A Stage, gone corporate (and toxic)

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

From the Michelin Guide:

Simply put, a stage is an unpaid internship a cook takes to expose him- or herself to new techniques. Before the advent of culinary schools, this was the most common form of education.

Kitchen Language: What Is a Stage?

As most in our industry know, it is relatively common for cooks to stage at a restaurant before they are hired so they may decide to take a cooking position there, if one is offered by the restaurant. Its current standing is perceived in a negative light given the abuses the system enables— but I digress, and we’ll leave that for another time. Same goes for staging for a Front of House job.

What I am seeing more often now is corporate jobs requiring applicants to perform labor as a requirement of obtaining interviews for potential employment. While a kitchen will often have one or two stagiaires at a time, many white-collar employers will just post a job on a board and then expect all applicants to submit work the company can benefit from, again, as a condition of obtaining an interview or advancing the interview process.

Case in point:

To work in a kitchen most people will stage for a couple days, and then be on their way, or be offered the job; with a tacit understanding at the beginning of the stage whether you are there for a job and or if you’re there to check out the culture and methods of that kitchen in particular.

But now we’re seeing a lot of employers blindly follow in the footsteps of FAANG, with 4 interviews or more whether the position warrants it or not, without regard to the compensation or the benefits the position affords. I have even heard of small law practices attempt this! All because rich companies are doing it.

Such a waste of time for everyone. The HR person (or whomever is performing this task) now has to worry about hiring someone over a period of weeks, potentially months. The hiring team now has to spend time with multiple applicants taking away from useful work. The applicant now has to worry about a process taking weeks (or months!) while there are bills to be paid and food to be put on the table.

AIN’T NOBODY GOT FOR THAT!

So now we have an equivalent of staging but now with more negativity and and abuse built into the process. If your interview process as a company takes longer than three weeks (mind you, not three months) tells me the following about your company:

  • Your internal processes are glacially slow. If you’re this slow to hire me, you will also be slow to approve any potential vacation time.
  • There are people who relish the sense of power making the process slow gives them. I do not want to interact with people like this for everyday work.
  • You will be lightning fast to fire me. It happens in kitchens, it happens in corporate!

I personally will not wait a month for a company to decide to hire me while it also takes ownership of any unpaid work all applicants performed as part of the hiring process, whether it led to employment or not.

Without mincing words, that is theft. And companies that want you to steal your labor in this manner deserve to fail.

Getting Rolled: Just end me

Previously: Getting Rolled: When Middle Management is more important than the guests


Day Four. I’m at my early morning job and I’m already dreading showing up to the Rolling Workplace based on just three days of experience there. I did tell the bartender I would be there even after the frustrations of the previous day.

So off I go.

Get into the place, open up the bar, get the floor ready. There wasn’t that much to do as the night before the closing crew did actually shut down the business properly, including burning the ice in the bar!

After a while the GM got there and informed us she wanted to get the bar cleaned up, so get on scrubbing. At least by now we, the floor employees, had decided it was going to be a slow day.

Got that entire back scrubbed and bleached. By the end of it there was no mold anywhere, because there was mold everywhere. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it isn’t there. Mold is one of those things you just can’t get rid of if you let it have a foothold in your kitchen or your bar. But we got it downright spotless!

Which is when everything went sideways. The GM had me follow her to one of the private dining rooms. We sat down and she was short and to the point: “Management thinks you’re hard to work with so I have to let you go.” I couldn’t be sure if she was okay with this or not but one thing learned from years in the service industry is to know when to pick a fight and this was not the time for it.

Thanked her for everything, gathered my things, left the place. Went to another one of my workplaces to grab a drink or two while I collected my thoughts and tried to decide what was next for me. This was supposed to be my big Front of House break and … it went nowhere real fast, aided by the fact I wanted to work and not hang out.

This is one of those parts where having working in the kitchen for so long turns out to be counter-productive. I don’t quite know how to carry on a conversation when I’m cooking or cleaning; months after the experience I’m getting better but at least back then I could not quite handle it.

I have not been back to this place since then, nor have I eaten at any of the other restaurants managed by the company. The real kick in the shins is social media keeps suggesting this GM as a contact. Even LinkedIn.

As people say now, please, miss me with that shit.

Getting Rolled: When Middle Management is more important than the guests

Previously: Getting rolled: Meeting everyone except the person that counts


Crap, I’m running late for the job and this is only my third day here. It was a rush to get to work on time but made it a few minutes late.

Not that anyone cared because, as the previous two days, I was the first person in the front of house to actually make it there. The kitchen usually get there one hour before to start with prep for the day and receive vendor orders.

I start opening up the bar and, as the previous two days, the ice in both the bar well and the server well hadn’t been burned, so set about doing that. Did the miz for drinks, got everything ready. All of this on my own. It’s not hard to open a bar when you even have a dim idea of how it’s done. About 30 minutes later, at long last, I get to meet the GM during the work day! And finally get instruction from someone about it!

Fat chance. She just said hi and then hid in the back office for the next hour.

Okay, fine. I suppose she’s busy. Bartender shows up 10 minutes before open and sees everything is done so we’re good to go. 20 minutes later the first of Middle Management show up.

Making chitchat with her we started talking about restaurants and websites. I made mention of how most restaurants just never update their menus, or if they do, it’s just a PDF file they upload. She said she would never do that. I snorted disbelief.

“Don’t you believe me?” she asked. I replied “no, I do not”, then walked over to the host stand to welcome a guest. I suppose I could have handled that more gracefully but what’s done is done.

That first table was the first of many during an extremely busy lunch service. Bartender and me are doing good, he’s behind the bar and I’m handling serving duties. Now, at this point I am still not enabled within the POS system so I cannot enter orders myself, I have to write them down and then pass them on to the bartender. Roadblock: The items in the POS are not labeled. They are numbered and you are supposed to learn this on the first day but no one had thought to tell me about it. No chance for a cheat sheet menu as the owners don’t allow for anything to be put on the walls if the guests might see it. Still made a go of it with a little cheatsheet I kept next to the POS terminal.

By this point there are six people from Middle Management in the restaurant. They commandeer a table in once of the closed-off sections, break their laptops open and start having a meeting. 30 minutes later GM shows up and joins them. They completely ignore the fact the dining room is now full and a couple of tables in their closed-off section are being used.

So that’s an entire restaurant full of people. Five 4-top high tops, Ten 6-top booths (including those in the closed sections), 16 seat bar, four 6 benches out on the patio, plus a fair number of to-go orders. All of this handled by the bartender and myself in the front, two cooks in the kitchen. It stayed liked this for a solid three hours before lunch rush was finally over; even then it wasn’t a clean cut-off between being slammed and being slow. It just became manageable for two people and not leave tables dirty until they were needed by a new set of guests.

This is where I get annoyed. At no point did anyone from Middle Management offer to help, or to have the GM help. I can’t even be sure they noticed. Their meeting was just too important to interrupt. Indeed, at one point they got miffed when they tried to order a bunch of salads and the kitchen told them to wait cos they were busy.

So that’s confirmation of a concern of mine. How does management behave when the restaurant is understaffed and needs help? I know knew the answer.

At some point it had quieted enough I finally got around to cleaning all the tables, cleaning the bar, restocking, and whatnot. All of the things you would do once you’re cut.

But… I hadn’t been cut, and no one, the GM, Middle Management, or Ownership, had told me what my job duties would be. Talking with Bartender he thought I was hired to work on the floor as a server. Again, at this point I still don’t actually know what my work duties are. Bartender himself said he moved up the ranks from To-Go cashier to bartender when the previous GM quit and took half the staff with him.

The day finished up as suddently as it started. GM tells me I’m cut and as all my sidework is done, start gathering my belongings to leave. I still have no number in the POS so the only record of my hours is on my calendar. As I start to leave, GM calls me to one of the back rooms:

GM: “I was told by someone that you walked away from them.”
me: “Some guests were coming in when it happened. Did she not hear me apologize?”
GM: “Look, some others have said you’re hard to work with.”
me: “So far I’ve only worked with the bartender. I’m not sure if we’re coming to you with different stories but I like working with him cos he already knows the flow of the restaurant and he lets me work on my own without trying to get in the way. Unless it’s someone from the kitchen or one of the manager ladies?”
GM: “Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
me: “Okay, sure, I’ll just keep quiet then. Do you happen to have my schedule?”
GM: “You do that. On your schedule I don’t have it yet, I’ll have it tomorrow.”

As I went out the door after this little meeting I ate another protein bar because you don’t get a staff meal after a shift. At this point I just left to my next job, increasingly sure I was going to have to put in my two weeks notice not even a week into the job.

Getting rolled: Meeting everyone except the person that counts

Previously: Getting Rolled


I hear back from the GM. Excellent news. We finally settle on a first day of work and when I am supposed to be there. Still no mention of what my actual work duties would be.

I got my calendar via a shared Google Sheet that anyone could edit. A very odd setting which I pointed out, but didn’t hear back so I just made plans to be there on time at the appointed time and place.

The day of I took my leave from one of the jobs and headed yonder. Walk in the front door and… there was no one there. Not the cooks, not any floor staff. Sat down on a chair and waited for about fifteen minutes before one of the cooks came back to the kitchen so I could introduce myself but they couldn’t help me as I was technically hired for a front of house position.

It took another ten minutes before someone else showed up. We set about opening and this, my dear reader, is where I started encountering issues.

  • Ice in the bar well wasn’t burned the night before.
  • Ice in the server well wasn’t burned the night before.
  • Sticky floor, a sign people didn’t mop the night before.
  • Sticky tables, a sign people hadn’t wiped surfaces the night before.

When I set about burning the ice so I could clean the well and put in new ice I actually dislodged a 3 inch long strip of dried out slime mold from the drainage hole. Flat out one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in the one place you’re not supposed to have any kind of dirt, specially in a… reputable… place, like this one. And then had to clean up the flood I got from the server’s well after burning that ice.

Very entertaining on your very first day of work. Totally makes you look like you know what you’re doing. I did manage to catch the bartender rolling their eyes at my blundering.

Set about making iced tea and another surprise. The tea maker had not been scrubbed in years and years as well. Someone made a comment they weren’t aware of anyone who had ever scrubbed it.

The day just went on with many surprises just like these except for the one nice surprise of new glassware washing equipment for the bar. Always nice to have that.

And then! Time to open! Within half an hour the bartender and myself were doing really good, with him commenting often I clearly knew what I was doing as he needed only to provide some direction on what needed to be done, and when, but for everything else I could work without assistance. Only bit of difficulty was the POS but that’s always something you have to learn with practice.

Other than the cleaning it was a good day. Met some of the kitchen staff, Ecuatorians most of them, all of whom had been working there for years and years and years. Met some of the regulars. Met a few of the managers the company employs– we’ll call them “middle managers”, as that is what they are given the business structure.

Did not see the GM at all.

Met more of the managers the company employs. The owners came by to hang out as owners do, with that distressing tendency to get in the way while you are trying to work. Met some regulars who politely ignored you to talk directly with the kitchen for their food.

During the course of the day no one really knew what my position would ultimately be. Given I was interviewed by both owners and the GM I was still under the impression it would be a junior management position but no one could give me an answer. I asked the middle managers and they declined to provide an answer, deferring to the GM.

Middle management could, and did, ask us floor staff to do things for them as they were busy.

This is where I started to get concerned. I have seen this combination of elements in a corporate environment, and any whiff of them in food service doesn’t bode well for you as an employee. Clueless ownership? Overabundance of middle management? Salaried staff choosing to stand apart from hourly staff? Check, check and check.

Then it was time to clock out except I had no entry in the POS to do so. Worked a solid 4 hours.

Then it was time to leave. No family meal, no shiftie. Not even an offer of a salad.

Thank God for the protein bar I put in my backpack. Put on sunglasses, went out into the summer heat, and got going to my next job.

Tomorrow will be the second day at work.

Getting rolled

A few days ago I picked up a new job. In the front of house, even! Imagine that! It is an extremely nice change of pace from the usual behind the pass.

But it also has plenty of risk, particularly when management is not clear on what the job you will be doing actually is, which is just what happened to me.

A few weeks ago I contacted an establishment looking for a general manager position. After a week I got a response from Lady Owner asking me to come in for an interview, which I accepted. At this point my assumption was they were still looking for management.

Sat down for the interview with her, her husband, and the GM. I made it clear I was not going to leave my current position as it offers benefits but they agreed we could work around its schedule. All in all a good experience.

And then I didn’t hear anything for a week. Sent the GM a few emails trying to find out what exactly was happening and there was no response.

Finally, after two weeks of no communication I heard back from the GM, requesting my schedule so she could draw up hers. Shared my calendar, written days and times, and screenshots. The works, basically, to make things easy for her. She got back to me three days later at 10 PM requesting I fill out a PDF form. Got that filled out, and waited for another two days.

At this point we are have been interacting for three weeks and I am still unsure of what my schedule would be.

I ought to have realized it was but the start of a really bad experience…

Hope springs eternal

The current winter season in my city has been absolutely brutal. As of right now we have had 12 restaurants close down since the middle of December and I am hearing rumblings of a few other places that are between a rock and a hard place.

Very Very Very Closed (2)
Very very very CLOSED, via Flickr

A few have done the absolute worst by their employees and let them go without any notice whatsoever. Others just a week of warning. Few are those that do right by their people and give them proper warning so they can start looking for employment elsewhere.

This does lead to the specific problem I am thinking about as I write this. There is now a glut of skilled restaurant people looking for work in this town and no one will, or can, hire them. In the summer months restaurants are absolutely desperate to hire skilled labor, but the situation reverses during the winter months.

This year has also been much, much worse in terms of closures. If memory serves the average was three or four restaurants permanently closing for business. I am not about to go down an internet rabbit hole looking for data so it is likely the average is higher, yet no one really talked about it. In this industry places can and will come and go in the blink of an eye.

So, what happens to those newly unemployed hands? A lot of them probably have other jobs they can rely on to pay the bills. Others will find employment, maybe in this area, or by moving to another part of the country. But a few will quit— and will not come back to the industry. This applies particularly to the cooks. Cannot sell food if there is no one in the kitchen to cook it.

There is some hope with some new restaurants already open and others that will be opening in the coming weeks and months, but it might not be soon enough for people in trouble now. When spring arrives the employment cycle will, without fail, start over.

Some people are blaming local government for raising the minimum wage or for general hostility to small businesses. Others are blaming the state for favoring Big Business. Let us please not talk about the federal government. Everyone is kinda sorta joking about blaming Millennials, even though they’re the labor pool most restaurants depend on much to their own detriment— when is the last time you saw a server over the age of 50 working somewhere other than a diner?

I don’t have a solution or even the idea for a solution. I just noticed this fact and consider myself fortunate to have a career in a different sector, with enough time to turn my thoughts to this industry that has taught me so much and I hope will keep doing so.

I hope that most find jobs quickly at good places. For now hoping is all I can do.