Thursday, March 12, 2020
“Now we are in March madness, aren’t we?”
They sat in a windowless basement office. The door shut and cold pizza in the middle of the table. Excel spreadsheets in front of each person with tabs for the kitchen staff, the floor crew, office personnel, and the maintenance crew.
“If we’re limited to fifty percent of capacity, then we’ve got to cut a third of our staff,” said the restaurant’s General Manager.
Chef spoke first.
“So, what are you talking about? I have five cooks that already cover thirteen shifts in seven days.”
The restaurant’s owner tapped her fingers on the table.
“We have no choice if we want to keep the restaurant going,” said the owner.
“What are you talking about here?” asked Chef.
The General Manager looked at the owner. She nodded her head then turned away.
“Two what?” Chef asked.
The General Manager reached for the pizza box, but realizing the pizza was cold he pushed away from the table.
“You’ve got to lay off two cooks.”
The General Manager shook his head.
“We’ve got no choice.”
Chef leaned back in his chair and squeezed his eyes shut. The grill cook had been with Chef for seven years. He never called in sick and always picked up his phone if Chef called on his day off. Last week the cook’s son received a diagnosis for an anxiety disorder and needed to see a therapist. The Garde Manger cook started with Chef years ago. Everyone knew they once were involved, but that happens in a kitchen. One saute cook put out three thousand dollars last week to bail his brother out of Rikers on a trumped-up drug charge. Another saute cook is splitting from his wife and just started looking for an apartment. A garbage truck hit the roundsman’s sister and he buried her three weeks ago. The pastry chef came to work last week with two black eyes. Everyone begged her to stop seeing her girlfriend, but she is reluctant to follow advice and says work is her Happy Place.
The floor manager did not have it any easier than Chef. If anything, he had it harder because he had to pick the names of four servers. Deciding who to lay off in the office was easiest of all the choices. The bookkeeper did not hide the fact she planned to leave at the end of the year and retire to a condo in Fort Lauderdale.
What happened next was not pretty. The names of hard-working decent people were read aloud as though they were items in an auto parts catalog. The restaurant owner kept quiet during that discussion. She crossed and uncrossed her legs while scrolling her phone. Or at least she did not say anything until everyone decided they needed to go upstairs and get fresh air.
“I hope you realize this thing is not going away so fast,” said the restaurant’s owner. She looked at her phone and started reading aloud from her screen without making eye contact with anyone.
“Cases in the United States have now passed 1300, including 38 deaths.”
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