Last week, Barista Brat had an interesting post about changes going on at the Starbuck's chain. She mentioned how people from the corporate offices are pushing baristas to sell expensive espresso and coffee machines. Her reply was great-- "there is a reason i’m not a car salesman." She points out how detrimental it is for the overall functioning of a busy coffeeshop when a barista is pulled from his or her role in production and made to try to sell something that in all liklihood, as she points out, the customer is not interested in.
I'm certain that there was some middle-manager who made that bright decision.
I was reminded of an incident at a restaurant I worked at right out of college, in 1986 and 1987. I usually worked the lunch shift there. This was the Bennigan's on North Michigan Avenue, the one in the ICC building. The lunches were fast and furious. At about 11:30, the place filled up and didn't let up until after 2:30. If you weren't good at what you did, you didn't last. If you weren't prepared, your shift was hell.
One day, as we approached the bewitching hour, ready for a rocking shift, our busboys were suddenly pulled from the floor. Every one of them. The place was filling up, and suddenly we were having to do a bunch of stuff that we normally didn't have to do. It threw off our game badly-- important in a place that advertised "15 Minutes or It's Free" lunches.
What important mission were the busboys on? It turned out that Steve S., the "Associate Manager" of our and three other Bennigan's had shown up and had the busboys moving the crane machine around to decide where it should be. You know-- those crane machines that they have at carnivals. In an attempt to add "ambience" along with the fake old road signs and such, every Bennigan's had one of them in the lobby. It was hilarious-- mass-manufactured ambience.
In the Bennigan's hierarachy of management, we had, at the bottom, assistant managers. There was a General Manager for each store. There was an Associate Manager for every 4 stores, and a Regional Manager that handled about 20 stores.
There were some severe problems in the chain, and at that store in particular. It was the busiest Bennigan's in the country. It was so busy, that they opened two other Bennigan's, down the street across from the Art Institute and across the loop in Presidential Towers, and there was not a blip in their gross income. Yet, there were days and nights the place was a nightmare to work, for various reasons. The place was prone to complete melt-downs, where people were waiting an hour or more for food.
The problems were all solvable-- all it took was the will. Steve S. apparently did not think that these things, which impacted the actual production and profit of the place merited his attention.
In any event, as the place filled up, our busboys continued to be tied up moving the stupid crane machine from one place to another while Steve S. pondered it. This process was beginning to interfere with the restaurant's operation even more, as customers who were in the lobby waiting for tables now had to move as the phone-booth sized machine was moved from place to place in the tiny lobby. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen in a workplace. And it was not an isolated event.
I was struggling to get started in life at this point-- just out of college, beginning to pay back student loans. I needed every dollar I made every shift. Steve S. lived in Buffalo Grove, one of the richest suburbs in the country. I felt like I could teach him a thing or two about management. Or at least give him a few choice words.
A few weeks ago, my father sent me this great list of office terms. Things like "prarie-dogging"-- peoples' heads popping up out of cubicles in response to a disturbance. My favorite of the list was the "seagull"-- a middle manager who has no idea what is going on, who swoops in, makes a lot of noise, leaves a lot of shit, and then flies away.
At least now I have a nickname for Steve S.