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The other day Simon and I went to IHOP on a lark. I hadn’t been to the house of multicultural pancakes in years, not since late ’90s, before the dilapidated, blue-shingled shack off of Northern Boulevard near Great Neck shut down. I don’t know if Oklahoma just rolls differently than Long Island when it comes to feeding the masses, or if my years away from the gridiron of griddles had seen more changes than Eskimos have words for cold things, but the place was run in a way that rivaled a commercial vehicle wash, condom factory, or post office. There were headsets and there were command prompts. Coordinated computer screens. A protocol that maintained a level of order to the bacchanalian breakfast atmosphere. It was a very, very well choreographed meal.

The good news is that the IHOP we went to was hiring. The bad news is that a simple Google search reveals that working there is tantamount to torture. “I was there for a grand total of a little over two months, and during that time I witnessed a 100% turnover rate, including the night shift. No joke. This job is that bad,” says an author on Work Sucks. I was not, nor am I currently, looking to get a job at IHOP, I just figured I’d pass along this information, in case any Oklahomans out there are looking for a food service gig.

What the trip did inspire me to do, other than continue being a vegan (pork sausage makes my stomach flip like a flapjack in a clothes dryer), is to manage my time more effectively. After all, if one woman with acrylic tips and a bored expression can corral eight separate groups into and out of a waiting area within fifteen minutes, I’d say that IHOP’s method of managing the mealtime madness is working. Here’s some of the sapience I learned from the sanctum of the short stack:

Segment your time. Something as seemingly simple as “eating breakfast” is actually a series of events. There’s the waiting period, when you’re sitting around with a bunch of pajama-clad almost-patrons who resemble sea-cows. Then there’s being seated in the main dining trough area, and during that jaunt you get some sticky menus. An order is placed, the food is cooked, picked up by your server, and placed in front of you. Optional “food prepping” step of slathering syrup on the surface of everything. Eating. Then receiving the check, paying, tipping, leaving. It’s a whole bunch of tiny, incremental occurrences that make up something as concisely put as “going to IHOP.” Oh, and I didn’t even mention the first step, looking for parking. Yet the woman at the counter apathetically and accurately announced that we would only be waiting ten to fifteen minutes. We waited for thirteen minutes on the dot. How did she know? The answer has to be a combination of estimation and understanding the way their business works.

Recently I’ve learned an odd pitfall of being freelance, and that is personal time management. I’m a devout list maker, I organize myself down to a single column every day, including weekends, I write out what needs to be done, in more or less prioritized order. But these days it seems like the items unrelated to work fall by the wayside as my push to “get things done” takes over. Poems aren’t written. Trips to the library aren’t made. Emails are unanswered, Facebook statuses unchanged. I’ve ceased being capable of doing anything but work, regardless of deadlines. So I need to learn how to break it up, moment by moment, hour by hour. By managing my minutes before the day even begins I’ll be certain that I’ll accomplish what needs to get done in a manner that is efficient, and without the creeping, stomach-seizing recognition that I have to rewrite half of the items (read: the fun ones) from today all over again. I need to add a time limit to my tasks.

Take note that this manner of time management would be wholly ineffective if we were talking about a rapidly approaching deadline, sudden project, or laundry day.

The client is always right. Simon took a sip of his orange juice and immediately passed it to me. “Taste this,” he said. His face gave away that I was in store for something less than citrusy sweetness. I took a tiny swallow, and no sooner had the swig sluiced down my throat did I taste an acrid, bitter, revolting echo of either soap or Satan. I made a face. What, to me, was an improperly rinsed glass was, to Simon, “gone bad.” He told the waitress, who certainly didn’t believe that an entire industrial-sized barrel of OJ had turned without the rest of the juice slugging restaurant breaking into an angry, orangey mob. But Heather, said waitress, simply smiled, apologized, and whisked it away, having asked him if he wanted another glass. “No, thanks,” he replied. “Just a coffee instead.”

Sometimes we’re asked to change our work to suit the client’s needs, even when we feel our original words were stronger. We recently had a project that involved writing bios for a handful of people, some of whom wanted to tweak our words on their own. Although the outcome in more than one of these instances resulted in us not being able to use the piece for our portfolio, the recipients were pleased, and we were paid. Remember that you’re working for a living, even if it’s in a creative field. Respect the person writing your paycheck. And make sure you swear silently under your breath when you receive the batch of edits you weren’t prepared to make.

Compensate, but not too much. We weren’t charged for said coffee, but we were charged for the orange juice. To me, this was smart. It was a complaint based on feeling — a burning, gagging feeling — but feelings aren’t fact. We were charged for what we ordered, but not for what washed the unpleasantness down. This, to me, was a smart move.

If you have to make adjustments, do it, just keep the original and agreed upon quote in mind. If a client wants a dramatic overhaul, change of direction, or even just a rewrite of part of a project, that’s fine. We know that, just as in food service, the customer/client is always right. We just have to be acutely aware of when to draw the line and not give our words away, while also keeping in mind that the best way to keep a client happy, and to generate glowing word-of-mouth, is by acknowledging the their opinion well in advance of final delivery. And to remember that discounts, perks, and free drinks are often what’s remembered long after a project has been paid for.

Do one thing and do it well. I worry about IHOP’s future, which obviously I shouldn’t, since they apparently paid for Applebee’s with over 2.1 billion in cash or something ridiculous, and the company just welcomed a new CFO who has a long history of success with Dial Corp.

The reason for my seemingly unnecessary concern is because of grilled tilapia hollandaise and buttermilk popped-corn shrimp. Although IHOP has been offering dinner options since 1987, and I believe the most recent menu meddling occurred in 2005, the idea of getting anything other than pancakes at, well, International House Of, Say It With Me Now, Pancakes seems a little silly. Not because they can’t successfully fry something other than hashbrowns, or because hollandaise sauce doesn’t taste good on vittles other than eggs, but because they’ve built their reputation on breakfast. I wouldn’t go to Denny’s for spaghetti, and although we reject offers to design webpages every other week, no one should come to us for anything other than what we offer. Which is writing.

You can be nearly guaranteed any kind of pancakes from IHOP, as well as any variety of text from Ministry of Imagery, but I don’t know if offering a broader swath of the food or web dev spectrum would benefit either company. What seems like a profitable no-brainer can often water down the syrup. Know your strengths. Do one thing, and do it well. Many companies try to put too many waffle irons in the fire (us included, just ask us about when we were forced to run a snowboarding website from the FTP client to the front). You can benefit immensely by being specialized. Resist the temptation to offer other things, though attempting to grow professionally — when not on a client’s dime — is always a learning experience. I wonder what the first person thought when they took the initial mouthful of fish from an establishment known for its eggs? Rooty Tooty Fresh And Fishy just doesn’t sound nearly as cool.

Take note, those who frequent IHOP, it’s been said that boysenberry is being phased out of the four syrup holster that comes with every table (strawberry, blueberry, butter pecan, and said berry of boysen.) Regular syrup has been seen cropping up in its place. Considering boysenberry is a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry, I suppose you were technically getting five syrups, not four. Sop it up.

Waffles or pancakes? Send me your short stack stories: AinsleyDrew at gmail dot calm.

$4.99 means unlimited pancakes. If you donate I’ll post a photo of your money being spent.

Hire us to write for you. We come with a side of syrup.

Twitter is like my kids’ menu.

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