This person’s basic theme was “conspiracy of silence my ass!,” with variations on that basic theme suggesting that if I were to be elected or appointed to a position of much importance within our corrupt county government, I would then do as the others do. I would go along to get along. I too would end up being corrupt. That’s the way it is, the way it always was and the way it will always be. Yes, even Markie would be reduced to what our county employees have been reduced to.
The recent vacation pay flap from the sheriff’s department was used as an example. I was told that if I were the new top cop, I would have no choice but to do what was expected of me. I would pretend to not notice that certain officials were gaming the system, essentially being paid twice for their vacation time, sick time, personal time and what have you. Yes, I was told, that’s the way it is, the way it always was, the way it will always be and bucking the system would backfire on me or anyone else that dared to change it.
Well, I’m here to tell you that one person can make a difference. One person can stick to their guns, provided that they are doing what’s right. I’m here to chronicle for you that if guided by principles, one person can change a system from the inside out, even when the people within that system are determined to maintain the status quo. Want to know how? How? By doing what’s right.
For the umpteenth time, I used to be a restaurant manager. A general manager, that is. And before I abruptly turned my back on the hospitality industry, I was told by company officials that I had the potential to be a district manager, a position that would have had me overseeing not one, but six or seven restaurants. Yeah, whatever. With greatly enhanced responsibility comes ulcers, hair loss and chain-smoking. In my mind, after much reflection, it’s better to be a grunt.
But before I became a general manager, obviously, I was an assistant manager. As an assistant, I was known as an aggressive and unforgiving up-and-comer. Unforgiving in the sense that, I did as my college professors had trained me to do…I managed as if the investment that was being made into my store was my own. I took it personally. I managed as if it was my money on the firing line.
If you, as an employee, were following the employee handbook to the letter of the law, you and I would get along just fine. Conversely, if you were sidestepping any minute detail from within that handbook, you and I were on a collision course. For me, there were no gray areas. There was right and there was wrong. And if you chose to do wrong whereas company policy was concerned, I would force you to comply, or force you right out the back door. I was aggressive, I was theatrical when provoked (put the fear of god into the onlookers whenever possible), but most importantly, I was consistent. You never had to guess where I stood when the profitability or the cohesiveness of the operation came into question.
At that time, our company had a habit of periodically transferring assistant managers so as to season them, and to make certain they did not get too chummy with employees by staying in the same store for too, too long. And when first my name came up on the transfer list, there was no shortage of general managers who clamored to have me transferred into their stores. They knew of my reputation as a hard-charger. They wanted me. Or should I say, they thought they wanted me. But as things so often worked out, they really didn’t want me. No, after getting a dose of my unwavering, my unbending act, what they really wanted was to not have their apple cart upset.
Case in point: I was transferred into a store in which the back-of-house employees were allowed to drink beer during their shifts. According to the general manager, it didn’t cause any real harm, and he felt it helped to keep employees longer than he otherwise would have. I was appalled and told him this was a fireable offense no matter how he tired to justify it, but, as always after being transferred, I laid low for a week or two.
And after I had seen enough, after I watched and listened to drunk short order cooks needlessly rip into waitresses, after having had enough of that sort of unbelievably foul-mouthed nonsense, I waltzed into the store one afternoon and stapled a very terse and very bluntly worded bulletin on the employee bulletin board which went as follows: Anyone caught consuming or in possession of alcohol on these premises will be immediately terminated and escorted off of the property by the police.
Like it or not, Markie has spoken.
Instantly, I was the bad guy. And instantly, said cooks went to the general manager hoping to have not only that bulletin, but that company policy voided all over again. And when that manager stupidly asked me to reconsider, I told him if he failed to back me up and enforce that policy, I would then go over his head and make his boss aware of the drinking that not only went on, but was deliberately overlooked by the manager.
So, as of that day, the drinking came to an abrupt halt, and never resumed afterwards. The cooks despised me. The waitresses were my appreciative and adoring fans. Even some of the very regular customers applauded the move. And that manager had me transferred out of his store the first chance he got.
The thing is, I could really care less who hated me, who punctured my tire, or who the hell is was that trashed my Atlanta Braves license plate. The policies as stipulated by my employer were enforced, and that’s what I was being paid to make certain of. There was no going with the flow for this dedicated shock trooper.
Case in point: I was transferred to a store that was having some serious food cost issues. And being the Chef Ramsey of my company, I was purposely sent there to get the cost of food back to where it should have been. In my learned opinion, when your cost of food is significantly higher than it should be, somebody is stealing. It’s not always true, but it’s the correct problem-solving starting point.
And immediately upon arriving there, I took over the inventorying and ordering, two critically important cost control functions that only the general managers were entrusted with. As far as I was concerned, that general manager should have been embarrassed to have those responsibilities stripped from him. Oddly, he seemed quite content with it.
Now, watching build-tos and consumption rates only reveal so much. So, secretly, I inventoried 20 very expensive food items each and every day. They call this a “key item” inventory. The thinking being, if an employee was going to steal food items, they would most likely make off with something pricey. So I counted the expensive stuff, and matched the actual usage against what the point-of-sale computers were listing as being sold.
And within a couple of weeks, I was not only convinced that theft was afoot, but some rather ballsy theft at that. What the key item counts revealed was that case quantities were going out the back door, not an occasional steak or two. Not a pack of shrimp, cases of shrimp. And when I made the manager aware of my findings, he dismissed them and told me I was heavy-handed and way too suspicious.
Annoyed by his incompetence, I bought two six-packs of beer and sat across the street from the store after closing. And I sat there until it reopened the next morning. Nothing. And I did the same thing the next night and the night after that. Nothing. I was even approached by the police. And when I told them I had the store under surveillance, they seemed genuinely impressed by my detective work.
This was getting tiring, and I decided to give it a go one more night and that would be that. And lo and behold, somewhere about 3 in the morning, the back door opened and the janitor had a hand truck stacked high with cases of frozen food that he deposited into the trunk of his car. The troubling part was that he was not supposed to have a key to not only the back door, but any door at all.
The next morning, when I made the manager aware of what was going on, he told me the janitor had 12 kids, he was in tough financial shape, he was basically good people, he had given him the key, and he asked me to overlook the entire sordid affair. Where’s the harm in temporarily helping the guy out?
After I went over his head, both he and the janitor were fired. The locks were changed, a new general manager and newly hired janitor were brought on board.
And I was immediately transferred out of there by the district manager who was completely embarrassed by the troubling goings-on in one of his stores. Strangely, he was genuinely pissed at me. Hot. He told me so.
Know what? I told him he could go fu>k himself for being so lackadaisical and so trusting and so understanding while a controllable cost was so grossly far out of whack. You see, there’s fixed costs and controllable costs. And if you aren’t controlling what ought to be controlled, your net profit is going to suck. And the way I approached it, the net profit was not going to suck on my watch. Not on my watch!
Case in point: Again, being the Chef Ramsey, being the back-of-house troubleshooter, I was transferred into another store that, again, has having some serious food cost issues. Only, in this case, the key item inventories revealed that food consumption was largely in line with what the point-of-sale computers were telling me. Something was seriously amiss, but there was no food going out the back door. Somebody was stealing, just not stealing food.
But there are plenty of ways to steal from your employer. In restaurants, the stealing of a dozen packets of sweetener by a waitress hurts your profit, but not substantially. And when a cook decides to cook, package and pocket a burger before heading home, it hurts your overall profit, but not significantly. No, when costs and profits are way out of line, but the data stipulates that the theft of product is not the cause, something more sinister and clever is going on.
So I started watching what the waitresses served their guests versus what they were charging them for. This is an ages-old scam usually perpetuated by your more veteran waitresses. Give your friends and/or family free drinks, or free desserts. Or, you can build your tip income by giving freebies to regular customers who wink and nod their way through their dinner, and then leave a tip far above what would normally be expected. I snagged and fired quite a few waitresses that were playing this theft game over the years. Your first clue is sent when regular customers would prefer to sit and wait for a certain waitresses section rather than be seated at the available tables when they arrive. Red flag, baby.
Anyway, after closely monitoring those battleaxes for a couple of weeks, I was satisfied that the waitresses were not giving free food away. So what’s left? The food is not going out the back door. The front-of-house employees are not giving the store away. The inventories, done by myself again, were deftly accurate. The ordering and build-tos were very consistent. What’s left?
The management…that’s all that’s left. I started by monitoring the petty cash funds, the coin vault and the cash variances. A cash variance is the difference between what the cash register says should be in it, and what is actually in it when you count your cash at the end of your shift. A variance of plus or minus one tenth of a percent suggests one of two things are going on. Either somebody is pocketing cash from the register, or your cash handlers, most likely hostesses, are not dispensing the proper change to customers. It’s either theft, or a training issue.
Anyway, everything checked out. No matter where I looked, everything was as it should have been. Or so it seemed.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s more than one way to skin a cat when theft is afoot. Here’s what we’ve got up to this point. No one is stealing case quantities of food. Nobody is making off with fistfuls of cash. Not a single person is giving free food away. Yet, the food cost is significantly higher than where it should be. Any ideas? Can anyone guess what’s wrong with this picture?
Being that I was trained not to trust anyone, and being that Mr. Scannell at L.C.C.C. said when to comes to theft, out of very ten employees, two would never steal, two will steal whatever they can get their hands on and with the other six it depends (experience proves this to be true), I figured that someone from within the ranks of our three-person management staff was making real clever like with the theft routine.
Since I wasn’t a thief, my attention shifted to our other assistant manager, a female I had worked with before and who I seriously doubted could be so deceitfully clever. Put it this way, she was to dumb blondes what Barack Oblahblah is to being obnoxiously full of himself. I knew what to look for, I looked for it, and she was cleared of any further suspicions.
All that remained was the general manager, a man who was being paid quite handsomely to manage this store. A vindictive and overbearing man who constantly berated and browbeat the employees because of the high food cost. He never stopped harping on them, picking on them, or making them miserable because his boss wanted that food cost beaten back into line by yesterday.
And after only a week of auditing the waitresses guest checks, a pattern developed. Every time he worked, every shift, two guest checks turned up missing. And after watching his every move at the cash register, it became apparent that he was purposely neglecting to ring up two guest checks of the large dollar amount variety so that he could pocket the excess cash at the end of his shift. He’d take the customers cash, put the check aside without ringing it up and that would create an overage that he could make off with. It was true. I could document it. The man in charge of the whole shebang was a thief.
So, I got on the blower to corporate and informed his immediate supervisor of the thoroughly disturbing news. What happened next still confounds me. As had happened to me before, he became enraged to learn that I was snooping around on my general manager, his responsibility. And he told me not to tell anyone until he arrived at the store for a face-to-face with me. And even though I had never heard this guy utter a profanity before that day, he was launching F-Bombs faster than North Korea can launch inaccuarate knock-off I.C.B.M.s.
Honestly, I think he was scared. I think he feared for his job too if this got out. And I strongly suspected that his face-to-face was going to include a suggestion that I forget what I knew and allow him to handle it on the sly. And no sooner did he hang up the phone did I call his immediate superior and apprise him of the awful news. And after a couple of days of auditing and the like done by the company auditing types, that general manager was sat down and terminated. And his shaken boss was written up in triplicate for not doing what I had done, for not getting to the root of the problem.
After all of this circumlocution, my point is this: If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. And trust me, you don’t have to go along to get along. And I seek no pats on the back or special compensation, no hero status. All that I did was doing what I was being paid to do…protect the assets of my employer.
And in the case of the elected and/or appointed folks, they are being paid to protect our assets…our tax dollars. And as far as I’m concerned, they should be provided no leeway, nor should they be held to a lower standard. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If it’s theft, it’s theft. And if it’s theft, they need to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Terminated with extreme prejudice, that is, Markie style.
For what it’s worth, there it is. Observations from one thoroughly maniacal loss-prevention officer.