I want to tell you about Marco.
I met Marco when he was 15 years old. He had a buzz cut and a smile angels envied. He wanted a job. I hired him as a dishwasher based on that smile.
Let’s be honest; dishwashing isn’t a complicated job.
It is hard and wet and hot.
Dishwashing is the worst job in the restaurant business.
It’s also the most important.
If you don’t have clean dishes, you can serve food.
It’s a thankless job.
Cooks bark for plates.
Servers need glassware.
Hosts ask for cutlery.
Shit rolls downhill, and Marco has to clean it up.
On any given Sunday, two hours after locking the doors, the floors wet from a fresh mopping, and the lights turned down, you could hear the hum of the dishwasher and the clanging of dishes. Marco would be alone at his station, getting us ready for the next day.
It’s a lonely job.
Marco earned minimum wage.
One Sunday, I went back to give him a hand. Marco liked the company. We talked.
He loved hockey, particularly the Montreal Canadiens.
He was an awkward kid. Talking to an adult terrified him. But that smile. That smile was magnetic.
He told me about getting bullied at school. He hated school. Couldn’t wait to graduate. He still had 3 more years to endure.
Marco wasn’t great at his job. But he never stopped. We never ran out of dishes. He smiled, and the dishes would clean themselves.
After two years as a dishwasher, Marco asked for a new challenge. Dishwashers don’t last 3 months. I hated replacing him. He was dependable, and I needed him.
I had no choice: Give Marco a new role or let his smile shine somewhere else.
The easiest job in the kitchen was cutting fruit and making smoothies. It took a bit more brainpower than dishwasher, but less than a line cook.
Marco struggled. We trained him. We guided him. His smile disappeared.
After 4 weeks of training, Marco was not learning.
Marco hated fruit cutting. He wondered if he could do something else in the kitchen. I explained to him that fruit cutting had to be mastered first. It was like a video game. He couldn’t get to the third level until he defeated the boss at level two.
Marco went back to washing dishes. And his smile returned.
A year later, we sold the business. I heard Marco quit not long after we left. He contacted me four times on Facebook. Each time, he asked permission to use me as a reference.
I love that kid. I fear the world is kicking him in the nuts as he struggles with skills some see as basic.
I think of Marco when I see people who have the heart but not the skill needed in a role.
I think of Marco when I hear someone trying to advance but they haven’t mastered a previous level.
I think of Marco when I talk to my son.
There’s a cliché, “hire for attitude, train for skill.”
Clichés don’t require us to think.
Marco isn’t cliché.
Marco had the right attitude. We tried to train him.
We gave him a safe place. We encouraged him.
He couldn’t do it. Left frustrated and discouraged, Marco went back to his safe job as dishwasher.
Of all the employees, Marco is the one I think about most. I hope his smile still shines bright as it once did.