The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 4, 2013

Murray: Pearls of wisdom from Ponderosa Steak House

The Mankato Free Press

---- — It was bound to happen.

Eventually, every kid realizes the quickest way to get some of the things they want (shoes, Chipotle burritos, iTunes) is to have their own. And this is usually done by means of a job.

For my daughter, the day finally came last week for her to enter the American workforce, yet another milestone that makes me wonder where the time has gone: "Wait, what? You're employed? Aren't there laws against the hiring of toddlers?"

But, of course, she's not a toddler. She's a 16-year-old young woman. With a job.

So when I dropped her off at Music Mart today, I snapped a few pictures and watched her head in. After I got into my car and headed back to work, it hit me that I probably should have given her some advice, some words of wisdom based on the things I'd learned when I'd entered the workforce so many years ago.

Here goes.

First, if you ever want to quit a job (and I'm so not saying you should quit), do it the right way, and not the way I left the Ponderosa Steak House during the summer before my junior year of high school.

At the time this all went down, I'd been dating my high school girlfriend whose parents were divorced. On weekends she'd go stay with her dad in Burnsville ... and I would follow. Her dad had a pool, and on the weekend I started working at Ponderosa, we were chillin' at the pool and I'd begun to seriously regret my decision to get a job.

I worked on a Friday, called in sick on Saturday, called in to quit on Sunday.

"You've got to be kidding me," the incredulous Ponderosa assistant manager said.

In my defense, that one day was rough. I was a "host," which meant my job was to walk around and ask people if they wanted steak sauce or ketchup. And when it looked like they were done with their meal, I was supposed to ask if I could take their plate away. The first guy to whom I directed the empty plate question simply dropped his fork on his near-empty plate — which startled his wife and daughter — and said to me in the most impatient possible voice, "Does it look like I'm done?"

Second, make sure you don't screw up financial transactions.

It won't surprise anyone to know I'm not the guy you want running the till at a hot dog stand. I'm just not a numbersy, get-it-exactly-right kind of guy. But when I worked at Hal's in the Maplewood Mall, that's just what I had to do.

On two occasions when people were purchasing jeans or sweaters with "charge cards," I forgot to run the card through that old-school roller device that makes a carbon copy of the numbers on the card. Why is that important? Without that, there is no purchase. It's as if we let them walk out the front doors with free jeans.

My attitude on those was pretty casual. I figured the guy would give me another chance. He didn't. I was fired. And rightfully so. So sweetie, get the financial transactions right.

Third, remember that everything you do these days travels with you. This is your first job. It can be the beginning of a amazing career in the workforce, the first stop on your road to riches. Play your cards right — always show up on time, remember to treat customers with respect, work hard even on the days you don't want to be there — and this first job will lay the foundation for everything that will follow, including all future jobs, college admissions success, etc.

Or, if you don't play your cards right — quit after your first day, screw up financial transactions — it can be your Ponderosa. Don't let Music Mart be your Ponderosa. That's nothing to be proud of.

Robb Murray is a Free Press staff writer. He can be reached at 344-6386 or