Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Haze Because I Care ©2012 by David Hayden all rights reserved

Back in 1995 I gathered up the courage to walk into a neighborhood bar and grill with my resume in hand and ask for a job.  I applied to be a buser, but the manager decided since my resume was relatively free of errors that I could probably handle being a server.  In the 17 years since I have worked for more lousy chains and swept more peanut shells of the floor than I care to remember.  I have also published a book on serving, write half a dozen or so restaurant blogs, have back-to-back best server awards, and as a result work at a pretty swanky restaurant.  I paid my dues in this industry to get to where I am.
This is why I always find a perverse joy in being asked to train some 20 year old student that my boss feels has “potential.”  My first instinct is to question whether this potential is horizontal or vertical, but I don’t make the hiring decisions.  My job is to turn this wet behind the ears rookie who was serving shots at a college bar last week into a professional server in under a week.  More importantly, I am tasked with bringing them onto the team as a respected peer.
In all reality I was probably cleaning up this new server’s cheerios off the floor of my station when I was their age, so my patience is worn thin by the thought of it.  I will train them because I will be the one cleaning up their messes in the future if they lack the necessary skills to keep up with us.  Earning them the respect of the team is a more daunting task.  This task is most easily achieved with a little hazing.
Now I know some of you are instantly turned off by that word and equate hazing to bullying.  I wouldn’t disagree with you.  I would also say that reaction is exactly the reason why it works.
Personally I have taken a fair amount of joy in watching a new server methodically water all of the fake plants in the restaurant.  It makes me smile to send a server back to grab the “left-handed squeegee sharpener” from a storage closet that doesn’t exist.  The facial expression of the restaurant manager next door has to be priceless when he is asked for a gallon of “beer gas.”  Nothing is better for team morale than standing around watching a clueless trainee try to empty the water from a coffee maker that is hooked up to the water line.  Maybe I am a jerk, but there is a method to my madness.
Two things happen after one of these pranks has been pulled.  The first is that the new staff member can demonstrate that they have a sense of humor and are serious about their job by coming in the next day.  The second is that the rest of the staff feels sorry for the new person that has been “bullied.”  That sympathy rids the staff of animosity and starts the respect building process.   
I’m not calling this a perfect system.  Neither is the system that led me to be training someone who feels classy because they have graduated from Boone's Farm® to White Zinfandel.  In a perfect world, I would have been a cute blonde so I could have “potential” when I was 20.  In the real world, I had to earn respect and so do they.  Even if it means bringing the bacon sifter down from the attic.

     Author David Hayden is a man of many accomplishments, not the least of which is being the first person in the history of the world to have multiple guest posts on These American Servers™! Actually, now that I think about it, that probably is the least. But he's got a new venture, his Restaurant Marketing Plan, which will be an invaluable resource for anyone who's got a restaurant (or really, anything) to promote and  the good sense to click on the link!

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