Behind the counter or back in the kitchen or down in the cramped little office in the basement of the burger joint is the manager. He’s the guy who rides herd on the fry cooks and dishwashers and servers, in addition to keeping track of the money and ordering supplies. Manager Miguel Gomez, age 32, sees how studying deviant psychology in college has stood him in good stead in the restaurant business.

“I’ve been working in the restaurant business since I was 15. I started out washing dishes, when I was going to high school.

“In the restaurant business, you get to know a lot of different people, and that intrigues me about the business. You could meet a millionaire, and you could be shaking hands with him, while you’re making him lunch. And you never know, down in life, that person might remember meeting you, and something could come from that!

“I went to school at John Jay College, where I studied Psychology, specifically deviant behavior studies. And that comes in handy in the restaurant business! Here, with employeees, you’re dealing with different aspects of people’s personalities; sometimes you have to baby them, sometimes you have to push, sometimes you have to pamper. It’s like being a principal in a high school with a bunch of little kids, and each one needs a different way to motivate them. That’s what the restaurant business is like!

“The techniques can’t work on everybody the same way, though. Some people you can say, ‘I need this! I need that!’ And they’ll do it. And some people, you have to make it slow for them, so they can grasp it, and then they can get it done. You have to use different tools to motivate different people. Some people are called ‘developers’, people who can develop things, but then they lack the motivational skills, so you have to motivate them. And then you have the ‘doers’, who want to do everything by themselves … but then you’re not teaching them to develop and go to that next level. All those things come into psychology, so it’s a perfect fit for me.

“I worked for a company called Au Bon Pain, when they first came to New York, in the 80’s; that’s where I started, washing the dishes. Then I moved up to Shift Supervisor, which is the person who runs their crew, who tells them what to do, but doesn’t have as much power as an assistant or general manager. I liked the responsibilities and I liked the idea of taking something from the concept stage and seeing it come through, and blossom into something bigger. So I said, “Yo, this could be really good,” because in the manager business, results can be real quick … I mean, you can fix a problem right away, so you get gratification right away.

“I love this job. It’s about meeting new people and developing young minds! So they can either do this or do something different, but they can get an understanding about what life is really about. It’s not about the money, its about finding what you want to do and loving it! And once you love what you want to do, you’re going to be successful. It’s not all about being a billionaire. It doesn’t always have to come down to that. if you’re fulfilled and content, you’ll have a great life.

“The only thing I really hate about this business is that you don’t get a pat on the back, you don’t get, ‘Oh, thank you, great job.’ You don’t even get any kind of response about nothing. So a lot of employees leave, and you lose a lot of great people. ‘You know, you’re doing a great job!’—I try to tell that to my employees all the time. Saying ‘thanks’ means that I care, that I know you’re a human being and you have feelings; that I respect you as a person. And you usually don’t get that. You get bashed everyday. You get beat up everyday. I don’t know how people think you can perform at a high level, if every day you go to work, you get beat up. So then you come in with a negative attitude to begin with, and that spreads through your whole day.

“So that’s where the psychology comes in again: you got to get the employee out of the, ‘Everybody’s out to get me.’ So that’s why I mean psychology is a life saver for me, being so long in this business. And it’s helped me to keep from going off the deep end, too!”

©Zina Saunders 2006-2014

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