Without question, owning and managing a small business is one of the toughest endeavors one can undertake. An unpaid invoice, late delivery and ensuring an even balance of cash flow are all issues that keep business owners up at night. Of course, the stress and worry is worth it when the “American dream” of being a business owner is realized. Still, that’s not to say that there aren’t issues that make day-to-day operations a nightmare at times.
Just ask Horatio, owner of The Sweet Vine, a successful restaurant known for its exceptional collection of vintage wines. Business was steady when it opened in 2011, but the word quickly spread about Horatio’s exceptional wine and food. By 2012, the restaurant had tripled its amount of monthly orders and Horatio was turning away guests during busy times. He soon moved into a space that was much larger and closer to customers in the downtown area.
Now, with 43 employees on payroll and a daily influx of customers, fifty-eight year old Horatio must ensure The Sweet Vine runs smoothly and that employees maintain the quality of service and food that the restaurant is known for.
Any one mistake, such as a missed shift or late delivery, can turn the business sour faster than a cheap bottle of pinot grigio.
Late Nights, Early Mornings
“Beep! Beep!” goes the alarm at 7 a.m.
“Just five more minutes,” Horatio mutters, holding onto a pleasant dream about picnicking with Cassandra, his late wife.
Horatio usually gets plenty of sleep — in fact, he’s typically in bed by 10. Yet, last night, he was up late working through payroll, ensuring the new employees he’d hired were accurately on-boarded and part-time employees were effectively switched to full-time.
As usual, Horatio waited until month’s end to process paperwork. Horatio went to bed so late that by the time he woke up, he felt as if he had never gone to sleep. The 2012 Bordeaux he drank while working on payroll probably didn’t help much.
He knows he has a business to run, so Horatio pulls himself out of bed and into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. In a rush, he checks his email on his phone on the way to the shower. Three emails from employees — two servers and a dishwasher — saying they’re sick and can’t make it into work.
Must’ve been a wild party, he thinks as he steps into the shower. He lets the hot water wash over him, then turns it cold for the last few seconds to wake himself up.
The shower isn’t as long as he would like. He hears his phone again and figures it must be important. After getting dressed and sitting down for a cup of coffee and oatmeal, he checks his phone again. Another server has called out “sick.” Feeling stressed and aggravated that four employees have all decided to be sick on the same day, he calls his shift manager, Casey.
Of course, Casey is also not feeling well and won’t be in until noon, right in the middle of lunch rush hour.
“I had a late night too, you don’t hear me whining about it,” Horatio grumbles after hanging up.
Horatio checks the time: 8:48 a.m. Normally he’d enjoy the funnies and catch up on the mayoral race in the local paper, but there’s no time this morning. He is the only one to fill those open shifts before the restaurant opens at 11. Though he’s generally out of the loop on who is working in the restaurant now — he leaves the day-to-day to his managers — Horatio does remember an ambitious kid the last time he was walking around the restaurant. What was her name? Stacy?
Finally, a Day Off
Cindy’s alarm goes off at 8 a.m. She smirks and turns it off. For the first time in eight days, she has a day off. No rude customers, no boss calling her the wrong name. Just her, Butch the bulldog, and a blank canvas, waiting for her brushes. This last month, The Sweet Vine had been great to her. She’s always wanted to work at a restaurant with fine wine. In fact, she was well on her way to being the next great sommelier — even if it meant grinding out a few years as a server in a restaurant that would often forget to put her on the payroll. Still, her job at The Sweet Vine had also been exhausting.
Cindy tries to go back to sleep, but the sun coming through her window awakens her. Begrudgingly, she gets up and takes Butch outside. It’s a brisk morning, one that promises a warm and breezy afternoon. She feeds Butch, pours a bowl of cereal for herself and turns on the television. I’ll get to painting as soon as I finish breakfast, Cindy tells herself. As she is washing out her bowl, she hears her cell phone ring. Cindy knew there are only two types of calls at 8:50 in the morning: bad news and telemarketers. She didn’t care for either.
Hesitantly, she answers. “Hello?” On the other end of the line she hears a man’s voice, one that she did not want to hear this morning.
“Is this Stacy?” It was Horatio.
“Cindy,” she answers, trying to hide the agitation in her voice. “How are you?”
“Not going to lie to you, Sta- Cindy. I need you to come in and cover a shift today.”
Really? she thinks. You forget to put me on payroll, schedule me for eight days straight, you don’t even know my name – and now you want my help?
Quickly, Cindy replies, “Oh, I wish I could, I really do! But my dog has been sick, and I’m currently at the vet.”
“Ah, sorry to hear,” Horatio hastily responds. “Let me know how that turns out.” Click.
Was it a lie? Sure. But Cindy was going to enjoy her day off.
Problems Upon Problems
Right. The vet. And I’m king of Norway. Horatio hits the “end” button.
Quickly, he sends out a mass email to email@example.com. He has no idea who is included in the email chain, but he hopes someone replies. Ten minutes later, it seems Horatio’s luck is turning around: a dishwasher replies, saying he can cover the shift.
One down, two to go.
9:20. He’s waited long enough for replies. Horatio sends a group text to all of his managers. “Does anyone have a spreadsheet of everyone’s phone #’s?”
He quickly gets a reply from Josh, the bar manager (who is also a bit of a brown-noser. Josh is shooting for the general manager job. “Don’t worry boss, I have it. Check ur email! :)”
Horatio waits a couple minutes and does not receive an email with an attached spreadsheet in his inbox. He remembers to check his spam folder where all of Josh’s emails go (he sends so many pointless ones every day) and finds the email with the attachment.
His heart drops as he opens the document. The spreadsheet hasn’t been updated in years; he recognizes the names of employees who worked for him when he first opened The Sweet Vine.
After calling the first few numbers listed, most of them turned out to be a wrong number or an employee who is already working. Horatio exhausts the list, wishing he could remember the numbers of employees he currently has on staff.
Giving up, Horatio closes the spreadsheet and offers up a small prayer that someone would call to cover at least one of those shifts. He is exhausted and it’s not even 10 yet.
Horatio glances at his wall calendar, scribbled in the day’s box and circled is, “National Wine Day.”
Of course that is today. Why wouldn’t it be?
Horatio is slightly embarrassed that he forgot his wife’s favorite day of the year. Even if none of his employees were sick, he still didn’t schedule enough workers to manage one of their busiest days of the year.
He grabs a light jacket — the weatherman says it will be breezy today — and grabs his laptop. As he’s about to close it and put it in his bag, he hears his email notification.
“URGENT: Issue With Payroll,” the subject reads.
He quickly scans the email, but already knows what it says; he has faced the same problem in the past. Payroll was not submitted correctly. Now, on top of covering shifts, Horatio must go to the bank to ensure his employees can get paid.
Desperate, Horatio tries to call his day manager again to see if she can come in at 11, like she is supposed to. This time, she doesn’t even answer her phone. Horatio considers calling Cindy, but he knows it’ll just be an exercise in futility. He pulls up to The Sweet Vine. Why did he decide to open a restaurant if it was going to cause so much trouble?
At 10:35, he informs his employees that, though this will be one of their busiest days all year, they are going to be short-staffed. He will be acting as server and sommelier, hoping that, along with his employees, he can satisfy the throngs of local wine snobs who will be coming through those doors any minute now.
In an Alternate Reality
The alarm goes off at 7 a.m. Horatio rolls over, remembering a pleasant dream of picnicking with Cassandra, his late wife. Last night he and his managers at The Sweet Vine opened a couple of bottles of wine; they had spent the evening getting everything ready for National Wine Day today and needed to “sample” the selection. He had a slight headache, but it was worth it.
A couple aspirins and a big glass of water later, Horatio was doing just fine.
As much as he’d love to sleep all day, he has a business to run. He pulls himself out of bed and into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Checking his email on his phone on the way to the shower, Horatio notices three notifications from his employee scheduling program, letting him know that two servers and a dishwasher are sick and can’t make it in.
I’ll deal with it after my shower, he thinks.
The shower doesn’t last nearly as long as he would have liked. He hears his phone again and figures it must be important. After getting out of the show and drying off, Horatio looks at his phone again.
Another server has called out “sick.” Yet, one server and a dishwasher said they would pick up the open shifts they saw on the restaurant’s employee management app.
Needing to find two more servers, he sends out a quick message to his staff, asking who can fill in. He has already scheduled extra servers and chefs for today, as it is their busiest day of the year.
He quickly gets a few replies: Josh, the bar manager, can help out with serving if needed, but two other servers who wanted to work the extra hours took the shift.
Horatio received another message he wasn’t expecting: One from Casey, his shift manager. She’s also called in sick and won’t be in until noon, an hour after The Sweet Vine opens.
Looks like Josh will fill in after all, Horatio thinks to himself. He quickly messages Josh to let him know what his duties would be today.
It’s 8:20. Horatio has a full staff for National Wine Day and about an hour and a half until he needs to walk out the door.
Horatio walks outside to get the daily paper. It’s a brisk morning, one that promises a warm and breezy afternoon. He comes back inside and settles into his favorite armchair. He starts with the funnies (they were always Cassandra’s favorite) and moves onto coverage of the mayoral race. He had knew his favorite up-and-coming sommelier, Cindy, was pulling for the incumbent; he was a friend of her family.
He’s a little sad she wouldn’t be honing her skills on this special holiday, but after eight days straight on the floor as a server, she very much deserved a respite.
As Horatio walks out the door, he gets an email on his phone that payroll was processed successfully.
Right on schedule, he thinks.
Horatio drives up to The Sweet Vine to find the employee section of the parking lot already full. Walking in, he sees the hustle and bustle of his staff, all ready to satisfy the throngs of local wine snobs who will be coming through the doors any minute now. He brings them all in for a quick huddle.
“This is it, ladies and gentlemen, our busiest day of the year. Let’s get out there and show our customers what National Wine Day is all about here at The Sweet Vine.”
As the first customers come through the door, Horatio takes a minute to take it all in. We did it, Cassandra, he thinks. And it’s perfect.