Three years ago I had a good full-time job as a breakfast cook, and then the owner of the restaurant decided to stop serving breakfast. Breakfast had never been profitable for the place, but the bar did so much business at night that overall the owner could justify keeping breakfast going. Unfortunately the bar business dropped off, and so he did away with breakfast.
However, it worked out that another restaurant needed a breakfast cook, and I took the job. I was happy because the pay was better and the schedule was better. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that my new boss was probably the most incompetent restaurant owner/manager I’d ever worked for and that situation quickly degenerated to the point where after five weeks I simply walked away without giving notice - something I’d never done in my previous 22+ years in the business. Fortunately my previous employer was willing to confirm that I was laid off (which I was, essentially) and so I was able to collect unemployment benefits.
After a couple months of struggling along on UI checks, one of the last companies I applied to — a fancy restaurant at the top of a fancy hotel — told me they didn’t need any cooks but they had a dishwashing position available. I was extremely reluctant to take a dishwashing job after 22+ years as a cook, but I ended up accepting the job purely because the company offered medical/dental insurance, a 401k, and paid vacations - things I’d never gotten anywhere else.
A month later I transferred from the hotel restaurant to the city convention center next door (the hotel has the contract to provide the catering staff for the convention center events) and took over as the full-time dishwasher there. I’ve been doing that for two and a half years now, washing up after events feeding as many as 1,000 people. It’s definitely been the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had! And, surprisingly, I really enjoy it.
However, as of November 1, I am now officially a banquet chef! My actual on-the-job training will begin next Wednesday, Nov. 5.
What’s happened is that one of the current chefs, Tim, has accepted an “offer [he] can’t refuse” elsewhere, and I was offered the position he’s vacating. Things have come together really well leading up to this. Since I’ve been the dishwasher, I’ve been handling all the big events by myself, where in the past they would bring over extra dishwashers from the hotel restaurant to help out. It was my own choice to do it alone. I had come up with a very methodical and efficient system that allowed me to perform the job faster and better than my predecessors, and after the first two times helpers were provided I discovered that having helpers actually slowed me down. The problem was that (and I’m not trying to be mean) the people who most commonly work as dishwashers are those who lack the skills and often the mental capacity to do more complex jobs. So I ended up with a helper who couldn’t quickly grasp what I needed him to do, and in some cases just couldn’t seem to remember the simplest things for more than 30 minutes at a time. (It also didn’t help when I’d already been there for 13 hours when the guy arrived to help, and 90 minutes later he’s saying, “Well, I’m ready to go home!”) Unfortunately, in a situation where the dirty dishes from a banquet for 500 people are piling up, there isn’t time to patiently train somebody. So I told my boss, “Please, no more helpers. I can do it alone.”
And, for 2-1/2 years I did it alone, and did it well enough to win two Employee of the Month awards (Oct. 2006 & Sept. 2008). But it eventually took a physical toll on me — I developed what I assume are repetitive-stress injuries to my elbows, particularly my left elbow, and my already-bad knees have gotten worse. Even though I wear knee braces to work, once my shifts go past about 12 hours I can hardly walk. So I broke down a few months ago and asked the boss for somebody to help on the long shifts.
As luck would have it, a young man (18-19 years old) on the serving staff expressed an interest in helping with the dishes. We’re a union shop, and he’s a fairly recent hire, so he’s given lower priority than more senior servers when hours are assigned for banquets. So his willingness to help with the dishes was a way for him to pick up a few more hours. He started helping me out last week, and much to my relief, he turned out to be a quick study and able to take (and remember) instructions. He also seems to have a good work ethic. The timing worked out perfectly, because he started training with me just a few days before the chef position became available, and after working with him this week through a convention group of 600+ people, I’m confident he’s ready to take over my old position.
So Chef Tim is going to a job that is better for him, I’m getting a promotion (with a substantial pay raise), and the kid, Austin, while not exactly getting a promotion is going to get more hours of work (and thus more pay) than he would have gotten any time soon as a server.
Now I just hope I’m up to the challenge - this is going to be a very different style of cooking from what I’ve done in the past!