Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
When you are rushed you must slow down. When you are pressed you must pause. Weeded is a state of mind.
-Zen Master Ichi
Table 31 is being sat, food is arriving at 25. Dessert will be coming out shortly for table 32 and the leftovers from their main course have yet to be boxed and their table reset (let alone have been offered coffee). Most egregious of all, it has been almost 10 minutes and still no sign of drinks for 24.
It is easy to become overwhelmed; to feel as helpless in the onslaught of these tasks as if staring into the face of an approaching tsunami. If you allow yourself, you will be destroyed. But the choice to succeed or fail is yours to make.
The apprentice cries, “Master, it is not my fault; there is too much for me to do at once!” And indeed, you are correct: there is too much to be accomplished at once. Even the great waiter Sanyo, who would run three six-tops and a party of twelve Russians without batting an eye, would be unable to accomplish all such tasks at one time. The solution lies solely in a shift in perception – whereas the apprentice will feel as if drowning in a sea of demands, the master sees not one overwhelming force but a series of individual tasks which, when taken one at a time, can be surmounted. The most important thing to remember when faced with such an onslaught is to maintain your calm. Slow down, even though the natural inclination is to hurry. Do not tally, but do not rush. The guest will sense your distress and will become worried that their meal is in jeopardy. This is the Sixth Noble Truth: If you appear in control, the guest will assume that you are in control, and will be more inclined to wait without griping. Understand that the guest dines in a constant, subconscious state of near-panic - if anything is the least bit askew, they assume the worst. Show no weakness in front of the guest. As long as you maintain the appearance of calm, the guest will take waiting in stride.
Do not be afraid to ask one of your fellow waiters (or, may the heavens forbid, a manager) for help. It is the wise man who knows he cannot run a restaurant by himself and enlists others for aid - do not allow pride to take over and so detract from the guest’s experience. There is always a point where you are free to help and your co-worker is being slaughtered as the spring lamb, and vice-versa. It is said that during the time of the Xang dynasty, waiters were so wise and learned that they freely and actively gave aid to one another, often pointedly seeking to do so. Seers declare that when all waiters return to this discipline, a new golden age will begin.
Sometimes people just have to wait. Do what you can: ask for help, consolidate your steps, but in the end there is only so much even the gods can do. Accepting limitations is an important part of growth. Often we become stressed or agitated; as the chattering mind thinks that somehow this means you are “doing” something about it, something productive. It cannot abide relaxing, because it is convinced this means you are giving up. Indeed you are giving up - you are giving up the illusion of control. Being upset or stressed does not make the kitchen move faster nor does it make you any more able to do your job; if anything, it lessens your effectiveness. So relax. Be the calm in the eye of the storm. This understanding applies to all things. It is a sad truth that the busier one is, the less money one receives. The secret: do not be busy. As Lao Tzu wrote, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” When facing an onslaught of tasks, become as nature.
Slow down, maintain calm
Being weeded is a choice
So do not choose it
Monday, August 15, 2011
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
--Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
When you can do nothing, what can you do?
For the past few months or so work has been, to put it bluntly, an absolute sh*t show. Labor cuts, lack of supplies, problems in the kitchen, new staff, and just general all-around mismanagement have combined to create a work environment where just getting through an average shift – I don't even want to talk about Friday through Sunday – requires a Herculean effort for what is an increasingly Sisyphean task. I can pretty much count on something going wrong – a late ticket, a missing entree, something made wrong, getting weeded because I'm stuck waiting on the bakery – at least once a turn, and it's often left me feeling like I'm keeping my station from collapsing into pure chaos on the strength of will alone.
I try to hold fast to a general rule, which is that unless I'm doing anything about a situation – in this case, looking desperately for a new job so I can get the hell off of this sinking ship before it fully capsizes – I have absolutely no right to complain. I've written before about the allure of complaining; how addictive it can be and how inescapable it seems on any given shift (like moths to a flame, so are servers to bitching). The truth is, there's definitely a small rush that comes from letting loose in a full-on bitch session. Not just the energy of the anger but also a temporary (and completely illusory) feeling of power; some scrap of control over a situation where you are, in reality, totally powerless. But it's an inherently negative energy; as good as it may feel at the time, engaging in it always seems to leave me feeling drained, exasperated and, ultimately, defeated.
When it comes down to it, I can't make sure we have enough trays or steak knives or whatever it is in stock – all I can do is let a manager know when we don't have what we need (and continue to let them know, over and over). I can't make the kitchen not have 30-minute ticket times, I can just send my food as fast as possible and course a lot tighter than I normally would (translation for non-waiters: send the dinner order five minutes after I send the appetizer order). And I can't do anything about having to work with a glut of green servers with little to no experience, all I can do there is to offer my help and to make a (strongly) concerted effort to not be as condescending and bitter as possible.
Like so much in life, it just comes down to acceptance, time and time again. The above quote from the Hagakure is one of my all-time favorites, because it really does extend “to everything.” Right now when I go into work most nights, odds are it's going to be a rainstorm. I can attempt to run and duck under the eaves of houses all I want, but I'm still going to get soaked. Or, I can walk calmly and peacefully through the storm: still drenched, but at least with some small measure of serenity.