The horse is dead and the shark ate him!

It’s been a looooong time since my last entry. I will readily admit to the fact that the reason I began to post on this blog was personal and cathartic. I had a ton of anger and rage that I just had a need to channel and this was the safest way to do so and not get my big ass locked up. Up until this morning, the rage and anger had subsided. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful people in my life as well as a woman with whom I’ve become very close. In fact, for the first time in my life, I can actually say that I am in love. The reason being, I am, for the first time in my life, in a committed relationship clean and sober. That is to say, I am able to see things and people for what and who they are rather then what I, in my high and drunken stupors, imagined them to be. OK, enough of the warm fuzziness of recovery. It’s time to for me to forge ahead into the meat of the matter and the reason I felt a need to write this entry.

Let’s begin with the title. I like to give a bit of an explanation about the title especially if it presents itself as cryptic or misleading. This one qualifies. The shark reference is a nod to jumping the shark as in the Happy Days episode when the Fonz, while water skiing, jumped over the shark in the cage below the surface. It’s my understanding that this is the episode, for which this phrase was coined, and became part of the pulp culture, so to speak. The horse reference is a nod to an earlier entry in which I stated that I would ride the “deal site” horse until it died and then eat it. Well I’m happy to proclaim the fuckin’ horse is dead and the shark ate him. I can’t eat him, I’m watching my figure and cannot afford the calories.

Let us allow this entry to serve as a public statement and promise to my entire staff that…..

I WILL NEVER RUN A DEAL ON ANY SITE EVER AGAIN!

I’ve been running deals of various amounts and in different forms for nearly 3 years. In the beginning, I saw it not only as a means to raise working capital in a very challenging economic environment but as a wonderful form of mass marketing. A form of marketing that not only required $0.00 outlay of cash on my part but also paid me in advance for future dining by new guests in my establishment. It worked! My email list of guests jumped from 1500 or so to over 3000 in the past couple of years. Each new guest willfully requesting to become a part of the list. I use this list to directly market to my customers by way of Constant Contact and it is absolutely invaluable in every way imaginable.

In recent months however, I’ve had a great many conversations with my front of the house team led by my very professional, accomplished and highly respected General Manager and Wine Director Marcello. In each and every one of these conversations it has been brought to my attention that the attitude and overall personality of the guest I am attracting with these deals is in a free fall sort of decline. A decline that is having a very negative effect on the entire staff in terms of moral and happiness while at work. This, of course, cannot be allowed to continue, I told myself. I need all of these folks to be in high spirits. I also need them to feel an overall sense of appreciation not only from me but from our guests. If this is not happening it is ultimately my responsibility as the owner of this restaurant to step in and correct the problem to the best of my ability and with as much tact and sensitivity as possible. I’ve tried, I really have, but to no avail. I am left with only this to say.

******DISCLAIMER******

Please be advised, this DOES NOT apply to all deal site users. 99% of these deals have been redeemed with great satisfaction and in many instances with a return visit. No disrespect is intended to those of you who have purchased these deals and used them happily, following the rules set forth. We appreciate you and look forward to serving you always!

   In fact, this only applies to a small minority of deal site users. For the most part, these sites have served to expand my customer base and reward a good number of my current guests as well. In addition to providing me with much needed capital. Capital used to make improvements in the restaurant and build an addition that serves as dining space as well as a private dining room for a variety of events.

OK, now that I’ve been able to explain how much I value those that use these deal sites for their intended purpose, (that purpose being a win/win for all three, the guest, the establishment running the deal and the deal site itself.) I will now say what needs to be said to the small minority of folks that have ruined it for the whole bunch. Ready?

YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME! Did ya get that? I mean it, STAY AWAY! Please call or email the deal site and tell them you want a refund. I cannot believe the entitlement and general attitude of “me, me, me” that you people exhibit in public. Forget about my restaurant and my staff for a moment. This is not about us. This is about you fools. I am told over and over again by my staff, how abusive some diners can be when they simply do not have the means or even worse, have the means but not the willingness to act in a civil fashion in a public place. Are you people not embarrassed by your behavior?!!? It puzzles me as to who would, if anyone, want to sit at a table with you idiots. You are, as a group, abusive, mean, nasty, despicable human beings that should not be allowed to walk amongst other more evolved people, much less omit the vile stench of your attitude toward those that serve you in a public place, such as my staff of professionals of whom I am very proud.

I am recently most proud that none have them have taken it upon themselves to punch you in the fucking face for treating them as you have. I have actually had some of you tell my manager, point blank, that he is here to work for you and he should do as he is told, BY YOU! Are you fucking kidding me?! This gentleman and his team do not work for you – you entitled neophyte jag-off! They don’t even work for me. They work as independent contractors for the same restaurant for which I work. The fact that I own the restaurant does not make me any less of an employee of the establishment. It simply makes me responsible for everything that goes on within.

We, as a team, have experienced lies of epic proportion, in order for you, the entitled, dishonest, sneaky folks that you are to get your way regardless of the needs of other diners not to mention the overall health of the restaurant. I place very clear and specific restrictions on each of the deals that I run. These restrictions are as follows; 1.) the diner must call the restaurant directly and speak to a staff member to make a reservation. Online reservations are not permitted for tasting menu deals. 2.) one deal or certificate may be redeemed per table per evening. 3.) the deals are not redeemable with any other offers. 4.) a limited amount of these deals (tasting menus only) will be honored on Friday and Saturday evenings. (6pm or earlier or 8 pm or later)   That’s it! There is no hidden agenda. There are no cloak and dagger games being played. I mean no disrespect when presenting these restrictions. They are simply necessary to have in order to insure a fair and just means of redeeming these deals and still allowing the operation to survive and dare I say it????? PROFIT!

Yes, that’s correct, I need to profit as well as offer these deals. The problem is this. Those of you of whom I am speaking, have exhibited breathtaking disrespect for my team and also happen to be the same assholes that could care less if my restaurant lives to see another day after you have redeemed your deal. The details are not of concern to you. You want what you want, when you want it and you have no interest in hearing an explanation of why your demands may be somewhat unreasonable. The disclosed restrictions, the needs of other deal site users that actually use the deal as intended (respectfully) and the basic human rights of my staff BE DAMNED!

Last night was the final straw. I awoke at 6 am as I do each day to find a text, an email and a missed call all from the same person. This woman took it upon herself to get the message to me at all costs that her dining rights have been irreconcilably denied and therefore her experience ruined. Not to mention the experience of her esteemed, food savvy guest. This couple had a deal site tasting menu certificate. Not a big shock we took 14 of them last night. This is wonderful in my eyes as we are reaching guests that for the most part, are learning of us for the first time after over seven years at this location. (We have been able to see repeat visits from over 20% of our deal site first time guests. This is a number not often seen. quite a blessing not to mention a testament to my staff and their professionalism.)  

Back to our “happy couple.” The woman informed me, by way of all three communications, that my manager is, and this is a quote, “a complete asshole that does not belong in his position nor does he deserve to work with the public in any way shape or form”  This statement, as it turns out, was the least offensive of all the ridiculous things stated as fact in her opinion about my restaurant. Now Marcello, while not always warm and fuzzy, especially when abused by a diner in the way in which he was abused last night, is ALWAYS professional and accommodating in every way.

He represents my restaurant and our product with such pride and integrity that one might mistake him for the owner. Please allow me to state for the record that I do not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy. This is an antiquated, flawed business philosophy that allows a guest to dictate what an establishment should provide rather then enjoying what the establishment is best suited to provide. Not to mention what that operation is known for providing. Pure nonsense! A practice seen only in those establishments that lack either the strength of their convictions or a lack of confidence in their own product…..or, even worse, BOTH! Needless to say, we are not one of those establishments.

We try very hard to provide a wonderful experience for all of our guests. We do so with a strict attention to the important point that when we veer from what we are known to provide best, we inevitably welcome trouble. The most common instance of this is when we let the guest drive the experience. This woman was trying to do just that. They arrived 45 minutes late for an online reservation with a tasting menu deal certificate for which the kitchen was not prepared. We routinely prepare for at least 2 or 3 tables that pop up as a result of an honest mistake either on our part or as the result of a miscommunication with the guest. We take full responsibility and do our best to accommodate. Sometimes we are simply full and do not have the capacity to make last minute changes to facilitate the needs of a single guest. In such a case we offer alternatives, extensions of expiration, application of face value to be used that evening but in a different capacity, etc…. at times, such as last night, this is simply not good enough for the guest and things unravel.

I did not bother Marcello with this situation today as it is his well deserved day off and I want him to relax. I took it upon myself to speak with all of the staff that worked last night and each of their descriptions of what happened was identical with the exception of, you guessed it, our deal site folks.

It seems the lady was much more upset in the beginning then the gentleman and was very vocal. After addressing the table and explaining that since they did not do what was asked on the deal and call to alert us to their tasting menu, we could not produce an additional menu of this type. I do not give a shit if anyone understands why I made this restriction a part of the deal.

It just is. I will not and cannot disclose my business model to everyone that buys a deal. Now the man, and I use that term in jest, becomes aggravated despite Marcello’s best attempts to make reasonable amends for the situation. This fool begins to shout in the middle of MY DINING ROOM at the gentleman that runs the entire operation, demanding that what he and his dining companion want, must be provided. In doing so, they disturbed other guests, belittled my manager, his staff and my restaurant. Still, in the end, they were given everything we could give them to try and make them happy. As these pricks dined on my cuisine, served by a professional team in a comfortable environment, (all at a 50% discount mind you), they were texting and talking on their phones all night long. Very loudly might I add, making a point to be loud enough to let my staff know that they were going on opentable and Facebook to slander the restaurant in grand fashion as they dined.

To this couple I offer you this. FUCK YOU!!! As well as everyone else that thinks as you think and acts as you act. This is an grown up restaurant for those that know how to act in public. It is for those that want to and are able to act civil towards one another and towards those that work very hard to serve them. We greatly appreciate all of our guests that enjoy dining in our restaurant, especially nowadays, when there are so many great options. I made a mistake riding this horse as far as I did. I have my reasons. I also have a couple of regrets – not the least of which is the stress I put on my staff in order to accommodate the small minority of deal site folks that simply don’t deserve to be accommodated.

Gentlemen of the staff of Restaurant Michael, I am very sorry that you had to endure this silliness. I would like to thank you for doing so and for being the professional, dedicated people that you are. I am very fortunate to have the privilege to work beside you. Please do not be discouraged. 99% of our guests appreciate and love the service you provide. It is that 99% that inspires me to continue providing the product we provide. Be proud of yourselves and rest assured, I certainly am proud of you! I will not allow anyone to abuse us as professionals not to mention as human beings.

Wanna hear the kicker? The guests from last night were industry people. A cook that works for a very close chef friend of mine and his bitch girlfriend. – twenty-somethings with no balls, no respect and no class. I weep for the future of our nation…… Make no mistake, had I been here last night you would all have cause to weep for them.

Good talk???

I have a cook in my kitchen that has been with me for five years, six months and three weeks to the date. His name is Salvador. Now I always believed that in order to stay with me in my kitchen for that length of time you must be one of three things… a fucking sadist, completely and irretrievably bat shit crazy or blindly dedicated to my cuisine and willing to go to any length in order to honor it. My friend Salvador has added a new and somewhat disturbing fourth option. Salvador is, in my very informed opinion after having worked with him over the past five years, a machine.  It is my belief, from what I could glean from conversations about, but never with, Salvador is, that he has several children that I have never met; all of whom are shared with the same lovely lady whom I also have never met.

 I know that his Mother sadly passed a few years ago. In order to not risk being able to return in a timely fashion to support his family, he had to forgo the funeral and suffered silently despite all of our efforts to get him to go to Mexico for the funeral. A stronger man than I is Salvador. I wept like a child upon the passing of my Grandfather and took three days off to help with family matters. There is a great line that Al Pacino delivers in one of his many films. “Some people when you squeeze them, they focus, others fold.”  I can say I have never folded, not yet anyway. I often crinkle, wrinkle, pucker and bend but I never fold. Salvador on the other hand….well there was just no question. He remained, through the week of his Mom’s funeral, crisp and focused. He was clearly sad and upset but the guy never missed a fucking beat! Pretty amazing if you ask me. Salvador is also, aside from Sergio, who I promise will be a future entry for this blog, the employee of mine with the most longevity.

Salvador also, by the way, has said exactly SIX (6) words to me in the entire five plus years that he has been with me. I am not exaggerating for effect here. Six fucking words! Would you like to hear those six gems? I knew you would so here you go…..“Liston” Spanish for Ready!…”Sale” Spanish for Ready/I’m cool…”Que Pasa” Spanish for What’s up/how ya doing…”Gracias” Spanish for Thanks…and last but not least…”Amigo” Spanish for Buddy/Friend. That’s it! No Merry Christmas, no have a good night, no enjoy your day off, no go fuck yourself! (I get that one a bunch in case you were curious and in a variety of languages)  That’s it, six words!  Also throw into the mix that he does not move his face, his lips or his body when uttering these precious few syllables. He does not laugh, he does not snicker he does not flinch. That’s because he’s a fucking robot. There can be no other explanation.

Please allow me to share with you the sparkling conversations and verbal gymnastics Salvador and I we have shared over the years. “Hi Salvador, how are you today?”…”Sale”… “are we ready for service Salvador?”…”Liston”…”Salvador, what’s going on buddy?”…”Que Paso” or simply…”Amigo”…”Here’s your check buddy”…”Gracias”. This seems like a stretch after five years to have had only these simple, privative communications but it’s true. The most amazing part of the equation is that Salvador has NEVER, not one time been late, absent, early to depart and most important of all, unprepared for service. He is, as I said earlier, a machine. The guy never stops moving. If there were a patron saint of line cooks named in honor of Salvador he would be known as “Our Man of Perpetual Motion”.  I have also, in five plus years, never seen him take a break, not to eat, drink be merry or go to the bathroom. MACHINE! What else can it be?

Here’s an interesting scenario. I make a mistake on his check and short him four hours for the pay period. Salvador says nothing. He knows for a fact that in the coming weeks I, in a classic and consistent fashion will make a mistake in the other direction awarding him with 6 hours he never worked! The man is patient, sly and cunning. He’s a short, pudgy Latino Ninja. He could be a Navy SEAL apart from the fact that he would never communicate with his fellow SEAL’s and they would all parish as he walks out of harms way right behind them! This guys got me talking to myself. What have I done to deserve such an employee?

In reality, I work for Salvador. He comes in, does what he wants and needs to do, follows no clock except for the one on Mexican time in his caveza (Head)….(for those of you non-Spanish speaking readers, myself included). He collects his pay with scarcely a one word utterance. For all intents and purposes he makes his own schedule by virtue of the fact that I know when we cannot afford to be without him and appears and departs like a ghost. Fuck! I want that gig! He gets to cook, go home to his kids and wife, takes public transportation that drops him twenty feet from both his door and mine and he can go the entire day without saying a single word to anyone. How did I miss the posting on this position? I want to be Salvador so badly I can taste it! He has a mustache with 8 hairs on either side of his face, he stands all of about 5 ft. 5 inches tall, is not breaking any beauty records, (suffice it to say he’s not my type anyway) and he has the personality of a walking Latin dust mop. Yet still, I want this guys life. Salvador has it figured out man.

If I ever get the chance to do it all again, I am coming back as Salvador. I want a bigger, fuller mustache though and perhaps a slightly larger vocabulary, say 8 to 10 words. But all in all, I wouldn’t change a thing about Salvador, it works for us. So in closing I will simply say to Salvador…..”Good Talk Buddy”?     and his response would be……”Sale”

Such a dork! I will never figure this guy out. I guess that’s the magic of Salvador.

Image of Maracas Courtesy of http://www.dailyclipart.com