|Pizza isn’t easy . . .
Many of you who frequent my blog know that my other, er . . . profession, is that of restaurant manager, which continues to be a huge roadblock to my writing career. When I was born, my father looked at me like a queen bee and planned out my entire life. I would work in the family business and make his dreams come true. Listen up, would-be parents, disregarding your kids’ talents and aspirations is child abuse. It may have been a good system during Feudal China, but not anymore. Growing up, I never knew my dad. I mean, I knew who he was; I could pick him out in a crowd, but that’s about it. His life was pizza and he expected mine to be also. I suppose if I had been a bit more confident, I could have said to him, “Screw you, dad, I’m going to New York to be a writer,” but alas, twenty-five years of subtle persuasion led me to this mental prison. Leave now, you say? I could . . . if I want to sell my home and pull my three year old out of daycare and my nine year old out of dance and all the expensive things she loves to do. The recession hit us hard and writing for a living is anything but certain. In short, I am trapped, and I never saw it coming. It wouldn’t be so bad if my father had been a doctor or lawyer or coal miner, but no, he had to own a restaurant, and after two-decades, I’ve concluded that restaurateur is the worst fucking job on Earth. Here’s why:
1.) Your employees hate you. If your job is to tell others what to do, set their hours and pay their wages, they will eventually end up hating you. The reasons are numerous, but in my case, my co-workers are convinced that I do not deserve my position. This plays into their sense of fairness. Americans abhor nepotism, but cannot see how unfair it is to me, because no matter what I achieve on my own, I can never escape from under my father’s shadow. Many of my coworkers are under the impression that my role is that of Superemployee: guy who does everything better than anyone, even though my job is to delegate and organize and do marketing, things they don’t know shit about. For decades I’ve fought for their respect, and like Lion-O in the Thundercats, have had to cook as well as the cooks, deliver pizzas, wait tables and wash dishes, all to prove my worthiness to lead them, to earn a position of authority I never wanted in the first place. But wait, you say, most people hate their bosses! True, but in the restaurant business, there is no upward mobility. Cooks can never hope to become anything more than cooks, or servers servers, or drivers drivers, so that with their day to day duties comes a sense of fatalism. As the years roll by, their resentment for me grows, until they quit or threaten me with a knife (yes, it happens). In extreme cases, someone might be promoted to manager, but the job pays less so most opt out. I have tried every tactic to make my employees happy. When I am strict, they resent me for being an overbearing tyrant, and when I am friendly, they lose respect and resent me for not doing my job. It’s a lose-lose situation. What is especially depressing is when someone I thought was a friend quits and I never see or talk to them again.
2.) You’re an emotional punching bag. Is the bank foreclosing on your home? Can’t afford your medical bills? Feel like you’re getting ripped off by the mechanic? No problem! Just blame your local restaurant manager. You see, the restaurant business is the most competitive in America, which is why if you wait more than 2 minutes without instantly being greeted at the door, you can behave like a toddler with a temper tantrum and nobody will bat an eye. Try complaining to the receptionist the next time you wait an hour and a half at the doctor’s office (even with an appointment) while your medical needs are being pushed aside by a drug rep. If you’re a manager, people can yell and scream and even curse at you, and since the customer is always right, you just have to suck it up and smile and be polite and pretend you don’t want to jump across the counter and punch them in the face. Even for something as minor as forgetting a pizza topping, a customer will behave like you murdered his family. Why? Because banks, doctors and mechanics will just call the police and have you escorted out. People have threatened to get me fired (now how fucking cruel is that?), close my business, and cause me bodily harm. And for what? It’s dinner, motherfucker, not your firstborn child. Short of intentionally poisoning someone, no restaurant employee deserves this kind of treatment.
3.) Only in restaurants is stealing OK. People are deluded into thinking restaurants are these magical places where food is conjured by elves and leprechauns, so they can eat half their plate and insist on their money back, and most of the time, they get it. Just try that shit someplace else. Go to Best Buy, get a 55″ Samsung, watch NFL Football for a month, and return it with a big crack in the screen demanding a refund. Food costs money, not only to buy from vendors, but to have made. That pizza you didn’t like? Yeah, that took days planning, and about two to three cooks to manufacture. You might think I am exaggerating by calling it stealing, but I’m not. A local Florida restaurant went to court after a guy skipped his bill. The reason? There were too few shrimps on his plate. He didn’t pay for anything, not his drink, not his guest’s food, nothing, so the manager got the license plate and called police. You can probably guess who won that case.
4.) No Pay + Zero Benefits: Sure, the restaurant business has its share of stress, but doesn’t every job? At least it pays the bills, right? WRONG! Almost on a daily basis things are breaking down. Those two leaky faucets in the kitchen? $500. Storm blew the sign away? That’ll be $5000, thanks. A/C burned out? $7000. The bank made a clerical error and realized you need wind insurance? $4000 per year. It’s like a game of Monopoly where you always land on Chance but always turn up a bad card. And if you’re the owner, you may work a forty hour week and not get paid. Unlike any normal job, the harder you work, the less money you’re making. How is that possible? Well, if the restaurant can’t pay its bills, guess who has to make up for it by working more? If I don’t pay my employees overtime, I get fined by the Labor Department, but where is the department that ensures I get paid? I sometimes go weeks without a check . . . oh, and guess what, the IRS charges me 15% more taxes. Since I cannot consistently pay myself, I fall into the self-employed bracket. My sister had to get a second job applying makeup at the mall because managing a pizza business didn’t cut it. Pensions? Severance pay? Health insurance? I don’t even know what those are.
5.) Holidays? Weekends?: As far as I know, there are only two holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’d be working them too if we made any money. Labor Day? Superbowl? Those days I just work harder, typically with disgruntled employees who wish they could be home with their families. While everyone with a normal job spends time partying, guess who ends up providing food for all those parties? Also, I am getting pretty sick and tired of people wishing me a happy weekend. WTF is a week end? Until recently, I could never spend even a single day with my family. Society cleverly planned school hours/days so that when Mr. Doctor is working, the kids are in school, and when Mr. Doctor comes home, he gets to have dinner at the table and help with homework, which is just peachy-keen if you’re not a social-outcast restaurant owner. Sometimes these nine-to-five families bring their families in to dine as if to rub it in my face. I still suffer from insomnia because I always waited up until 2:00 in the morning just to catch a glimpse of mom, and mostly slept through school, for which I was punished repeatedly with detentions. Heck, God himself set the Sabbath aside for man to rest, except of course, if you’re damned owning a restaurant.
6.) Succeeding is damn near impossible and often beyond your control: Ninety-percent of restaurants close after the first five years. I have watched place after place open and shut its doors. Whenever I see a new sign go up, I just want to scream, “Don’t you realize what you’re getting into? Turn back or abandon all hope!” The rest of the mom and pop places you see are hardly scraping by. This is not to say that no restaurants can succeed. The big chains and fancy sports bars owned by bored ex-football players do well. Again, to make it work, you need enormous capital, because the expenses are absurd. Just watch Restaurant Impossible sometime to get an idea. Owners of restaurants are the only people you see on TV consistently in tears, and you would be too, if you spent half your life working your ass off, only to end up broke and owing the bank millions. When I was a kid, my parents took me to Canada to meet uncle so and so who was also in the business. I distinctly remember him mentioning, “Sometimes I want to cry . . .” and I had to wonder, how can a restaurant make a grown man cry? Everyone I have ever met who owned a restaurant gives me that same glassy eyed stare, like their remembering a war story. But wait, you say, maybe you and these other people suck . . . perhaps a smart operator could rake it in. While that may be true, our pizza has been awarded best in Tampa Bay on several occasions, by Fox 13 and AOL. We’ve closed every place selling pizza to pop up near us (about four or five) including a fancy Chicago based company with oodles of marketing cash and a list of awards (they lasted two years). Seeing how busy we were on a Friday night, one customer suggested I diversify my portfolio as the FDIC only ensures $250,000 per bank. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had only seven dollars to my name. Recently, a customer was furious with me because I did not have tens or twenties for his hundred dollar bill. I told him I had received too many hundreds that day, to which he replied, “I own a pawn shop and keep thousands in change!” Honestly, if I had thousands sitting in the register, I’d go fix the urinal that won’t stop flushing. Being a pawn shop owner (Jesus, my dad should have been a pawn shop owner!) he simply could not imagine my financial struggles.
7.) People are Morons: OK, just forget everything you’ve read so far, it doesn’t matter. Employees hate me? Customers are rude and insulting? I never see my kids and there’s no possibility for a better future? Fine. Ce la vie. But what I absolutely, positively, cannot endure is the level of stupidity I deal with on a daily basis. Let me show you how a typical order comes in:
Me: Pizza Palace (not our real name) may I help you?
Customer: Pepperoni . . . ah, uh, m-m-mushroom . . .
Me: Hold on, will this be for pick-up or delivery?
Customer: Sausage, ground beef, banana peppers—hey, do you have banana peppers there?
Me: Sir, I need to know if this will be for pick-up or delivery first.
Customer: What? Hey . . . do you deliver?
Me: Yes we do. Would you like a delivery?
Customer: I don’t know. Hey honey . . . honey? . . . HONEY!
[Ten minutes of arguing.]
Wife (sounding pissed): We’ll have it delivered.
Me: Great. Can I have your address please?
Wife: Um . . . I think it’s Warner Street, or is it Warbler Street? I can never remember.
Me: You don’t know your address?
Wife: Well, we don’t live here. We’re at a friends’ house.
Me: Can you get their address?
Wife: Hold on a sec. Hank? . . . HANK!
[Five minutes of noise.]
Hank (Hank is drunk): Hello?
Me: I need your address for a delivery.
Hank: Oh? Sure. Its 2341 Warbler Ave.
Me: Great. Now what would you like to order?
Hank: Eh? What? Hold a sec . . .
Wife: Half supreme, a quarter anchovies . . .
Me: We don’t have supremes here, but we do have—
Wife: Do you have drinks there?
Me: Yes, of course, but . . .
Hank: Beer? Can you deliver beer?
Me: Sorry, we’re not allowed to—
Customer: What about dessert? What kind of dessert do you have?
Me: Hold on, people, I need to get your pizza order first . . .
Customer: I already told you what I wanted on my pizza! Don’t you listen?
Me: Yes, but, everyone is talking at the same time and you need to give me a chance to—
Customer: Y’know what, you’re being rude.
Me: I am sorry, sir, I was only trying to get your . . .
Customer: Have you ever heard the phrase, “the customer is always right?”
Me: Of course, but I just needed to . . .
Customer: So now you’re arguing with me?
Me: No, it’s just that—
Customer: Let me talk to your supervisor.
Customer: I want to talk to your supervisor.
Me: Well, I am the owner, so . . .
Customer (shocked): You’re the owner?
Me: Well, yes . . .
Customer: And this is how you treat people?
Me: Look, I apologize for any inconvenience, but I got three other lines on hold and need to . . .
Hank: Look, buddy, you just lost yourself a customer. [CLICK]
Still not convinced? Try this: The USA Today ran a poll to determine the top ten most depressing jobs. Nursing home care ranked #1. Guess who’s #2? If you said the restaurant industry, you’d be right! Of course, it’s not all bad. At least I get free pizza whenever I want. Suckers.