meant that every task you were sent to accomplish took twice as long, and of course, upon return and completion, you were berated for being slow and inefficient. This is definitely not off to an aspiring start, but pretty much is the way the entire evening went. Several of the customers, who I was allowed to assist, were asking me why the "managers" (referring to the training personnel) were being so "nasty". By the end of the first evening, I know of two in our group, who had already decided that they simply were not coming back. I, on the other hand, was trying to figure out where I had to go to get the proper uniform attire and still have time to press and polish, as I found I was scheduled for 3:00 PM the next day.

Day two went pretty much the same as day one with the exception that I had at least managed to locate the required items for uniform after a marathon covering one K-Mart, two Targets, and three Wal-marts. At the last stop, the lady packaged my order into two bags and only put one into my cart. As it wasn't a large order, I didn't make note of one bag or two, until I got home and tried to lay things out to get ready for work. I had to drive back to the store, go to customer service, and wait, while the clock ticked away, as they tried to locate my other bag containing the essential black belt. I am literally ironing the shirt and trying to blow dry my hair, because heaven knows, that after spending all last evening being berated for the uniform debacle, I sure didn't want the "your late on the first day" scenario. After about an hour, I understood exactly how combat soldiers feel picking their way through mine fields. Everything is a potential error. Two more of my fellow trainees decided to pack it in. And at this point, we are already seeing that some of the co-workers have favored status, never getting the knife edged comments, while others of us, seemingly cannot do anything to satisfy anyone. I didn't even try to analyze the difference, and don't even care. Just give me the information to do this job properly, and then let me do it.

I have always respected good servers as hard working people who have to deal with a lot of crap on all sides while remaining cheerful and friendly. There is an art to juggling plates and trays, organizing the "to do list" of side responsibilities with the ebb and flow of customer demands. For the most part, these are learned skills and don't come immediately. Having done my share of waiting table during high school and college days, I can also say that it isn't exactly like riding a bicycle either. You do remember how to do these things, but getting back into a groove is not an instant thing. And while you are trying to perform the basic functions, you are trying to learn where everything is stored and the company protocols. During this entire process, I believe that I saw one single sheet of duties which was being shared by all the servers. The instructions alone required further explanation, such as breaking down the soda machine. Exactly what does that mean? How far does that go? Where do we put the parts once we have broken it down? The best way to describe it is like working a diagramless crossword puzzle.....one square off and the whole thing is screwed. And I can't help but ask myself....is this really worth my effort???? The customers aren't so bad, but being humiliated and abused by people who are supposed to be training me for less than minimum wage???? But I am not a quitter.

Day three: I am beginning to feel like the this is a prison sentence, and I don't feel the least bit positive about going to work. Learning my job has proven that I am doing a great deal more than serving my guests in this restaurant. I am doing all my own table clearing, scraping and sorting the dishware brought to the dishwasher, sorting clean flatware into containers to be brought back out to the front of the restaurant. Periodically, all the servers are called upon to clean the restaurant itself, wiping down serving areas, sweeping up debris (but not where people are because customers have complained), checking on status of restrooms, bringing forward more condiments, napkins and other stock. These duties are aside from the usual making of fresh coffee, iced tea (brewed), replenishing ice by the soda machines, taking away trash bags from the service stations, monitoring rest room conditions. I still don't know where everything is, and am continually learning new little tidbits of information (usually by one of the trainers taking me to task rather than enlightening me up front). Also noting that certain servers can blatantly ignore the rules that I am being bound to, and that includes snagging other people's tips based on the notion that they refilled a coffee cup for the customer or brought a drink refill or some extra napkins to the table. Also discover that it is not company policy to give breaks and that they are not bound by law to do so. Even needing to use the restroom is a "Mother May I" event. There is a restaurant full of workers who are all earning minimum wage or above, and yet, I am doing a huge amount of work for less than minimum wage based upon the notion of "tips making up the difference" I am here to tell you that customers, just like employers, are using the poor economy as a reason to tip very poorly. I know that it is my practice to offer roughly 20% of the total ticket in tip for good service. A normal range would be between 15 and 25% based upon the quality of service. I am consistently seeing tips that are more in keeping with 5%, and many of the folks that I am working with are seeing the same thing, so I don't think that it is necessarily good or bad service, but a commentary on the economy and the cost of going out to eat at all.

The other thing that I have noticed is that some of my co-workers are doing a share of the side responsibilities while others do not. The slackers seem to have all the time in the world to schmooze their customers and perhaps get a bit more of a tip, because they aren't sorting silverware, refilling condiments, or assisting with cleaning the store activities. The most fun I had today was feeling like a human ping pong ball. One trainer sends me on an errand to accomplish a specific task, and soon another is yelling at me, because I am doing that task and not something else. So, when you accommodate the second trainer, the first one is now yelling because you didn't complete their task. The labors of Hercules would be a cakewalk by comparison. But, last but not least, the practice of cutting. This means that business in the restaurant is not what they expected when they set the schedule, so they just cut people and send them home, somewhat abruptly. I was cut in the middle of a very large party, over 14 people, who had been in my area for well over an hour. I had cleared away countless dishes and made countless drink refills, and yet, I was cut and had to punch out, leaving the tip for the group to the new person coming on. Justification was that the new person would have to clear the table and wipe up. I kind of wondered why it wasn't possible to call those people who had not yet arrived at work, asking them to not come in or perhaps to come later? I don't understand sending the person, who has already expended money and time to get to work, to go home early (when hours are only part time anyway) so that somebody just walking in the door can work. It seems on the surface to be a policy that does not reward folks for being conscientious or on time. Just an abrupt, "your done" and then "do your side work and clock out."

Last night I was cut again after being there for less than half my assigned shift. And my tables were taken over by the new person coming on the floor, which meant no real tips to supplement the $4.65. What is most strange about this cutting practice is that I have to check out with a floor manager, and twice now have been taken back into the dish cleaning area to sort silverware coming clean from the dishwasher....One wonders why the new person coming in could not do that while I finished the customers that I had already begun to serve? Getting the feeling really quickly that I am not one of the favored few, and perhaps the name of the game is to get me to quit, so that the favored few have more hours and more tips. It seems apparent, by how few tables any of us are assigned, that they seriously over hired, perhaps expecting a high rate of those quitting. The shame of it is that the responsible, mature people are quitting not due to the work involved, but rather to the lack of training and the adversarial nature of the training that is provided. Having been away from restaurant and hospitality for some time, perhaps they truly believe that there are an unending supply of folks to fill the jobs-even at part time only. If that is true, then the unemployment statistics do not even begin to reflect the true nature of the job market.

Filed under: The Job Search

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  • The world of seeking work and the world of working has certainly changed.

    What you say about the new direction in America, validated by the election, will have far reaching consequences, despite what the true believers think.

    My hope for your Christmas and New Years is that you get back on your feet.

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