This Is Not Sad

An excerpt from my novel-in-progress. (Chapter 16)

Monte was in the midst of a particularly meditative polishing session of a rack of oversized cabernet/merlot wine glasses when the shrill chirp of the bar phone interrupted his trance.  He had a distinct spot behind the bar where he favored standing while he performed his side work because it positioned him nearly perfectly to transition seamlessly into a variety of more active bar service duties.  From this typical home base just askance of the point of sale terminal and in front of the wine chiller doors he was generally able to answer the house phone before it even sounded, the first “ring” communicating itself silently through a flashing button on the keypad.  Today, however, he never noticed the light at all, and in fact had the vague feeling that the phone had progressed through multiple audible rings before he became aware of it.

He glanced at the caller ID screen before pressing the Talk button.  ‘Christ, what does he want now?’ he thought to himself even as he answered, “Thank you for calling the bar at Toast.  This is Monte, how may I be of service to you?” He loved to emphasize the consonant letters in his greeting, imbuing a theatrical quality to the impending interaction.

“Monte, it’s Dan.  Don’t you read the caller ID?”

“Yessir I do, but it wouldn’t tell me if it were an outside call being forwarded from your office.  That happens all the time.”

“Sure, whatever.  What’s going on down there–it took you a while to answer.  Is it busy?”

“Not really, I’ve got a couple fellows at the bar and a four-top nursing their cocktails by the fireplace.  Everyone is pretty well freshly topped. What’s up?”

“I’m going to send Davey down to cover the bar for a bit.  I think now would be a great time to fit in your annual review.  You wanna make your way up to my office as soon as he gets down there?”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure, sir,” Monte fawned in exaggerated obsequiousness, although he noted that the phone connection had been terminated before he was even halfway through his flourish.  He loathed that construct of supervisorial command: ‘do you want to…?’ What kind of pathetic authority figure needs not only capitulation from underlings but passive affirmation at the same time?

Perhaps riled up by his impending session with the boss, or perhaps just because he enjoyed being a smartass he allowed himself an uncustomary interruption of the low hum of chatter in the room.  “Gentlemen and Lady of the bar, I’m afraid I’m being pulled away for a little while,” he shook the phone receiver demonstrably. “None other than the great Dave Singer will be taking my hallowed place behind the bar.  So, those of you drinking beer, rest easy, but might I suggest to those interested in another cocktail: order from me now or please, for the love of all that is right, consider a glass of wine instead.”

The quartet in the corner scarcely acknowledged his little comedy performance, but he got a good chuckle out of one of the guys at the bar.  Just then a new figure walked into the room from the stairwell. “Ah, Davey, welcome. I was just regaling our crowd with stories of your prowess behind the bar.”

Dave–or Davey, as he was diminutively nicknamed by rest of the team–wasted no time establishing himself in the bar area by making a show of rearranging the utilitarian knickknacks scattered about:  tossing stray pens into the pint glass next to the POS screen, lining up the respective TV and Satellite remotes in faux-organization, even adjusting the position of the half-polished rack of wine glasses about six inches to one side.  He didn’t ever direct his physical attention towards Monte, but after a few beats he growled in his best babysitting uncle’s voice–that unconvincing medley of feigned authority and I’m-just-the-messenger cowardice so common in assistant managers and floor supervisors–“You had better get up there.  Dan isn’t in a great mood today.”

Monte smiled and slipped through the three-quarter door of wood slats designed to visually segregate the front bar from the small private vestibule at the base of the service stairwell leading upward to the main level of the restaurant.  He saved the wistful sigh of “Ah, but when is he ever?” for the relative privacy of his multi-level journey to the second-floor GM’s office.

The large office was not, in fact, unique to the General Manager, Dan Davila, but was shared by the many management personalities.  Chef Gutierrez-Cabral’s desk shared the wall to the right of the entrance with the incumbent GM, the two desks pushed together on the long edge, extending in length-wise fashion from the wall.  This bisection of the area created two distinct cubicle areas in which the respective heads of the restaurant claimed domain. It was an arrangement that must have been unthinkable before the advent of the pc, but as it was now the unwieldy computer monitors faithfully interrupted the line of sight between the occupants of the two facing desks.  They could still communicate in easy vocal fashion but their gazes were relieved of any latent possibility of awkwardly locking as they each performed their unique tasks to evade spending time on the main level of the restaurant.

As one entered, the left half of the room was also peppered by desks, although these were each oriented such that an occupant would be facing toward the wall and away from the room, as a disobedient child might while enduring a punitive ‘time out’.  Two shared the end wall, with a third kitty-corner against the back wall, making for a very cozy working space with they were all occupied. These desks were not the dedicated real estate of any specific employee, but rather were shared communally by those who had passing need for them but whose main duties kept them most often in the public areas of the restaurant.  

Monte quietly wrapped twice on the door before pushing his way into the room.  As promised, Dan was seated at his desk expectantly, although to Monte’s surprise, two additional work spaces were occupied as well.  He directed a salutation to the jet-black ponytail presenting itself to his left, ‘Is that a streak of dark blue in there?’ Monte wondered, never having noticed it before.  “Hi Luce, I don’t think I saw you this weekend. Did you take some time off?”

“Hey, Monte.  I think you need to lay off the smoke, man.  I opened that bottle of ‘90 Philip Togni for your table just last night, remember?”  Lucy Pitt was the restaurant’s 28 year-old dynamo sommelier. She had recently passed her Advanced exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers and made no secret out of the fact that she intended on passing her Master’s exam before she turned 30.  She could have had her pick of any job in the valley but chose to haunt the halls of Toast, presumably because the comparatively low-pressure environment allowed her time to pursue her outside studies.

“That was last night?  Wow, brunch shift must have been rougher on me than I thought.  I wonder who I can talk to to drop that shift.” Monte turned and performed a magnified caricature of seeing Dan for the first time.  “Oh, Dan, hello! Let’s talk about getting me off of Sunday Brunch. Saturday night to Sunday morning is the most brutal clopening there is.”

“Sure.  Just say the word and you’re off Saturday nights.  I’ve got people lining up out the door to work that shift, but I need you behind the bar on Sundays.  You want more sleep? That’s how you’re gonna get it, not the other way around.”

“I’m truly hurt, Dan.  You know nobody’s as good on the floor as I am.  Ain’t that right, Lucy?”

The lead sommelier continued making notations in the soon-to-be-revised wine list.  “Nobody sells a steak like you, Monte, but if you’d just call me over to your tables when you actually drop the wine list and not just when you need a bottle opened we’d have them drinking El Molino not Rombauer.”  Monte was well-known among the restaurant staff for being the powerfully sweet and oaky Rombauer Chardonnay’s top schiller.

“Ah, the difference between you and me is I want them to drink what they like and you want them to like what you sell them, whether they really wanted it or not.”

Lucy spun her chair towards the still-in-the-doorway Monte, an expression of aggressive puzzlement practically leaping off her face.  “Uh, yeah, and so should you. That’s precisely our job.” She then continued her revolution, completing the 360 degrees rather than rewinding the previous 180.  Chuckling as she shook her head and sought out where she left off on the wine list a moment before. “‘Let them drink what they like.’ Haha, who is this knucklehead?”

Before making his way into Dan’s fiefdom, Monte flirtatiously tittered, “Hiiii Rhonda.  I haven’t forgotten about you, I just know that unlike the rest of us you’re in here doing real work so I didn’t want to interrupt you.  How’s things?”

Rhonda Patterson was a fifty-five year old tigress of a woman, who worked part-time for Toast as the Events Manager and took no shit from anyone.  She also, it’s worth mentioning, had never met a rule regarding workplace sexual harassment that she wouldn’t gladly waltz all over. Nobody on staff had ever met Mr. Patterson, but it was widely speculated as to whether the two shared an open marriage or whether he just was kept in the dark regarding his wife’s comportment.  “Oooh, Monte, come here my little bald jalapeno. I need a rub for good luck.”

Here Dan intervened, possibly to save Monte some embarrassment or more likely because he was tired of waiting to begin the review.  “Sorry, Rhonda, I need to steal Monte immediately. You’ll have to get your luck later,” and beckoned Monte to sit in a vacant chair next to his own.

“Oh you can bet I will,” Rhonda lecherously announced to the room.

Monte shuffled over towards his manager’s desk but didn’t take the open seat, standing, instead, uncomfortably and looking back to the other side of the room.

“Take a seat–I gotta get through this before 4 o’clock.”

Still Monte waffled.  “Uh, we’re going to do this here?  With other people in the room?”

“Gimme a break, Monte.  You know that’s how things have to be in here.  We don’t have the space for everyone to get a private office.  Nobody’s paying any attention to us–”

“I am!  I’m hanging on every word!”  Rhonda’s voice boomed from across the office.

“Rhonda, cut it out!  You aren’t funny,” Dan snapped.  “Monte, just take a seat already.  Anybody that has business in here I could rightfully ask to join my employee reviews anyway.  Besides, everyone knows that nothing overheard in here leaves this office. Period. Understood, people?”

The two women distractedly mumbled assent.  Monte knew first-hand that was utter bullshit–employees at Toast gossipped like it was their actual job, and the restaurant service was just a convenient gig to run along the side.  He didn’t really give a damn about keeping his review private–it was the principle of it that bothered him more than anything. Dan had a weekly lunch date in the restaurant with the owner, and Monte recalled the numerous occasions that the table conversation promptly dried up as he approached to fill their waters, or whatever.  ‘Few things,’ he thought, ‘are more uncomfortable than the silence at a table when you know they’re just waiting for you to go away but you have to finish the thing you came there for. I guess sometimes,’ he corrected his own internal monologue, ‘it can be pretty funny. But that’s usually when a couple is having a fight or something, not when some asshole boss is talking to his asshole boss.’  Monte took the open seat and crossed his ankle over his knee.  

“To be honest with you, Dan, I didn’t think we were going to get it in this year.  I’ve got to be the last to be reviewed, no? I just kind of assumed that I must be solid, so what’s there to say, amiright?”

“Don’t flatter yourself.” Dan closed a filing cabinet drawer and opened the one below it, flitting through the various folders with his fingertips.  “Someone’s gotta be last, it just happens to be you this year. Ah, here it is.” He pulled out a wine sheet of paper titled “2011 Toast FOH Employee Review” and snapped it onto a clipboard.  Clipboard use was perhaps the major downside of arranging his desk against Chef Gutierrez-Cabral’s since whenever he met with someone he had to face away from his writing surface. “So, let’s get to it.  Efficiency.” After speaking he peered at Monte expectantly.

After a few beats Monte surmised that he was expected to say something.  He ventured, hopefully, “Uh, I like it?”

 Dan rolled his mildly bloodshot eyes; it was nearly the end of a busy weekend after all–by this point in the week most of the core staff showed one form of fraying at the edges or another.  He spoke in slightly elongated syllables, as though Monte had simply misheard his words unspoken. “How would you rate yourself at workplace efficiency?”

“Ah, ok.  Including this conversation or not including this conversation?  Because I’m guessing my rating has taken a hit in the last 90 seconds.  Ha!” Dan did not crack a smile, so Monte’s gaze traveled the room, hoping for some positive reinforcement from one of the other occupants.  No such luck; each woman’s visage was squarely facing the wall. His wandering attention eventually returned to the sour manager seated in front of him and Monte continued, “I would say that efficiency is one of my strongest attributes as an employee.  I don’t enjoy being idle, so I generally fill my down time with one task or another and I really don’t enjoy being in the weeds, so I tend to prepare as much as I can before the rush.”

“And how do you think you could improve?”

“In efficiency?”  Dan nodded confirmation, so Monte pushed onward.  “Well, I don’t really know. It’s not that I couldn’t improve–people can always get better–but I think like I said, it is one of my strong suits.”

“Hmm.  Well I agree with you that you like to be prepared.  You do a thorough job of prepping your station–both when you’re behind the bar and when you’re on the floor–at the beginning of a shift.  I don’t often see you standing around doing nothing like some others. And you juggle things well during a rush. I know that I can count on you to keep your cool and not melt down, which makes my life much easier.”

Monte’s face registered demonstrative pleasure at hearing his manager’s praise.  He generally enjoyed employee reviews–that is, whenever he worked at places organized enough to actually perform them.  He knew that he was good at his job, and he frankly felt that he didn’t hear about it enough.

“And I think my criticisms in this area straddle the line with our next category, so before getting into them I’d like to ask you to describe what motivates you in your role.”

“Sure,” Monte said slowly, his eyes squinting somewhat, an outward tell of his mind lingering on Dan’s foreshadowing of critiques to come.  He had the unpleasant feeling of walking into some kind of trap. “I mean, one of the things I most appreciate about this industry is the immediacy of the feedback.  I know when a guest is happy–or not–from their words, from their body language, and, of course, from the percentage of tip that they leave. That is a big motivating factor for me:  I enjoy their enjoyment right along with them. I think the flip side of that coin is equally relevant as well. These people–our clients–are completely unbearable when they aren’t happy.  And don’t take me the wrong way, I get it. They pay a lot of money to eat here, or to visit the valley in general. And the locals–after dropping a fortune for the privilege of living here–pay through the nose for everything from what passes as a street taco to a wedge of cheese at Sunshine, so of course they feel entitled to a lot.  

“And I get the feeling more and more as the years go on that we’re seeing less and less one-offers in this valley.  We aren’t getting as many of the average yokels with stars in their eyes that saved up for their one wine-country getaway of a lifetime.  No, the people that I see coming in the door know what the fuck–pardon my language–they’re talking about. They know what fine dining is.  They know what kind of wines they like. They’re not part of the ‘just happy to be here’ crowd that used to flood this town. No, these people are of the ‘happy to be here if everything is perfect’ sect, otherwise known as the ‘I’ll freak the fuck out on you if my Wagyu ribeye is overdone’ crowd.  So I’ll cop to being sort of reverse-motivated by that element, too. Anything to avoid being treated like I murdered someone’s cat.

“I’ve worked at some places that, Christ…let’s just say that I appreciate working here because I think we all do a good job together.  I take care of my business and I’m not constantly being undermined by things outside of my control, like some ass clown in the kitchen who doesn’t know how to properly debone a piece of fish or who thinks al dente translates as ‘so mushy you don’t need teeth to eat it.’”

Dan repositioned himself in the plush office chair, his clipboard briefly drooping far enough forward to allow Monte to steal a peek at his review document.  He was disappointed to observe very few notes captured from what he considered to be a pretty inspired answer. He did, however, catch what appeared to be the sketch of an lengthy arrow in the margin.  ‘It figures he’d be a phallic doodler,’ Monte scoffed bitterly to himself.

“This is great, I think we’re really of the same mind about the basic elements of your performance,” Dan noted with a less-than convincing smile.  “Although I think I look at them from a little bit different perspective.” He didn’t immediately continue, which Monte found a more than a little stupefying.

“Oh?  May I be privy to know from which perspective you do see me?”

“Of course.  This is expressly why we are talking today.  Let’s just get ‘Interpersonal Skills’ out of the way.  We can agree that we don’t need to spend a lot of time on that, right?  You clearly are presentable and engaging with our customers. You don’t ever make any waves with your coworkers–everyone I’ve spoken to says that they enjoy working with you.”

“I’m glad to hear it.  I like them as well.”

“So the last category on this page is ‘Leadership.’  What are your thoughts there? Do you consider yourself a leader of this restaurant?”

Monte, unsure how many ‘just one more’ questions would be forthcoming from his fearless leader before he actually received some feedback, began to choose his words more carefully out of suspicion that he was being unwittingly prompted to tie his own noose while the hangman sat back and relaxed.  “I would say that my coworkers consider me a leader. People come to me all the time for help or advice. I like to think that I lead by example–I don’t stick my nose into other people’s business and boss them around but I focus on making sure that for my part everything is done right so that I can be a good example for anyone that is interested in paying attention.”

“Yes, perfect.  I’m very glad you see it this way–that’s how I see it too.  You do your own thing and you do it well. But…” Dan trailed off and, again, to Monte’s infinite frustration he gave no indication that his narrative thread would be imminently resumed.  

Dan blankly faced Monte, his facial muscles showing none of the telltale signs inner turmoil regarding how to proceed in the prickly conversation or of indecision selecting the perfect words to broach a potentially delicate topic.  His was simply a resting face. ‘Is this guy fucking with me?’ Monte’s patience was wearing uncharacteristically thin–hospitality was all about having thick skin, after all–but it had been a hectic few days at the restaurant and he really didn’t appreciate wherever this conversation was going or, as it were, not going.  ‘Fine. He doesn’t want to tell me? I don’t really want to hear it anyway. I’m in no rush, I can wait this fucker out. I’m going to be here for a couple more hours regardless–I wonder who is going to take over behind the bar for me, probably Davey, poor bastards whosoever is drinking cocktails tonight, ugh, why does he drown all his drinks in blue curacao? Does he seriously not understand that the 80’s are dead and gone? People shouldn’t be drinking booze on Sunday night anyway, it doesn’t make any sense, that’s when they should be tapering off the weekend with wine.  Serves them right, I guess. Wow, maybe I didn’t need that last double macchiato, but I make them so fucking good I can’t help myself. Wait, no, that can’t be right, Davey got in a few hours ago he must be the floor manager tonight, it’s probably Vanessa behind the bar then, damnit, she’s always late, but what the fuck does it matter I’ll still be up here, waiting for this prick to start talking again.’ His mouth, sensing an opportunity to intervene before Monte’s stream of consciousness dipped back out of the room, took the initiative here to utter, entirely of its own accord, “But?”

“Hang on, I’m getting there,” snapped Dan, bristling as though he had been interrupted mid-sentence.  “But, I think your performance suffers from a lack of perspective.”

Monte was not about to let another silent standoff begin, so he pounced as soon as his manager’s diphthong ‘vuh’ dissipated from the few feet of air separating the two men.  “Interesting. How so?”

Dan’s eyes silently castigated his low-level employee for attempting to co-opt the rhythm of his budding lecture.  “You measure success in terms of what plays out right in front of you but you don’t appear to understand that this restaurant is far more than just the aggregate of a handful of individuals doing their own thing.  To borrow a cliche, we are more than the sum of our parts, which means that we need to stop thinking as individuals and start thinking as a hive. You can’t have individual success in a hive. Either something contributes to the overall health of the hive or it is counterproductive.”

Lucy’s seductive alto voice chimed in from the far corner, “Does that make you the queen bee, Dan?”

“I suppose it does, but trust me, it’s more of a burden than a perk.”

“No disrespect, Dan, but I’m pretty sure that Chef is the queen bee around here,” Monte contributed petulantly, though not incorrectly.

Dan’s face contracted into a subtle pout.  “Alright, screw the hive metaphor. We’re getting off track and I need to get through this,” tapping his gold-plated wrist watch in passive-aggressive rebuke.  “Monte, you think you’ve done a good job if our guests walk away happy but what I’m here to remind you is that to the restaurant, happiness is the absolutely lowest bar that we look to clear.  Is it important? Absolutely, but it doesn’t really say much about their experience. A customer might be happy to eat a burger and have a glass or two of Turnbull Cabernet every time that they come in but that doesn’t really do much for the restaurant, does it?  How does that help us keep our lights on?”

“I like to think that a happy client is a repeat client.”

“Sure, that could be true.  Or maybe it isn’t. But you’re right it probably doesn’t hurt our chances of bringing back through the door.  But implicit in that line of thinking is the mistaken belief that the only way to make our customers happy is to give them what they think they want.  Wrong. Just like Lucy said a bit ago, It is our job–as a cohesive team–to figure out what they don’t even know that they want, and then sell it to them.  Do you get what I’m saying? You’re still covered because in the end they still walk away happy, but this way the restaurant can also take that experience to the bank.  

“It’s not just about money, either.  Look at it this way: do we make a delicious burger?  No, forget the burger. Do we make a killer Cobb Salad?  Damn right, we do! I eat it for lunch a couple times a week.  So is it ok if someone comes in and really wants to order the Cobb for dinner?  Sure, no problem. It happens. Whatever. Maybe we get lucky and that person is so pleased with our willingness to accommodate their special request that they come back on their birthday with all their friends and spend a lot of money.  Not likely, but stranger things have happened. I’ll tell you what’s more likely though, is that someone who eats our Cobb Salad is going to enjoy it, pay their tab, and never think about us or our salad again. ‘Why not,’ you ask? Because it’s too easy–it’s boring.  We didn’t challenge that person in any way.

“It’s like watching a throwaway sitcom on the TV when you’re bored–you ever sit down and turn on a TV for the hell of it and end up watching a ‘Friends’ rerun?  I’m sure you have, at the end of the day we’ll watch anything. And it’s fine because it passes the time, right? Well it isn’t our job to help people simply pass their lunch or dinner time, just one more unremarkable meal in a lifetime of unremarkable meals.  No, we wanna be the Ken Burns documentary. Nobody gets bored and decides to take in a Ken Burns documentary, but if someone turns it on for you, you end up feeling pretty goddamned good about yourself after a while. ‘Look how smart I am. How cultured,’ you say.  And later, you’ll talk to your friends about it–you’ll find yourself bringing how our National Parks were founded up in casual conversation because it makes you feel good to show off a little knowledge. All because someone gave you a little nudge, because they didn’t just let you take the path of least resistance and watch Chandler piss off Monica yet again.”

“Alright, I understand what you are saying but I don’t really agree that I never facilitate a memorable experience for people.  I may not push it on them, but nobody knows the menu up and down like I do.”

“I never said ‘never,’ Monte.  What I’m talking about is your first inclination, your general philosophy.  I know you know your shit. I think you’re too competent, even, for your own good.  Take selling wine, for example. You’re more familiar with our wine list than almost anybody, which is awesome in a pinch, but there’s a reason why we shell out to have the lovely Lucy to prowl the floor for us.  Not only does she blow your knowledge out of the water but she’s a selling machine! Seriously, I was pretty good myself back in my day but I don’t fucking know how she does it. And what do you ever ask her to do?  Open a bottle for a table when you’re in the weeds. Or worse, take a wine order after the guest has already made up his mind. Even she–miracle maven that she is–can’t do much if someone has already made up their mind!”

Monte was not enjoying this little chat.  He conceded that perhaps Dan made a few reasonable points but, even so, he just did not feel comfortable with the type of salesmanship that was being touted.  It wasn’t his style. “I get it. You want me to be more aggressive. Anything else?”

“Aggressive?  Good lord, no.  You aren’t a used car salesman.  What I want you to be is more proactive.  To have the goal of influencing the guest rather than being influenced by them.  Which leads me to segway back to our conversation to efficiency and motivation.”  Dan glanced again at his watch and allowed himself a perceptible wince. “Your responses, although accurate, reflect a perspective firmly rooted on the individual level.”

“Well this is supposed to be my own personal employee evaluation after all, is it not?”

“Don’t be defensive, Monte.  This isn’t an attack. Yes, it is a personal evaluation, but it should be in the context of the restaurant as a –.”

“Don’t say hive!” interrupted Lucy, giggling derisively.  “It really didn’t work last time.”

Dan lobbed an ineffectual glare in her direction, his stare bouncing docilely off the back of her head, unnoticed.  “The restaurant as a whole,” thoroughly flogging the word ‘whole.’ “Taking into account the performance of the entire team, it seems like the comprehensive nature of your competency is underutilized with your current role.

“I think the concept of leading your peers by example is a fallacy.  I’m not actually convinced that most people are either aware enough or self-motivated enough to observe and emulate the positive characteristics of their peers, unless,” Dan pronounced this as two separate words, “un less there is a grossly blatant disparity of easy money being made.  I will acknowledge that restaurant staff–for all their laziness–will latch on to money-making habits without much outside help. But that ambition dries up when we’re talking about the more subtle details that constitute the difference between good service and great service. Most people just don’t care enough to ensure that extra difference on their own.  They need to be pushed. Specifically, by you.”

“Which means what, exactly?”

“I’d like you to transition into a part-time floor supervisor role.  You’d still work some shifts as a waiter and behind the bar, but I think it would be the perfect vehicle for you to exert a little more influence over some of the more junior staff members who don’t have your same drive.”

‘Good lord, he’s asking me to join management?’ Monte’s internal monologue hissed with disgust. ‘What does this guy take me for?  Management is for one of three types of people: someone like Davey who is so boring he can’t be trusted to reliably entertain clients, for lifers who’ve lost a few steps and can no longer hack back out of the weeds, or for suckers.  Just put a bullet in my brain right now if I fall into any of those categories.’

“Gee, Dan, I appreciate the vote of confidence in me and everything but management isn’t really my style.”  Monte did his best to look grateful, although all he wanted was to end the meeting as quickly as possible and get back to the sanctuary of his bar.

“I know that, that’s the point.  This is an opportunity for you step up your style a little bit, and to start carrying some real weight in this restaurant.  Plus, it’s a chance for you to get it on your resume, you know. You put some time in as a supervisor, who knows where it’ll take you.  Even if not here at Toast, it’ll look pretty good to future employers.”

Monte silently took stock of his situation.  ‘Lets see: a little criticism, a little flattery, add on the carrot of some vague career benefit as a sleight of hand to supposedly distract me from thinking about how much less money I’d be making…yep, Dan is a professional, alright.  A real crackerjack manipulator.’ Out loud, he offered, “It certainly is a wonderful opportunity–and I appreciate it, truly–but I’m really happy in the role I currently have.” A voice in brain protested loudly at these words, ‘No you aren’t you numbskull, you’re totally burned out!’ which was quickly, if still silently countered by a second voice, ‘Shut up!  You know the way to get out of a hole is not to dig even deeper.’ A retort of such sound logic it seemed to do the trick and Monte was able to return his full attention to his oral remarks. “I enjoy my job, I make good money, and I don’t really want to rock that boat. I take your point about needing to be more proactive, and I think that gives me a good, concrete goal to help improve my–and the restaurant’s–performance.  But I’d prefer the opportunity to work on that from the role I’m in.”

Dan’s expression darkened considerably as Monte sputtered his excuses, more wrinkles furrowing into his brow with every word.  He offered one final olive branch, “And you won’t take some time to consider the opportunity?”

“No, I’m quite certain of my answer.  Thank you, though, I really do appreciate it.”

“Yes, upon a little reflection, I think you’re right.  This is for the best. I don’t think that you’re probably cut out to be a leader, anyway.  A good manager needs to be strong–he needs to be able to be an asshole and not be worried all the time about whether people like him or not.  I think you’re too concerned about what people think about you to ultimately be effective as a leader, or possibly even successful in high-level hospitality at all.”  He smiled coldly, stood, and ended the meeting with, “Time will tell, I suppose.”

Monte, out of the office and on his way back down the staircase was awash with a medley of hurt, anger, relief, and pride–both in what positive remarks there had been about the work that had done and in getting out of there without stepping in the trap bucket of low-level restaurant management.  ‘What’s wrong with wanting people to like me?’ he crowed to his disorientedly bruised-and-stoked ego. ‘I like being liked.’

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