Wednesday, August 29, 2012

So you want to retire to Belize and have a small home business? Story here!




 Stories to tell in this new life.
 It's been exactly 52 days15 hours and 46 minutes since I opened my new venture on Caye Caulker.
I came out of retirement to do this.

 I always wanted a beach bar, it was on my bucket list of things to do before I die.
The notion that this was the best job in the world occurred to me way back in the 1980's from the time I watched Tom Cruise as a bartender on a Caribbean Beach in the movie Cocktail.
I have spent many hours, days and weeks in beach bars from St. Maarten to Curacao and Aruba, Kenya, Honduras &; Venezuela etc....I can easily make a song out of THAT experience!

Let me get closer to the point.
I made an error in judgement.
I. Have. Never. Worked. So. Long. Hard. In. My. Life!

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the job itself, I hate the long hours. I am just trying to be part-time.
I enjoy the challenge and new learning experience.
Most days are fun, especially when I am propped on the other side of the bar with cocktail in hand looking more like a tourist attraction: than a boss.
 I am also on days, the cook, the dishwasher; the waitress; the shopper; the cleaner; the cooler stacker; PR etc.

  "Talk about having to kiss some booty & I hate salty ass booties" *line stolen from RHOA.

Oh the people! The people are what makes the memories. Good OR Bad.
In previous entries, I have documented the decline of my people skills after years of taking abuse in this industry.  

While I can write about the cool people that come here, like the couple on vacation with their young kid in a stroller who sit everyday  at lunchtime for the past week, on the lounge chairs near the beach. They lie there and seem very much in love, cuddling while they sip on beer and margaritas during  a leisurely lunch while baby lies fascinated by the seagulls flying overhead. They spend hours together talking, watching the Barrier Reef, just a short distance away from the palm fronds hanging above their heads providing shady relief. This type of feel good story is memorable and put a smile to my face, but it is the conflicted encounters that I remember the most and inspire me to write.

Today was off the chain.  I suspect I will have some angry customers writing on Trip Advisor shortly and that's that! I shall not lose sleep over such.

I had been having trouble with my Chef since I opened. At first I hired a couple. The Chef was very good, thought us a few tricks. The arguments between them started not long after. The man (main chef) quit a few weeks after opening for reasons I can't even recall.
No big deal, she, the next half of the duo said she would stay.
Not much changed in the kitchen as far as food quality, in fact I believe it got better and the new assistant had a kitchen of her own in the past so came with experience.
 Things went smoothly for a few more weeks. Then ex- chef would show up at the restaurant at night notoriously drunk and obnoxious to the point I had to call the "popos" & he was subsequently escorted out by police.
His wife was still employed at this establishment. I just don't know why he would show up at her workplace drunk like that? I don't see the sense in their way of thinking especially after losing one paycheck in the family only recently...?!

A few days later, I came back to the restaurant around dinner time when patron's were again arriving at rush hour, to be told by the bartender that the drunken man over at the corner table has been sleeping crouched over his food for at least three hours now.

"Why didn't anybody call me and tell me, or get him out of here!!!" I screamed.

I called the Police, who are fast becoming my friends, and told them that one of their own is apparently comatose or dead asleep over a cold plate and to please come and retrieve/revive him.

A half hour passes and I call the station (1 block away) to inform once again  that I am losing customers as a result of this nonsense, and I am about to take my camera out and take pictures. This time they were immediately over and gently woke him and escorted him out....

As one leaned on the other stumbling out the door, I meant to say "who is going to pay for this food?" as I walked behind Inspector Clousteau,  but somehow stopped dead in my tracks as my index and pinky finger was about to tap a shoulder on top of another shoulder.

On second thought, I let it slide as I was happy to see them exit and did not want to delay the unpleasant scenario for another second.

Yesterday, Saturday - another day in this new life; a nice upper-middle class family from First World had come over to our island for a few hours on one of those fancy catamaran day cruises that visit almost daily from San Pedro. All seemed happythroughout lunch until the man came over to the bar to pay with his credit card. At this time, the wife and teenagers exited and were waiting on the main street outside.
 "the credit card machine is out of paper" tells me the flustered waitress.
Oh chite, we don't have extra and the bank is closed was my first thought. 
While she decided to run the card manually which takes a little longer, the gentleman engaged me in idle chatter to will the time and awkwardness of waiting away.

He: "are you the owner?
Me: "I am"

He: "When did you move here?"
Me: "I was born here, I am from here"
He: "Did you buy this beach land?"
Me: "No, it's been in my family for 50 years"
He: "Is real estate prices the same as in San Pedro island?"
Me: "yes"

The wife who was standing outside waiting for him,watching our 3-5 min conversation at the bar, couldn't stand it any longer. She barges in and walks up to him and rudely interrupts:

She: "Is this what you do while we are all standing outside in the sun waiting for you?"
He: "I'm trying to pay the Goddam bill and they are still running the card!"

I turned to her and said hello.
 She just gave me the cold head to toe stare as if I had just attempted to steal her husband. I don't have time for this. Before my private thoughts fly out of my mouth ,what a bitch, I returned the icy look. She quickly decided not to mess with me & turned her verbal fury towards him.
I made a hasty exit from the exchange while they continued to argue.

Then there is today. Sunday. The real test of my patience.
One day after that last scenario.

After two days off on sick leave, she the Chef showed up to work then abruptly quit.
Personal problems combined with me telling her that her personal problems are affecting her work and I need a reliable chef pushed her over the edge. I might not have been sensitive, but I have been working in the kitchen for 2 days straight and reliability is important.

 I once again jumped into the fray as acting assistant chef and the assistant chef became the main chef. The crowd poured in and I was not there to be the extra wait staff/bartender as would be the case when needed.

It's rush-hour. Shit about to hit the fan I just know it. It did!

Sunday's are my best days for business so I kind of expected the crowd, the problem was that I did not expect the Chef to quit abruptly; was totally caught off-guard. Deer in the headlights.

I quickly shifted into gear, as I do, when I am about to freak out.
 As we ran around frantic in the kitchen like rats in a lab cage, the orders came pouring in and the wait staff was already inundated outside to ask them for any help.
We were doing our best, honestly......but we were slower than normal and that irritate a few patrons and then things got worse ....and I didn't keep my cool, I failed under duress.
The first true stress test (the earlier ones were training) of my  new biz and I couldn't chill at the Chat 'N' Chill.
 I  was disappointed in myself.

Waitress interrupts: "The Indian couple in the corner want some extra rice"
I stop deadpan in the middle of what I was doing.
 I frantically scoop up rice and give her on a side plate.
a minute later....
Waitress: "The Indian Couple decides they rather have tortilla chips, they don't like white rice"
Me: "But they just ate a whole side of white rice and asked for more".
I stop what I was doing, frantically pour some nacho chips in a bowl and hand it to her.

two minutes later....
Waitress back in the kitchen.
 "The Indian couple are stressing me out, now they want to know if you can curry some rice instead"
It seemed complex to me when we were already pressed for time.
Me: "No, Coconut rice it is, we are too busy"

a minute later....
Waitress: "they just are not happy!"
Me: "I don't have time to care. Can you ask them to give you a break to serve someone else?"

3 minutes later.
Waitress: "the 2 young girls with the baby are refusing to pay for the Ginger Salad"
Me: "Why?"
Waitress: "they said they ordered it as a side and not a main salad"
Me: "tell them they got a main salad but I will charge them as if it is a side order.

a minute later.....
Waitress: "by the way...these two have been working my ass all through lunch rush hour..back and forth, back and forth,...they asked for a To-Go container earlier and I watched them pack the other side dishes with the salad ..... but they are refusing to pay for the ginger salad as a side since it was  our mix-up in size.....AND GET THIS BOSS!?!....they are also refusing to pay for any of the other side dishes ordered since they say it was small and not worth the $2. usd each!"

Me: "Ok, tell them to forget the ginger salad completely, scratch it off the bill, but tell them they have to pay for the extra sides, which they ordered, the didn't have to order it if they didn't like the price....tell them that."

a minute later.....
Waitress: "they are refusing to pay at all and insist to see you"

By now, I have been interrupted in the busy kitchen so many times by these two annoying sets of customers that I was becoming slowly irate, they were keeping me back from serving other's customer's meals!! That boiled to a crescendo when I sat down at their table with as stone cold a face as was stareing me back.

Me: "what is the problem with your bill?"
She: "the whole ginger salad thing has been a mix-up on your part"
Me: "I have completely scratched that $9 off your bill. What other problem do you have with the bill?
She looks at the other girl as if I am annoying them and rolls her eyes into their socket before looking at me again.
She: "We are refusing the $6 for the 3 side orders, they are too small."
Me: "No! You have packed up all your sides for dinner tonight.  Any other questions?"
She: "You are a bitch!"
Me: "So are you, any other questions?"
She: "I'm not going to recommend this place"
Me: "So be it. Pay your bill and get out!"

I stormed back to the kitchen. I sent the waitress back to collect and they paid their bill, but they lingered another 15 minutes for some reason. I imagined they were contemplating how to fcuk me over.

The American family who was sitting at the table next to them and overheard the entire exchange -apologized profusely for his fellow Americans (presuming they were Americans with no class).
 I accepted his sympathy and said with a weak smile, that it was a daily struggle...hehehe..

Meanwhile, just back in the kitchen....

Waitress: "the Indian Couple also want to speak with the manager, they are asking for you"
Me: "Here we go again"

I know this isn't going to be nice, the bell has rung for round 2.
 I'm still recovering from the first round.
Nevertheless, I marched out of the kitchen straight over to their table mentally prepared like Mohammed Ali, not to be defeated in what I am beginning to think will be a battle.
The man stood up to face me, the woman remained seated, both with ragged frowns on their faces.

She: "I want to tell you your service was very slow, we waited a whole hour"
Me: "I appreciate your patience, we have had a challenging day"
She: "You also did not give us curry rice like we asked"
Me: "I didn't have time, sorry, I gave you everything else you asked for"

The man steps forward  to look me squarely in the face.
He: "that's not the point, in America our meal would be for free for having to wait this long"
Me: "Well lucky for me we are not in America, bye bye!"

At this time, I noticed she had the exact amount of money sitting on the bill on the table. $52.00 Belizean dollars.  A solid fifty and two dollar coins sat on top the bill displaying the figure.
I snatched it away like a thief in the dark with just precision and timing to take them off-guard, then  hurriedly left. I looked back finding a way to smooth the abrupt end to our conversation.
Me: Bye Bye, Enjoy the rest of your day!
They had worked me too hard this night for me to want to comp them anything.

A little while later, the waitress runs into the kitchen half hysterical half laughing, shaking her head from side to side in disbelief.
She says: "Boss, please hurry the food, there is a grown man with grey beard who just screamed at me while fist thomping the table like a two year old screaming he wants his food Noooowwww!"
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greenhauler said...

This story is so entertaining!! Sorry you had to go through all that commotion those couple of days. I guess that comes with the territory... I'm an American married to a Belizean lady and have been to Caye Calker a few times. I love the laid-back feel of the place; will try to visit your restaurant upon our next BZE visit. Good luck with the customers!

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