This Economy is Killing Us

July 18, 2009

I believe I’ve mentioned several times that The Restaurant is in a slump. When I first started working there about a year and a half ago, slow nights were the exception rather than the rule, and there was no such thing as a dead night. Waitresses made money, carryout girls could regularly expect to make anywhere from $3-$10 on top of their normal salary from keeping the change, and the back dining room was always open.

Then gas prices jumped to over $4 a gallon, and people started freaking out. Food costs and minimum wage went up and by winter, so did our menu prices. Only by 5 to 20 cents per item, but the Social Security Brigade still bitched endlessly about it. Once the Powers That Were finally decided to inform the American public that we were, in fact, in a recession, things got even worse. People stopped tipping carryout, and even worse than that, people stopped tipping waitresses. Worst of all was that fewer and fewer people come in.

Now slow nights and dead nights are the rule. All the good, experienced people are leaving and being replaced by teenagers who don’t care about their job. Morale is down. I started bringing a book or doing a crossword puzzle simply because I had so little to do most nights (I’ve since stopped as carryout at least has picked up a bit). The back room stays closed most nights I host, except for the occasional annoying group of two who want me to open it just for them and then sit at a table for six, or the occasional teenybopper cheerleader convention.

Owner, in a cost-cutting measure, frequently short-staffs the kitchen, leaving the night manager to fill in wherever. Service suffers overall because of this, as the normal job of the night manager is to fill in where people need help. The top two places this occurs are either helping the counter/back room waitress fill orders when she gets slammed, or grabbing the register so the carryout girl actually gets a chance to get her orders put together and her milkshakes made.

I’ve been doing this long enough, and worked enough Saturday afternoons alone (we’re near a park, so think 12 orders of chicken strips and fries and 12 milkshakes to go with that for a Little League team), that I’m generally okay without managerial assistance. Sometimes people have to wait a bit at the window or the register, but I’m pretty good at multitasking. But I watch these new carryout girls struggle and drown when they can’t get help, even though busy for carryout these days is nothing like what it used to be. None were trained during a time when it really was busy, and most of them freak out if they have more than two orders and one person is at the register.

I hope things get better, I really do. I fear if business doesn’t pick up soon, Owner may sell The Restaurant. And as much as I bitch about it, The Restaurant is a piece of history. It’s older than my parents and largely unchanged. It’s probably the only truly “authentic” ‘50s dining experience you can get in this area—Johnny Rockets doesn’t count, and their service is terrible anyway.

Are other people feeling the strain of the economy? Any of you servers seeing fewer customers and lower tips? Managers having to find a way to cut costs? Hell, have any of you customers noticed restaurants being less and less crowded? Please share if you are!

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One Response to “This Economy is Killing Us”

  1. AK Says:

    Being in a seasonal town AND in a down economy has definitely proved problematic for my restaurant, too. I think a lot of servers (myself included) are on edge because management is hiring new experienced servers and getting rid of any dead weight…. This means they can cut down on labor costs, but it still is nerve-wracking.

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