Thursday, March 14, 2013

I'm unemployed

For the last year-plus, I was a server and waited tables at Outback steakhouse, located in Princeton beside the Walmart plaza. I was fired from that job on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Why? I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm sure the official store reason is "Chris gave a table bad service and didn't care." I think the actual reason is more along the lines of "Chris said something I didn't like, so I fired him."

The Outback is run by a woman named Kate. She fired me. I liked her before she fired me, and I still think I like her. I didn't like the corporate shill that she was forced to become as part of her promotion to running the restaurant that happened a few months ago. And that's nothing against her. You have to do that to ascend to a top position in a corporate environment. You have to be a "team player," aka "drink the Kool-Aid."

With a job like waiting tables, it's not really fun. But, the people there are fun, so you don't hate it that much. And that's how it was at Outback. It gets busy and customers get mean and rude, but you tolerate it because your friends are in the same situation. We all hate it together and rely on each other to make the days bearable.

The thing I have never understood about the restaurant industry that I work in is this belief that employees have to be moving constantly. If you're not doing something, you need to be cleaning something. You're not allowed to sit down, because you have to be doing something. If you're not doing something, then you're going to get reprimanded.

A co-worker had clocked out and was leaving the other day. Before he left, he was telling me about his upcoming wedding and the details of it. Kate came around the corner and told me to go clean something. I told her I was getting information about this wedding. She again told me to go clean something. I patted my friend on the shoulder and told him that I wasn't allowed to care about him because I had to go clean.

I've been told countless times, "Don't ever let me catch you sitting down again." And that's not how things should be. People would kind of laugh at me because I was open about what I was doing, but it's really sad when I think about it - I would go hide in the bathroom just so I could sit down and relax for a minute. And that's the kind of environment I worked in.

The most recent Saturday, a bunch of employees were at work. It was approximately 1 p.m. and the store was not busy. There really was nothing to do. As a result, a couple employees ordered some food from a Mexican restaurant and were eating it. I wasn't eating anything, but I was standing around. Kate came out, looked around, got angry and told us to all start cleaning something and how we shouldn't be standing around.

Another employee did not hear the initial anti-food outburst, so she was unaware when she rounded the corner holding food that she was planning to eat. Kate saw her, flipped out and sent her home. This employee laughed in her face, and as a result was fired. Kate then held an employee-wide meeting where she angrily explained that she had just gotten rid of some "dead weight" and that she liked us all, but would fire us if she had to.

This leads us to Tuesday. It was a busy day for being Tuesday. I don't believe we were understaffed for what we expected, but we were understaffed for the business we wound up having. It was just a hectic environment.

I had a table and I made a mistake. They ordered two appetizers and I only rang in one. When I took it out, they were like, "where's the other one?" and that's when I realized what I did. I played it cool and was like, "Let me check on that for you and figure it out." The next was a kitchen mistake. I rang in their entrees. A cook said, "We're out of [that]." I confirmed with a manager on duty and went back to the table and asked if he'd like to order anything else. He did. I went back a few minutes later and saw that the original entree was being prepared. We had not been out of it. I went back to the table and asked the guy what he'd like to do, eat his first or second choice.

Things were taking a little while for them. They were drinking their drinks quickly and I was dealing with my other tables and wasn't able to get refills for them as quickly as they'd like. They finally got their food and they seemed content. I checked in on them a few times. When it came time for the bill, they started complaining. They had ordered some shrimp and said that it was too spicy. But, they had eaten all of the shrimp. And they complained about how long things were taking. You can look at people and read them. And, I read them for what I thought they were: people trying to complain and get free food.

They asked to see the manager, so I got Kate and she went out there. She came back looking angry and asked me why they were mad. To me, that was a rhetorical question. It was busy and things didn't go the way they wanted. That's the answer. It didn't need to be said, so I said "Because they're a bunch of skanks." She angrily walked away from me. I followed her and actually tried to explain what the problem was. She said, "Don't talk to me right now" and walked away.

One of the hosts, who takes people to their seats when they come in, came up to me and asked why my name was scratched off of the seating list. I had no idea. I assumed I was getting sent home. Since I still had two tables, I couldn't get sent home until they left. Kate and I avoided each other for a couple hours. We would walk past each other and kind of look away and didn't say a word to each other the whole time.

The rumor was spreading that I had been fired. That rumor was spreading because Kate told another employee that. In an incident similar to mine, Kate asked this girl why her table was having a problem. She replied, "Because they're a bunch of douche bags." Kate told her something to the effect of, "Watch it, Chris said something like that and he doesn't work here anymore."

By the time my two tables left, it was 9:30 and the restaurant closed at 10. So, it didn't make sense to send me home now. Before you leave, you're assigned something to clean. I was put on the list of stuff to clean, so I guessed we were just going to chalk this up to a bad day and pretend that nothing happened.

Another reason I thought nothing would happen was because another situation similar to mine happened. Kate had to talk to another complaining table and asked the guy waiting on them what happened. I was standing nearby as I heard him say, "They're just a bunch of assholes!"

After I was done cleaning everything, Kate and another manager, Jason, took me to a booth and started talking to me. We talked about the incident with the table. Kate said she had planned to fire me, but that she was giving me a chance to make it up to her. I wasn't being very apologetic about things and Kate basically said, "I'm giving you a chance to apologize and save your job." She asked me if I knew why she was mad. I thought about it and calmly said what I thought: "It was busy and you were mad at everybody."

And then she fired me. Was it justified? It doesn't have to be. She has the power to fire me for whatever reason she wants. Did I deserve to be fired for that? I don't think so. Yeah, one table complained about me, but my other ones that night didn't. One left me a $24 tip. You don't give people $24 if they do a bad job.

So, what now? Co-workers have told me that I could probably get my job back if I wanted. They cited the example of the girl fired on Saturday (the "dead weight") getting hired back on Tuesday, ironically the day that I was fired. I don't want to work there anymore. I was actually relieved when it happened. After I left, there were a couple co-workers in the parking lot, so I talked to them for minute. After that I got in my car and sat down, and I felt good. It was like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. I don't have to hide in the bathroom anymore. I don't have to deal with a boss who gets angry and takes it out on people unfairly. That's a negative environment and I don't want to go back to it.

Ultimately, this is my fault. By not graduating from college yet and having a decent job, I'm stuck in minimum wage, menial task Hell where people can decide on a whim to make my life miserable. I've had a couple people tell me that what I did was stupid and that I should have just pretended to be sorry. I'm not comparing this to some huge human-rights issue or something important, but I think I stood up for what I believed in. I could have been a bitch and rolled over and said what Kate wanted to hear, but I told her what I felt. It cost me my job, it's given me hard times, but I feel good about myself. And I think that's more important right now.

So, I guess we'll see where my life goes from here. I'll keep you updated.


  1. I love you . :(

  2. Go Chris! Im so proud of you!! -- Kaci

  3. If anybody hasn't seen yet, there are a lot of comments about this on my Facebook, where I posted this link both as a note and as a status update.

  4. I cringe at the thought of working for a corporate store. I work for Outback in california which is a franchise. Our servers have it made min wage plus tips and we give our servers 4 plus tables..they easily take home 100$ a night for working only 6 8 bucks an hour..not a bad part time job.