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100 Stories- Waiting Tables Was Cognitively Harder Than Working For Google

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Drew's Letter

January 9 · Issue #88 · View online

The latest things I've dug into including books, quotes, songs, gadgets and other things I've found interesting.


Today is #9 in the 💯 Stories in 💯 Days series. In case you missed it, yesterday’s is Drinking My Own Pee: What An Idea! 🍺 We are now 9 days into the sprint and marathon. Onward!
Waiting Tables Was Cognitively Harder Than Working For Google
No, I’m not being hyperbolic. I also don’t know anyone else who waited tables after working for Google, which gives me a unique perspective. I worked for a company named GAR, Great American Restaurants. They explicitly intend to be the best casual dining chain in the world. I’m sure other restaurants say the same, but GAR is simply on another level.
It’s not fine dining, but it’s actually better in many ways. After working there, the sad thing is that eating out anywhere else sucks now. The service is unparalleled.
  • All tables must be greeted within 30 seconds of sitting down.
  • All guests must be greeted within ~15 seconds of entering the front door– I don’t know the specific time as I wasn’t a host, but it’s close to that.
  • The first round- drinks and bread, must come back to the table within 2 minutes after the guest asks.
  • Fill all drinks automatically when they have 1/3rd left…
The list goes on.
There’s a lot of small things to “wow” the customer.
When I worked at GAR, I realized that all I was doing to improve was revising my Server Algorithm. There was a process of IF statements, rules, and all of these were dynamic based on the environment. In football, the best quarterbacks “take what the defense gives them”. And that is what we did, except the defense was our customers. Btw, we never called them customers. They are guests. Words are important.
It was perhaps the highest functioning team I’ve ever been a part of. To toot my own horn, I have a degree in the study of management, a minor in leadership, and am an Eagle Scout. It’s important to throw that last one in there, as it gave me a lot of real-world experience at a young age. I tend to value it more the older I get. There’s something special about helping 30 of your peers setup camp in the pouring rain in the dark. We had rules in the troop like- no personal gear gets touched til troop gear gets setup.
When your personal gear is getting rained on, it can be quite motivating to quickly set up tents.
When I worked for Google, my onboarding involved a simple Google Sheets challenge and 2 other interviews. A friend referred me, so that may have helped a bit. In Google parlance, I was a TVC- temp/vendor/contractor. Or, the Orwellian “red badge,” as we said. 🔴 I didn’t have what they call FTE status.
Perhaps I’ll go deeper into the story another time, but there are a few key things to note here. My “employer,” Adecco, was simply a farce. When applying to Google, I only spoke with people from Google. I didn’t know what Adecco was. When they said they wanted me to join, they said I had to apply at some random website– this was after giving me an offer. This was just a form. I already had the job. Mind you, the job of Adecco is to source candidates, of which they did zero in this case, and many others. I told the boss. How about I create an LLC, and you just bill that? Adecco wasn’t doing any work.
But, megacorps often have a particular tool for tax avoidance called “an approved vendor list”. I went through and did it the Adecco way. I have never been to an Adecco building in my entire life. I don’t know people who work there. It was just a piece of paper, bureaucratic red tape. Except it wasn’t even paper, because the world is digital now. All the work was done for Google. To say that Adecco was my employer feels flat out wrong, and to me, demonstrates a monopoly taking advantage of the legal system.
Have you ever had a job where you never went to your employer’s office? My team had been around about 5 years when I joined, yet it was called temporary. Entire companies are born and die during this time frame. Multiple TVCs have written articles about the treatment, though frankly, I find them poorly written. They miss the boat.
It’s not about the perks or lack thereof. It’s that a massive percentage of workers have significantly less compensation than others for the same jobs. I’m not ranting about baristas earning less than software engineers. This isn’t to trash FTEs. You just have to understand incentives. Many TVCs are hired with the carrot dangling in front of their face that if they do a good job, FTE status is right around the corner. This is a lie.
This type of thinking is a trend at Google- lots of esoteric workarounds. At the restaurant, if we weren’t busy, they sent us home. At Google, you had to awkwardly pretend to work. This was sad, considering there were so many brilliant people there. We couldn’t just accept the truth that often the work for the day was done. There were weird acronyms. I had a lot of knowledge. But I wasn’t gaining wisdom. Acronyms like ADM, BDM, TAS, MA1, MA2, GRM, and words like GreenTea, Scorpion, etc., probably are meaningless to you or have a totally different meaning than they do to me.
By the time I left, I was a team lead. I’d usually get to work at 8:30 am to catch my bus. This was a company bus, not a public one for lowly peasants. It got to my campus at 9ish. I’d often grab a fancy, custom coffee from the barista- for free. I’d check email for15 minutes in case anything was urgent, then journal till about 10 o'clock. From 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, I’d go to the gym, use the sauna, and have lunch. My bus left at 3:50 pm. We weren’t allowed to work from home or on the bus. Ironically, many of my colleagues would video conference from around the world, or even one floor away in the same building.
Yet, we were fed the hoopla that colocating was important. It was truly silly. If reading this upsets you, there may be a lesson. You’re likely being robbed of autonomy in your life for bullshit reasons. Luckily, it’s your life, and you can change it.
I also regularly texted friends and browsed the web during the workday. It was a classic “Bullshit Job”–
In Bullshit Jobs, American anthropologist David Graeber posits that the productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, but instead to “bullshit jobs”: “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”
At the restaurant, I walked in the door, asked for a job, was interviewed by two people on the spot, and was hired. They follow a similar philosophy to Herb Kelleher, the genius behind Southwest Airlines. It is beautifully simple. Find good people, and train them. I had to take 4 separate tests before I could officially begin. These tests were hard, easily harder than anything I did at Google. When I did professional bartending school, I had to know 150 recipes cold, and the GAR tests reminded me of that.
Also, you had to know the menu really well, in case guests had allergies. Any business can create a competitive advantage without technology. You can do it simply by providing better service. I have allergies that are life-threatening and usually follow the principle of “if there’s any doubt, there is no doubt”- this means that if there’s any doubt the food is contaminated, there’s no doubt that I need to skip it.
Because GAR provides such a high level of service and is absolutely anal about allergies, they have a competitive advantage. People know that if they go to GAR, their allergy concerns will be taken seriously. They don’t have to worry about them. Any guest with an allergy gets a personal interaction with a manager, which is a cherry on top of the cake, saying, “We take this seriously and care about you.”
If you didn’t know the menu well, you had to ask a lot of questions. This was encouraged. But it also delays things. The slower you go, the less money you make because your throughput (for you systems thinking geeks) decreases. More time per table means less total tables go through the system in a shift, which means you make less money. This provides a strong incentive to learn the ins and outs of everything. Because you may walk 9 miles in a shift, you literally have to think on your feet.
If you’re curious, here are my personal notes on working there. We had a meeting before every shift. Many things don’t make it to the notes folder, mostly the crucial things did or stuff I tended to forget. Yes, as a waiter, I had pages upon pages of notes to do my job better. I’m nerdy like that.
At Google, I didn’t have notes in the same way. Did I have a ton of notes, absolutely. Would most of them help me at all in regular life? Would they make me better at interacting with other humans? Were they transferrable? Rarely.
Most of the notes at google were things I could whip up with a query and then go back to being brain dead after a few more clicks.
Man, this tone sounds angry! Well, it is. Being at Google while in the Bay Area is basic- everyone seems to work in tech. There’s no “wow” factor. But, when I came home to visit, if I’d go to a bar and answered the standard DC question, “what do you do for work?” The whole conversation shifted after dropping the G-word.
No, I don’t mean God. The moment I said Google, I became a celebrity. I could say, “and on the weekends, I kill babies for fun!” It didn’t matter. The person couldn’t hear me. They would literally tune out, starstruck, after simply saying the company I worked for. This was frustrating and gross for me.
It was serving as a signal, but it wasn’t a true signal. As they say, the greatest gifts come from painful shit. I wasn’t thriving at Google. But, to the outside world, I wasn’t allowed to say that. People thought I’d “made it”. I was treated differently. No one wanted to hear anything about me, not liking it, or would assume I was a spoiled brat.
Sadly, these things aren’t true. The perks were good. But my soul was slowly being stolen from me. Or so I thought. Rather, I had disconnected and was letting it happen. While the restaurant job was short-lived, I learned a ton from it, gained perspective, and now think differently about the concept of work itself.
Lessons Learned:
  • Respect people based on your interactions with them. These lived experiences are more real than any credential.
  • Don’t let anyone try to out muscle you based on who they work for. Again, this isn’t “real.”
  • Don’t judge books by their cover- one of my teammates at Artie’s was a computer scientist and electrical engineer.
  • I need to notice and feel the impact of my work. At google, one day, I was sitting at my desk and thought- “at my funeral, no one is going miss me wondering who is going to do all those account roll-ups now. Those aren’t the important parts of life.”
  • Do what you are uniquely positioned to do. At Google, I was easily replaceable. More people apply to work there than any company on earth.
  • What will the world miss about you when you are gone? That’s what you should be doing. What are you good at that is hard for others? What is your ikigai?
As always, thank you for reading. Tomorrow’s story is Manage Energy, Not Time.
Warmly,
Drew
PS- if you’re unfulfilled at work, I am here for you. It doesn’t have to be that way. It took me a while to learn that, but man, it is liberating on the other side! Seriously, text me.

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