One of the most chilling parts of Danny Meyer's "Setting the Table" was his description of what he calls "whelmers". To quote, "Whelmers, sadly, are like a stubborn stain you can't get out of the carpet. They infuse an organization and its staff with mediocrity; they're comfortable, and so they never leave; and frustratingly, they never do anything that rises to the level of getting them promoted or sinks to the level of getting them fired. And because you either can't or don't fire them, you and they conspire to send a dangerous message to your staff and guests that 'average' is acceptable."
Chilling because when I read this to the GM, we instantly thought of one person. Our very own whelmer. Our Steady Eddie. The Republican Sous.
Don't get me wrong. He's a (mostly) nice guy. He's insanely smart, but has to let you know all the time just how smart he is (I unfortunately share his affliction), and he rarely applies that intelligence to his job. He's happiest making puns and bad jokes. He's something of a loner, but not by choice; clumsy socially, he tends to make other people uncomfortable. People who went to high school with him tell me he's always been the same. I feel for him, on a personal level.
On a professional level, he's the perfect picture of Mr Meyer's "whelmer". The GM and I have had numerous discussions about what, if anything, to do about him. But there was nothing to be done. California is an at-will employment state, so I could fire someone for mediocrity, but I don't have the heart for that. I thought about sitting down with him after summer and asking him if he still enjoyed cooking, if there wasn't something out there that was a better application for his intellect, maybe steering him toward something that might, at this point, be more fulfilling.
Last night he gave notice. Oh, happy day! He'll be leaving in a month, going to a place a bit south of us that has big ambitions and big money behind it. He'll also be going somewhere where the chef is more hard-assed and where his qualities might not be tolerated as much as they have been. If he rises to the challenge, it's a good opportunity for him. I hope he does, because I don't want to have to tell him I don't have room for him in the kitchen when he calls a few months from now.
Some diligent readers may wonder if I ever replaced the cook who was leaving to work at a local winery. I didn't, because he didn't get the job. He told me he wouldn't pursue anything else until summer ended, so I'm good shape there. With the whelmer leaving, he may decide to stay. I'm thinking of not replacing the whelmer, rather spreading some of the money I was paying him to the other guys and upping their responsibility. That's a hard call, because it won't leave me much room if anyone gets sick, or needs time off, etc. What I won't do, is hire someone who isn't perfect. Another gem of Mr Meyer's is to not hire someone unless you think they can become one of the top three performers in their job category in your restaurant. Remind me of this when I start screeching about how tired and burnt out I am and a warm body just walked in the door.
Now, off to play with the Sardine.