No-call, no-show shit show

Ah, the old “no-call, no-show.”

Basically, it means someone who’s scheduled to work doesn’t show up for his shift, doesn’t call to offer an excuse and doesn’t answer increasingly desperate calls from his place of employment.

At a bank or an attorney’s office, this situation can cause a growing feeling of unease for the missing person’s manager and coworkers, and a fear for their safety — possibly culminating in a welfare check of some sort, or a grim certainty that something awful has happened. Is she lying in a hospital bed somewhere, unaware of the panic her absence is creating, minute by minute?

In traditional business and office industries, it’s practically unheard of for someone to just ghost on a whole day’s work. After all, there are often paid sick or personal days available, so — whatever the reason for the absence — the norm is to call and give some sort of an explanation, even if one has woken up in a motel room in Tijuana two hours late for one’s scheduled arrival at work.

In the hospitality business, it’s a whole different ballgame. The notoriously sort of loosey-goosey nature of independent restaurant HR administration, combined with the current dearth of quality employees in an ever-exploding restaurant scene, creates a different set of rules and reactions to the no-call, no-show.

Often it’s a dishwasher, the lowest paid guy on the totem pole, who skips work. He may find it more tempting to stay home and nurse a hangover while playing video games than to show up for what would likely be a net gain of $45 for the shift. Phone ringers can be silenced. He can present himself contritely the next day and claim his phone was dead and he didn’t know he was scheduled to work, and he’ll probably be forgiven — eventually. And as much as we love and value a great dishwasher, the fact is that all of us in the kitchen can wash dishes, as painful as it may be to see them piling up at an alarming rate during the rush. Even our friends from the front of the house may take pity on us kitchen rats and pitch in, at least washing the plates, glassware and flatware they need to execute their jobs.

So it’s an uncomfortable but likely manageable situation.

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But when line cooks don’t show up, it’s god-awful. The first half hour he’s missing, there’s just a whole bunch of people walking around muttering he’ll be here, he’ll be here. Folks text the guy, and other folks call from the restaurant phone to signal “this is serious, please answer the phone.” Someone may try to reach the absent cook via Facebook message. Servers start giving us the side-eye, as if to say: “This had better not affect my ticket times today. I need my tips for rent tomorrow.”

At some point, it becomes clear we are not seeing that guy today. Sometimes the angels sing — a manager or a fellow cook calls another cook who’s not on the schedule, and that person agrees to pinch-hit, often for the promise of “first-out,” meaning that, as soon as things slow down after the rush, the rescuing party will be allowed to leave without performing normal cleaning and closing duties. But sometimes that just doesn’t work out. Off-duty cooks might be out of town or just not answer their phone if they’re secure in the knowledge they weren’t scheduled today. (We consider that fair play, no matter how awful things may get for those of us on-duty.)

Most restaurants, even the indie ones, have stated policies about no-call, no-shows. Often it’s: after two such incidents you will be terminated. Two! You get one for free! Other restaurants’ policies are firm that after a no-call, no-show, you’re off the schedule for a week. Which puts the rest of us in the kitchen in pain for that week, as we all have to divvy up and cover your shifts.

In reality, razor-thin profit margins in restaurants require lowballing staffing to survive and make money. And almost every cook wants a guarantee of at least 40 hours a week, so it’s not like you can just have a cook “on call” for when others fall out, get sick, have family emergencies and so on. Good, solid, dependable cooks are, if not unicorns, then at least albino hippos. They exist, but they’re as rare as can be.

To that guy who no-call, no-showed on Mother’s Day last spring: I still hate you with the heat of a thousand suns. •

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

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