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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ordered chaos

So the past couple days have been pretty full. Dh has been doing some stuff to fundraise for the Canadian Cancer Society, which has been quite a blast. Rather than shaving his head, which is really no big deal for him, he got a funky cut and multiple colours. For a guy that is normally rather bear-like and intimidating in appearance, it's quite the shock! It worked, though - not only did he raise a fair amount, but he got even more donations after people saw the end result. *L* Anyhow, we went along for the ride, with me documenting pretty much everything photographically, with the drive culminating in a public event, complete with the media. He even got interviewed by some radio personalities.

For all his success, he's not too sure he'll do it again next year. ;-D

Work has been interesting. My Thursday shift turned out to be this fancy-schmancy formal dinner. There were 100 tables set up and, even though servers were in groups of three, we pretty much had as many servers as we had tables, plus the bar staff. The group I was in had one of two VIP tables. I have no idea who was at the other VIP table, since it was on the other side of the stage, but our group got the lieutenant governor and his wife. Much to my surprise, I was singled out to pay particular attention to that table of the 3 we were responsible for. I hope I did all right. They weren't exactly a demanding table, so there wasn't much for me to do. We have a very unassuming lieutenant governor.

After the desserts were served and things were wrapping up, all the servers grabbed what trays and stands there were and left at the same time. Once in back, those who could stay longer were asked to hang around to tear down once the guests were gone. Those who couldn't (or didn't want to) stay late could leave. I decided I'd leave, since I had another shift the next day, and I figured I'd play it safe. By not staying too late on a Thursday night, I'd be better able to stay as long as needed on a Friday night.

Boy, did I ever play that one right! *L*

It's graduation season, and for the next while, the convention centre is going to be hopping busy. Friday night had grad dinners for 2 schools at the same time. I was originally scheduled to work one of the dinners, and I started my shift by helping set up, along with about 75 or so other banquet servers. Near the end, there was a staff meeting, where names were called out into teams of 3 that would be assigned to table groups.

My name wasn't called, nor were the names of 3 guys. We were sent to another supervisor. It turns out that another 15 tables were being brought in, and she told us we needed to get them set up just like all the others. I started to head out with the guys to do it when my supervisor stopped me and told me to come with her. It turns out she was responsible for two areas - the main hall where the dinner was being held, plus a small salon on another floor, where a reception was set up for the teachers. Obviously, she couldn't be in two places at once. She wanted me to work the teachers' reception. Alone. It was a small group and there was no need for more than one person. Still, this was only my 7th shift, and she was giving me a reception, all to myself! There had been another server taking care of the room, but she'd already finished her shift and left some 10 minutes before.

Thankfully, they were a really great group. Though it was set up for up to 50 people, I never had even as much as 40 at the same time. Along with the finger foods and non-alcoholic drinks we provided, they brought their own booze and mixed their own drinks (with their license to do so prominently displayed on the wall, as law requires). My job was to replace food trays as needed and pick up any used plated, glasses, etc. There was a second salon nearby that I had to myself, where I had a rack of fresh food trays and another for cleared items. Just outside another door, in the staff area, was a warmer for the hot dishes to go into the chafer. My supervisor stressed that I keep checking on the food trays to make sure no staff were going into them and taking food. This place is very generous with free food for staff, and many aren't above taking advantage of it. They don't know or care if a tray is meant for a client. If they look into a warmer or rack and find food, they'll take some. It's stealing, but a lot of them don't see it that way. :-/ Though I checked diligently, some hours later, things started disappearing from the warmer. I never saw even a hint of who it might've been, though I did walk into the room with a tray full of dirty glassed, only to find someone moving quickly away from the finger food rack. He was the night manager, I think.

Perhaps half an hour after my supervisor left me with this group, they all had to leave for the dinner itself. Once they were done, I was able to do a few things, like replace burners under the chafer, replace a couple food trays, and clear away dirty stuff I wasn't able to get while people were milling about. Then the door was closed, automatically locking (and me without a key), and I was left to wait for them to come back. I figured they'd be gone maybe an hour or so.

Two hours later, I was still waiting! Thankfully, the room I had was partially set up for another event, so I had tables, chairs to sit on - even couches and arm chairs, if I wanted. I would check on the warmer in the staff area hall every now and then, then go down the hall in the public areas to see if anyone was coming back. I don't have a watch, so I'd check the time on the electronic events board once in a while, too. Eventually, one of the teachers showed up, but not one of the people with a signed out key. Since only supervisors get radios, I used one of the internal phones and got security to send someone down with a key. I had a chance to chat with the teachers that got back earlier - it turns out the dinner was followed by a movie put together by one of the classes, showing highlights of the school year. So that's why the dinner went for so long. :-D

While talking to the teacher, I realized that this is a school a friend of mine has a daughter in. It's a sort of Waldorf style school - not an actual Waldorf school, but similar philosophies. It's a lot like university, in that the students are responsible for their own course of study, and they're able to work at their level. There's nothing stopping a grade 7 student from taking a grade 10 course, or vice versa, and students that have taken higher level courses will often assist those at lower levels. It was really interesting to talk to the teacher about it, especially as a home schooling parent. Like my friend's daughter, many of their students started out home schooling, and they're right at home with this sort of system.

Just as more of the teachers started coming back from the dinner, my supervisor showed up with another server and told me to go for my half hour break! Now, I'd been going under the assumption that sitting on my butt for over two hours (ok, not really - I can't sit on my butt for 2 hours on my own time, never mind on the job) more than counted as my break. When I started to point that out, she said that this way, I could go to the kitchen and get some food. So, off I went for my break - and found the kitchen had prime rib for the staff. Even though all the other servers had already had their breaks, there was still a tray and a half of sliced prime rib, with mashed potatoes and green beans. My God, it was good! :-D They had other stuff, too, but I really didn't look at it. ;-D

Not too long after I got back from my break, the teachers disappeared again - this time for the dance. One of them came back wearing a pink hip shawl with gold coins. It went really well with his conservative grey suit. *L* The school has a tradition where the teachers get silly for a dance during the grad dinner. A couple of the female teachers came back with hip shawls, too. It was a hoot to see a small group of them, in their formal cocktail dresses, figuring out how to shimmy. :-D These folks were really cutting loose and having fun.

It was a really great group, and I was glad to be able to work with them. A lot more fun that doing a dinner. They ended up staying until past 2 am - long after all the others, from both grad dinners, had cleared out. All the other servers had finished breaking things down and gone home, and I found myself joined by 4 supervisors, waiting for this group to be done. I gotta say, I sure was glad I wouldn't be tearing the room down on my own! *L* I still don't know where most of this stuff goes. It's different, depending on what area it's in, and I haven't even seen all the areas, yet. Heck, I still don't even know where the staff locker room is, yet. I leave my cell phone and jacket in the office, where it's more secure. Yeah, there's a problem with staff breaking into lockers and stealing stuff, too.

What I found interesting, though, was the high number of teachers who made a point of coming up to me and thanking me for doing so well for them (with one of them slipping a $20 into my hand as he shook it). It really surprised me. I mean, I just did my job, and was friendly about it. I had one of them tell me that, in the 3 or 4 years they've been having their grad dinners at this place, I'm the first staff member that made them feel so welcome. "Like family," as one of them put it. It's funny. I've been going to seminars and reading books on leadership for years, and I've heard many times that it doesn't take much effort to be above average. Intellectually, I understood what they meant, but I honestly didn't think I was doing anything above and beyond the ordinary. What's above average about doing my job and being polite? Apparently, both. It's flattering to get so many positive comments, but it's really kind of sad that what I'm doing is apparently so unusual.

Having all the supervisors with me for the last bit was eye-opening in that respect as well. They were trading stories about various staff members they're having problems with. These people are happy if they can get staff that simply show up and stay where they're supposed to. Some of them won't even do that - they simply disappear, then show up again near the end of their shift, ready to be signed out. I heard stories about one who, while working an even with a concession, decided to grab a slice of pizza off the warmer/display and start eating it in front of the customers. Then there are those who simply don't know enough English to follow instructions (as a side note - all of these supervisors were ESL, so it's not like they wouldn't normally be sympathetic when it comes to language issues).

Not that staff were the only ones who bore the brunt of these complaints. I caught bits and pieces of a story as I worked. Five bar staff walked out in the middle of an event because of something a manager (or whatever his position was - I didn't quite catch it) did. All the supervisors were fully in support of the staff that walked out. I eventually found out the manager had a blow out and threw a pocket full of change at one of the bar staff - in front of a line of customers, no less! The staff member he'd blown up at was in the wrong - there was no disagreement with that part of incident - but the managers response was wildly inappropriate.

After a while, I started to wonder that these supervisors would talk so openly about stuff like this in front of me! *L*

When the group finally made their way out, the supervisors and I quickly did the tear down - the night staff would have a fair amount of food, including a couple of trays that never even got uncovered. It sure went fast with 5 people to do it! With just 2 of us (my supervisor and I), we wouldn't have finished until 3 am. With 3 extra supervisors helping out, we got it down in about 15 minutes. Thankfully, the room wasn't booked for anything else the next day, so we didn't have to do a set up, too.

I was actually quite impressed by how good I felt at the end of the shift. I'd forgotten to take painkillers before I left home. I considered buying some at the tiny convenience store that's in the building, but decided against it. My feet were definitely hurting by the time I was done, but no where near as badly as I was afraid they would. Even better, my knees were good, and there were no shooting pains in my legs from the arthritis. Woot! I still ended up sleeping in until noon. *L* I really feel for my supervisor, though. She had to start her shift at her primary job at 6 am. :-( I don't know how she does it. Mind you, if you don't have a choice, you do what you've gotta do, right?

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