Thursday, February 7, 2013

Weird Jobs: Japanese Restaurant (Part 1)

Oh you know, just my usual Asian attire. Photo by Wikimedia Commons


Not to say that working in restaurants is weird– I've been in food service positions for six years total. But none of them were like this one.

When I first arrived in LA I was determined to find a nighttime job after my internship that will actually pay the bills. I found a job opening at what we'll call Squid Restaurant downtown on Craigslist and was even more excited that it was right beside a Metro station. The less I drive, the better.

The restaurant was pretty spacious– with a full downstairs and upstairs dining room, and sushi bar with dim lighting. The first thing that I noticed was the abundant Asian staff. They also seemed to be yelling what sounded like gibberish when I came in the door. The owner, a tall Korean guy (an oxymoron, I know) that was all business, quickly led me upstairs.  The interview last about 10 minutes altogether. I had worked at an upper-scale Japanese restaurant back in Wilmington, and it only took the owner to look the website up on his IPhone to hire me right off the bat. I started that Wednesday as a hostess.

I truly thought I was going to quit the entire first three weeks. Every day. I found out that there were several things that were wrong with the establishment/things that I was not at all used to. I figured that there were going to be some differences just because of the location– and I was right. Being in the heart of downtown and right beside public transportation made us a hotspot for the homeless who frequently walk in asking to use the bathroom, as well as many, many foreigners who did not understand English, let alone the science of tipping. It shocked me when the waiters would highlight and circle the "tip guide" on each customer's check, but then realized that that was the least of it. I saw multiple waiters and even the manager chase many a customer down on the streets to ask them what was so wrong with their service and if they forgot to tip. Such behavior would get you fired in North Carolina, but here it was every man/woman for himself/herself. And I guess I didn't blame them. At the same time, however, I was too proud to chase someone down and beg for three dollars. It wasn't worth it.

Another part was the hostess' responsibilities. Back at my old job, I only had to worry about seating people, bussing tables (we had no busboys), and occasionally running food from the kitchen. Here, it was all that and then some. I had to run all the waiters' cards on the one credit card machine we had, deal with other forms of payment, to go orders, AND close down the restaurant. And when I say close down, I mean that I was the last person to leave and to shut off the lights. Yes, the managers would stay with me, but while they lounged on the booths twiddling their thumbs, I had the responsibility to count all the money in the drawer, check every single waiter's server reports, and do the daily report for corporate until one in the morning. WTF?! For the first few weeks, I literally couldn't sleep because I would worry about how to do those reports. I'm sorry, but isn't that the managers' job, not the hostesses? Why in the hell do I have to stay until the wee hours of the night when they have no need of a hostess the last few hours before close? It's slave labor, I'm convinced of it. Plus, who gives that amount of responsibility to a young 20-something-year-old? That is ALL of the restaurant's sales that day and the manager is just trusting that we will calculate it right? I didn't even trust myself.

I didn't make friends with the waiters until about a month and a half went by. I also refused to say the greeting phrase that we all had to say when a customer came in. Turns out, it wasn't gibberish but was in fact "Welcome" in Japanese. It sounded something like "IRA-SHI-MAH-SAY!!!" I felt like I was not only butchering the Japanese language, but being unfaithful to the Vietnamese culture.

Also I did not take anything I did here seriously. Why? Because after three weeks into the job, I found myself training the new manager on what to do. It was preposterous. I also felt like I had a better grasp on things than 90% of all the other hostesses who had been there longer. And everyone kept quitting. There was such a high turnover it would have made your head spin.

Ironically, the majority of the reason of why I wanted to quit were the Asians. The only reason I stayed for as long as I did, was because of the busboys and the kitchen staff. All of which were Mexican.

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