Sleepworking: a Restaurateur’s Rant
When I was a lawyer I was required to account for every minute of every day on the job, a tedious and laborious activity known as “docketing”. Whether my duties were “billable” (charged to a client) or “non-billable” (not charged to a client), I kept track of my time in six minute increments, all day long, and recorded my time on docket sheets that we called “greens”. One hour of research on behalf of a client was 10 billable units of time. Five minutes on the telephone with a client was one billable unit of time. One hour of administrative or non-client work was non-billable, but I still had to record it. I even docketed the time I spent docketing.
I haven’t practised law in almost 15 years but I still think of time in six minute increments. I even have nightmares about docketing. In these sweaty, panicked dreams I have forgotten to fill out the greens. And not just for today; in my dream I haven’t filled out the greens for weeks. Do you remember the exact time you got to work this morning? How long did you spend in that meeting today? Do you remember what time you went for lunch and how long it took to eat it? How many minutes was that telephone call with your customer this afternoon? Do you know the precise time that you left your office this evening? Imagine if you had to account for every minute of your day today. Could you do it? Now imagine that you have to account for every minute of every day for the last three months. In my nightmare, the managing partner is on his way to my office and I can see him coming down the hallway in that swooping, telescoping way of horror movies. Thankfully, I wake up before I discover whether he was coming to fire me or kill me.
My husband dreams about work too. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night because, in his sleep, he is saying something like: “pick up table 3. Pick up table 3! PICK UP TABLE 3 YOU FUCKING IDIOTS! DON’T YOU DARE SERVE MY FOOD COLD!” The first time this happened it scared me to death. Now when he talks in his sleep I engage him in conversation. Look, if he’s gonna wake me up at 4 in the morning I expect to be entertained. It usually goes something like this:
– Pick up table 3.
– What table?
– Table 3! Table 3!
– What are they eating on table 3?
– The chicken on seat 1 and the fish on seat 2.
– Okay, the fish on seat 1 and the chicken on seat 2.
– No! The chicken on seat 1 and the fish on seat 2.
– Okay, I got it. What table again?
At this point, my husband is half awake, realizes I’m goofing around and growls, “nevermind”. Then he sighs or grunts, rolls over, and goes back to sleep. Chuckling to myself, I turn over, yawn, and drift off too. As if it’s not enough to work all day, we have to work in our sleep too. In my case, I even have to do work in my sleep that I haven’t done in 15 years.
I’ve worked in the restaurant business, off and on, for so long now that not only do I work in my sleep, sometimes I sleep in my work. At least, I feel like I could do my job asleep. Or maybe just with my eyes closed. Some days I feel like there is nothing new under the sun. There is nothing anyone can say that I haven’t heard before and nothing anyone can do that I haven’t seen before. It kills me when a customer says, “I bet you haven’t heard this before” and I have to smile and nod encouragingly when they tell me the same tired restaurant-related joke or make the same bizarre food request that I’ve heard a hundred times. But every once in a while, someone comes up with something new and I am entertained, even when it costs me money.
The other day, a young fellow came to the restaurant shortly after we had opened for service. “I just finished work”, he said, “and thought I would have a quick drink before I go home.” I figured he might have been a tradesman cutting out after working on someone’s home renovation in the neighbourhood. I thought he looked a bit dodgy; a scruffy and down-on-his-luck type. But he didn’t appear to be drunk or high, and I know very well that you cannot judge someone by their appearance or the work that they do. So he sat at the bar and ordered a rum and Coke. When he finished his drink, he asked for the cheque saying, “do you accept American money?” Alarm bells start going off in my head. He wants to pay his $10 tab with an American $100 bill. I don’t see much cash at the restaurant; most people pay by credit card, and I certainly don’t often see American cash. “No”, I say, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept $100 bills. Do you have Canadian cash? Or a debit card? Credit card?” “No”, he says, “this is all I have.” Knowing very well that the fix is in, I tell him to go to the bank across the street to exchange his American $100 bill for Canadian money. So off he goes, and I know I’ll never see him again. His little scam cost me his $10 tab, but at least I didn’t give him $90 in change for his counterfeit American money. And I don’t know that there was any way I could have avoided this flimflammery. How can you ask someone to pay for their bill in advance just because you have a queasy feeling about them?
But it’s not just the questionable-looking types that pull or try to pull scams at the restaurant. Some pretty well-dressed people with iPhones, designer sunglasses and BMWs parked out front have tried to pull one over on me. There are the obvious scams, like the hair in someone’s food that obviously came from their own head and that they only discovered when the plate was practically licked clean. Or trying to use a gift certificate that has already been redeemed. I could go on, but I don’t want to write a restaurant scamming manual. The point is, I’ve seen them all and nothing, or hardly anything, surprises me anymore. I do this job in my sleep, remember?
A while back, an attractive, well-appointed woman came to the restaurant and purchased a $200 gift certificate. It was around Christmastime and I assumed that she was planning to give her parents or her boss a generous present. As it turned out, she had also made a reservation for dinner that evening with a friend. At the end of their rather extravagant, wine-laced and dessert-laden dinner, when presented with the bill, she handed me the gift certificate she had just purchased. “Oh”, I said, “but you just bought this! I thought you were going to give it to someone for Christmas?” “No”, she said, “I bought it for myself. My accountant told me that I can deduct the cost of purchasing the gift certificate AND deduct the cost of our dinner.” Now THAT is a scam I had not heard before. “Pardon me for saying so”, I replied, “but you might want to find another accountant.” “Why?” she asked. “Well”, I said, “I wouldn’t want someone who counsels fraud to be managing my money.”
Unlike the counterfeit American money guy, her con didn’t cost me anything, except as a taxpayer, but, like his did, her scam woke me up from my sleepworking stupor. Now maybe tonight I won’t have nightmares about docketing or picking up food; maybe tonight I’ll have a nice normal sex dream like everyone else…