The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
The manager read the application for a second time. He noticed the spelling errors, but ignored them. A busboy didn’t need to be an intellectual giant. The only requirement was to be able to lift the dishes off the table and into the tub, without breaking them. He asked, “So you are here for the busboy job?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dan answered.
“It says here that you graduated high school,” the man said thinking that his application didn’t reflect too well on the education system.
“That’s right, Sir,” Dan replied.
The manager shook his head looking over the simple errors in spelling. The guy didn’t spell the word contractor correctly in his experience section. Thinking that they would let anyone graduate, he said, “It pays minimum wage.”
“I know,” Dan said wondering what was taking so long in getting the job.
“You were making eleven dollars an hour.”
“You’re going to leave here as soon as someone offers you a dollar more,” the manager said.
Shaking his head, Dan said, “No. I’ll be around here until I learn the business.”
The manager sat back in his tiny office. It was just barely large enough for the small desk and two chairs. The chain’s management team felt that having a larger office would keep the shift manager in it too much of the day. They wanted the manager out on the floor, watching what was going on in the restaurant. Raising an eyebrow, he figured that someone had told him that a good way to get a job was to tell the interviewer that they intended to have his job one day. He sighed and said, “You want to learn the business.”
“That’s right. I want to know everything that I can learn about running a restaurant.”
The guy was looking stupider to him every minute. He glanced down at the misspellings on the application and asked, “And what will you do with this knowledge?”
“I’ll leave here and start a pizzeria,” Dan answered with a smile.
Having expected him to say that he’d take his job, the manager looked up at Dan in surprise. He asked, “Why a pizzeria?”
Using the current draft of the mission statement that he was developing, Dan answered, “I want to create a place that helps people get together for fun, food, and talk.”
“Fun, food, and talk? That sounds like a mission statement,” the manager said.
“It’s the beginning of one,” Dan replied. He didn’t like the talk part of it, but couldn’t find a word that would be better.
“How is being a busboy going to help you?” the manager asked.
“I’ll be able to learn about creating a proper environment for my customers. Even though I’ll just be a busboy, I can learn things. I know it isn’t glamorous, but it’s best to know how to do the ugly parts of a job as well as the glamorous parts,” Dan answered.
“So how long will it take you to acquire the knowledge you desire?” the manager asked. He looked over at Dan with a raised eyebrow. He was the manager of a chain restaurant, but it hadn’t been his life’s ambition. He had started out as a cook and just stayed with the job.
“I don’t know. I’ve got to see how the cook manages the kitchen, how the waitresses deal with the customers, and how the hostess deals with seating costumers. It’s liable to take a good deal of time,” Dan said.
Thinking he was making a mistake, the manager said, “I’ll hire you for the graveyard shift. You’ll show up at ten at night and leave at six in the morning.”
“Good,” Dan said. “When do I start?”
“Tomorrow night. You’ll work for Rob Rendell. I suggest that you get a little sleep before coming into work,” the manager said.
“Yes, Sir,” Dan said. He rose and extended his hand. He said, “You won’t be sorry that you hired me.”
The very first job that Dan had when he showed up at work was to clean up the men’s room. It was a pretty nasty job. Someone had been sick in it and had missed the toilet. Dan nearly threw up from the smell. Holding his breath, he went to work with the mop and pail. While he was at it, he cleaned everything. He scrubbed the toilets, mopped the floor, refilled the paper towel bin, cleaned the mirror, and wiped down the sink.
On the door was a little sheet that was to be filled out when the bathroom was inspected and cleaned. There was a list of items that had been checked, and places for the person to enter their initials, the date, and the time. Dan looked over it and spent the time necessary to puzzle out the items. There was a notice across the top that the bathroom was checked hourly. He noticed that no one had bothered with checking off the items in several days. He filled out the form before leaving the room.
Dan went out to the floor of the restaurant and started busing tables. It was a pretty low skilled job. He took a gray bin to the table, put all of the dishes and trash in the bin, and then wiped down the table with a damp cloth. Once the table was clean, he would set out some paper placemats and the silverware wrapped in a paper napkin. When he had filled a bin with dirty dishes, he carried it back to the dish washer.
The Hispanic guy at the dish washing machine took the bin and loaded a couple of racks with the dirty dishes. There were different racks for glasses and plates. When a rack was filled, he put it through the washer. Dan’s job was to take the racks with glasses out to the service stations and the stacks of plates to the kitchen.
When he wasn’t busy busing tables, Dan went around with a pot of coffee, a pitcher of iced tea, or a pitcher of water to refill drinks. It didn’t take long to pass by a couple dozen tables asking the people if they wanted refills. Although he stayed pretty busy, there were times when he had little else to do.
Business picked up around midnight when the bar crowd stopped off for something to eat and it stayed busy until almost three in the morning. Every hour, Dan went through to the men’s room and performed the hourly inspection. He assumed, and would later find out that he was right in his assumption, that one of the waitresses was doing the same thing for the woman’s room.
At two, Rob Rendell went over to Dan and said, “You’ve got a half hour break coming up.”
“Oh,” Dan said.
“When you get off your break, take a quick run at busing the tables and then vacuum the floor. When everything is good to go in the dining area, go help the cooks clean up the kitchen. They’ll show you what to do,” Rob said.
“Thanks. I’ll get my lunch out of the car,” Dan said.
Rob laughed at the idea of bringing a sack lunch to a restaurant. He said, “You work in a restaurant. Tell the cooks what you want to eat, and have a real meal.”
“I don’t want to spend that kind of money,” Dan said. The job only paid minimum wage and a dinner would represent two hours of wages.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s a job benefit. Everyone who works here, eats here,” Rob said shaking his head.
“Oh,” Dan said in surprise. He hadn’t given much thought to the matter. He’d have to come up with some sort of policy concerning eating at the pizza shop.
Dan had just settled at the break table with a hamburger and fries when Rob sat down with him. Rob had been watching Dan work. Most busboys waited at the stations until sent to a table to bus it. Usually he had to tell the busboy when to do the other little tasks around the place. He’d been impressed that he hadn’t had to direct Dan’s efforts. He said, “I understand that you want to open a restaurant one day.”
Swallowing his bite of hamburger, Dan said, “That’s right.”
“Do you still want to do that after today?”
Nodding his head, Dan said, “Yes.”
“You had a lot of dirty jobs today,” Rob said. He had nearly been sick when he had gone into the bathroom at the start of the shift.
“I know. I learned a lot about the restaurant business today,” Dan said.
“Like what?” Rob asked.
Dan replied, “I was thinking about the business from the perspective of selling food. I didn’t think about cleaning the restaurant. I realized that I was going to have to spend a bit more money than I had anticipated when setting up the place. I’m going to have to get mops, dishwashers, paper towels, and all of that other stuff.”
“There are four major jobs in a restaurant like this — customer service, food preparation, maintenance, and managing. Most folks only think about the first two, but the last two are just as important. Nothing turns off customers faster than a dirty restaurant. A place won’t stay in business long if you run out of food, fail to schedule enough people, or make people wait too long for service,” Rob said. He added, “If you run your own restaurant there’s also marketing.”
Dan ate his hamburger thinking what Rob had said. He asked, “Why was there only one busboy scheduled tonight?”
“It’s a weekday. We always schedule only one busboy on weekdays. Friday and Saturday we have two busboys scheduled,” Rob answered.
“What if I hadn’t worked out?” Dan asked.
“I would have had the dishwasher carry out the clean dishes and pick up the dirty ones. I would have been a lot busier and the waitresses would have had to bus their own tables,” Rob answered.
That was usually a very bad night at the restaurant. Nothing was worse than dealing with a bunch of waitresses who suddenly had to start busing their own tables. Not only did they have to work twice as hard, but their tips tended to suffer too. That tended to make them cranky.
“Oh,” Dan said, “I would have thought that it would be better to schedule two busboys. It seems to me like there was enough work for two.”
“You have to balance the cost against the benefits,” Rob replied with a smile. He rose and said, “I’ve got to watch the floor.”
Dan ate his meal thinking about what he had learned. He was pretty sure that in a few days he wouldn’t be quite so rushed. There were tricks to every job and he had yet to learn the tricks for being a busboy. When he finished his meal, he took his dishes over to the washer and then returned to work.
Cleaning the kitchen was an experience. There were wood slats that had to be pulled out and scrubbed clean with bleach. The floor had to be washed. The grease that had collected over the day had to be cleaned off the exhaust vents. It was hard work and kept him busy for two hours. When he went out to bus the tables, he noticed that there wasn’t a single customer in the place. Rather than sitting around, the waitresses were busy filling the condiments and cleaning the workstations.
He took a moment to watch the action and then made a sweep of the room to bus the tables where the last few customers had been seated. As the clock moved towards six, business started picking up again. The early breakfast crowd filtered in to get a meal before heading off to a busy workday.
At the end of his shift, Dan sat down at the break table to fill out his time sheet. Mary, one of the waitresses, dropped ten dollars in front of him. Looking at the money, he asked, “What’s that?”
“Your tip,” the waitress answered. The tips had been good that night. The tables had been cleaned quickly, so that she wasn’t stuck with a dozen dirty tables and no customers. She hadn’t had to run around trying to refill beverages, and deal with orders. The customers were happy with the service.
“My tip?” Dan asked confused. He wondered which of the customers had left him a tip.
She smiled at him and said, “You helped me out, today. I appreciate it.”
“Thank you,” Dan said. One by one the waitresses stopped by and handed him a few dollars each before heading home.
With an extra thirty dollars in his pocket, Dan stepped out of the diner to head home. It was a few minutes after six and the sky was still dark. His first day in the food service industry had come to an end, and he was dead tired.
The rest of the family was in the kitchen having breakfast when Dan arrived home from work. His mother looked at him and said, “You don’t look quite as bad as the first day you came home from the construction job.”
“I don’t feel quite as bad as that day,” Dan replied with a grin. He went over to the cabinet and got out a bowl. He would have a bit of cereal and then head off to bed. Working nights was going to be tough.
“So how was it?” his father asked.
Dan answered, “It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t too bad.”
“That’s good,” his father said. He still wondered if Dan wasn’t making a mistake by taking a job as a busboy.
“I learned a lot considering that it was just my first day,” Dan said filling his bowl with cereal.
“What did you learn?” his mother asked.
Smiling, Dan answered, “It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t too bad.”
The family laughed and then got down to the serious business of eating. Their day was just beginning while his was coming to an end. As they finished eating, each person took their dishes to the sink and then headed off to get ready for another day. When his mother went to wash the dishes, Dan said, “Leave them. I’ll take care of them before I go to bed.”
“Thanks, Dan,” his mother said. She had to get ready for work and appreciated the extra five minutes he gave her.
After finishing his cereal, Dan rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. He went on to take a shower and get ready for bed. Everyone else was gone and the sun was just beginning to rise when he fell asleep.