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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Taking the SAT (Steaming Aptitude Test)

We kid from time to time about all the "creative class" types who come to Portland and wind up waiting tables. But it's reality.

Comments (15)

It sounds like Ms. O’Brien has a bit of a turnover problem.

Sounds like the application to get into the Obama administration.

Here's one tip from a former banquet captain: Do not stifle genuine interaction with corporate phoniness. The customer can see right through it.
Sometimes I walk past a place if I'm not in the mood to be fawned over by some over-trained corporate zombie. Give me your real mood within reason even if you're torqued off about something.
Learn the first rule of taking care of the public: They pay your wages so if they've got a problem, it is your problem. Genuine remorse followed by fixing it, shedding any regret and moving on.
If you do your genuine best then the company becomes a canvas for you to paint your painting on. Buy into this phony human resources stuff and you are a cog in their machine.
I love being a comedy writer but I still miss winding up a crew of 40 or so waiters and then watching them rock out. The key is to put them in the right mood to do well and this application would go on irritating me for the duration.
If you can't spot the talent, get out of the business.

Bill's comment: Here's one tip from a former banquet captain: Do not stifle genuine interaction with corporate phoniness. The customer can see right through it.

Nothing brings that home more than the grocery biz. Go into Safeway and you get employees robotically reciting lines they memorized from a corporate handbook ("Are you finding what you want?"). Go into New Seasons and the employees are just being themselves, and since they aren't required to do that phony crap, they are happier and serve the customer better.

I confess to having no taste when it comes to coffee--I'll drink any kind of swill as long as it's hot and black. Yet I go to an independent coffee house every afternoon, relax and read the NY Times. I've chosen my coffee house primarily on the basis of my rapport with the baristas, many of whom are not only delightful but better educated than I. It's sometimes a sad shock when one of my favorites leaves, but some of them do finally find a job in the field of their college degree. And I don't care what method the owner uses to hire replacements, as long as they find ones with sparkling personalities.

My two shops, by the way, are K&F Bella on 26th and Clinton and Blend on 24th and East Burnside.

I found the article interesting given that I think food/coffee service in Portland is generally as bad as it gets. I also find it interesting that the same restaurants make the "best of" lists over and over again and many of them serve mediocre food and provide (you guessed it) poor service. This comment is going nowhwere. I've gone somewhat batty from all the "relaxation" that comes with being snowed in.

Blend on 24th and East Burnside.

one of my favorites. the owners are great people, with excellent sandwiches and coffee.

She should publish some select answers, particularly on improving Portland. Perhaps the applicants passed-by might have municipal employment in their future?

Gil's comment:
Go into Safeway and you get employees robotically reciting lines they memorized from a corporate handbook ("Are you finding what you want?")

Oh yes, Gil. That's just horrendous when they do that. puhleeze.

"I found the article interesting given that I think food/coffee service in Portland is generally as bad as it gets." Elaine - I take it you've never visited Chicago?

I've gone somewhat batty from all the "relaxation" that comes with being snowed in.

Snowed in? What the hell, it stopped snowing four days ago and anyway -- and just in case it returns -- the stuff's not radioactive.

What: no query along the lines of "For how many minutes do you shake the tip jar and clear your throat at a customer who's less than thrilled with your taking ten minutes to acknowledge his/her presence?" Or, "How many years will you have the IRS garnishee your paychecks when you default on your student loan, and you discover that even a bottom-of-the-class English degree is an overqualification to work at a coffee shop?" Or, my favorite, "Why the hell are you moving to Portland to work for a minimum-wage grunt position when you could stay in Madison or Peoria and take the same crappy job there without having to fill out a five-page application for a control freak?"

Though deleted, my earlier rant about food service gigs still is true...they suck, flat out. If you are a person who has ever thrown away years and years of your life working in restaurants and coffee shops, you know exactly what I mean.

It's a trap, a real dead end with a very low ceiling on what you will ever earn, even in the fanciest eatery. Only young, attractive servers make any decent money at all, and then they age. The rest of you will sweat gallons of your life away to kiss the buttocks of your betters...they are born into that caste of our society that will always earn five times what you will, slaving away in a hot kitchen. They laugh and laugh at people like you, who are born to cook their food and scrape their plates and pour their coffee. They laugh because they will never have to take such jobs in order to survive.

The stress will put you in your grave or the bottom of a bottle. I've been there, as a manager even. Get out. I did.

Get out while you can, even if it means getting out of a place like Portland.

Especially Portland, what with those control-freak applications for unskilled minimum wage grunt work that are so demanding and absurd, that they nearly border on the surreal.

And here I thought it was just coffee. Silly me. I guess I need to be looking for the perfect espresso experience. Good God.

"I found the article interesting given that I think food/coffee service in Portland is generally as bad as it gets."

Elaine - I take it you've never visited Chicago?

Or the east coast?

As a bartender/server working either full-time in the industry or part-time for extra cash over the past 25+ years, I gotta disagree, Cabbie. Sure, it's not a glamorous or extremely lucrative career, but for someone like me, a single mom who doesn't quite have a degree, it works. And it's far better than a lot of jobs I've done before, and I've tried a few.

You're right. My hourly wage sucks, there's little to no job security, there's quite often bad management to contend with, and the public can be a pain at times.

But you find this in many jobs/industries; food service is not alone in these problems. Ask the cashier at WalMart and the guy at the gas station, they'll agree.

But the flip side of all that outweighs those drawbacks - for me anyway.

If I'm working in a place that has decent business, my tips average roughly twice my hourly wage. This varies of course, but we're talking somewhere in the area of $20-25 per hour. Not too shabby for what I do - and I'm close to 50 years old. Sure, if you're working in some young, hip club downtown where the average age is 25, the young kids are going to make more money. But I work in a local, blue-collar bar where the average age is about 40-50. I do better than the young gals. There's not many (legal!) jobs I can find that pay that much for such a limited skill set. After this many years, I can pretty much do my job on autopilot, depending on how my customers behave.

So yeah, anyone who deals with the public can tell you people can be real arseholes sometimes. I imagine you run into a few in the cab. But I've rarely been treated poorly or like I was less than my customers, many of whom I consider good friends. The folks I serve are mostly blue-collar or local business owners who are, for the most part, down-to-earth, decent people who, even though they may make more money than I, have never looked down on me. I stay where I'm at, even though I could make more money elsewhere, in large part because of my customers.

I personally choose not to work in corporate franchise types of establishments because I detest the cheesy uniforms, the ridiculous applications and drug & personality tests, and the canned dialog they so often require. But that's me. There's plenty of jobs out there that are pretty low-key and don't require you to stoop to those levels if you don't want.

And while you may not have job security, there's always an opening for a bartender somewhere. It's one job that won't be outsourced anytime soon. And I haven't been able to find many other types of positions that allow me the flexibility I need as a single mother.

I don't know Cabbie. Food service isn't for everyone. What job or career is? Driving the city for 8 hours a day sounds like a living hell to me. And this clueless chump has supported her family on her own this way for her entire life.

So, to each his own, I guess.

Hey, Bartender...good thing you found a cool place to work. They are few and far between, especially in a town like this one, where there are literally dozens if not hundreds of applicants for each "cool" food service gig.

Me, I went from working in corporate fine dining...a real living night managing a place known back in Austin as the sandwich place many musicians and punk rockers worked at.

It was about as laid back as food service gets.

Guess what ? I was still expected to kiss the butts of rich people. Especially as a manager, which was the only way I could make any money and pay my tuition.

I don't mind doing a good job and giving good service at's how I make my tips today, and probably how you make a living as well.

It was the required kissing of the butts of cruel, snooty jerks who didn't mind letting you know your station in life, that I couldn't stomach eventually. Some people can do this indefinitely, some simply lack that ability. I lost mine.

If you have a gig where you can tell those people to hit the bricks after they abuse you, well, more power to ya ! I was never so lucky in my thirteen-odd years in and out of the biz. That's why I wound up in a slightly different corner of the service industry.

But back on topic of this post here...what an insane job application that is. I mean, really...if that is what it takes to live in Portland...

It's a cool town and everything, but come on !


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Lange, Pinot Gris 2015
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L'Ecole No. 41, Merlot 2013
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Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
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David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
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Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
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Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
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