Quit before you’re Fired!!

The new cafe at Sugarbush farms is a delightful organic farm-to-table enterprise, in a beautiful setting.  I was so enchanted by the place that in July I brought in some raisin-pecan loaves and asked if they needed anyone a couple of hours a week.  They said that Nancy would be taking over the cafe when she got back from vacation and that it was entirely her enterprise and I should check back with her in August.

Mid-August I got a text from her before I had a chance to go out there (I was still recovering from the boys’ trip) so I went out and visited with her.  Nancy is originally from New York but has lived in Africa since the mid-1990s.  She previously held a high level position at Zambeef but had quit a little while back and was ready to do something completely different.  I tried the food again that day and though I thought it was good before, it was now outstanding.  I now would come to the place just for the food whereas before I primarily came for the ambiance.  Nancy had really brought it to a whole new level.

We talked for a while and I told her that I had been thinking about it and that I’d rather be a resource person instead of someone working there, e.g., source food for her, make baked goods for special events, run errands if she didn’t have time, be kind of like a part-time fairy godmother if she ran into a bind.  Well, she said, I’m in a bind this Saturday, I need someone to work the front of the house (take orders, make sure food and drinks were getting out and the customers were attended to, be the cashier).  I felt such sympathy for her (I really liked her and the place) that I immediately said, oh, I’ll come work Saturday, what time do you want me?  She got the biggest smile on her face and said 9 am.

So, 9 am on Saturday I was ready in my comfortable Merrills for a day on my feet.  Nancy showed me her (very complicated!) system and oriented me to all of the menu options.  Her system consisted of a checklist of about ten things to be tracked per order, including invoice #, table #, drink order taken, food order taken, drink order delivered, food order delivered, bill prepared, bill paid (and maybe one or two other things). On top of this we were first to write the order on an invoice pad where the top and bottom page were separated by a loose piece of carbon.  (For those of you under 40, carbon paper is how we used to make copies of things, you can read up on this historical technique here.)  Then, you had to rip out the second sheet, tear it in half, give half to the drink waiter and post the other half on a nail in the kitchen as you yell out the order.  This means you have like 15 things to do!  I managed to do everything requested for like the first four orders (where each party came like 15 minutes a part).  Then, we started to get really busy.  It seemed really silly to go through all of those steps on her reference sheet so I soon shortened the process to writing down the order in the invoice book, then on her reference sheet writing the table number and whether or not the order had been paid (and how much had been paid).  Then, when it got really, really busy, and people ordered a coffee or soda only, I didn’t even bother with an invoice and just wrote on her reference sheet the table number, what was ordered (e.g., “1 coffee, 2 sodas”), and amount paid.  I figured that she’d want to know what people paid (to match the cash register) and what people ordered (so she could see which dishes were popular and what her inventory was at the end of the day).  She could use the invoice book and the reference sheet to get all of that information.  (Sidenote: The cash register was a purse with two pockets that I wore around my neck.)

Well, even with this shortened system I was quickly overwhelmed when there was a rush and the line snaked back into the Jackal and Hide store.  A few times I put the carbon in the wrong way which means the “copy” was on the back of the invoice, so I had to re-write the whole order twice!  Also, the norm before had been for people to keep their orders open, where they could keep coming back and adding things, which made it impossible to follow the drink order taken, drink order sent, etc., because in some cases there were three or four of these.  Arghhhhhhh!

Well, experiences, good and bad, have a way of bringing into sharp relief what you like to do and what you don’t like to do, and boy, I was not cut out for this.  We went full bore from 9 am to 3 or 3.30 pm (no break at all).  I was glad I had the experience but now I knew that I most definitely do not want to work the counter anywhere, no matter how enthralled I am by the establishment and proprietors!

Poor Nancy was such a good sport. At the end of the day when she went to reconcile the invoices with the cash I explained my modifications to her system.  I quickly realized, as I explained what I did, that there really would be no way for her to track exactly what was sold that day because though I had written table number on her sheet, I didn’t write the invoice number!!!  I don’t know how I missed that.  She was so good-natured and kept saying, oh, it’s your first time, I’ll figure it out, don’t worry, but I felt bad that I had messed up her system.  She tried to pay me but I said, all I want is a free lunch, and she said deal!

I came back the following Wednesday with Thom and while Thom looked in the store (hopefully looking for Christmas presents for moi… 🙂 ) we did the post-mortem.  Right away I said, I don’t think I’m cut out for the counter, but I’ll be your emergency resource person — if you run out of ingredients and need someone to go get them and bring them in, I can do that.  Nancy mentioned maybe doing some cooking classes and I said that’d be great.  I could tell that there was no way she was ever going to put me at the front of the house again so good thing I quit before she fired me!

One thing I did do that day that turned out well was bring three loaves of the Barefoot Contessa’s Yogurt Lemon Cake.  This cake is possibly the best cake in the world, even better than my chocolate decadence cake (for which my sons’ old girlfriends wistfully remind me of at their birthdays each year).  We must have sold 20 pieces of it and everyone loved it.  Someday soon I’ll do a blog on making it.  It’s so good!

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About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine. http://www.flickr.com/photos/benheine/3794765860/
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4 Responses to Quit before you’re Fired!!

  1. Cheryl Tomandl says:

    I have made this cake–you’re right. It’s to die for!

  2. Helen Ambassador for Lusaka InterNations.org says:

    Oh please upload the recipe- I have loads of lemons growing in my garden and need another cake to make with them- as its been enough of the lemon drizzle cake and the tarte de citron for a while.
    Hee hee. Your experience makes me laugh – how many years did I spend working in cafes and restaurants and think – this system could be improved! I love that had a go at shortening it – but what a mess for Nancy. It might have been better throw you in the shallow end and have your work ob a quiet Tuesday instead.

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