Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taking A Bow and Bowing Out.

In April of 2009, almost one year after I had graduated from Ivy League, I began a pretty hardcore job search. I finished up an internship that had brought me through my first (non)academic year after college, the world was totally not my oyster. So after a month of living on the west coast without a job, I moved back east. And in with my Dad.

By September, I had my first job in the restaurant industry serving room service at 6 a.m. at a trendy hotel in a kitchen run by a star chef. I moved out, went to work, and doggedly applied for any jobs I could find. I also busted my ass at the restaurant, and clawed my way up from room service to being a barista, a busser, and then a breakfast server. And unlike most of my coworkers, I was really into it. I had long followed our chef on blogs like Eater, I was friendly with the cooking team who enjoyed my supreme foodie geekdom, and it turned out I was a good seller. But those mornings were brutal. For months, I worked as a server and a barista, arriving to work weekdays and weekend brunches at 7 a.m.

When New Years Eve rolled around, my typical bahumbuggery for the holiday was replaced by an intense euphoria. "2009 fucking sucked, 2010 has got to be better" was my quote of the week and not surprisingly, several of my peers felt the same way. The economic crash had not only pulverized our dreamy career expectations, but many of us spent 2009, our first year out of college, living with our folks. We didn't have jobs (let alone cool jobs), we didn't have prospects. 2009 really blew. But 2010 was going to be better. I started writing in April of 2010, one year after my earnest job search began.

Although I kept looking for other work, I consistently worked hard at the restaurant, and got myself another promotion. In part due to the fact that I never turned down the opportunity to cover another server's shift, I became the sub. Someone doesn't show up? I'd be there. And I was outselling them. I worked hard and fast to get my tray skills up to par and began getting regular cocktailing shifts. I enjoyed my shifts for the most part, didn't mind the grunt work, and loved having stories to write when I got home. I would get comped at restaurants across the city, and I was part of the industry in-crowd by virtue of how cool the restaurant I worked at was. Life was good.

But it wasn't great. I often felt frustrated, one of the managers hated me, and I had a small gnawing voice inside telling me I should do something to move forward. The months slipped by, I still was regularly reading job boards, and on a whim applied to be an office manager of an extremely prestigious restaurant group. I took a gamble by accepting the position even though it was only offered as a month temp gig, but on September 30, 2010 I was offered a full time job there. Two weeks later, the Chef sat me down to tell me that he wants me to take over for her his personal assistant, whom he wants to promote after 2 years of doing his PA work. And my benefits kick in in December.

My job is delightfully all-consuming. (Is it weird that it feels good to be stressed?) I'm learning what it takes not just to run a successful restaurant, but a successful business. And the industry clout I thought I had will soon be paling in comparison to the fact that television production companies and food magazines will soon be filing away my contact information since I will be a gatekeeper to this organization and the Chef at its helm. Yes, I spend an unfathomable percentage of my work life on the phone with hotels and airlines, and yes I do an insane amount of filing every day, but I am now fully employed and well on my way to A Career. During my evaluation, the higher ups discussed my long term goals, asking me in earnest if I was planning on sticking around for years. I am. And I'm kind of loving this newfound stability. My job is crazy, but my life is no longer.

Part of the original subtitle of my blog was in reference to "my journey to find full time employment." Just over 2 years after graduating, the journey has ended and the mission has been accomplished. And if I may say so myself, it's been accomplished in a big way. The site's not going anywhere, but I am. Chef's calling on the blackberry!

The assistant/office manager/gal friday formerly known as Underemployed

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again.

This is a short post, since I need to make it into bed early. I'll put it this way: This time last year I was waking up monstrously early to be at work in room service at 6 AM. I have come full circle, setting my alarm to wake up tomorrow in time to give my boss the Chef a wake up call at 6 AM for his early morning flight. This is going to suck real bad. And my 30-day performance review / evaluation / what the fuck is going on with my employment status is going to be happening tomorrow. Big day tomorrow.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In Which I Revert To Old Habits.

Since I still don't know whether this temporary full time job is going to stick or not, I've gone back to spending my free time on the computer surfing the food/bev/hosp section of the nyc Craigslist. Check out this incredibly insulting post. Before you read this headline, please remember that serving can in and of itself be a lucrative career. That servers at places like Per Se and Le Bernardin are at the top of the game, and have worked long and hard to get there. That they are, to use a recently coined Bourdainism, gatekeepers. Gatekeepers and ushers for truly special experiences for people. Their job is no more or less important than anyone who works towards the production of art, entertainment, or luxury items. (I also have trouble with their fundamental assumption that work has varying degrees of meaning. What's their basis for judgment anyway?)

Sick of Waiting Tables? Do Something Meaningful Instead!

....When you work for the WFP you will be starting a career. Part of your job will include fundraising – but that is not the be all end all of your work with us. You will work on all different types of campaigns, learn the ins and outs of campaign management and improve the lives of millions of people along the way.....

HOURS: Monday- Friday
1:30 -9:30 HOURS: Monday- Friday
  • Compensation: Starting pay: $21k starting salary + Full Health Benefits, sick days, room for growth
  • This is at a non-profit organization.

That's right. Instead of earning money in the service industry, start a career by asking other people who deign to earn money doing jobs that might not be politically inclined to give that money so you can fund your organization so they can pay you. Whatever the political aspirations of the WFP are, they could use some help on their tact. And for 21K a year, you'd definitely be better off waiting tables. Oh wait- you'll only be able to work opening breakfast shifts at cafe that do a changeover at noon! Or get some late night cocktailing gig at a club that has a changeover at 10...since those are your only shot at supplementing your income with those hours.

These people are assholes, and I'm proud of my industry. Now someone get me a cocktail tray! I feel a whole lot of meaning about to come my way.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's A Girl Have To Do To Get A Little Service Around Here?

Apparently, the answer is "Call me."

This was my first weekend where I did substantial work on day off. And in the middle of what was a really great day off. I spent three hours calling customers, emailing the restaurant, and rearranging car services for Chef. I set up shop at the bar of a mom & pop chinese food restaurant, nursing a single can of diet coke working from my "virtual office."

Now, the first series of interruptions and phone calls caught me on a 30-block walk with a cute guy I had just had lunch with...but never one to try to impress, I of course took the call, wrote the emails and allowed myself to be interrupted. Fortunately for me, he later told me that he found the whole experience "fun." Score 1 for me.

In The Devil Wears Prada, the friends and lovers in Andy's (Anne Hathaway's) life resent her being on-call, give her grief for interrupting meals to take a phone call, ditching plans to do work for the boss. But to my mind, that's what she was paid for. And if they don't like it, they should offer to pay her rent for her.

And for the three remaining weeks I'm definitely working for this restaurant group, that's what I'm being paid for too. If they call me and I'm physically able to answer the phone, I will take it. I mean, I'm making more than twice what I was a cocktail server for the month, and I appreciate that the money is in exchange for my services. My services these days are no longer a smile and a drink menu, but rather my ability to have time to do things people more important than me don't. And props to my friends who have handled my frazzled interruptions with the same sense of humor I try to bring too.

I was feeling sort of stressed out by the time my phone calls and emails ended. It was sort of a wake-up call that my second attempt to socialize this weekend was thwarted by the blackberry. Friday night there was a big event that Chef was at, along with his first assistant. I had been instructed to be "on call," meaning reachable for the evening. When I finally joined up with my friends for a quiet evening of insobriety and Paul Newman flicks around 10:30, I was still theoretically on the clock. When the berry went off with an email from Chef thanking everyone for a successful evening, a great sigh of relief was exhaled. That was around 11:30 pm.

For the lawyers, paralegals and med students reading this, my plight seems small. Because it is. It's just that I haven't been asked to be so available to my work maybe since my last major collaborative art project in college. I'm getting used to it. Slowly but surely, my new life is making more and more sense to me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Figuring Out Who Likes Me. Like, At Work, I Mean.

Well, this week was my first week flying solo.

At the end of my first day of work, two of the higher ups sat me down.

SkinnySuperior: How do you think it's going so far?"
Underemployed: Good. There hasn't been any yelling so I think that's a good sign.
Awkward laughter since nobody ever makes jokes at this office.
SkinnySuperior: Well, this is the smoothest transition we've ever had, and HipsterSuperior and I are both going to be out of the office after tomorrow so we're just kind of paranoid.
Underemployed (knocking on wood) : Well, let's see what happens tomorrow.

Each day sort of went like this, and by the end of the week I ended up having down time. The thing is, and I don't want to sound like an ass, but the girl who trained me was sort of a moron. That doesn't mean she wasn't good at this job. But maybe this job is totally her speed. I mean, I just haven't found it that challenging to file, to be a receptionist, be an office manager (aka office supply orderer) and to do reservations in one workday. But after the scary Cutrone-esque speeches I was given, I too am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I was warned ahead of time that Chef is a diva, and likely to yell at me. He depends on HipsterSuperior to do his travel arrangements and personal assistant stuff. I was told that I will be assisting with the personal assisting later in the month, once Chef gets to know me more. Well, HipsterSuperior was on vacation this week, and Chef was in Europe doing food-related work. And he had plans in need of changing. So I took care of it. It just didn't strike me as that big of a deal, and my superior was out of town, out of the office.

So yes, I spent time at the office investigating airfares at the last minute. And yes, I spent hours over this long weekend on the phone trying to get hotel rates in foreign places and figuring out how to minimize last minute cancellation costs. And you know what? Chef apologized for asking me to work over the weekend. He thanked me for my work almost every email. I know that he's supposed to be so scary, but so far, so good. And this I feel is a small victory.

But my real victory of the week has been developing a friendship with the business partner, the most senior person in our office, Mr.Money. My predecessor described Mr.Money as a jerk, one in front of whom you had to use only the precisest words. "Just think about what you want to tell him before you open your mouth, he'll hang on your every word."

Yet, in the office he and I get on great. He laughs at my jokes. He likes to taste test coffee blends with me around the office coffee machine. He sent me a huge list of restaurant recommendations when I went out of town this weekend. And when he pontificates about the restaurant industry, not only do I hang on every word, I seem to be the only one asking follow up questions. HELLO PEOPLE. The information and ideas he waxes about are why this job is worth taking, why it's best to work for the best people, even if you're at the bottom of the totem pole.

I've only had one project from him directly. As I went into his office to collect waste paper (it was my cleaning day) he looked up from his computer.

Mr.Money : Thanks....Shit!
Underemployed: What?
Mr.Money: I didn't read the email you sent me.
He finds Underemployed email amongst several in his inbox. Reads her findings.
Mr.Money: This is great. This is fascinating. Thank you so much. This is just what I was looking for.
Underemployed: Great. Let me know what my next step is whenever it's time to move forward.

My thinking is to do 110% on any and every project/task/favor asked of me by Chef and by Mr. Money. If I keep them lovin' it, it will be a lot harder for the Superiors to get rid of me when the month is over, even if the girl who trained me does return from Cali and resumes working.

I've been stressed out this week, figuring out what my role in the office is, who I can trust, and how important any given task is. But in spite of all of that, I think I'm kind of hitting it out of the park.

Stay tuned for week 2!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oh, You Really Do Need To Check That Blackberry. Or, An Apology to Those I've Judged.

I get it. I didn't used to get it. Now I do.

I've never had a job where I needed to be available when I wasn't on the clock. It never made sense to me why I would need to be. What could I do from home anyway, I'd think to myself back when I was working in an arts administration office, I'll be back in the office on Monday morning and if it was really important they'd call me. And every once in a while my boss would call and I'd go to the office or do something time sensitive. I didn't have or need internet on my phone.

At the new (restaurant) office job, they gave me a blackberry. This blackberry is synced to the 5 email accounts I manage: my own, the 2 reservation email accounts and the 2 general questions accounts. I also get voicemails delivered into my email inbox. Awesome. Although the front of house managers deal with them during the weekend hours, I learned last night (saturday) at cocktail hour why I need to check the fucking blackberry, even though its supposedly my day off. The reason is- it's a restaurant! Weekends = busy time!

In my inbox was a time sensitive email request- someone wanted us to call her so she could buy someone else some appetizers as an apology for not being able to make it to the dinner. The recipient was to dine at 5. She emailed at 4. I checked the blackberry at 5:30. I immediately forwarded the request to the foh manager with a quick "I just read this. I'm out of the office thought you should take a look." I also bccd the PR director/chef's p.a. because they want to monitor all my emails to see if I'm up to par. I got a prompt response saying that the manager had spoken with the customer earlier- it must have been one of the million voicemails I haven't listened to yet.

I did absolutely nothing wrong. I was told foh monitors this stuff when I'm out of the office. It's not my responsibility to do this stuff over the weekend. But, this is so confusing to me. I didn't look bad for missing the email, did I? If so, really?

Question: If you have a work blackberry, how often do you have to check it over the weekend? I say every 3-4 hours should do. NYC Big Law Firm Quinn Emanuel has a once an hour and always before bed policy.

Readers, tell me what to do!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ode To Kelly Cutrone. Part 1.

OSure, I bought her book hoping for advice about working in a fast paced, diva driven office environment but instead got her general musings about how to learn who I am. Although her description of fashion pr as her yogic ashram falls on deaf ears, Kelly Cutrone has wisdom to offer me. Below are some amazing clips from Bravo's "Kell on Earth." After a busy second day at the office, I have a new found zeal in watching these.

Legit, I have been given speeches at the new office like the one Kelly gives at the end of this clip. Except the part about crying. And her book-title-worthy advice is one I plan on following for the rest of my life.

On why I should be busy and stressed out:

Why it's bad to commit legitimate crimes. Particularly crimes related to or benefiting from my job:

How not to answer phones (this clip takes place at Kelly's company)

The restaurant office I now work in only has 2 male permanent staffers, but is run by a male chef/owner. One of the two men in the office is the only person in the office to not be on the main floor in a semi-private workspace. He's a big deal. But of the worker bees, only one man's in the trenches. I think Kelly would have lots to say about it, including that maybe the reason the women in my office are such type-A stone-faced crazies is because they are fighting a little harder than the men to be taken as seriously in their careers. Plus she mocks Ryan Seacrest to his face. Twice.

Kelly, teach me how to toughen up and work in a legit for profit office environment. And how to look great while doing it.