Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Pub Cook we called Dick in Mouth

** This posting contains buckets of profanity. Enjoy.**

A curious title for this chapter it may be, and thankfully I can’t lay claim to its origin. For that one must look to Allen, who came to work at our little East Toronto Pub some years ago. Allen was an American from Rochester working in Canada under the table. He had followed his girlfriend back to Canada when she returned home from schooling in his fine state. Allen was an exuberant and sometimes gregarious fellow in his mid twenties. He was a capable cook and great company during the frequent slow nights. In fact he was a bit of a riot, finding all kinds of inventive ways to abuse Canadian customs and express ignorance of our cultural and political differences.

He was most often outspoken and frank, reserving just enough guile to present his tone as wit. He played the part of the hapless transplanted American perfectly, boldly ranting about his status as a kept man and regaling us with his tales of woe. Indeed, his girlfriend was a bit of a cold-shouldered shrew. At times she showed some redeeming qualities in social situations, but mostly her role to us was as adversary to Allen. Often she called looking for him promptly at the end of his shift, or showed up to drive him home. As the months with Allen wore on, we began to glimpse her motivation for the short leash.

Allen liked to drink. Actually that is inaccurate. Allen liked to have a drink, but he hated to get drunk. At least that held true when he was sober. He often bemoaned his abhorrent drunken behaviour and its salacious themes as those of a lout. It happened on the nights when his girlfriend was absent visiting friends in Rochester or out on the town. Allen would close down the kitchen at midnight and show up at the end of the bar. Strangely quiet and introspective, someone would surely ask. “Allen, what’s up man, why so quiet?” His answer would reveal his inner demons. “Oh man, I promised the nag I wouldn’t drink. Maybe I’ll just have one. Shit man, I can have one, right? Just one shot of Vodka, she’ll never know. Don’t give me anymore after that.”

The solitary shot of cheap vodka on the bar. I can still picture how he looked at it, stared at it, examined its crystal clarity, its viciousness. Some nights he would stare at it for two minutes before touching it. Then he would raise the glass to his lips, and sober Allen was gone. By the time the empty shot glass hit that bar he would have5 changed. “Woooo! Damn that shit was good. Hell yeah, gimme one more!” It literally happened that fast, it was the craziest thing I have ever seen. Sober Allen was crass. But that little filter that we all have in between our brain and our mouths, his was alcohol soluble. It was made of sugar, and vodka melted it faster than anything.

The things that came out of that boy’s mouth were unbelievable. Other than the hooting and the swagger, the first sign that Allen was getting drunk was that my new name was Dick in Mouth. Actually at that point everyone’s name was Dick in Mouth. “Hey Dick in Mouth, what the fuck is Pea meal Bacon? What kind of retarded fucking Canadian bullshit is this? Who puts shitty ground peas on their fucking bacon? And that shit is not even fucking bacon, some whore asshole in Quebec called it bacon because they can’t fucking speak English. Bullshit!” I would start to respond, “Allen, take it easy man, you love Pea meal bacon, and …” I would be cut off at that point. “Whaaaaaaahaha, fuck you Dick in Mouth, go suck your Mom’s cock. Fag! Baaahhh!”

People at the bar loved it for about fifteen minutes, and then it was time to send him home. The good part about it was that he was jovial throughout the whole episode. Even when he was telling you to suck your mom’s cock, he was smiling. Also, the whole thing from start to finish was over in half an hour. He was a convincing guy, beaming and swearing like a sailor who fucked a trucker who fucked a coal miner who fucked a drill sergeant and had a curse baby.

The drinks would go in fast, one after another, and the argument about cutting him off would continue until someone gave up. He would usually consume about six or seven shots of booze and then go home. Most all of the Americans I have met in Canada eventually go home, and sadly that was the case with Allen. Our lives suddenly seemed as tactful as a church barbeque, dull without all the vigour and profanity. I don’t imagine he stayed with the girl, and for the sake of everyone around him I hope he kept his drinking in control, but never really stopped.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waiting on Europeans, the Aha! Moment

I am breaking my posting principals regarding posting about bad tips, but I have some questions I would like answered. First off I understand that tips are included as a standard service fee in Europe. The system there is totally different than it is in North America, both in the wage/tip system and in the social stigma attached to working in the Hospitality Industry. For those who don't know, serving in Germany, France, or many other European countries is considered to be a respected trade. Many Europeans complain about the poor standards of service in North America, and I agree. I think that the social attitude taken towards those who choose a career as servers perpetuates the whole system.

In Canada and the US, most servers are seen to be unskilled labour, students, and flakes. Can't cut it in the real world, well you can always be a waiter. I have done my time working in fine dining popping $6,000 bottles. Often the people I served made less money than me, and yet they still felt the need to demean my occupation.

So here is the impetus for this post; I served two English couples last week. That alone is enough to make most servers cringe and reel with terror. I usually don't mind serving Euro's for this reason. They understand the steps of service and even though they tip like shit, at least they will listen to you while you recite the night's features, they will not ask you for a desert menu while you are clearing their dinner plates, and they will order appropriate wine for their meal selection. A French couple will never remark at the white Chardonnay you bring to the table and say, "Oh, we wanted the red Chardonnay."

This table of Brits was my lynchpin, the best table in my section. They had the highest bill and were the a pleasure to look after. The owner sent a round of Amaro digestives to them on the house, and they left happy. The gentleman who paid the bill shook my hand on the way out and thanked me for the great service, he indicated that he had left a little something extra for me on top of the bill. I smiled and shuddered. Upon further inspection, the "Something Extra" was two ten dollar bills. Less than 5%. Clearly like most Euro's, he had assumed that gratuity was included in the charge, and that leaving cash would allow me to keep those tens all to myself. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Nudge my ass.

So here is my Question, I would love to hear from some Europeans on this;

"After weeks on vacation, dining in many fine establishments, and leaving little or no gratuity, is there an AHA! moment, an epiphany? Does someone explain the system to you, and are you suddenly racked with guilt for all those great servers who you utterly stiffed, screwed, and actually cost money? Or do you just not give a shit?"

I am genuinely curious.

My tip-out is roughly 6% of after tax sales, so that table cost me money to serve. Even still, I have a hard time discriminating and lowering my level of service based on race or origin. I suppose I will just have to deal with the Euro factor forever. I just want to know if they care.