Blast from the past: Mike Royko on why corporate America has gone down the tubes

by 1389 on January 6, 2014

in 1389 (blog admin), Chicago, food and drink, Greece, humor

Mike Royko, rest his soul, was, by all accounts, somewhat left of center and an all-around ill-tempered dude. But at times, in spite of himself, his writing talent combined with his work ethic let him turn out columns on the Chicago scene that were both funny and spot on. Even though, back in the bad old days, I lived on the Near North Side and occasionally ate and drank at Royko’s favorite watering holes, I never had the pleasure (or the misfortune) of his acquaintance.

I vaguely remember one Royko column in which he suggested winter Olympic games that would be more relevant to the denizens of we now call #Chiberia; among them, blowing snow and waiting for buses.

Here Royko dissects the fecklessness and the irrelevance of the academic discipline of modern management.

Billy Goat Tavern
Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan: Mike Royko’s favorite haunt

Shortage Of Short Greeks Ruining Us

By Mike Royko – December 05, 1986

The moment we sat down for lunch, I knew it was a mistake. It was one of those cute new yuppie-poo restaurants with ferns and a menu that listed calories.

I knew it was an even bigger mistake when five minutes passed before the busboy dropped the silverware and napkins in front of us.

About 10 minutes later, I snared a waitress as she was hurrying by and asked: “Is there any chance we can see a menu?”

She flung down a couple of menus and rushed off. About five minutes later, she was back for the orders.

“I`m so sorry,” she said. “We`re short-handed. One of the girls didn’t show up today.”

When she finally brought the food it wasn’t what I had ordered.

“There are some problems in the kitchen,” she said. “We have a new cook.”

“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll eat it, whatever it is. But what about the beer?”

“Oh, I forgot, you wanted a beer,” she said. The beer arrived just in time to wash down the last bite of the sandwich.

When she brought the check, which was wrong because she charged me for what I ordered instead of what I got, I asked: “Who runs this place?”

“The manager?” she said. “He`s in the end booth having lunch.”

On the way out, I stopped at the manager`s booth. He was a yuppie in a business suit. He and a clone were leisurely sipping their coffee and looking at a computer print-out.

“Nice place you have here,” I lied. “Do you own it?”

The young man shook his head. It was owned by one of those big corporations that operates restaurants in far-flung office buildings and health clubs.

He also proudly told me that he had recently left college with a degree in restaurant and hotel management.

That explained it all. His waitresses were short-handed, his cook was goofing up the orders, the customers were fuming, and what was he doing?

He was having lunch. Or, as he`d probably say, he was doing lunch.

I don`t want to an alarmist, but when this nation collapses, he and those like him will be the cause.

First, we had the MBA–especially the Harvard MBA–who came along after World War II and took over American industry. With his bottom-line approach, the MBA did such a brilliant job that the Japanese might soon buy the whole country and evict us.

But we`re told not to worry. Now that we don’t manufacture as much as we used to, we’ll be saved by the growing service industry.

The problem is that the service industry is being taken over by people like the restaurant manager and his corporation. They go to college and study service. Then they install computers programmed for service. And they have meetings and look at service charts and graphs and talk about service.

But what they don’t do is provide service. That’s because they are not short Greeks.

You probably wonder what that means. I’ll explain.

If that corporation expects the restaurant to succeed, it should fire the young restaurant-hotel degree holder. Or demote him to cleaning washrooms.

It should then go to my friend Sam Sianis, who owns Billy Goat’s Tavern, and say: “Do you know a short Greek who wants to manage a restaurant?”

Sam will say: “Shoo. I send you one my cousins. Jus’ got here from old country.”

Then he`d go to Greek Town and tell his cousin, who works as a waiter, that his big chance had come.

When the next lunch hour rolled around, and a waitress failed to show up for work, Sam’s cousin would not sit down to do lunch. He would put on an apron and wait tables himself.

If the cook goofed up orders, Sam’s cousin would go in the kitchen, pick up a cleaver and say, “You want I keel you?”

He wouldn’t know how to read a computer printout, but he’d get drinks in the glasses, food on the table and money in the cash register.

That simple approach is why restaurants run by short Greeks stay in business and make money. And why restaurants that are run by corporations and managed by young men who are educated beyond their intelligence come and go. And mostly go.

So if you are ever approached by a stockbroker who wants to sell you shares in any of the giant service corporations, tell him not to bother showing you the annual report. Just ask him one question.

“Is it run by short Greeks?”

If he says no, leave your money under the mattress.

There ya go.

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