Corner House Musings Continued.../ By
When I first started as manager at The Corner House I asked the owner what the difference between gross and net profit was.
No, really, I did.
Everything froze for a moment, the birds stopped singing in the trees, the coffee machine ground to a halt. To her credit she merely stared unblinkingly at me for a fraction of time (whilst she wildly calculated the risk she'd taken) before launching in to a 'Finance for Idiots' explanation: “Imagine you have a hundred pounds...”
Larabelle, my predecessor and educator, has fielded so many mind numbingly stupid questions from me its a wonder I haven't found her rocking in a corner. She sometimes draws pictures to explain things to me. And she does this on whatsapp whilst dandling a baby on her knee. The Corner House was her baby until she had an actual baby and she has bit by bit handed me the reins with great grace and kindness.
Everyone I work with in one way or another has had to teach me something they probably didn't think they'd have to teach me.
“Ali. ALI! How do I get someone to come and look at this beer thingy that doesn't work?”
“You see that number on the wall right next to the beer barrel?”
“Call that number and ask them to send someone.”
“Okay. And will they know what I'm talking about?”
“Yes. Just say you're calling from the – I'll do it.”
“Okay great! Thanks. Busy busy!”
I shuffle some papers.
“Ali. ALI! We need bin liners and -”
“I do that order on Fridays.”
“Right. Well there's hardly any Twisted Nose Gin left -”
“I've ordered some already.”
“Okay, good, great. Good job everyone, keep it up.”
During one of my early meetings with the owner she gave me some golden advice:
“The secret to good management is surrounding yourself with people who are better at something than you and then letting them crack on with it.”
Never let it be said that I don't listen.
But I am learning things. And I'm better at my job now than I was three months ago. The first time I had to arrange for a man from Dyno-rod to come I was so amazed that he actually showed up and fixed things I embraced him like a long lost friend and kissed him on both cheeks. I'm told this is unnecessary. But then on the two subsequent visits he's made he's always greeted me with a bear hug and a 'two sugars just a dash of milk sweetheart.' I feel like we're old friends now. His name's Rob and he and his wife are in Majorca at the moment so I'm not allowed to call him.
In the words of Blanche Dubois: 'I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.' Though I think she was largely talking about sex. And that's really frowned upon in a managerial capacity. Never let it be said that I don't listen.
The place is starting to feel like mine. As do the staff. They are mine. And if one of them leaves me for any reason at all (Damn you Karon and your glowing baby growing betrayal!) I will take it in much the same vein as I would being dumped. Three of my girls used to work with me at my last job and I brought them with me as a sort of security blanket. There's Janna who handles all my ailments with the stock phrase “Here, drink some water.” There's Sam who can answer most questions with “Yup, did it already.” Sophie who does one shift a week is basically a mum from the 1980's trapped in a 20 year old body “Everything looks better with a bit of parsley on top.” And now Ben has joined us. Ben and I worked together for a few years a while back and we compliment each other in that everything I hate doing he quite likes and vice versa. He is also growing a
magnificent red beard which you should really come and see. Laura is with us for a while before going travelling and Hannah is back for a bit before heading off to Canada. They are young and free to come and go but Ali, Karon, Simon and Ben are not allowed to do that. I'm trying to find a way of putting that in a blood signed contract.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the chefs at this point.
There's this joke about how all chefs are basically pyromaniacs with a knife fetish who work in kitchens because its the only place their tourette's is considered par for the course.
Our chefs are NOTHING like that.
They skip in to work every morning fresh as a daisy and rearing to go. They often wear flowers in their hair and listen to Joni Mitchell whilst prepping. They all drink nothing stronger than camomile and can be found weeping in butchers shops. Show them a 14 hour day and they will show you a heart giddy with anticipation.
I've enjoyed writing fiction from an early age.
Something you won't know unless you've worked in a kitchen or its vicinity is that chefs suffer the most physical ailments of anyone you'll ever meet. One chef sleeps with breathing apparatus stuck to his face because for the brief few hours he gets to be unconscious his body decides to try and kill him. It thinks its doing him a favour. Don't get me started on the varicose veins from constant standing, the burns, the scars, the high blood pressure. They can move seamlessly from humour to a towering rage and back again before you've had time to whisper 'Aneurism'. And no, being a chef does not mean that you eat wonderful food all the time. They all eat like 14 year old boys.
That said, if you show them a little appreciation, make them a coffee or take them a cold beer at the end of a long shift they will always have your back. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and care enormously about what they produce and how. The Corner House uses local produce wherever possible. They're passionate about cooking, all of them. If you ever meet an indifferent chef he won't be a chef for long. The positive feedback from a table means a lot. You know how it is when you're throwing a dinner party for say eight people and you're fretting that your soufflé won't rise? Now imagine there are between forty and eighty coming for dinner and a few people you weren't expecting might rock up too. And some of them have deathly allergies. It's important to love your chef. There's no magic in that room at the back. Just a lot of hard work, heat, and a stunning amount of preparation.
Over two decades of working in this environment on and off I've watched gangly monosyllabic kitchen porters become confident talented chefs. You have to learn to be disciplined, take criticism and praise (both can be equally hard) and be part of a team.
They always play tricks on the new kitchen porters. Always. You will have heard about those. Doe eyed kids being sent off to find glass hammers, tartan paint, salmon feet, or walking down to the hardware shop to ask for a 'long wait'.
They're a bit tribal really. The nature of the job means they often spend more time with each other than they do their families.
The Corner House is small by restaurant standards but it produces a vast array of different dishes and all of our menus; breakfast, lunch and dinner cater generously for the gluten intolerant and those that prefer not to eat anything that once had a face.
On the 18th we're having our first pop up vegan and vegetarian night and the bookings are flowing in.
Tuesday's Acoustic night is slowly finding its feet too. I've been sticking posters up around town and handing out flyers but I find asking a guest face to face if they'll pop in one night works best. Usually whilst holding their plate a food just out of reach and staring at them balefully.
People think of us in terms of food and I want them to know we're a bar too. We have an array of bottles that would give the most hardened of drinkers pause. I've been cataloguing our spirits. There's stuff I've never heard of. One chocolate liqueur called 'Mozart' baffles me. I tried it and its really nice. Trying everything is a very very important part of my job. At the moment I'm suggesting it as a shot or something to pour over ice cream as a boozy dessert. Unless you have any better ideas? Simon and I are compiling a list of cocktails. He's already done a few and he's laminated
them so he means business. He has been quietly biding his time by the coffee machine waiting for someone to let him off the leash and have at it. He loves the cocktails and he's really good at them. They'll be on the menu next week so you should really pop in and try one. Because y'know, we're a bar too.
A few weeks ago the owner printed off a ten foot X reading from the till and told me to study it as it would really help me understand what we we sell, how much, what that means etc.
After a particularly long day I took some scissors to it and made one of those banners of paper men holding hands. I then strung it up and took a picture of it which I sent to her saying “I really feel like I'm getting my head around these figures.”
She texted back: “We need to talk.”
Probably about how hilarious I am and that humour is a perfectly good substitute for business acumen.
Everything is going to be just fine. Every new job comes with a learning curve and so what if that curve is more of a bell curve? I now know the difference between gross and net profit. It's 20%. Right? I'm fine. This is fine.