04 October 2019

Price Check on Smiles!

If you went back to my old LiveJournal (don't), you would discover that when I was in college, I probably talked more about and treated more seriously my job at Scott Dining Hall than I did my studies. I started out working about 6 hours per week; by junior year I was a student manager, usually working around twenty.

I took a lot of pride in this job. I used to talk about it a lot, years later, presumably to the annoyance of those around me. I don't talk about it so much anymore, twelve years on. I hope not anyway.

Scott was à la carte, not buffet-style, was was subdivided into a number of different units. One of the most popular was the personal pizza/hot sub line. Customers could get as much toppings as they wanted, and because it had every pizza topping you could think of, people could get some imaginative toppings on their hot subs. You would get your stuff, then it would go through a little oven on a conveyor belt (3 minutes for subs, 6 minutes for pizzas), then at the other end toppings you didn't want toasted would be applied (e.g., lettuce, mayo). It was all pretty low-tech, very dependent on little receipts upon which customers' names were written.

At lunch, it was probably the most slammed unit we had. I took pride in my running of the pizza line. It usually had three students assigned to it (plus a cashier), so I would put all three student workers on the making end, and then me and a full-timer would man the oven end, which could be pretty grueling. I was good about keeping orders in the right order, and one full-timer refused to do it alongside anyone else. Plus I prided myself on remembering what kinds of stuff some regulars got; some people were astoundingly consistent, getting the same thing three days a week. I could recognize a name, put the toppings on, and then call them.

Okay, okay, whatever. Good job Steve. But I also learned something about how to manage people from this. Usually from my mistakes. When I first started as manager, I was nervous, and in the true Mollmann way, I defaulted to sarcasm. You can be a sarcastic underling or co-worker and be liked; that was when I learned that to be a sarcastic authority figure requires some careful modulation. Thankfully someone was like, "Steve, you're overdoing it. Chill out."

Another thing: No one had set shifts on Friday nights; instead we rotated responsibilities. One Friday evening I was paired with another manager who had literally never worked on that entire side of the dining hall before. She was trying her best, but out of her depth. I might have been obnoxious about it. What I remember in particular doing was something along the lines of telling the student workers not to worry about her too much. I had thought I was helping (relieving the pressure of her responsibilities), but what I had really done was undermine her authority and her competence. She, I think nearly in tears, rightfully called me out on it.

I think much of what I know about working with people, I learned there. I had to do a lot of it in grad school, especially during the two years I had an administrative GA, and I'd like to think I did an okay job, and I think that's partially because of skills I developed making Italian subs.

Also there was this other manager named Josh. When I was working the sub line, he was usually on the wok line. I don't quite know how this evolved, but when things got really crowded and busy, I would shout out across the dining hall, "Josh, can I get a price check on smiles?"

"Steve," he would shout back, "the smiles are free!"

Random people would see me on campus and go "the smiles are free!" at me.

#457: Do you have a job?

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