Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reasons to leave the house in winter

Hmmmm... this could be my shortest post yet based on my feelings about winter!

Actually I just thought I'd highlight two upcoming local events, one with a fascinating tie-in (you'll have to trust me and keep reading).

As many of you know, okay, perhaps mostly Christian over at West End Dumplings, I was pretty obsessed with the story of Fraidie Cat, the second of two cats at the St. Paul condo fire (Wyatt, the other cat was a miracle survivor story). Although Winnipeg has seen WAYYYYYYYY too many fires this winter that have left many many people homeless, knowing someone so close to that particular situation made it a lot more "real" for me. Throw in the animal angle and I was hooked.

So the first event I will encourage you to attend, even though it happens after the event that I'm going to mention next (but that story needs to wait - it's how I'm keeping you intrigued) is a "Deductible Party" for the cat owners. Some might argue that since they were "lucky" enough to have insurance that they don't need help. I don't know that everyone who has insurance would have the money at the drop of a hat to pay their deductible, would you? Now I don't know the cat owners Jason and Alix personally but via the Paypal link I made a donation - think of all the socials you've gone to over the years where you barely know the folks but you fork out for the ticket anyway all so that they can indulge in one lavish day. Well worth ten bucks to help these folks out.

Next is an event for someone I actually DO know - Ms. Demetra Penner. Demetra is the cover girl on the current edition of The Uniter. I've heard via Demetra that tickets are close to being sold out, so best to buy in advance rather than hope for tickets at the door. How do I know Demetra? So glad you asked! Demetra is actually central to my best ever "small world" travel story.

I worked with Demetra up in Churchill probably about 5 years ago (clearly since that began her love of the North it was a far more rewarding experience for her than I!). That winter after "bear season" we both went to warmer places; I believed she was going to Thailand and she thought I was going to South America. Enter best ever small world travel story.

I had just gotten off a long bus journey from Pokhara, Nepal to the major city of Kathmandu and followed a fellow traveller to this little hidden gem of a food stall located in what can only be described as a back alley. While waiting for my order of chips (for whatever reason while travelling I eat more fries than I ever do at home, they are the ubiquitous backpacker food) I turned around to see this girl staring at me with a crazy look on her face. Not sure exactly what I had done to anger/amuse/offend/??? this person I grasped for context. Standing next to her was another person that we had worked with in Churchill - and that's when the lightbulb came on! Of course, the girl was Demetra! It's funny the way our brains work - I had been trying to figure out if I had come across this person on my trip somewhere, there was no logical reason to think it was someone I knew from anywhere but that trip. This was especially true as both of us thought the other was travelling in another country.

So, yup, in a back alley in Kathmandu, Nepal, I ran into people that I had met in Churchill, MB. What are the odds of that?? An interesting side note is that after a mini catch-up and plans made for later, we went our separate ways and as I was walking back to the hotel the other traveller I was with, he noticed them across the street, about 5m away, and I didn't (if you've every been to a chaotic developing world city this would make sense to you!). It just shows that I was *that* close to being in a very foreign place at the same time as people that I knew and not even knowing it.

Well, that's it for now, and might be for a while actually; in 5 more sleeps (because I count like a small child does apparently) I will be headed off on my next adventure, Nicaragua and Honduras. So if you don't hear from me for a bit two things: first don't count me out of the blogosphere, second, if I get kidnapped or something I will retract all of my hatred of socials if you hold one to raise the ransom.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Everything old is new again

Following the vein of little gray bird and her post about promoting Manitoba, I thought I would share this video that I stumbled on today.

I think with a little bit of touching up some creative person could weave the old with the new and create a great video that shows Winnipeg and Manitoba through the decades. I am not that person, so hop to it all you fancy computer literate design savvy types! It made me want to visit Winnipeg in the 50's if nothing else. I love how the part telling us how Manitoba is a fashion hot spot seems to have been filmed in the ladies washrooms on the second floor of The Bay downtown. Yes, the same bathroom that I am convinced is hiding ladies urinals behind a wall. It's been a few months, and with the impending closure for good of The Bay downtown forever, I'd better try one last time to see if someone will open the door for me.

On a completed unrelated note (other than I have linked to something similar before) the person who posted the video above also has a video of John Mann performing at a presumably? Winnipeg house, singing one of my all time favourite Spirit of the West songs. I wish I was cool enough to have been invited to that house party, as it would have rocked my socks off! Maybe when they come to town in March.... (seriously, should this happen get me there, pretty pretty please!)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Short and sweet

While this also follows my mini-restaurant trend, it is also North End related.

I just had a Fat Boy and fries from the White Top for lunch and I am now sitting in my chair with that contented feeling you get when you indulge in comfort food; I've mentioned this place before but if you're new to my blog let me fill you in. The White Top is located on Salter, in between Manitoba and Magnus. It is a take-out only place, but it has a drive-thru if you are too chicken to get out of your car (which, of course you shouldn't be, get over it). Call on your way there and place your order and then you don't even need to wait, instant burger gratification.
White Top Drive In on Urbanspoon

The staff are ALWAYS exceedingly friendly (but genuine) and seriously, if you do the walk-up option check out how freakishly clean it looks in there. I have this one weird request I always make when I go there (no, I'm not going to tell you what it is) and they very graciously accommodate me every time. Probably my favourite place to nosh in the North End. And in the "Fat Boy Idol" contest the FreeP ran the White Top is also champ. Go. Now. Go Hungry.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Let me elaborate...

This is a follow up post to my last one, because I realized that I had left out some very important information that I had planned to put in that sort of post one day ("one day" turned into the day when I either needed to vent here or tell off the gift card toting table and lose my job).

When it comes to tipping there are basically 3 types of people: those that tip decently pretty much all the time (15% ish or more), those that tip 10% (seriously people, 10% is so 1970's) and those that tip anything less than that, which frequently is about the equivalent of throwing pennies at h00kers. Oh, wait, sorry, there is a 4th type - the person who when this sort of conversation comes up claims to be around the 15% mark but is really a 7-10% sort.

Now, giving my lovely readers credit, I shall presume you all are in the "15%+" category, but in case you know someone who isn't this post is for them, please pass it on. I think that most of the people who are in the 10% or less category think that servers already get paid to do a job, and they don't get tips at their job so why should they have to tip, blah blah blah. I will do my best to explain why (dad, I hope you are finally listening!)

Their job probably offers some sort of security in the form of a guaranteed number of hours per week. Servers don't get that. A "full-time" server probably averages 30-35 hours a week, often taking 6 days to reach that many hours, or numerous split-shifts that essentially make their work day 11+ hours as there isn't really enough time to do anything in between those shifts. Servers only get raises when minimum wage goes up. Imagine if after years and years of service you were at the exact same wage. Servers don't get health care. I know not all other jobs do either, but servers almost exclusively do not. Servers, with few exceptions are not "allowed" to call in sick. Many restaurants will demand that a server fill their own shift if they want to call in sick - you try doing that while exploding from both ends.

Servers, particularly in chain restaurants have very shaky job security. As corporate almost always tends to err on the side of the customer being right, even the most untruthful complaint can cause a server to lose their job, god forbid that lying customer come back and see that that someone wasn't fired for the supposed injustice. Thankfully I work at a pretty decent place now, with good management that trusts their staff, but I have seen this sort of thing happen at other places many times.

A big thing that you may not realize is that most servers have to pool their tips, so you are not just subsidizing their wage, but also that of the cooks, hostesses, bartenders, bussers, dishwashers and expediters (the people who put the finishing touches on your plate before it hits the table). I love when I have a table that hands me my tip (usually a really sweet senior citizen type) and says "now, this is just for you dear, don't give any to anyone else". If only it worked that way. I always take the opportunity to explain it to them and usually they are quite surprised.

Restaurant owners underpay almost all of their staff because, in theory, etiquette in Canada dictates that customers will tip 15-20%. Let me give you an example, it is a bit of an extreme, but I want to make sure everyone understands just what I mean...

Flo (as that is such a fantastically stereotypical server name) goes into Chainy McChainigan's for her Friday night shift. She sees that she has a party of 10 coming in for dinner as well as a couple of other tables in her section. The timing of everything goes well that night, the party is in celebrating Grandma's 75th birthday and everyone is having a good time. Food comes as ordered, refills on drinks are prompt and Flo even makes a special birthday moment for Grandma*. Number one son picks up the tab for the whole table, joy! One bill is so much easier and means that service doesn't suffer for Flo's other tables while she processes multiple payments. The bill is $439.61. Flo quickly calculates in her head that the host should probably round that up to $500 even** The host hands her the billfold and tells her to keep the change. There is $450 in it. Oh yes, this happens far more often than you would think. Especially at the holidays.

Thankfully Flo has other tables tonight, some days aren't as lucky. This table just cost her money out of her own pocket to serve. What? How you ask? Well, let's break Flo's table down, using tip out at my restaurant.  Their bill was $386 before tax, Flo will have tipped out $4.82 (1.25% of all sales) to the host/cook/dishwasher tip pool, $3.86 (1% of all sales) to the bartender, the expediter gets a minimum of $2 (however, on a Friday night, $5 is generally the amount given) and there are 3 bussers on so at a minimum of $2 each that is $6. So, the $10.39 tip that Flo received does not cover the $16.68 that Flo is tipping out (minimum), if this was her only table for the night she would have gone home with $6.29 less in her pocket than she came with.

Obviously with this example it is a bit extreme, and yes, servers usually have other tables and it mostly balances in the end, but how would you feel if you came to work and your wage for the day was at the whim of the patrons? Serving is like a form of commission sales, but without a guaranteed rate. At least if you sell cars you know exactly what commission you are getting, the customer can't lower the price of the car by deciding that they don't want you to get commission on that sale.

So if it's so horrible, why don't we all go get "real" jobs? Well, some people genuinely enjoy serving and they are very good at it and why would they not deserve to earn a living wage? Sure, if you're a good server, serving is pretty easy and can be pretty good money, but most certainly not everybody can do it. Yes, a trained monkey could physically bring you food, but when it comes down to it, that's not what serving is. Just because an engineer finds their job easy (as it is a skill set that may come easily to them) does that mean that they should only be paid minimum wage? A bunch of you just piped up with "but they went to school for years for that!". Please don't underestimate the humble server - many of them have university degrees as well - perhaps serving is just what it turns out they are best at. Plus, if we all went out and got "real" jobs - who would serve you dinner?

So, and I promise this will be my last "world's colliding" post for a while, if you are out for dinner, please keep this post in mind. If someone else picks up the tab, don't be afraid to discreetly pull the server aside and confirm that they received a proper tip; don't use an open ended "did my friend tip ok?" that is very awkward to answer, a better question is more specific - "did my friend tip at least 15%", and top up if they didn't. And on the off chance that you genuinely received poor service (remembering rule #1 from my last post - Intend to enjoy yourself) speak to a manager. If it was a food issue rather than a service issue, again, speak to a manager, chances are they will adjust the bill accordingly and then you would still tip for the service on the amount of the original bill.

*Do not make your server do this. No one likes birthday songs/announcements/moose antlers etc. If you just want whatever is free for a birthday the server will still be obliged to bring you the dessert, and seriously, so long as you tip well, they don't care if you ask for the free dessert, it doesn't come out of their pocket. Just don't ask for the damn song.

**I believe that in theory tipping occurs on the before tax amount, however in practice I think that most people, myself included, tip on the after tax amount as it is the number in large font at the bottom. On smaller cheques it is sort of neither here nor there. With Flo's large table it means the pre-tax was about $386, so a $58 tip would be 15%, on the after tax amount it would be almost $66. When this happens, I am okay with rounding to whatever makes sense, in this case $500 total would make sense.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to dine out in Winnipeg

After this post the world may end as it will be a case of worlds colliding. That's right, I am letting a little bit more than usual of Winnipeg Girl's "real life" slip into this post. When I'm not busy writing my little blog, scouring second-hand stores and estate sales, up-cycling crap treasures from same, working at my regular 9-5, I am but a humble servant server at one of the many eating establishments here in the 'Peg.

Before I get on to the real meat and potatoes of my post though, a question: Is Stella's the new Grapes? Branigans? Now before any Hipsters spit out their fair-trade, locally-roasted java and start camping out in protest, let me explain. At one point, we'll call it the ninty-eighties, Grapes was King of the Locals. In the years leading up to my 18th birthday I dreamed of the day when I would finally get my turn to dance the night away on a Sunday (!) night at Pier 7 or Grapes on Main. Even when I started my first serving job, lore of the bartenders for Grapes was legendary. If I'm remembering correctly, in its heyday there were at least 6 Grapes locations, including bizarrely 2 barely 500m from each other downtown (at Main and on St. Mary where Pony Corral is now).

Stella's, while an entirely different concept is also expanding quicker than you can blink an eye. What was once a quaint little place that needed no explanation as to which location, simply "Stella's for breakfast?" Branigans, which for the record, the worst restaurant I have ever worked in - by far, is another one-time local favourite that expanded too big for its britches - even having a location in Grand Forks at one point! If you've ever wondered why the employees at Branigan's at The Forks tried to unionize I will offer this as one example: It was demanded that I be at work 15 minutes early, unpaid (or they would write me up for being late) and then, on their whim they would change my start time to later because it wasn't busy enough to start paying me.

So, while I wish Stella's the best, and I hope they enjoy their surge in popularity, I also hope they don't end up wearing out their welcome. Most of the hipsters will inevitably turn into boring assimilated adults with middle-class lives that keep them from sitting in coffee shops for hours on end and going for brunch every Sunday and Stella's will either need to adapt or the next local mega-chain will be ready to take its place. Although, perhaps in their case an expansion to Grand Forks would give me somewhere to dine besides the soulless theme and chain restaurants that dominate there.

Which brings me to the instructional part of this post which was prompted by the recent influx of diners using gift cards they received during the holidays. Near as I can tell many of these people have never dined out before. How nice of someone to give them the chance.

How to dine out in Winnipeg (in no particular order except #1)
  1. Intend to enjoy yourself and not find fault with everything. You'd be amazed at how much of a difference this makes.
  2. If you are dining at a chain restaurant do not get annoyed with the server for constantly interrupting you to ask how everything is or introducing themselves by name. We don't really want to do that but management makes us. If, for some reason a server does not interrupt you to ask how everything is and you have a problem, please politely get their attention and tell them what is wrong, your server genuinely does want to make it better. You are an adult, part of the onus of enjoying your dinner is on you. You may not eat everything on your plate and then complain that it wasn't good. Yes this happens. All the time. Oh, and all the "you guys" haters, get over it, we have limited ways to address mixed company.
  3. This goes hand in hand with #2, do not order your steak well done; that is why you did not enjoy it. Further to that, do not specify you want it "well done, but make sure it's not burnt". I love that at fude on Osborne they won't cook it past medium-rare.
  4. Do not come in 10 minutes before close. If you notice that there is only one staff member around and one other table in the restaurant, this is a good indicator that they are closed soon. Ask.
  5. The entire point of a reservation is so that the restaurant can prepare adequately for your arrival by staffing properly and having tables available. Hold up your end of the bargain and show up on time with the amount of people that you reserved for. A reservation for 25 where only 15 show up probably means that someone got scheduled for a shift that they weren't needed for. Yes, this also happens all the time. One day I will write a more detailed post as to why proper reservations are so important.
  6. Say please and thank you.
  7. Tip. I didn't invent the way our society works, but sufficed to say, if tipping wasn't a common practice in our society it would be built into the price so that the staff could be paid more. I know all of the cheapskates out there are referencing Mr. Pink in their head right now, but I assure you, if I was only paid minimum wage with no chance for tips you would actually see what bad service was like. Why on earth would any server or bartender play mediator/psychologist/babysitter/mindreader etc. when for that same 10 bucks an hour they could __________________ (I don't want to undermine any other job in particular, but there is more than one minimum wage job where being alive is about the only qualification).
  8. Let me expand on Tip. This means that you tip on the total of your bill before any coupons/discounts/gift card amounts were taken off. According to Trip Advisor, you should be tipping 15-20%. Just because you drank 7 free refills of pop and the 8th one came after #7 ran out, you did NOT have poor service. So, if you went out for dinner and it was $100 and you used the $75 gift card you got from Grandma for Christmas when the debit machine asks what you'd like to put in for a tip, in this case you wouldn't want to use the "%" button as it will only calculate it on the remaining $25. I dare say if you had a gift card/coupon tip more to the 20% side, heck, you had a nice dinner out for not much out of your own pocket - pass on the good tidings.
  9. You are not allergic to _________. You may not really like _________, or it may give you the shits later, but you are not allergic. Tell me that you don't really like it and I won't take you any less seriously and I will still try really hard to make sure it doesn't end up anywhere near your food. However, now my cooks will not have to stop everything, clean off all of their tools and grill so that you don't die. See the difference? Ever wonder why sometimes your food takes a little longer, it might just be because someone is lying about an allergy. That said, if you have an allergy please don't be afraid to tell me so that I can make sure we take all the proper precautions. Dead people don't tip.
  10. Intend to enjoy yourself. Seriously, you have no idea how big a difference it makes. I have served people where all sorts of things have gone wrong (as I am a human and so are they) but because they weren't looking for excuses to save a few bucks on the tip they still had a great time, rolled with the punches and probably couldn't have remembered the next day what had gone wrong. It's just dinner people, not the end of the world.
Now, these rules are by no means an exhaustive list, and if you have ever worked in the service industry they are probably pretty redundant. However, if you haven't, please pass it on. For some additional reading may I suggest pretty much anything by the Bitchy Waiter or this exquisite response to a bad customer at Fuck My Table.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, oh, and some other stuff

It seems as though my little blog is a year old today (or yesterday if you want to consider its birthday to be the first Monday of the year). Oh how my little blog has grown, both in readership and writer longwindedness. I've really enjoyed the warm welcome that I've received in the little blog world of Winnipeg. I've been down to the U of M a couple of times to join the crew on WIP, and even managed to meet a few of the people behind the blogs. I finally gave up and joined "the Twitter" and I still don't fully understand the point of it, but it is good for filling my need for information overload (that previously I managed to somehow get by without, oh, 4 new tweets to read, be right back...)

My little blog and Twitter finally got an avatar thingy or whatever you call them, and oddly someone on the Twitter changed theirs to the same as mine, which I still don't totally get, but have decided that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and hey, I'm pretty awesome. Some people over at the FreeP thought I was interesting too and made me blog of the week and also wrote a piece that mentioned me. I would link to those, but since they were in the bastard-child Sunday editions no internet links seem to exist for them, which is probably for the best; I looked pretty cheezy in the accompanying photo. Nevermind that when I had my 15 seconds of fame on a Global program I looked like I have some sort of nervous tick.

So for a birthday present I gave my blog a package wrapped in the often bizarre, racist, fucked-up* comments section of the Free Press Website. *If you object to my use of the word fuck, please read this extremely well written article on what word should be used. If you object to me thinking that I am a "public figure" please see the paragraph above; clearly** I have been in the public eye. **This also demonstrates the continued need for a sarcasm font. In case you are wondering why I didn't give my blog a present it's because it's just dumb to give 1 year olds presents, all they care about is the paper, duh, haven't you ever given a kid  a present? I can probably get away with it next year too.

Now on to slightly less self-promoting and indulgent things. "My Sister's Closet" is an event coming up shortly that could use your help. They are looking for clothing and accessories for women of all shapes and sizes who are about to transition from a school setting to the workplace. I'm not sure exactly the gender make-up of my readership, but guys, let me tell ya, wearing clothing that you feel good in makes a huge difference to a woman. Not to say that it doesn't to a man, since I'm not man I don't know your take on it as such, but you don't have to be a genius to know that the social pressures for women to look a certain way are pretty overwhelming. So for all my local readers, tell a woman you know about this event - this is the time of year when everyone starts off fresh anyway, the perfect time to evaluate the closet.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, same Girl

First and foremost - let me say that just because I don't have you in my blogroll, does not mean I don't like your blog. I just haven't had time to go through and update and it's been quite a while. Feel free to send me a scolding message.

New Years is the time of year that we all tend to make resolutions that we are unlikely to keep. I get it, it seems like a good idea, a perfect day to start fresh and be able to keep track of our successes (and failures). But I think that I read somewhere that most successful diets start on a Tuesday, less pressure that way or something. It seems the same could be said for any New Year's resolution, so I figure why bother today if it's doomed to fail anyway?

With the holidays I have been absent from the blogosphere, we could pretend that I was doing something super interesting, but I wasn't really. I tried to keep up with all the goings on city and world wide, but I think the story that stuck with me the most was one that probably struck a chord with many of those who keep up with Winnipeg related blogs. The fire that reduced a condo building on St. Paul Ave to rubble was that much more real because I know someone who was so close to the situation (Christian, still so glad it wasn't YOUR building). As well, being an animal lover, and cats in particular, I was overwhelmed with emotion when I heard that Wyatt the cat had been rescued. My heart gets tight when I think of the other cat, Fraidie, and the sad reality that if she hasn't been found yet (if you know that she has please let me know!) that being that wet and cold, it might be more of a recovery situation.

In the early hours of the reporting on the fire, all the usual suspects were trolling the comment sections of the FreeP, and when it was reported that Wyatt (at that point unidentified) had been found a couple of people alluded to the fact that they never would have left their animals behind, and admittedly I was curious as well; but I have never had to run for my life, so I can't pretend to say that I absolutely wouldn't leave without my animals. I like to think that I wouldn't of course, but I also don't think I could necessarily pass judgement on someone else for saving their own life. When it emerged that the couple who lived in that suite were away on holidays it reminded me how important it is that we build relationships with our neighbours.

I don't know if Fraidie's fate would have been any different in this particular situation, and for all I know, attempts to save the cats were made because of input from another resident, but we need to remember to talk to our neighbours. Recently I had a situation with one of my neighbours, and I could just hug my tenants next door for bringing it to my attention. Even though neither of them have been with me for long, they were concerned because something seemed amiss with the house on the other side. It turns out my neighbour was out of town, which if it wasn't winter I probably would have known from friendly chats in the yard. I will remind her when I see her next to please let me know next time so I can help keep an eye on her place.

Neighbours and a sense of community are your first line of defense when it comes to safety. I'm not sure where I developed the idea that this is so important - I don't think my parents really communicated with the neighbours. I suppose if you know who is around you it is harder to turn a blind eye to things, they are no longer nameless people, they move more into the circle of friends. Now, I'm not saying that you need to monitor every movement everyone on your street makes, that's just creepy, but take an interest. If your house caught fire wouldn't you hope that someone piped up and was able to alert the fire department that you have a cat inside? Or what if you could save the life of an elderly neighbour because you noticed that something was amiss, like the newspaper wasn't brought in for a few days and you were able to contact a family member so that they could check in?

So, lessons learned from the December fires of 2011:

1. Get tenant insurance - the residents of the apartments on  Beverly St. learned the hard way, it is extremely valuable to have, and many don't
2. And this isn't just because of fire, but let at least one neighbour (ideally who is around a lot) know a little about you and your schedule so that there is at least one person in the world knows if something is amiss or can recognize your pet if gets out or worse, trapped in the house.

Well, that's it, clearly I didn't make a resolution to become less long winded. I hope everyone had a pleasant end to 2011 and of course an even better 2012. See you around the 'hood - murder free so far this year, crossing my fingers it stays that way!