In any business, in any industry, there always works one person who somehow, despite every excuse in the world, is never fired. Despite having no reason to keep them.
And by no reason I mean no bloody reason at all. The complete bimbo who can't find the entrance to the business but is sleeping with the boss has a reason. The guy who accidentally let a customer drive away with an armoured truck full of money but is the district manager's nephew has a reason. These aren't good reasons, but they are reasons why the Hand of Death has not been laid on them.
Although this person has managed to alienate everybody he or she works with, has no friends in high places, and is given to detonating small nuclear warheads at inappropriate moments leaving others to clean up the mess, somehow, they always get away with it. They do not get fired.
In our case, it was a Head Cook, Salvador. There are unconfirmed reports that he did have someone watching out for him at head office, but this was never verified to my knowledge. What I did know is that he managed to thoroughly annoy everyone he came into contact with. The only exception to this rule was the people he managed to make blood enemies with instead. And he managed to make himself some pretty deadly enemies, including District Manager Georgie.
Sal made a stunningly impressive debut. During the opening days of the new menu, Gretchen's was hosting a conference in the party room for the managers from all the various chains of Empire Restaurants. Basically, the who's who of managers and decision makers was there.
He was an hour late for the start of his shift, which considering he's the kitchen manager, is pretty bad. He also had to be called to be reminded to come into work.
When Sal got there, things didn't get any better. You see, Gretchen's was supposed to be providing meals for these guys.
Naturally, by the time he came in and took charge, the food was very late. And, badly cooked.
The chicken was raw on the inside, dead cold all around, but burnt on the outside (figure that one out). Well, people couldn't eat that, so he had to prepare something else. While this was going on, plates sat on tables in front of the managers. After time ticked by, people started picking gingerly at their burnt yet raw meals, having not eaten yet. Hmm, food poisoning anyone?
Don't shed too big a tear for them though. They were only managers, after all. Nobody that I know of actually died from one of Sal's meals. But it wasn't for his want of trying.
That incident in my mind is enough to give Sal the boot. At the very least, there should have been a written warning. But nobody ever gave Sal formal warnings. If they had, they probably could have disposed of him in three weeks. In addition to his many minor mistakes, he was also sure to provide the Massive Mistake of the Week. Give him a written warning each time, then after three mistakes, sayanora.
As the Head Cook, it was Sal's responsibility to order in food. It soon became apparent that a task that important shouldn't be left up to him. I must confess, he didn't order the wrong things though, at least not right away. This was because he forgot to do it the first couple of times.
And still, he kept his job.
He would not, or could not, do any kind of preparation work. It always fell on the shift after his to do whatever work he missed. They had barely enough time to fill orders with the staff they had with things fully stocked, never mind without. Still no warning. Still no job loss.
I can't remember if it was Sal or another kitchen manager, but one of them once defrosted our big storage freezers. They did not remove the food first.
No warning. No job loss.
Sal did once though invent cheap wing night. Every restaurant in the city had a cheap wing night, except Gretchen's. But after Sal thawed out 7 cases of chicken wings, it was decided finally that perhaps wings would go on sale before they spoiled.
Still, nothing happened. By this time it was painfully clear that he could be depended on for nothing, so people stopped expecting things from him. And like most work environments, there is always a person who is officially in charge, and a person who is unofficially in charge. The Unofficial person is the person who counts, because they're the ones in the trenches with the experience, and they know all the jobs inside in out. The Official person is someone appointed to "supervise" this person, for reasons unclear.
Sal was officially in charge of the kitchen, but everyone realized that he was hopeless, and turned to one of the line cooks Thomas, who had no official power, but had all the power in the world. The other staff listened to him over Sal, the servers came to him with their kitchen problems, because only Thomas could be counted on to get the job done.
Thomas unofficially renamed April Fool's Day "Salvador Day."
So all Sal became good far was a few good laughs. Everyone had a Sal story. Doctor O'Sullivan once told me about the time he had ruined toast. As the old joke goes, he could probably make ice cream and burn it. One new kitchen hire related a strange story of how during his job interview, Sal kept his eyes closed, even while he spoke. It was rumored that Sal was a heavy drug user, and his mannerisms support this, though I know of no reliable proof.
But Sal did leave us eventually. One morning he called and complained to Sandy that she caused him too much stress. Sal should talk, because there's nothing like being a server pulling burnt yet raw chicken away from a table of screaming customers while the rest of your full section complains they've been waiting an hour for their burnt-raw chicken.
That phone call was the last we ever heard of him.
It seems that people like Sal survive because nobody is willing to stand up and fire him, possibly worried about stepping on someone's toes. Head Office did hire him, so that alone might have been worrisome. If Head Office hand picks what they think is the person born for the job and you call them up and ask if they hired any kitchen managers that lived, you risk inferring that Head Office had to be stupid to hire him to begin with.
Instead, the Man They Couldn't Hang is shunted to useless, stupid jobs, but is kept safely out of the way. Sure, it's redundant and a waste of labor, but better than telling head office that their Golden Boy can be outsmarted by the restaurant's Mighty-Vac, right?
We also had a woman they couldn't hang-an incompetent bitch queen. Surprisingly, head office hired her when she was pregnant. Apparently the father had headed for the hills, leaving her fiercely bitter, which she took out on everyone else.
When I say I'm surprised that head office hired her because she was pregnant, please don't misunderstand me. Pregnancy is no reason not to hire a woman (incredible incompetence and the inability to manage is). I'm just surprised that Empire did it. Empire is not known for its humanitarian policies. Here they have a woman they know they will have to replace briefly when she goes on maternity leave. She will immediately begin using the health plan. She will cost money to orientate to the restaurant, then she goes on maternity leave, forcing them to hire/train someone else. Again, this is no excuse not to hire a woman, but can you see the temptation to hire someone else? I just can't believe the same head office that was run by someone who once said "This is fuckin' Jewville" and wanted the female servers to wear lip gloss and earrings as part of the uniform was suddenly enlightened when faced with a pregnant woman.
If ever they missed a golden opportunity, it was their opportunity to get rid of her. They caught her stealing. Red handed. Manipulated documents for proof. Bang, bullseye, you're busted.
Well, Head Office really let her have a blast of the ol' righteous indignation! With Biblical Wrath, they (maybe you'd better sit down for this) sent her on maternity leave early.
That's what they did. And by so doing, they actually really screwed themselves. By the laws of Canada, when a woman goes on maternity leave, she is guaranteed a position and salary equal to the one she left.
Caught, beyond a shadow of doubt stealing, and still, they would not fire her.
It was at this point we began to wonder What exactly did you have to do to get fired at Gretchen's? Cook up a customer's poodle and serve it to them on a sesame seed egg bun with a side of fries? Gun down the customers and not clean up the blood? Spill a sample of bubonic plague into the draft keg?
Getting no satisfactory answer to these questions, there was an even bigger lapse in our already less than rigid discipline, I can tell you.
It also lead to one of the great Gretchen's euphemisms. "Has so and so been fired?"
"Nah, he's been sent on maternity leave."