2015

I am not a poet. Not because I’m not a very good writer; I’m quite the talented wordsmith, and I’m well known for a good turn of phrase. However, most of my poetry in the past has been pedestrian at best, the stuff of lyrics and Hallmark cards. I tend to leave poetry to the experts and stick to prose in my general writings. So when the inspiration for a poem strikes it tends to be kind of a big deal. Last night at about 3:49 AM I woke with one line at the front of my brain.

“Her blood is loss and sadness.”

This immediately inspired the following. Just three simple stanzas for your enjoyment.

Her blood is loss and sadness
His blood is toil and tears
They mingle through the harshest times
That pass amongst the years

Her blood is fear and anger
His blood is dread of death
They mingle through the maddest times
And learn to hold their breath

Her blood is hope and laughter
His blood is triumphs found
They mingle though the best of times
The proof true love’s been found

I hope to post at least once weekly to my blog this year. Only time will tell if I make good on this one resolution. Until then, as always, enjoy!

Joy in the Journey

Many times, I watch insightful videos or read articles about some successful artist’s approach or technique. Whether it be in visual arts, storytelling, or any other creative endeavor. Sometimes I hear something I’ve not heard before, sometimes, there’s a glimmer of new information I may be able to apply to my own efforts. What is often missing from these insights is the quintessential reason artists “arrive” and become successful. Because there is no one reason. Every artist’s journey is unique. There is no one thing that leads to success. Some may say it’s creativity, or drive, or determination, or follow-through, or luck. It’s all of those and none of those.

For every artist who’s made it, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, who are still trying every day to survive, and even better, thrive, on their passion. All of them continue the journey from various stages, yet may never achieve the goal, they may never “arrive”. For them, I have to ask, “Are you happy in the journey?” I’m not saying we should be content to never succeed. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trying. I’m wondering, are we happy in the effort? Do we find joy in the journey? Can we live our life, fulfilled, knowing we may not have achieved the destination we set out for in the beginning? If only the destination brings happiness, and not the way we get there, are we on the right path? I say, don’t just find happiness in “making it”, find joy in the journey.

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days…

This article is fascinating and worth a full read. Here’s my favorite quote. “It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other (italics his).”

So check it out and be careful what you “like” because it might not be what you love. Enjoy!

via I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me | Gadget Lab | WIRED.

Servers Not Servants: 31 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew

Servers Not Servants: 31 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew.

This article starts out with a great premise, and then gets muddled rather quickly. Here’s a quick summary of my feelings and observations on each point.

1. Absolutely. At Cooper’s Hawk, we run very small stations of three to four tables at dinner. There’s a very concerted effort to balance tables across the staff. Picky seaters can impact this considerably, especially when they make assumptions like, “Can we sit somewhere quieter?”, to which I always want to respond, “By the time your dinner comes, there won’t be anyplace quieter.”

2. If you must interrupt, acknowledge it and explain yourself. Every restaurant is different. Some have to present concepts that need clarifying. I get so many repeat customers who still don’t know Cooper’s Hawk only serves its own wine, in spite of the fact that we tell every new guest this fact.

3. Contradictory to the last point, but yes, we do our best to accommodate rush orders.

4. This is about recognizing that as much as we want you to feel like the most important guests in the dining room, we want all our guests to feel that way. The truth is, we have to balance our time as fairly as possible and making your server stand there uselessly is the reason they don’t come around as often as you’d like, because you took that time from somewhere.

5. Be thorough when you order, including any and all allergies!  We can only make you as happy with your meal as you communicate to us.

6. Eye contact is important, unless you’re looking at the menu. Even so, if we clarify by repeating your choice, be sure you’ve heard what you said.

7. This is true of any dish that has choices. If you don’t know, it’s best to let everyone order for themselves.

8. This point is very circumstantial. This usually only happens with younger staff waiting on younger guests.

9. Any establishment worth its salt will fix whatever is wrong to the best of their ability. Speak up. This goes hand in hand with number five.

10. Substitutions are important to allow for allergies or personal preferences. I think some people get carried away, but some people also don’t get to pick the restaurant so this is a circumstantial point.

11. Some local places don’t have the same deals as national chains, and some chains don’t have the flexibility of local places. Best to know before you go if your deal/coupon/reward/discount is valid or the store has a reputation for flexibility.

12. Hold the server responsible for the service, and the kitchen responsible for the goods. If you don’t like the goods, take that up with management. It shouldn’t impact the gratuity, which you pay for the service. Keep them separate.

13. Be reasonable. Quality takes time. Preferences take time. This goes back to several previous points.

14. Most people know better. Most establishments don’t encourage this environment. Respect is still the point here.

15. There are rude people. There are rude servers. This goes both ways.

16. This one is huge. Simply put, restaurants are not child-proof. We break a lot of those lovely wine glasses people prize for drinking wine. We can’t find all the little pieces. Barefoot babies may end up helping us. You have been warned.

17. The big time consumers here are wrapping food and splitting checks. Unless you’re in a restaurant with one table and one server, sometimes you’ll have to wait for us to take care of others.

18. This is where we start to get to points that should be obvious.

19. I would say this doesn’t happen, but it can when people ask why the low-cal option is the same price if there’s less of it, or why the prices changed with the new menu. We have no control. Honest.

20. Most people get this nowadays. Often, I find people are more surprised to learn what they can get for free, like soft drink refills. That’s not just a McDonald’s thing anymore. I even give free coffee refills to people who bought a cappuccino, and we don’t charge to switch up refillable drinks.

21. Splitting checks is easy these days. However, it will add to the time it takes to process your payments. Keep that in mind. The more splits or the more complicated splits will increase that time.

22. Sometimes we’re paid more, but never minimum wage.

23. Redundant.

24. This varies from place to place.

25. Not necessary, but always remember, cash is king.

26. Does this really need to be said?

27. “Probably” is a strong word here. Career or not, it may be the job right now, and one we are counting on to live. There are always some exceptions, but unless the service is poor, don’t assume we don’t need the money.

28. Absolutely. It’s all relative to party size, too. I expect a couple to come and go in an hour or so, a foursome in an hour and a half, and larger parties, two hours. If you need the table longer, pay your server a little more to make up for the lost business. I jokingly call it the occupancy tax. This is any night, not just Friday or Saturday. Even when a restaurant seems slow, your server may not be able to take any more tables because you’re in the one you have.

29. It’s okay to come in late. It’s okay to stay late. As long as you show your appreciation to the server.

30. It don’t hurt none, that’s for sure.

31. We are there to provide a specific type of service, and not just cater to every whim. The point here is to keep your needs on topic and your server will stay honest. It’s sad how many times a day I have to lie to guests to keep them happy, because they ask things of me that I just can’t provide.

That about sums up my thoughts on this article. More and more, these kinds of articles are making the rounds on the web. Which says something about how much room there still is for improvement in the server/guest relationship. Hopefully, my son will grow up in a world where these articles are a thing of the past. If not, I hope I do a good enough job preparing him for not letting the bad times ruin the good. Enjoy!

It’s been awhile…

Often, lately, I’ve taken to using the excuse, “newborn brain” to explain my distractions and forgetfulness. It’s a pretty good one, all things considering. As a result of the changes in routine since the arrival of my firstborn son on April 29th, I just haven’t had as much time to sit down and post. So here’s a quick recap of things that don’t need their own posts.

1. The August Chef’s Recommendation at Cooper’s Hawk, 2 5oz bone-in filet medallions, is some of the best beef I’ve had there to date. The beef was as tender and juicy as anything I could hope for without slow cooking. It’s only available for a limited time so hurry in to try it.

2. Tripp has started to show interest in what I’m eating when I eat in front of him. Won’t be long before he begins his lifelong relationship with food. Still hoping he’s not a picky eater.

3. I’m about fifty pages into Karen McNeill’s The Wine Bible. I’ve only got 800 pages to go! I’ve learned a lot already about wine basics, and had some things clarified for me that I knew before but not as thoroughly. For example, only about 0.4 to 0.8% of the population, mostly severe asthmatics,  are truly allergic to sulfites. According to research by allergists, there’s no link to sulfites and headaches. Sulfites are also found in beer, cocktail mixes, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, flour tortillas, pickles, relishes, salad dressings, olives, vinegar, sugar, shrimp, scallops, dried fruit, and fruit juice, among other foods and beverages.

So that’s all the latest updates. I’ve got another recipe to post, another service-related article to review, and more truths to expand upon. Hope I get to them soon. Enjoy!

Changes in Dining Over the Years

Restaurant Watches Old Surveillance And Shares Shocking Results On Craigslist.

A coworker told me about this article during a recent shift at work. Another shared it on Facebook. I’m posting the link here. It’s quite enlightening. I’ve experienced much of this myself from the server perspective. Thankfully, our clientele isn’t this device-obsessed, and I’ve learned a few tricks to cut down some of these issues.

1. I take a minimum of two photos for my guests in quick succession. This is a cardinal rule of digital photography I learned a while back. It dramatically increases the chance of getting a good shot without having to try again.

2. If someone is on their phone, I move on. I try never to wait around for two reasons. It is likely to make the guest on the phone feel rushed. It is also taking away time from my other guests.

3. In extreme cases, i put the power in their hands. I inform them that, “It’s not as important that you’re ready for me, but that I’m ready for you.” I then instruct them to get my attention when they are ready, and I leave them be, glancing from time to time from a distance. I then turn my attention to my other tables, and to helping my coworkers. In this manner, I can help them move their guests along more quickly and reduce the overall backlog on the restaurant wait list. This might hurt my bottom line for that particular shift, but it’s an investment that will benefit me in the long run.

In the end, connected devices are here to stay. It is in our nature to matter to others, and social media increases our self-worth and self-importance by giving us the illusion of an audience with each tweet, post, or upload. I’m just as guilty, by virtue of being a blogger myself, even if I exercise more restraint than most when using my devices in social settings. All I can suggest is that we all strive every day to learn to be better stewards of this new level of empowerment and better members of this new digital community. Enjoy!

Fathers’ Day 2014

This year marks my first Father’s Day and my dad’s 43rd! He wasn’t always perfect, but he was perfectly committed to the position and still is. Thank you, Dad, for everything, and then some. To celebrate, here are some great memories from the last four decades.

My dad was a three-tour vietnam vet. So of course my first memories of him involve looming over me in reprimand as I lay in my crib. To be fair, I deserved it, having thrown my toddler riding toy bike at my parents. I tended to get carried away as a kid.

Growing up in Mexico for many years, my dad’s sport of choice was “futbol”. He shared that love with me many Sundays over the years, teaching me that no matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone better. Until you get big enough and he gets old enough to finally realize you’re wearing him out and it’s time to hang up the cleats. Of course, I’m sure he could still dribble circles around me.

Dad’s devotion to my mom is epic and legendary. While she may have found it annoying that he always deferred to her choice every time we ate out, that same commitment to her happiness and well being serves her very well today.

Dad was always handier with people than things. Decades in car sales have given him a thick book filled with testimonials of his talent for helping people find their own happiness. These days, he’s still trying to figure out his iPhone. In the 80’s, the confounding machine was an unlit furnace that burned off his eyebrows. He doesn’t always handle technology well, but he’s never afraid to keep trying.

I get my work ethic from my dad. He never went very long without a job, whether it was managing shipping companies, delivering pizzas, or working for a chiropractor. (I can still remember the shelving units he built for the doc. In spite of my earlier assessment, he wasn’t that bad with things, either.) He didn’t even get into his current career of car sales until I was thirteen. Yet he never stopped working and doing and trying to provide for his kids and wife.

I rarely “suit up”. I’m more comfortable in jeans and a flannel. I can remember several pictures from the 70’s of my dad sharply dressed in a 3-piece suit. As a kid, Dad kept trying to keep me dressed up. I spent the first three years of high school dressed, as one classmate put it, like something out of a JCPenney catalog. He’s still known as a sharp-dressed man who can rock a fedora any day of the week. We may not have the same fashion sense, but Dad taught me how to iron my own shirts, and to always take pride in my appearance.

Some people thought my dad was too strict. Others thought he was surprisingly lenient. My dad spanked me plenty growing up. He and mom also tried groundings, exercises, writing assignments, and many a stern talking-to. I never felt abused in any way. Even at my most difficult moments during my teen years, I still felt my dad loved me.

Growing up, we moved around. A LOT. When I was 17, mom and dad did some math and figured we’d already moved 34 times. One time in the 70’s we moved into a new apartment and within weeks we were back at our old apartment. That one was totally my fault, but Dad never held a grudge. Through all those moves, he taught me resourcefulness and endurance. Because of this, I “tetris” a moving truck better than anyone I know. I also can handle heat-of-summer and dead-of-winter moves like a pro. All that moving also helped my dad foster in me his same skill with people. I learned how to make friends quickly, and to adapt well to ever-changing circumstances.

Dad always kept it together. There was a moment in seventh grade where my dad was the absolute coolest man on the planet, my super-hero and super-spy. This one takes a little setup. We were renting a house in Homer Glen. We started to have troubles with the landlord and decided to move. Creepy landlord started stalking the house. We loaded up a batch of belongings to take to the new place and he began following us as we drove away. So dad drove straight to the police station in town. We got a police escort out of the house and we never saw that guy again. I still smile when I remember the brilliance of that plan.

I have tons more old memories; too many to share here. He taught me to prefer a well-chopped salad, to not see race, to respect gender and age, to never be afraid to sweat, and to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep your family housed, clothed and fed. Most of all, he showed by example that love is actions and not just words.

So, on this Father’s Day, 2014, I look back to the amazing example that is my Dad, and I look forward to hoping I’m half as good at the job myself. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

The Case For Tipping, And Gasp! Against It: A Point/Counterpoint

The Case For Tipping, And Gasp! Against It: A Point/Counterpoint.

The “Case Against…” makes a good point about the idea that gratuity should be earned. I would counter-argue, that if it’s not being earned, you won’t send that message clearly unless you inform management. It’s a pay-it-forward scenario that may collectively improve the industry. If management is unsympathetic, the issue is a bigger one with the overall culture of the establishment. They better have really good wings if you continue to patronize them in spite of the lackluster service.

The “Case For…” is filled with a lot of stereotypical behavior at stereotypical establishments. Not all places are like this. For example, I can’t count on one hand the number of times a chef has yelled at me. I also find this case to be emotional and over the top. There are much better ways to make this argument without “yelling” at the reader.

So, once again, this feels like sensationalism, rather than an honest discussion of a tradition that in entrenched in our society, but may be heading toward an overhaul. Until it does, I’ll keep doing my best to be a great server, and I hope my guests appreciate this. Enjoy!

My 16 Truths: Expanded – No. 7

7. Coupons, rewards, gift certificates, sales, and other discounts, do not impact my service.

This one is a big one. People really seem to have a hard time with this. So let me clarify.

Gratuity is based on the pre-tax, pre-discount bill.

These days, it seems everyone is looking to save big. They’re looking high and low for a deal, a bargain, a great buy, etcetera. In today’s economy, we all want to save money. Thanks to places like Groupon, Restaurants.com, and the myriad of reward programs out there trying to clutter our wallets and purses with reward cards, it’s easy to find ways to lower your bill every time you dine out.

This is a good thing. Because it means an increase in people trying new places, and often that leads to, as I heard it at work once, “butts in seats on a Monday night.” I’m all for getting a good value, and I encourage people to look for ways to save money. For the establishments that offer such incentives, the short term revenue loss is far more than offset by the long term revenue gain.

However, people seem clueless to the fact that all these savings come from the business, not the server. The discounts are on the goods, not the services. When you bring in a 25% off coupon, you’ll pay for 75% of everything that is included in the price of the food. However, your server will still provide 100% of the service of a normal meal. So your tip should reflect that.

Sometimes, this will even include special promotions or club perks that may not be reflected on the bill. For example, if the server brought you the free birthday dessert, you won’t see that on the bill. However, the server still gave 100% of the effort to bring you that free sundae for your special day. So take that into account when you’re calculating your gratitude.

In the end, it’s really simple. If the restaurant charged you only $50 for a $100 meal, your server still gave you $100 worth of service. Give them $100 worth of your thanks and you’ll be sure to experience that same level of service again and again. Enjoy!