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Bean counting at the Pine Tavern, another restaurant


August 2012, Bend, Oregon —

I got a job doing washup at the Pine Tavern, a local icon of fine dining — in other words a restaurant.

After signing a flurry of paperwork, I started in the dishwasher's pit.

Sometimes being the dishwasher means having the best job in the house. You keep moving, stay safe, be polite. There is none of the emotional stress that one experiences when cooking, where the pay is not much better.

The chefs liked my work, and said so. I did my job.

After a week or so, I was assigned a schedule that I liked. But, as nature abhors a vacuum, a restaurant abhors job satisfaction. Soon, from four days 10am-to-6pm, my schedule changed — 9am to 3pm. The same amount of work had to be done, though, so the way it really happened was that I would stay (with the permission of the chef on duty) until the evening dishwasher wasn't buried.

This worked until it didn't — a couple of weeks.

Since the first time that I'd heard the sous-chef Diana talk about "...wants me to cut labor costs in the kitchen," it had been clear that something foul was happening. Soon, the pressure to do more work in the same amount of time had become more than implicit — and while nobody said we in the scullery were competing for a narrowing allotment of time, that was the reality.

One day after my break, during which time I had a delicious burger while I sat on the grass overlooking Mirror Pond, I found that my co-worker had done a bang-up job of keeping the dish-pit clean, having exerted a somewhat heroic effort. I won't ascribe his motivations to any kind of obeissance, because he seemed genuinely sound. He was just doing what he was pressured to do: work harder.

In the course of work that afternoon, this co-worker stopped long enough to tell me that some of the front-of-house employees had come to ask why had I not brought them coffee cups that morning. He said that it's important to bring all coffee cups to the service area before 10:30 or so. Okay. Thanks. I'll do that. A small-eyed well-dressed guy whose name I can't remember ducked and looked through the opening to the dishwasher's area just as I was learning this. We were standing, talking....

Five minutes later Diana sent me home. I'd worked three hours that day, the "cost of labor" cut in the middle of my shift.

I told her how I felt about bean-counters and their failure to understand morale. The shifty-eyed managerial guy was looking at me from over to one side.

She understood. It wasn't her decision.

Maybe.

Within a couple of weeks, I was not-exactly-laid-off; just not on the schedule — standard industry practice.


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