A FAREWELL TO MAGGIE: FAT CATS AND BUSBOY BUCKETS

When the phone rings after midnight, it is typically bad news. This phone call was no exception.  I was driving with a million other people along an interstate trying to beat hurricane Florence to the punch and return home prior to her landfall.

Had I heard that Maggie died?  

My senses were immediately arrested as the chords of memory played out along a well-traveled highway with no gasoline or place to eat or sleep. And if anything went through my mind, it was the lessons learned from a waitress in a restaurant long before most readers of this post were born.

Maggie was not any waitress. And the restaurant where we worked together was not just any restaurant: The Gulf View restaurant was a place where fat cats went to eat and be seen. There was a waiting list of three years to work there. It was the first and best restaurant in what was to become an overcrowded beach along the west coast of Florida. This was the ’60s and gasoline was $0.20 a gallon. A family of four could easily be fed on a budget of $20 a week. I was hired at $2.16 per hour plus tips, an unheard-of wage for a 17-year-old kid who knew it all and was about to enter his eighth year at an honored naval academy with the rank of ensign. The owner’s son was about to enter the same naval academy as a plebe…

I was a busboy, one of three for the entire floor. Maggie was the head waitress. There were parking lot attendants, a maître d’, bartenders, chefs, fine linen, and polished silverware. Steaks and lobster were all the rave, and at $20 apiece were the most desired items on the menu. Everything about the Gulf View restaurant was first class and geared for tourism. Locals could not afford to dine there. Long lines to enter the restaurant were the norm. Wealth and accomplishment were heavily among the décor; the establishment reeked of accomplishment. And money flowed along with fine wine.

At the end of each evening, the waitresses would count their tips. Ten percent of their tips went into the busboys’ bucket. You could always count on Maggie for at least a dollar bill while other waitresses placed change from their hand into our bucket. On nights when tropical rains dampened business, Maggie nonetheless always came through with a generous contribution, most often the only paper found in the bucket filled with nickles and dimes.

It did not go unnoticed by me that before Maggie left at the end of each night, she stopped to pay respects and tender to the maître d’, the chef, and the bartender. By the end of the summer, I calculated that she probably kept 85% of her tips; the rest went to the people who supported her and her efforts on the floor.

Not for nothing, I might add. Maggie’s tables were the first to get cleared and reset by the busboys. The bartender always poured a bit heavier for Maggie’s tables. And the chef always made certain that her food order was cooked to perfection. Her silverware was polished better than any other waitress’s. Her linen was the freshest and the best. Her call trade was immediately recognized and seated by the maître d’. The busboys even chipped in to purchase a black vest so that we might look more like a waiter when Maggie’s call clients would be seated. Their glasses were first to be poured with fresh ice water. We three busboys had at the tip of our tongues the latest word from the local fishermen that the lobster, grouper, or shrimp were just caught.  

While other waitresses struggled to upgrade food selections, Maggie’s tables were pre-sold on the most expensive items on the menu before Maggie even showed up with her inestimable smile and long memory on children’s names and favorite drinks. After all, what better source than the local busboy to get the latest word from the beach on what was caught that very evening. While the other waitresses on the floor were rubbing their aching feet, setting up for the next night’s business, Maggie was on her way home to the beach. We busboys set her tables for her.  

Maggie made a small fortune. Unmarried, she owned a house on the beach. She drove a new Chevrolet Impala, traded in each year for the latest model. She had much money saved. She was a singular success in an ocean of wannabes. She was certainly not without her critics, mainly all the other waitstaff in the house whose complaints to the owner were quickly dismissed to be mediated among themselves. The owner knew that Maggie was responsible for filling much of the house. Her per-plate value order was well ahead of the next two waitresses combined.  

Maggie had it all going on. And she taught something I have always taken with me in the marketplace to this very day: Supply chain demand and how to fill it. Maggie knew that without the support of others in the workplace chain, she could never rise to singular success in an arena flooded with competition. She understood and realized that the person who parked her call trade cars was just as important to her and to her success as was anyone else in the establishment. She was quick to invest her money in the staff that supported her even when, at the end of each night, she might not have had enough money to do so. Her tips and kind words of encouragement were an investment in her future. And she knew it. And she cared.

And she taught that to me. All of our current suppliers, every one of them, have received from our shop the finest of Godiva chocolates, the best and finest culinary delights, shipped to their office overnight. Cheesecakes from New York City that cost more to ship than most cheese-cakes cost to purchase.  

But one must be very careful. If the gift is given as a business gesture, it will be quickly lost in the shuffle and mayhem of people trying to gain points or gratitude from the gift. The gift without the giver is bare. One must provide with the intention of assistance in helping others execute their jobs and get to the top of their game. A box of Godiva chocolates to a paralegal at the end of a gruesome day goes a long way. A personal note of caring always accompanies the gift or it will become a parlor trick. Our clientele has never, ever been viewed as such. But rather, they are a member of our corporate family. We do not conduct business with our clients. We conduct an established value of recognition and careful consideration for their goals. In exchange for our expertise is a recompense that no bank will accept for deposit.  That’s Maggie: BA 101.

There are many brilliant MBAs and business experts in today’s marketplace. They understand money. They understand how to invest it. They understand, to a point, how to make it.  Qualified advice abounds and reverberates from almost every post or blog. These are very smart people and very well-informed. And while much, if not all, of their advice is indispensable, I doubt that there is one of them who would not wish to be seated at Maggie’s table, and wonder if the tip they contemplate leaving would really compensate for the service they received. That’s the magic of business. That’s the secret sauce of the marketplace. Time spent on improving one’s expertise is not as vital as that time spent caring about the person with whom you’re doing business. Maggie: BA 101.

I do not know if there is, in fact, a life after death. Nor shall I skate upon that ice here. But I do know this: If there is a judgment day, what Maggie first heard was, ” Maggie! Your table for one is ready. We’ve been expecting you.”

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