Friday, December 23, 2011
Here is Something For You to Read While I Am On the Mend
It was a lunch shift and no one really warned me that I would be waiting on tables and not bartending. After having taken a bartending course , worked as a bar boy at the Hilton Hotel , and worked a shift already behind the bar at Willow Inn I thought for sure that is where I would find myself. Behind the bar that is.
But instead they scheduled me as a waiter taking the order, serving tables , and learning how to work with the kitchen on the fly. With no experience as a waiter my first go at doing this was terrible. I couldn't handle my small section during the busy lunch. I panicked , messed up my orders , and after the shift was pretty confused about just what happened.
Scott was no where to be found and nearly everyone I was working with didn't know me at all. In fact few knew that I was even working that day. I guess it was understandable that hardly anyone would know of me since I only made that one appearance that slow night behind the bar. But to be thrown in the fire that way was to be say the least a bit of a shock.
I only had a few slow shifts on the schedule. I was never scheduled to be a bartender and the job only lasted for a couple of weeks.
What happened was Scott was in the process of selling the pub and when I did see him he said to me that he wanted to get me in before he had finalized the selling transaction. Unfortunately the new people were not so kind and as soon as Scott was gone so was I.
Now maybe I wasn't very good. At the time being let go after such a short time without hardly any time to get better was disheartening.
Over the years though I have discovered one thing and that is what anyone has to do to get started in this business. You have to give it a shot and see if you like it. How you give it a shot is by having someone like Scott give you a chance. The only way you get to do things is through other people. Especially starting out.
Now I probably would have lasted a lot longer if Scott stuck around but he gave me a chance. That I will always be thankful for. That is how anything begins is by being given an opportunity by another person.
But this created a big problem for me. Now newly moved into my bachelor and having signed a 6 month lease I had to find work somewhere closer to the city of Montreal where I had to speak French. In 1979 French was a big deal in Montreal since the separatist government got into power a couple of years earlier. Whereas you could get a job speaking English only a few short years ago now if you didn't know any French you were unemployed. If only I had taken my French in high school a bit more seriously this problem could have been avoided. I went door to door to every bar / restaurant in Montreal. With hardly any work experience I had to add a few months to my previous employer and hope for a chance. It was at this point I could have easily gone back to the shipper receiver job that I left behind but this serving stuff was pretty exciting for me. I didn't want to look back.
Finally I landed a job at this fine dining restaurant on Crescent Street in Montreal called the Troika.
The Troika restaurant is one of those spots you go to in Montreal if you like fresh fish flown in from overseas on a daily basis. This was not a cheap place for people to go to eat. A very high class fine dining restaurant in the heart of the city where caviar was featured flown in from the Caspian Sea right to the guest's plate.
Hired to be a bus boy I didn't have a clue what I was doing. The owner was nice enough to give me a chance but I was totally intimidated working with waiters 20 or more years older than I was. The chef was Jewish , the Maitre'd was Arabic, and the owner was Russian. When I got introduced to everyone I thought if a World War breaks out right now this would make for an interesting conversation.
I lasted one shift. After all I wanted to be a bartender not a busboy or aspiring waiter. Looking back I probably could have learned tons of stuff on fine dining but with my stubbornness of wanting to be a bartender I overlooked all those other positives.
I knew my lack of French was going to deter me from any chance of being a bartender in Montreal. Even in the English speaking suburbs on the West Island they were making it mandatory that someone speak both languages so I was faced with a big decision.
Either learn the language or move back to Ontario.
Having signed a 6 month lease just a couple of months earlier and a car that spent half of it's time getting repairs I made a decision that probably was the most inconvenient at the time. I decided to move back to Ontario and to be more precise Brampton where I had been before. My step brother was going to let me stay at his place until I found some work.
I left my car behind that needed some repairs in the cooling system and my apartment as it was except for a couple of suitcases of clothing and some bartending books.
Initially I expected only to be away for a couple of weeks then I would return and put the place up for sublet and head back with my car all fixed up. But with no real idea of where to look for work, no connections in the industry, and a very limited work experience finding that first job was going to be tough.
I decided that I should look at the Airport Road Hotels that I use to frequent a couple of years earlier when a few friends and I used to head to the discotheques. Without a car it was a bus ride away as long as you caught the Airport Express that only left once an hour. From there it was a short walk away to where the hotels were.
Needing to find a job quickly because I was still paying for my apartment back in Montreal and any savings I had was quickly evaporating my goal was to talk directly to the decision makers in the bar itself and not fill out applications at Human Resources. This way you would get a yes or no right away rather than fill out time wasting applications.
It wasn't long before I ran into this Greek Maitre'd at the Roof garden restaurant at the Holiday Inn. I told him of my situation and that I had taken a bar tending course but hadn't yet acquired much of a resume yet regarding any actual experience. The time was June of 1979.
He said that there was a day position working the service bar and that I would be doing lunches Monday to Friday , Saturday off , and on Sunday I would work lunch and dinner. The pay was like $7.95 an hour and after the shift I would get a tip out from the waiters. Enthusiastically I went for it and I got myself to Human Resources to fill out all the paper work. I was to start by coming in and watching the veteran bartender in the evening on my own to see how everything worked and get some pointers on making the cocktails in a hurry for the waiters.
He was pretty smooth and the waiters were all in their 40's and 50's from Europe and seasoned professionals. The bartender made perfectly clear a couple of things. They were do not give out a drink without it being punched up first so that you have a ticket for it and do not give the waiters any drinks at all. I said that was not going to be a problem.
The following week I started my new job on the Monday and it is pretty slow as could be expected. There are a few drinks I am making. Tom Collins , Slings , some Martinis , and your usual highballs and beers. Then it starts to happen.
" Hey Steven , give me a shot of Remy Martin." " Where is the ticket?" I reply back. He hands me a couple of bucks and says don't worry just pour me one and I will hide it here pointing to an area that would conceal the drink. I just shrug my shoulders and point out to him that I cannot. He asks how much I am making anyway and I tell him and he says here just give us some drinks when we ask and we will pay you extra on top of your hourly wage. I then tell him I didn't want to lose my job and he says don't worry again that the night time guy does it all the time.
He then tells me again not too worry. I had noticed the Maitre'd never poked his head in the service area so I poured him the Remy and took the money stating firmly that this was the only time this was going to happen. Five minutes later the other waiter comes in and ask for a Scotch holding out some more money. ''C'mon man," is about all I can say. Well I poured the other a Remy so this time only I guess I have to make it fair so I pour him a Scotch.
Now the two drinks are just sitting there but instead of staying concealed they are out in the open. The waiter returns and I am begging him to hide the drinks or gulp them down. He once again says, don't worry.
Here I was a newbie dancing with the old professionals. I was just trying to be honest but right from the start I capitulated. I was learning fast about bartending and that was everyone liked a drink. I am sure as the days wore on and I kept pouring them drinks and taking the money they would go out into the dining room and have a chuckle with the Maitre'd. He came back only once and I think he was barely able to contain his laughter at my face of horror thinking that he would find a drink somewhere.
I never took a drink though until one of them gave me $5 to take a drink myself. Thinking that I could never break my vow of not taking a drink I took his $5 and poured myself one. I was pathetic and they were bending over laughing when I stooped down to hide myself behind the service bar to down my drink so I wouldn't get caught.
It was crazy but I had a job bartending , got some experience , and got a nice meal at the same time. I needed my car back though as this bus routine everyday was getting a bit much.
I left my step father in charge of getting the car fixed. I remember stating to him that at no matter what cost I wanted it to be in good running order when I picked it up and that I would pay him when I got back. I finished my shift on the Friday and left on a overnight bus back to Montreal that night. I arrived Saturday morning when I see my step father and he tells me that the radiator should be okay as it was. It only needed some sealant run through it. I was angry to say the least. All the time in the world to get the radiator changed and nothing is fixed.
So I start heading back and I get 30 minutes out and the car is overheating. I pull over at this garage and wait till it cools down to add some water to it. I phoned him back to give him shit. A 5 hour drive turned into a 12 hour drive. On the Monday I took the car to the garage and they were amazed at what pounding the cooling system must have took to drive that far. The radiator was replaced. That Oldsmobile Delta 88 455 horsepower was some vehicle.
I am about 3 weeks into the Holiday Inn job when I get an unexpected call from someone whose wife and son I had worked with previously. His wife I worked with at a pharmaceutical plant and the son at a wall coverings factory. His name was Derrick Metz who was a very experienced in the Food and Beverage Industry. First there was Scott Willow, the Greek Maitre'd at the Holiday Inn, and now Derrick Metz.
Radio talk show host of "The Hospitality Industry News Network" and author of "You Only Live Once" about his early years traveling around and working on ships and foreign countries Steven blogs about his thoughts on the restaurant industry as he sees it today.
Check out his web site at www.stevennicolle.com for more information.