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House, cars, markets, and I am moving after all these years

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August 27, 2010 – Comments (12)

Prelude:  there is a point to all of this.  That point will only really become clear when I post the most important post I will ever post on the interwebs:  a post about the best/worst investment you can ever make, starting your own business.  Having started many, failed at many, and suceeded blindingly at a couple, I really think I have something to say about this.  But its difficult to express the risks, really.  Its not money on the line, its life itself.  And to try to make that opint at some future day, maybe tomorrow, maybe in 6 months, whenever I feel I can do justice to the post, I must first share a thing or two about my life.  

It has been a long, long time, 15 years or so, since I got to this one horse college town in which I still, briefly, live.  I came here from a town of a few hundred, actually from 15 miles away from a town of a few hundred.  I am not so old that I have forgotten what it was like to go to that town, of a few hundred, the 2 or 3 times I got to go out in high school and feeling like it was obviously bigger and shinier and better than me.  It seemed so big.  15 years ago I came to this "city" in which I still live, a couple of years of college removed from that big, shiny town of a few hundred.  I had originally gone, on an academic/athletic scholarship to another college, but when the biggest one here put up the cash to come on just academics, I came. 

There I was, face full of acne, social skills better than when I left home but still crushingly shy, my now longtime business partner a freshman (from the same tiny town of a few hundred, almost as poor and sheltered as me), in the biggest town in which I have ever lived.  Movie theaters and chain restaurants and stuff.  Kind of a big deal.  

I had school paid for by virtue of one of the best ACT scores in the country in the mid 90s, I actually made a small amount of money on top of room (in the dorms) and board.  In exchange I had to keep a 3.6 or 3.8 GPA, I can't remember which.  My first year here I got a 4.0, and had my only economics class.  Ironically, I remember literally, or at least nearly, nothing about the semesters in which I got straight A's.  I was drinking that year.

I remember the first time I smoked pot.  We went to a frat house, my rampantly womanizing suitemate and I, to a party.  And I flirtest witht he prettiest girl who had ever talked to me up until that point - she was deaf.  I walked up to her and flirted (i'm not necessarily outgoing when drinking, but I am quite chatty when stoned, been a long time since I smoked weed, though) and she sign languaged me that she didn't speak.  I stared blankly a bit lost in the moment, she grabbed my hand and we wnet inside.  We got a tablet and a pen and spent 3 hours writing notes back and forth.  Her friend then proceeded to determine that I wasn't the right guy for her and threw a cockblocking tantrum to end all tantrums.  She left with her friend after considerable protest.  

Know what I think?  She should have hung with me.  We had little to lose.  But past is past, but god I hope she is well.  She was smoking hot and incredibly funny, once you got her a tablet.  Not that I'd recognize her after all htese years, but if I ever see that friend again I will probably take the liberty of dumping several drinks over her head, and then explaining to her that she is probably not very good at life.  But thats a story for another day as well.  

Life went on.  I discovered MTV, I spent a year chewing 6 sticks of gum at a time until my jaw hurt to help define my jaw muscles.  My face eventually cleared up.  It wasn't 2 years after that fateful, and very, very unfortelling beginning that I may well have been the best looking kid in town.  At least I knew I was, facts be damned (and, btw, thats basically 90% of being good looking, believing it, walking it).  After 1 year in that town I had had a job at a restaurant (best of times, that, more on that soon).  His 2nd year here I put in a word for him at "Joes" (as always all names are changed to protect the innocent).  Joes was the most popular restaurant in town, and, the place where I really finally came of age.  

I started at Joes as a waiter, having fry cooked at another place.  I got biz partner, we'll call him Bob, a job as a busboy.  Then something weird happened.  I pioneered waiting tables at Joes...  See, Joes had a system for servers.  You bring out the drink tray, you bring out the meal, you bring out the desert tray.  I realized at some point that people knew what they wanted to drink and canned the drink tray.  I later realized that the guy basically always pays the tab and he doesn't want the desert tray brought out.  See, A) he wants to leave to go to "his" time, because Joes is "her" time and B) she probably gained 10 pounds since marraige anyway.  So I canned the desert tray.  Then I realized that what people really want at a restaurant isn't me talking to them or being nice - who the frick am I anyway? I am a waiter, I don't matter - they want to talk to who they came with.  And as long as they have a drink and/or some food, they are happy.  Keep them wet, keep them fed, they are happy.  Doesn't really matter if the meal happens in 5 minutes or 50 minutes or 5 hours.  

So I pioneered, at Joes (I am sure someone else pioneered the same thing some other place in some other town long, long before) of turning tables.  In and out, feed them, drink them, don't try to run up the tab, just feed/drink/out.  The irony is that not only did I wait on more talbes than anyone in the history of Joes ever did in a night, I made, by far, the highest tip percentage in the place.   See, people tip what people tip, it has nearly nothing to do with the service (you will now all, literally all, argue this point, but its true). If they are a $5 tipper and you run their tab up to $50 they leave $5.  If they are a $5 tipper and their tab is $30, they leave $5.  So get them in and out as fast as possible and you will absolutely maximize your profits.

Turning tables.  

I had 1000 in sales in a night (first ever for a watier in Joes history) and made $150-200.  Everybody else was selling $400 and making $50.  I began tipping the busboys $20 a night to clean my tables before anybody elses, they always did (why wouldn't they?  the average female server tipped them 5 bucks).  It grew.  I hit $1400 one night, with 38 tables waited on, second place had $600 and 15 tables.  It was murder, I walked with $200+ after leaving $20 for the busboy and $30 for the bar, next place left 5 each and walked with 80.  

The bartenders and busboys realized I tipped more than the next 4 or 5 people combined and started helping me do my job.  I turned even more tables, even better, made even more.  At one point I made literally 3x the next best income for 3 weekends in a row.  

Until Jeff started.  He moved in with my longtime business partner and I and got a job at Joes.  He asked how I did what I did, I explained.  Shortly thereafter he BROKE MY ALLTIME JOES SINGLE NIGHT AND WEEK SALES RECORDS, it took him no more than 6 months.  Bastard. 

My longtime business partner began basically ignoring everybody else and working for just Jeff and I, who were by now tipping like $40 each a night.  The bartenders did the same.  Dead of rush hour if we walked up and said we wanted a marg on the rocks in a kids cup so we could get drunk at work, we got it, ASAP, and every other server waited for their drinks as good and dang long as the bartenders felt they needed to.  We TWO servers tipped them more than 50% of their total take for the night.  

In a few months my longtime biz partner, as a busboy, made more than anybody in the building but Jeff and I, because he entrepreneurially simply refused to bus the tables of people who didn't tip until he had nothing tod o and had smoked a few cigarettes.  Soon, all the other busboys followed suit.  Soon, EVERY waiter/waitress was tipping out to get their tables bussed and the busboys at Joes made more coin than the waiters or tenders anywhere else in town.  

What happened?  A bunch of greedy dicks at Joes, all worried about making money for themselves, sure didn't give good service did they?  Ha!  The art of turning tables spread from Jeff and I, and not long thereafter good old Johnny K (one of the only guys who ever gave my longtime biz partner and I a run for our money with the ladies at Joes) broke Jeffs record, who had, if you recall, broken mine.  

The whole restaurants was now efficient.  Busboys were on tables in seconds, because EVERYBODY was tipping bigtime, like 10-20% of tips.  They made more than the servers at one point.  Busboys who weren't fit and athletic were fired quickly due to server complaints because we were used to those guys being on it like stink.  

Remember my theory on waiting tables?  People don't want to talk, they want a drink and some food, a minimalistic check, their wife to not gain 5 more pounds, and to get to somewhere they want to be?  Everybody started following it, everybody started turning tables.  

Joes set a record for sales 2 years in a row, and ultimately 5 straight years (even thought we weren't there for the last 3), our sales records all fell, turning tables became the "unofficial" training of newbies.  It won "best service" awards like 5 straight years (never won before we started) even thought the whoel point of turning tables is minimal service BUT, what people really want is a drink and some food, and that is literally the point of turning tables.  

My longtimebiz partner and I saved tens of thousands (many) of tips in trashbags in just 2 years.  Joes had probably the 20 best paid waiters and THE 10 best paid busboys in town, its bartenders got a higher percentage of tip outs than any other simlar joint in town, and STILL the wait staff took home more.  

Why?  Innovation, baby.  Some dorkhead (me) realized what people reallly wanted at a restaurant, and gave it to them.  He made a multiple of what anybody else was making.  Other people learned and followeed, part of that plan was tipping heavily to the support staff.  The support staff made major bank.  Joes got big (really big, like +80% in sales in a few years), wait list every night.  My last few months there I did not hear ONE server give their name to a customer (part of turning tables.  1) people tip what they tip, 2) people spend what they spend, 3) people are happy if they have a drink and/or food, 4) people tip what they tip, 5) the faster you get people out the faster they get to where they really want to be and the happier they are, 6) your name is only a delay to your customers and completely irrelevant because they are not there to talk to you AND 7) people love watching competence in action) AND, IMPORTANTLY, people tip what they tip.  period.  We were poetry in motion waiting and bussing tables.  Don't believe you could ever be bewitched watching someone clear a table?  Watch my longtime business parter, at 20, do it, making $150 a night easy, and you will be.  We got phone numbers from girls every night, literally.  We had fkning hundreds of them in this basket when we finally quit.  Hundreds.  

Everybody won. 

We entrepreneurialized waiting tables, and made oursevles (for our age, peer group, and expectations) a fortune, and we made Joe a fortuen THAT CONTINUES TO THIS DAY at the same time.  favwk you joe, it was US, all 10 or so of us, that made you big, you had better show some respect if I come to eat lunch tomorrow buddy, and that is a fact. Nice seeing you at blockbuster tho.

Ever known a waiter who made $0.50 per population of his/her city per year?  I did.  Ever known a busboy who made $0.40?  And got more girls than any of the bartenders?  I have been his business partner for more than a decade.   

We industrialized waiting and bussing tables.  And we made, literally, several times more than any servers in town did before us.  Other restaurants started to show the same behaviors, and started to make more money.  We were, literally, celebrities, in our shyte-stick little town.  I bet we never showed up at a bar those 2 years and A) had my underage longtime biz partner carded or B) didn't get whatever table we wanted immediately no matter who had to move.  Remeber why my tables got bussed first?  $$$$ paid.  Why would I get a front row table in Vegas today over whoever if I showed up?  Tips baby, people work for money, not for taking your BS, just in case you didn't know that.

I think of all this because Joe was at the movie store tonight.  He looked at my lamborghini, he looked at me, he actually  said thanks kid, you guys did it up.  I said buddy, good to see you, and you are semi-welcome, but frankly you need to put turning tables on the training agenda.  He muttered, I went home. He never was a very nice guy. 

My point in all this is that some day I am going to tell the story of our business experiences on this board.  It won't be what you think, it won't be a happy story, our story called for more perserverance than all but any of you could give, and more innovation.  And if you can't make 2x what the next best person in your town makes waiting tables, you probably can't do what we did.  

All I want to say is, before I ever tell the story of us in business, please understand that its not as easy as it will seem if I tell it.  The hard times aren't fun, in fact, they aren't something that I believe even 5% of people could live through.  And, frankly, I don't necessarily think anybody SHOULD try to live through it.  Its not always, or even ever, fun, starting a biz.  Maybe for someone it is (and I'll offer thos examples also), but man we didn't find joy or fun in biz, in the end.  We did make money.

But... as waiters and bartendrs and busboys..   We dated, literally (me 8 him 1) 75% of the local hooters staff in a calendar year.  I bet nobody ever did that before or since with no credentials other than table waiter.  We made six figures, between us, in a town where the population just... barely... exceeded our combined income.  Waiters/tenders in vegas may make some coin, but the populatuion is what?  10 mil with all the tourists?  Punks.  You heard me if you are Vegas and you read this.  Punk. haha!  text me to complain about that comment. 

 And, folks, that is, exactly and precicely, why capitalism beats all, always.  What happened at Joes?  A couple of punky brats wound up making more money than probably 85% of the poeple we waited on, and EVERYBODY won.  Joe won, we won, the rest of the staff won by copying us, the rest of the table waiting industry in town eventually won, customers won because we came closer to giving them what they wanted than the crap-arsed idea about watiing that Joe had before us.  Guys didn't get their wives gaining desert pounds, they got to their happy place (a bar somewhere, not joes) sooner, they spent less, tipped more, but so many more of them came out that Joe's sales went up big-time.  Everybody won.  

And there is philosophical irony here, folks, in spades.  What would a couple of multi deca millionaire kids, one married, both parents, both still pretty young, do for the next year if we could choose anything we wanted?  Be 22 and working at Joes.   The ultimate irony of business in these united states is that, no matter how successful, you can't really win or buy contentment or a better time than any given college kid.  If you are a college kid, for gods sake, for all that is holy, you can start a business next year.  For now, please, god, please, go work at Joes, or an equivalent.  Its so much more fun. 

More on ALL that later, for now let me end on the basic thought that life is a biz, and if you give no effort to your life today, you are not likely to wind up the winner some day down the road at biz.  Life, to win, requires effort.  bgi time.   People thatdesire a biz because they hate their boss and the stress of a job are doomed to fail.  ITSA HELLUVA LOT MORE STRESS THAN YOUR JOB.  

Its people that are willing to pour, pour, pour effort into life that can win in biz.  ?Nobody else.  More on all that later, for now I am drunk, and these thoughts will have to stand.  

And, BTW, the current stock market funk, eventually, will end in one hell of a rally, led by financials.  From where, and when, I have no idea.  But thats the end game.  So far this year, since I posted it, my idea that boring ass super blue chpi, low beta, dividend payers like T or MO would levitate or go up in price has worked out IN SPADES.  That is all.

 

 

12 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 27, 2010 at 4:33 AM, checklist34 (99.73) wrote:

Man, I got so distracted from my title...

I bought a house, paid cash, got some extra garage spots and totally didn't go overboard.  Great place thought, granite and slate and maple and stuff.  But great price, built new, which was cheaper than buying used in the area I am in.  I overall was financially conversavite, it cost less than you'd believe.

And I want to give an omage to cars.  You get in them, you smell them, you hear them (hopefully yours makes some good noise) as they start, you listen to them grind and beller until warmed up, and then you beat on them like punching bags.  You slide them when their tires don't have enough grip, maybe you buy better tires.  Tou listen to them, and pay no attention to the other commuters who think you are an a-hole for winding upt he motor.  Thats not the point.  No car smells better than a Cadillac CTS or DTS, well optioned, and that is a fact.  Not even a Rolls Royce, Bentley, or Lambo.  

And buy one used.  With low miles and well cared for it still hs a warranty, still smells as good, still sounds as good, still has the same steering and the motor's power still peaks at the same RPM.

Buy used, I do, whenever I can.  

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#2) On August 27, 2010 at 5:23 AM, dbjella (< 20) wrote:

checklist34

Great story!  I am going to save this for my kids to read. +1 Rec 

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#3) On August 27, 2010 at 8:56 AM, russiangambit (29.49) wrote:

You discovered how to increase productivity and through it your standard of living. Classic textbook  -))

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#4) On August 27, 2010 at 10:20 AM, rofgile (99.33) wrote:

I like your blogs checklist34 -

 They remind me of what editorials in local papers used to be like sometimes when I was a kid.  

 Checklist - I've thought the most important thing in life was to have a story to tell.. to have had some meaning in your life.  This is a nice story -

 -Rof 

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#5) On August 27, 2010 at 10:22 AM, miteycasey (35.10) wrote:

LOL....brings back memories.

Working at a linen restaurant I went two weeks without telling a customer my name, it was two cuties and I couldn't resist introducing myself. :)

I remember working one night in the smoking section (smokers are better tippers) me and one girl split the room instead of three servers. I took care of the drinks and running food, she flirted with the customers and rang in orders. She took care of the cash and I ran credit cards.

We made more that night than the next four servers combined on a Friday night. It was the hardest shift I ever worked, but it was by far the most profitable. 

 

It's innovation stupid. 

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#6) On August 27, 2010 at 1:06 PM, Pick1es (24.08) wrote:

When I used to waiter, I focused on speed, I'd get their drinks and food faster than any other waiter, and I think the customers appreciated that more than simple small talk.

 Interesting story

+1

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#7) On August 28, 2010 at 1:39 AM, MyunderratedLife (87.96) wrote:

FMI, how old are you?

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#8) On August 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM, fireman9119cac (55.17) wrote:

Another great post CL.  We seem to be cut from the same cloth minus the bankroll..lol

Always an intersting read

Thanks

FM

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#9) On August 28, 2010 at 5:48 PM, FleaBagger (29.37) wrote:

We got a tablet and a pen and spent 3 hours writing notes back and forth.

I did this with a deaf girl once - it wasn't a date, but I cannot think of a date that I've been on that was more fun.

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#10) On August 30, 2010 at 1:26 PM, eldemonio (98.74) wrote:

checklist,

You go to Blockbuster?  Holy crap that's lame.

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#11) On September 02, 2010 at 4:38 PM, Momentum21 (96.33) wrote:

Great read...thanks man...

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#12) On September 12, 2010 at 8:04 PM, rhallbick (99.72) wrote:

Checklist34, I appreciated your story, am enticed by the promise of future discussion of entrepreneurship and extremely grateful that this blog was a gateway that led me to your extraordinary previous blogs.  I’m dismayed that I missed what you have been contributing to this community these last twenty months.  Though I have come at some things from a bit of different angle than you during this time, I found myself at a similar point this summer as you have described, essentially “What next?”  I also began to look at other asset classes other than stocks and bonds and considering the blue-chip large-dividend payers.

I expect that you will be busy with your move for some time, but I’ll be looking forward to your future blogs. Thanks again, RH

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