Dear Harry and Louise,
I work as a server at a high-end, much-sought-after restaurant in Washington. I worked my way up to server after serving as a hostess for a month. While I don’t see myself as a server forever, it’s a good way to make money until I head to graduate school. The manager who schedules all of the servers keeps giving me the worst shifts: midweek lunches, the occasional dinner. I have requested to have more weekend nights when I could make much more money. She always explains that she still sees me as a server in training. She does not consider me “broken in” yet. She makes these comments despite the fact that I am good at what I do, and the customers are more than happy with my service.
Yesterday, she told me that a local TV anchor (and a bit of a DC celebrity) was coming for lunch and would be sitting in my section, but that she was going to give that table to Frank, another server who’s older but not better than me. I was furious. I asked her why. Frank has not been working there much longer than I have. I have also seen Frank and my manager heavily flirting with each other, and they left together one evening as I was finishing a shift.
After she gave him the VIP table, I was talking with another server.
“She’s sleeping with him,” my coworker said. “Everyone knows.”
Everyone but the general manager and the owner. I know both of them. Should I bust the manager? Talk to her? Keep my mouth shut?
• • •
Restaurants are cauldrons of cuisine and conflict, from what my friends report. The pressure on the waitstaff, especially at a high-end joint, is intense. Does it surprise me that a manager would play favorites? Nope. Or that she's sleeping with a staff member? Not a bit.
My devious side suggests you mess with the manager's head, either by flirting with Frank or by spreading the rumor that they're sleeping together.
But my logical side says it's better to be professional. Don't go above her head. Don't confront her. The best course is to withdraw from this toxic stew. Keep the job as long as necessary, look for another, hasten plans to hit graduate school. And smile--especially at Frank.
• • •
You don't see yourself as a server forever. Remember that part. This is where my nonconfrontational nature guides me: Stay out of the drama of the restaurant. Do your job, and do it really well. Don't ask any questions about the personal lives of the people you work with, even when it is intriguing stuff.
Your manager may not fully trust you to handle the heavier workload of those weekend shifts. It may make her life easier to rely on the servers who have more experience. Even if she is with Frank, it will come down to what makes her life easier. All managers are not built the same, but most of them want to work with people who present them with the fewest fires to put out. Be that person. You will be seen as the reliable one, the one who does not engage in restaurant gossip. Eventually, your manager will realize that giving you more and better shifts does make her life easier. There is certainly nothing wrong with reminding her you're available for those desired shifts when she finds herself shorthanded.
This does not mean you become distant or unfriendly, but it will accrue to your benefit to stay above the drama. If you strike up a friendship with someone who works at the restaurant, arrange to spend time with them outside of the restaurant. This is your temporary place of employment--not your second home.
Your devious side will create more drama and likely lead to your losing your job. Keep the job, and head to graduate school as soon as possible.
• • •
How about that! We agree.