On not putting up with it

October 11, 2010 § 4 Comments

I have two rules at my restaurant that I tell every new staff member when they start. The second one is “Don’t be an idiot,” which covers things like intoxication on the clock, bringing illegal substances to work, and other inappropriate actions. The first one, though, is really what I want to talk about.

I tell my people, “You don’t have to put up with assholes.”

We throw customers out for being egregious jerks. And when there’s an interpersonal problem among members of my staff, I make them sit down and talk about it and, sometimes, apologize.

I’m considered soft for the latter part of that. I know I am. I’ve been told so. Particularly by the cooks, and yes, big surprise, that includes the women.

I don’t mind that too much. It’s not especially important to me that my staff like me as a person, or even respect me in the way that that word is used in kitchens (which is to say, fear, or something close to it). It’s important to me that the job get done and the restaurant function, and generally speaking that happens better when people aren’t at one another’s throats. And restaurants, especially ones that employ lots of young people, are a hothouse for resentments, feuds, affairs, and drama. Just to make it plain, the mean age of people working at my place is about 25. If you don’t count me, it’s more like 23. My restaurant is like high school all over again.

So yeah, I will be Mommy, and I do make people apologize.

The Geek Feminism Blog recently discussed new research showing that group intelligence is not dependent solely on the intelligence of the members of the group, but is influenced by the presence or absence of people with lots of social sensitivity. They first noticed the phenomenon when they observed that the presence of women in a group was a good predictor of high collective intelligence.

So yeah, if it’s going to make my restaurant run better, if it’s going to raise our group intelligence, if it’s going to keep good people from walking out because they don’t get along with other good people, if it’s going to mean we get more awesome ideas for dishes, then yes, I will fucking well be Mommy on this, and make the kiddies play nice.

But I hadn’t read that research when I opened my restaurant a year ago, and that’s not why I started practicing social hacking on my employees.

No, I did it because I cannot fucking stand the hostility. I find the absolute shittiness of cooks and other restaurant people to one another. Behavior goes on that simply appalls me, even setting aside the sexism, racism, homophobia, et cetera. We had one chef who truly thought that the correct way to run a kitchen was to terrorize her entire staff (yeah, I gotta write about her sometime) and then to be rude to the general manager and to me, and another who thought that it was hilarious to tell some of my most reliable people that they were fired. I had a line cook who thought it was appropriate to hurl abuse and threats at me when I had to write him up, and who then couldn’t understand why I fired him. Words very nearly fail me.

And I do not want to work in that kind of environment. And I don’t think most people, especially most women, want to work in that kind of environment. I’m not sure I want to work with people who do want to work in that kind of environment. Not putting up with assholes is part of my effort to make my restaurant not just more women-friendly, but more people-friendly.

I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, as a feminist, as a restauranteur, as a boss. But it’s the best decision I know how to make.

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§ 4 Responses to On not putting up with it

  • Sixwing says:

    There seems to be a missing /a tag somewhere in there.

    Defending your space is not only a good idea, but a necessary one, in my experience. I do not work in a kitchen, but putting up with assholes at work is a great way to speed up burnout. A work space that is people-friendly, rather than being dominated by a tyrant, leads to better retention of the people you want.

    It is my experience that managers draw employees who are like them, one way or another. Places I’ve worked under tyrannical managers often had petty, controlling workers. Places I’ve worked under kind managers often had kinder workers. I know which environment I prefer.

  • Historiann says:

    I like the point you make here about the average age of your staff. It’s good for them to see that it’s possible to run a professional kitchen mostly free of a$$holery.

    I once waited tables for a Philadelphia restaurant that was widely known for having servers who were attractive but not very competent at their jobs. (This was 20 years ago at a restaurant I’ll call Le Cafe Chien Blanc.) That place was a drama factory, with all kinds of drinking, drugging, and sexual coupling, de-coupling, and re-coupling you can imagine–and that was even with relatively adult, sane, compassionate leadership from the owner and the chef. (I loved Kevin Klause, who was a real gem. I have no idea why he put up with me.)

    I’m sure 90% of the drama was due to the fact that we were in our 20s (early 20s, most of us), and most of us didn’t intend to make careers there but just a little money while we finished school or figured out what we wanted to do when we grew up.

  • […] minute ticket times, running out of things left and right, drunk asshole customers (who, yes, my staff do not have to put up with, and they tossed out at least two that night), perfectly nice customers giving up on their orders […]

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