Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Easy Come, Easy Go

Day 3 of my new job saw me standing on the sidewalk across the street from the restaurant trying to cross. For an hour. Yes, that was the day of the Formula 1 race around the Old City. They had blocked off a few streets and thousands of people had come out to watch the race cars and motorcycles fly by. The race started at 14:00, (2 pm for my non European/army time friends out there) and I was due to start my shift at 5 o'clock. I knew that this was a bad idea but no one ever listens to the new girl. They had checked with the city a few times and supposedly they would be letting people cross the street every hour on the hour. 'Supposedly' being the operative word here.
I had been hanging around the area for half an hour or so just to lessen the chances of encountering problems getting to work. I bought a cup of coffee and studied the menu some more while sitting in the shade and relaxing. At a quarter to 5, I wandered down to the crossing where they would supposedly let us cross and watched the occasional race car whoosh past. I wandered down a bit more where I ran into the other trainee waiter and the manager. It was really annoying to be able to see your workplace but not be able to get there. It turned out that the roof of the restaurant was the perfect place to watch the race because all of the kitchen staff had somehow climbed up there. The new shift-manager and the manager for the soon to open dairy restaurant had managed to drag plastic chairs up there too and everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves. This of course irritated the manager who was stuck on the other side of the street with us so he decided to call them up to tell them to get back to work (of which I'm pretty sure there was none). The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, it's me, what are you guys doing?”
“Um, we're busy. Very busy working on... stuff.”
“I can see you up there! I know you're on the roof! Get back to work!”
“Grumble grumble,” click.
He was very frustrated by our inability to get across the street and kept asking the cops when we could cross. Meanwhile, the other waiter and I were both sitting under a tree reading the paper. Sometime after 6, they finally let the 5 of us through (our ranks had swollen to include 2 additional workers). We were like superstars being let through the police blockades. Or not.
There were no customers when we finally got there. Unsurprisingly. It was possible to get to the restaurant from the other direction but that involved meandering through alleys down the side of a hill into a valley and up another hill. If I had known (although admittedly I strongly suspected) that the police had absolutely no intention whatsoever of opening the roads at any point, I'd have come that way. There's no chance that the tourists would have been able to find the restaurant that way without a compass and the correct coordinates. I don't know if a GPS would even be able to point out the way through the artists' quarter. Take a left at the house with the petunias, a right at the tree stump past the funny bird statue, through the parking lot, down the stairs on the right, walk diagonally through the grassy area, slip through the chain on the metal fence due southwest of the field, leap over the garbage cans, go through the alleyway covered over by thorny branches and up the stairs. The restaurant's on the left side. Unless you took a wrong turn and ended up in the Sultan's pool. Warning: wear life jacket when attempting this journey.
Unfortunately the crazy French shift manager was back that day. She kept giving me a task and then giving me another task before I could do the first task, and then giving me another task before I could even start the previous two tasks. In short, managers with ADD rarely get anything done.
Finally, two women wandered in (we kept getting calls from people canceling their reservations because they weren't able to get to the restaurant) and were seated at a table for two. I happened to walk by and heard them talking about leaving although so I asked them what the problem was and they answered that it was too cold. I realized that they were sitting in front of the air-conditioner vent, so I told them that they could find a more comfortable place. The shift-manager walked by and got all upset that they had moved to another table, especially because it was a table for 4 and there were only 2 of them. I whispered to her that they were going to leave if they had to sit where they had been before and she was like, “excuse me, you are sitting at a table for 4, and we might need that later so could you please sit by the door where there's another table for two?” Then she told me off for letting people move to another table and that it was her job to seat people. I'm like, you are aware that there's not a single other customer at the moment and most people canceled any reservations made before 8:30? If we'd had other customers I would have moved them to another two person table but if the place is empty, what's the big deal? They were done by 8 o'clock or so anyway and we only had a few tables at that point.
She also asked me to iron the tablecloth on the large table, so I did and then asked if she wanted me to iron the tablecloths in the lower dining room (what they call the VIP room because it's down a few steps which I guess makes it more “private”) which also needed to be ironed. She was like, “no, you can't iron them while we have customers!” What was I doing 5 seconds ago then?! Did the customers only become real when I was done ironing the large tablecloth? I was just trying to be helpful, but in her mind I had said something incredibly stupid.
At some point the restaurant if not filled up, then at least had some customers. I was following around some waiter who was coincidentally from the town where I was born in NJ. When something needed to be done though, they still asked me to help out. For example bringing out food, or clearing off a table, etc.
Madame Fou (as I shall now refer to her) asked me to bring the food to a French couple in the “VIP room” and then followed me down a minute later to explain to them what everything was. I handed over the food and went to find the waiter I was following so I could, you know, follow him. A few minutes later Madame Fou came up to me and angrily told me that she had been calling my name. I was like, “sorry, I didn't hear you.”
“That's because you walked away! When I'm standing there talking to the table you stand there and wait!”
Wait, she wanted me to stand there during a 5 minute French conversation instead of helping my waiter buddy? Why? What possible reason could I have for doing that? Let me ask all of you readers, when your waiter serves you your food, does he stand there and stare at you for the next 5 minutes? Would you not be really weirded out if he did that? After a minute, I personally would ask him for the check and get the hell out of there before he pulled a machete on me or something.
Another time she asked me to clear the table in the corner. So I did. The waitress whose table it was came over to me afterward and irritably asked me why I had cleared off the whole table. I was like, because I was asked to. No, apparently that's not what the manager meant. She meant could I clear off the one plate in the middle because they ordered the tasting menu. I was like, “I didn't know what they ordered. She asked me to clear the table, so I did.” End of story. So of course the manager comes up to me afterward to tell me that I'd screwed up, and why did I clear off the whole table? She tells me that if I have a question about what they ordered I should check the computer. Really? So every time you ask me to clear the table I should check what the table ordered just to understand what you want me to do? Does that sound reasonable? Just use your words and communicate to me what it is you want me to do. Obviously this woman had failed kindergarten.
A few times when I wasn't doing anything, she caught me standing next the bar resting my arms on it. Apparently this is bad form. I tried to remember not to do that or to stand with my back to the customers (one of the waitresses informed me that the owner of the restaurant would get upset if he saw me doing that). At some point though I'd had enough and decided that one crazy French boss is enough. I told the waiter whom I'd been following around that I couldn't work with this woman and that she was driving me crazy.
When I finally gathered up enough nerve, I told her that I needed to speak to her and that I decided I didn't want to work there. She asked me why and instead of telling her she was a nutjob, I told her that I'd remembered why I didn't want to be a waitress, and that it wasn't for me. She told me she'd have to call up the manager to tell him and I was like, “fine, go ahead.” She called him up to tell him that I'd quit, and then started complaining that I was just standing at the bar all the time anyway and obviously I didn't want to work. She came back to me and told me that he wanted to speak to me so I reached out to take her phone, and she was like, “no this is my phone. You can't use it.” At this point I was obviously pretty pissed off, so when she did finally relinquish her cell phone to me, I told the manager that I couldn't work with her. His answer was that I couldn't continue like this because I couldn't choose whom I wanted to work with. I responded that I had no intention of continuing and that I was going home.
With that, I put my apron on the bar, went upstairs to get my things and walked out without saying goodbye.

And that, my friends is the story of how I quit my job and stalked out in the middle of a shift. I will obviously not be receiving compensation for the work I did for them but frankly, they can take their money and shove it. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Method to the Madness

One thing I've learned about managers is that they are very often completely neurotic. And if I'm calling someone neurotic then they should probably seek professional help. The shift manager the second day of working at the restaurant was a neurotic French woman. I had a feeling she wouldn't be easy to work with but I just hoped that I wouldn't have to work with her too often.
There were two trainees that day, including myself and she must have been so excited to have 4 more hands that she asked me to organize the wine cellar and the other guy to organize the closet with the tablecloths. Poor guy was in the closet upstairs for almost an hour. Instead of us doing something like going over the menu (I had a few questions about the food) or teaching us something we might actually need to know like how to take orders, I was separating the empty boxes from the boxes with stuff in them and the other guy was refolding every spare tablecloth in the restaurant. To his credit though, the closet upstairs did look really nice when he was done with it.
The first table that actually came in were Russian tourists. I was excited to finally see how the orders were taken and to listen to the questions they asked and see how the waitress I was following answered them, but alas it turns out that that particular waitress speaks Russian. The manager (the Arab one, not the new shift manager) jokingly asked me if I had any idea what was going on. I was like, oh the irony! They hired me because I speak English and the first chance I get to see how tables are taken, the entire conversation is conducted in Russian! Admittedly Russian is not my forte. The only Russian I know I learned in basic training and can not be repeated in polite society.
I guess I should just point out now that considering the restaurant is a “biblical, Israeli” type restaurant, the staff is actually pretty diverse. Most of the kitchen staff is Arab-Israeli, as is the manager, one of the shift-managers is French, and at least 3 of the waiters are American (including myself). A few of the Israeli waiters speak Russian and one speaks Spanish. It must be nice to be bilingual. I'm just lingual and a half.
It was a little bit frustrating to be followed around by the shift-manager all night, because every time I tried to set the table, she was like, “no, this is not good! The napkin needs to be in front of the chairs, not on the side where you keep putting them!” My mistake was in putting them to the right of the seat where one could conceivably reach it with his right hand instead of putting them slightly to the right of the center where the plate is supposed to go, thereby preventing possible accidents. I have never seen someone so neurotic about setting tables. The plate must sit at the edge of the table, the napkin should also touch the edge of the table an inch to the right of the plate, the silverware must be perfectly straight and centered on the napkin unless it's the uber-fancy “double setting” where everyone gets two forks and two knives. Then the fork on the left must be an inch higher than the fork on the right and ditto with the knives. The wine glass must be touching the plate next to the knives with the regular glass touching the wine glass above the knives and the appetizer plates must be centered on the big plates. This is all annoying, but fine, unless everyone is setting it differently in which case you keep changing the settings every five seconds to match someone else's settings. And then you get blamed for every “wrong” setting on the table because as usual in this world, nobody knows what the hell they're doing! Ok, note to self, do not attempt to set tables. It will undoubtedly be wrong!
I was quite happy when it was finally time to go home. The kitchen wrapped us all up some food which turned out to be ceremonyless maqluba. Turns out it tastes just as good without being whacked out of the pot. Upon leaving, we realized that 4 out of 5 of the waiters live in Ma'ale Adumim. What are the odds?
The first few weeks of a new job are always stressful. You have to learn everything as quickly as possible while trying not to mess anything up too much. There are two managerial types, the first one is the kind that shows you how to do everything, from answering the phone to tying your shoe, in the hopes that you'll remember at least some of it. The second one tells you to do things without first showing you how and then corrects or criticizes you afterwards.
One thing I've learned from waitressing, is that in restaurants there is a method for everything. When people ask you to do things without showing you all the tricks that make it “upscale,” you just do it like a normal person. This is almost always WRONG. Never ever do things like a normal person! There is a reason people don't pay to come to your house and eat! You should be ashamed of yourself! You low-class, blue collar, barbarian! Serve a bottle of water with the cap still on?! And then not even pour it?! So what if it's just tap water, how could you even consider making our esteemed guests use their own hands!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Grand Maqluba Ceremony (or My New Job is Kind of Weird)

Well, the vacation's over for me. Back to work. At my mother's urging (nagging) I've been looking for a job. It's a good idea in any case to save up some money because you just never know when you're going to suddenly need to book a plane ticket to Africa, or buy a jungle cat. I also remembered that I have a 20 book long wishlist on the Book Depository website. I think that's what I'll spend my first paycheck on. I will also very likely have to pay for much of my school tuition since I screwed up the government by switching majors. Luckily, school tuition here will not leave you in debt until retirement age (if not longer) and it is actually possible to work enough to be able to afford it without having to sell your house and cats and live in one of the empty lecture halls on campus.
I found an ad for waiters in a dairy restaurant so I replied and sent in my resume and within two hours got a call from the manager asking me if I could come in for an interview. I said, sure, why not and a few days later went in to meet him. After the interview he told me that he'd call either that week or next. A few days later he called me to inform me that I would be working at the meat restaurant that they also own (the dairy one hasn't opened yet) and which happens to be in the same location, since I already have experience working at a meat restaurant. I was like, ok, whatever. I will go where you tell me to go.
I was told to come in on Monday at 5pm, so I came in wearing a black shirt, jeans, and closed-toe shoes assuming that I was actually going to start working that day. I walked in and there were a whole bunch of people standing around looking confused. I was like, “um, hi, I'm the new waitress,” but it turned out that we were all the new waiters/waitresses and this was to be a group meeting/tour of the restaurant/learning session. We were taken around the whole restaurant, all 3 and a half floors of it, plus storage area outside, plus balcony where they grow herbs. The new manager told us to make sure to point out to the customers which bathroom is for the women and which one is for the men. He admitted to us that he had walked into the women's bathroom (yes, the one with the picture of a stick figure in a dress) the first time and that it was an easy mistake to make. I disagreed but I didn't want to call him an idiot 5 minutes after meeting him. That's just not nice. After the tour, we all sat around a table (me and 5 other Israelis, plus the old manager and the new manager). The old manager pulled out a bunch of 5 page booklets in English about the restaurant and menu and informed us that we would have to read and learn them. The other waiters looked at the booklets in horror as if they were dancing garden gnomes (which would frighten anyone). I was chuckling gleefully on the inside. Someone then decided that we should go around the table reading out loud. When I started reading everyone just stared at me, astonished, as if I had held up a stick and parted the sea. Then they said suspiciously, “your English is a bit too good.” So I had to admit that English is my mother tongue. Thereafter I became the human dictionary when confronted with words like chastised, charcoal, drizzled, hue, lentils, and okra (many people didn't know what this vegetable was at all), etc. It turns out that there's no good translation for chastise in Hebrew. The two closest words that show up in the dictionary are the words for torment and flog. Hue was an especially fun one. “What's a hoo?”
After this two and a half hour meeting, we were all finally allowed to go home. I was scheduled to work the next three days in a row.

The next day I showed up to work at 11:00 in the morning. A group of 17 people was scheduled to arrive a few hours later so the manager (the new one) showed me the opening procedure. This was made of a list of 30, I kid you not, 30 things that had to be done after opening. Things like refilling EVERYTHING, cleaning and dusting EVERYTHING, and probably anything else you can think of. We spent the next few hours just “opening” the restaurant, ironing tablecloths, polishing, making juice for the large group, etc. The manager was actually a really nice guy, and very helpful. I don't mind cleaning and organizing (as any who knows me will tell you) as long as it's in a pleasant atmosphere.
The group was made up of surprisingly mild-mannered and undemanding Israelis and the time passed fairly quickly. They had ordered one of the tasting menus which is made up of course after course of small dishes- spreads and salads, soups, more vegetables, 2 main dishes, teas and coffee and desserts. One of the main dishes, the maqluba, requires a ceremony every time it's presented. It's basically a rice and chicken dish served in a pot which is turned over, whacked a few times and then removed so that the food is upside down. Why eating chicken legs with the rice on top requires a ceremony I have no idea.
The waitress I was following around that day was the initiator of the ceremony. A table was carried in from outside and an empty pot was set down upside down. The pot of maqluba (or should I say cauldron because that was a pot you could do laundry in) was brought out by the chef with a gigantic serving platter covering the opening. The chef solemnly turned the whole shebang over and the rest of the ceremony was handed over to Charlie, the guy who seemed to be the most in charge of the group. The waitress instructed him to whack the bottom of the pot 4 times with a spoon, circle his hand over the pot 7 times in a clockwise direction, and then make a wish. He performed his duties quite admirably and then the cauldron was turned over and anything stuck to the bottom of it was scraped off into the serving dish.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concluded the maqluba ceremony. I whispered to the waitress afterwards, “we don't have to do that every time do we?” She was like, “yes, of course.” Great. As fun as that is for the tourists, I have a feeling that this kind of thing could get old VERY fast.