Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rats, Pt. 3

If you are reading this and you work in a restaurant and you ever get rats in your restaurant---I will warn you now, you will NEVER get rid of them. They hunker down tighter than a rent control tenant.

A few weeks ago, a certain Broadway personality was dining in our restaurant when a rat literally dropped from the ceiling in the kitchen, jumped down onto the fire extinguisher, fell to the floor and raced out into the dining room. As the cooks and bus boys chased it thru the bar and into the dining area like a scene out of Ratatouille, this particular Broadway actress looked to our Assistant Manager.

“What’s going on? Is it a mouse?” she asked him.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said with a straight face.

She paused and then asked, “It’s a RAT?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he insisted.

“Well,” she shrugged like a true New Yorker, “the chicken was good.”

This particular rat got away. Sure, we’d hear about the occasional late-night or early morning sighting. But the General Manager seemed to be content to believe that the rats were gone. In fact, he really seemed to be sick of hearing about the rats.

You see, about eight months ago, he was given a promotion and sent over to our store to be the new General Manager. He was anxious to get started working on all his great corporate motivational ideas---like the sign he put up detailing the particular qualities that make for a great employee. The numbered list included revolutionary ideas like Knowledge of Your Job, Timeliness, Cleanliness---and was photocopied with the name of his previous restaurant simply crossed out and the name of our restaurant written in with a Sharpie. Guys like that want to start firing. They want to start their reign with a clean house. But nothing ruins the potential for a clean house more than rats. Before he could get rid of any of us, he would have to get rid of the rats.

Eight months later, he hadn’t been able to fire anyone. But boy was he itching to do some write-ups. Anything. Unfortunately, the rats kept coming back. After stacks and stacks of sheet metal were drilled into the walls, holes boarded up, nests cleaned out and things seemingly back to normal---he probably felt good. Felt confident that he could finally begin his reign of terror.

And then, just as he was starting to put up notices that had the air of the Nazi “Verboten!” signs…

A lady walked into the restaurant. I just happened to be standing near the front.

“Hi. Are you here for dinner or drinks?” I asked.

“I’m the Health Inspector,” she said as she flashed her badge. Apparently, I was told that they have to flash their badge. I think it’s a bit of overkill for someone who walks around with a thermometer as a weapon, but that’s just me.

Nevertheless, I quickly walked into the kitchen to get our GM.

“I’ve got bad news. The Health Inspector’s here.”

No words will send a restaurant into a tailspin faster than, “The Health Inspector’s here.”

Within seconds, counters were wiped down, sani-gloves were donned, hats were put on, raw meat put away---because the one good thing about a health inspection is that they give you a few minutes to prepare. As for myself, I quickly threw tongs into the bar tray, got rid of dirty dishes, wiped down the counters and immediately grabbed a red plastic bucket (known as a sani-bucket) and filled it with warm water and bleach. Every restaurant is supposed to have a sani-bucket out at all times. I’ve never worked in one that did. But the health inspectors demand to see one out---even if it’s never used.

An hour later, we got the word that we failed our Health Inspection. Failed Big Time. Nothing on the server side---thanks to my quick thinking. Give this girl a raise.

We were fined for a whole load of things the GM should have taken care of had he not been busy making signs telling us not to switch our shifts without permission and putting odd-shaped pieces of plexi-glass all over the place. Frankly, none of us understand the plexi-glass, but it seems to be an obsession with him.

The next day, he was royally chewed out by the higher-ups. His response---take it out on the staff. Little by little he began enforcing long-out-of-date rules and regulations that every GM before him had realized are both unreasonable and/or unworkable.

And then, the rats came back. And we’re due for a follow-up Health Inspection any day now.

Last week they were running between the kitchen and the bar playing some sort of rat game. And it was definitely more than one.

“One of them doesn’t have a tail,” a friend of mine explained. “He looks like a potato. We call him Potato.”

But it was Potato’s tail-enhanced friend who was running back and forth last Thursday night.

“You do realize,” I said to the Assistant Manager, “that he is running thru the kitchen at the exact same time the Health Inspector came in.”

He knew. We all knew. And we all knew that he would most likely try to run out into the dining room. Especially when we saw a group of ladies come in after the theatre. One elderly lady was in a wheelchair. The Assistant Manager and I just looked at each other and had the exact same thought. It’s like in those Laurel and Hardy movies when you see the guy with the gouty foot---you just know something is going to fall on his gouty foot.

And our keen eye for the inevitable just knew that the rat was going to run out right in front of this old woman and give her a heart attack. We did the only thing we could do---we positioned a dishwasher with a broom to stand at the kitchen entrance. A sentry, if you will. It was all we could do.

Luckily, the rat stayed in his hole that night. The Assistant Manager called the extermination company after close and begged them to come down.

“So, if a rat runs across the Health Inspector’s foot,” I asked him, “how many points is that?”

“I think we’re shut down.”

Honestly, it seems it’s all up to the Health Inspector. If they see rodent droppings, they certainly give you points. But if they see the real thing live and in-person? Well, it could mean curtains.

The GM, meanwhile, seems to think we’re all against him and are HOPING the place gets shut down. Where he gets this paranoid delusion, is anybody’s guess. After all, it’s not like getting a Snow Day. If we get shut down, we are all temporarily unemployed. But, as much as he likes to think he’s progressive, he’s certainly an old-school manager---the sort who thinks the employees are out to ruin everything and don’t care at all about the restaurant. Frankly, it’s not that we want to care. I certainly have other things I’d rather be investing my energy in other than a waitress job. But unfortunately, we have to care. And, as far as restaurants go, there are way worse places you could work. I know. I’ve worked in them.

The latest news on the rats came the other day. A bit of sad news.

“We got Potato. Early this morning.”

I was sad. But it’s them or us.

Meanwhile, we’re all starting to place bets on how long our GM will be around. I give it another two months, tops. After all, he’s the tenth GM we’ve had since I’ve been there. They never seem to last long. Only the rats remain.