But I’m Just a Server

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Let’s have a quick “get to know the voice” moment. My name is Tobin and I am a foodie. This is a qualifying statement so that you can know that the soliloquy I am about to launch into comes with years of back-story and passion.

I am 4+ years removed from food and beverage, where once I held the keys to 4 separate kingdoms. I was the F&B Manager at a prestigious golf club, and Assistant General Manager at a fine dining steak house, a General Manager at a Michelin recognized seafood restaurant and a partner in a bar and grill in San Francisco. For 15 years, I toiled in the service industry making sure that people’s lofty expectations were met while simultaneously struggling with my own internal “is this it?” soul searching. Eventually I wrote myself out of the industry with my book “What Seems To Be the Problem (a Restaurant Managers Tale)”, but I have since been compelled to inspire other foodies to realize that what you do to keep the lights on does not always define you as a person.

Why then is this a topic being explored here on The Crayon Initiatives blog site?

Well as a representative of TCI, our largest contributor to our goal is the restaurant business. One of the sparks that ignited our plight came from a restaurant table and wondering just where do the sorry, broken and rubbed down nubs of crayons end up after the 10 and unders are done gnawing on them, rubbing them into carpets and dropping them into their ketchup. When we started to peel back the layers of damage to our environment by simply dropping them in the trash at the end of a busy shift, we realized that something had to be done. That call to action resulted in the design and construction of our deposit boxes that could be left at the hostess stand of any restaurant for the deposit and regular gathering of these sad little crayons at the end of their life. By starting here, we knew we could gather enough crayons to recycle into brand new crayons for distribution to Children’s Hospitals all over the Country.

Here is where you the server come in. It has been my experience that at some point in most servers’ career, they start to desire something more fulfilling than delivering food and drinks. On the whole, servers are deeply caring individuals that are really aware of carbon footprints and the deeply rooted desire to please others. Why else would they practice their craft daily? The joy received from delivering a nice night out needs to be harvested and often time duplicated, but how? After all, you’re just a server, right? WRONG!

As far as we are concerned you are our liaison. Next time you go to any restaurant, be it yours or a favorite place to dine, take a quick glance around for one of our collection boxes. If there is not one there, you have just found the answer to “how can I make a difference?”

You can contact us directly to explore the options on how to get The Crayon Initiative involved with your restaurant. Once the unassuming and subtle boxes are posted in a centralized location, you can bring the message to your tables. Let them know that you have been proactive about the concerns with used crayons going into the landfills and are currently collecting them so they can be given new life in the hands of those that need them most. Behind the scenes, we can work out all the details.

Never sell yourself short of the potential that you have and never rest on the laurels that there is nothing you can do. There certainly is a way to make a deep impact and it all starts with you!

Contact us through this website! We can’t wait to find out how together we can make a real difference.

Five Back-To-School Tips That Never Make the List

 

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Once again the time is upon us, as the tans begin to fade, the last remaining grains of sand come dislodged from the places that only sand can find and new school shoes gear up for a couple of month of kicking rocks to and from the bus stop accompanied by an infinite supply of grumbling. Ah yes, a new school year full of promise as well as challenges.

Not unlike most monumental happenings, the ones less likely to survive the shift are those that choose to milk the remaining minutes out of the passing time rather than prepare for it. Some simply find themselves in a been-there, done-that mentality and invariably get bowled over by the unforeseen challenges that arise. Whether it is your first back-to-school year or you live in a shoe; we all seem to know the basics, but those aren’t enough.

Here then are five things that don’t make most back-to-school lists that are sure to give you that veteran appearance and calm the seas for your smooth sailing.

1. Don’t Unleash a Swarm of Questions on the Teacher, Day 1

We all know that we have the most important kid in the class and we really need everybody to see that only the best will do for our prince/princess, but think about the cross-examination you are about to deliver so you can have every question answered on day one and then multiply that by the 20 other parents dropping off. Don’t add to the confusion. You have 3 things to do when you get to the school, drop off, honk and wave….that’s it!

2. Get There Early

This was true back in my days of being dropped off, and now imagine it with the shrinking to nonexistent attention span of the triple-shot mocha choca locha malarkey, four minutes late to their own funeral, no time to say hello-goodbye mom on a mission. We snicker at them until inevitably we are them. Make it a goal to not be them. Be early. “On time” is so 2000.

3. Think About Your Kids Feelings

Even if the beginning of the school year is not a cataclysmic jump, like 8th to 9th grade, the beginning of a new school year is the prime environment for anxiety to grow in. Talk to your kids in the last few weeks of summer and find out how they are feeling about the coming year. If they are too young to fully express themselves, be proactive and incorporate a nighttime book that deal with this topic in a fun and professional way. Ask what they think the other kids are expecting and help them reach that goal, but most of all, just listen. Let your child know that you’re on their team! This will take any loneliness out of the vastness of the moment.

4. Talk To Your Kids EVERY DAY About Their Day

This is not only underrated, but the first item to slip through the cracks after the first few weeks. Most families start with the intent of making the first conversation around the dinner table resemble exactly the Ozzie and Harriet shows they grew up on (did I just date myself?), but then the calendar gets heavy, siblings are coming and going and before you know it the “tell us about your day” is replaced with “there are Hot Pockets in the freezer”. Find the time to ask and listen how EVERY DAY is going for your kid, all year long. You will most likely be able to hear what they aren’t telling you this way.

5. This One is a Two-Fer and Will Save Gray Hairs

Get closer to your computer, I am going to whisper this so not everybody hears, because what I am about to tell you pays dividends over and over again. First-buy Two PE outfits! Not only does this cut your laundry cycle down by more than half, but also your kid won’t become “Stinky Pete” in the yearbook! Secondly-Never buy a key lock for a locker, only buy combo. This teaches the child number memorization as stops you from having to search, and then buy, multiple locks all year long. If they wanted in their locker so badly they should have remembered the number….being a parent is fun!

So there you have it, five things that seldom make the traditional lists but are sure to save you gray hairs or pulling it all out…make a note that I am bald and only want to give back!

Attracting and Keeping Volunteers

 

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We are a nonprofit, and with this label come certain challenges. Before we get too deep, let us recognize that these challenges are met with the understanding that what we are doing has dramatic payoffs in community, environmental impact and karma. Never the less, we absolutely know what it is like to operate on a small budget and still garnish the attention of quality people that are interested in making a difference, with the payoff being cut-in-line privileges at the Pearly Gates.

One of the very most refreshing trends happening over the last year of two has been the surge of willing Millennials. This demographic has a natural sense of community and civic duty and represent the largest piece of the pie on the philanthropic chart. Todays young adults have seen their parents reinvent themselves and grow from self-building, they have grown up around churches and organizations like Boy Scouts with a heavy “give back” message and their thirst to be thoroughly informed on current events is never-quenching which keeps them in the front lines of volunteering.

In the beginning we here at TCI relied heavily on our own grammar school aged kids to do much of the busy work. Sorting crayons, boxing, applying labels, etc. And guess what-they are still our cornerstone, but have brought a slew of talents that have grown up in our garages. They bring friends to get involved, use their technical savvy to create info videos and speak about what we do with a natural sense of ownership to those curious about us. Point being, the future looks bright for the younger generation following in the Millennial footprints.

If you are a nonprofit and need volunteers to help the cogs in the machine turning, here are some tips to make the journey successful for you.

 

Post-It

Take out an ad in community newsletters or websites. Give specific examples of the work you are doing and the time commitments needed, as well as paint the picture of the projected growth of your company. People love to volunteer but are even more drawn to the possibility of being involved with something from the ground floor. This could turn out to be the best internship there ever was.

 

Just Ask

It is reported that the number one reason that people don’t volunteer is because nobody asked for their help. Bearing that in mind, use verbiage in your ad like “can you help us do _____” or “we are sorting crayons this Sunday and could really use your help for two hours”. Be specific.

 

List Expectations


In written form, either in the body of an ad, or at least when a volunteer makes initial contact, the very first thing you should do is communicate the list of exactly what is expected. Having this list in print form for them to keep is also very helpful. Too often, volunteers sign up for one thing and get roped into doing something completely different. The water cooler talk has created gun shyness among would-be volunteers. People want to know what they are signing up for and then get exactly that.

 

Praise and Educate

 

Explain in depth the exact impact that they volunteers work is going to have on the overall success of the company or campaign. Make sure that your volunteer knows exactly what you do, big-picture, and how you see the future based on the work that is being done today. The analogy is to show the concrete mixer responsible for pouring the foundation of the house a picture of the projected finished product. Everybody likes to work with vision and goal in the forefront of their imagination.

 

If you are an organization that needs volunteers and are lucky enough to get some, you need to realize that these are remarkable human beings that want to trade their time and energy for the greater good. They should feel invested in the project that you have laid out and feel wonderfully fulfilled when their heads hit the pillow. Never lose site of the fact that these very people are the exact type you may want running the organization one day.

[BLANK] As ART #2, Food

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Welcome back to our monthly series of BLANK as Art! As a recap, this is where we uncover, rediscover and often redefine what “art” is.

In our first post, we stated the sheer definition of “art” as: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

While the definition suggests that painting and sculpture are the common visual forms, we understand, as a people, that many other categories can fit into the art definition. Our aim is to get you to look at the world a little differently. Walk past a specific cloud formation and be moved emotionally or hear a piece of music and sense the beauty.

Today we explore the sheer art form of food.

This is a hot-button topic that has been lighting up the chat rooms for a few years now. One could make the argument that the birth of Food Television created a band of Celebrity Chefs that all use creativity and the desire to move emotion in order to stand out among the many in their field. For me we need look no further that painters use a palette to express themselves and chefs use your palate to do the same. This coincidence cannot be overlooked.

I myself come deeply rooted in the world of food and beverage. 15 years in the trenches of fine dining management have given me an intimate connection to the plight of executive chefs and their desire to move you emotionally.

 

Here then are 4 reasons that food is art!

 

Plating

Nowadays, in almost every setting outside the cafeteria line, chefs are using the plate as their canvas. The preparation of the food is but a footnote in the overall presentation of what your senses are about to receive. Some use large plates with small portions of food to suggest the expanse of the dining experience, the vastness of possibilities and the gentle application of color, texture and layers to unveil their long thought out masterpiece to the recipient. Not unlike real art, the greater the thought in plating is the higher price you are going to pay for it.

 

The Dance

If you have ever been lucky enough to get a sneak peek into a fine dining kitchen on a Saturday night at 8 pm, you have been privy to “the dance”. This is the carefully orchestrated and timed movements of the kitchen staff moving in every direction imaginable in order to stay on top of the relentless ticket machine spitting out demands. Each member responsible for the two-three foot workspace in front of them, but invariably needing items outside the designated area that require ducking, diving and swirling rhythmically as to not upset their neighbor clad in all white and focused on their own personal task at hand. Bodies flying everywhere, some holding knives, and never coming into contact. With the executive chef at the helm like a conductor monitoring all the movements in the ant colony closely for any room for improvement and efficiency. The scene is awe-inspiring and true art in the purest form.

 

Wine Pairing

This is where the rubber hit the road for me in food as art. Before my first stint in fine dining, I had eaten great food and I had sipped fine wine, but I had never taken the suggestion from the brainchild born from two mighty artisans in their craft and married the two. When the Executive Chef and the Sommelier get together to discuss flavor profiles and ingredients in their own respective inventories, amazing things happen. When a perfectly cooked rib eye steak is paired with an old vine zinfandel and the black pepper notes from the wine swirl on the palate with the butter richness of the beef, the term cathartic is inept. If you go into a place with a sommelier be sure and utilize their suggestion based on your appetite that evening. This is art in the purest form.

 

Ratatouille

Leave it to Pixar to simplify our own thought processes and present them in a way that we can all understand. The catalyst of this movie is that the ice-cold curmudgeon of a food critic serves one purpose in his lonely existence. That is to pick apart all forms of food and exposé the flaws to the public. That is until he has the peasants dish prepared for him of ratatouille. On the first bite, he is whisked back to his childhood, to an easier happier time. The surrounding light is golden and suggestions of his mother and her maternal love envelop him. Immediately his impenetrable exterior is shattered and he is reintroduced to his love for dining. This is the power of food as an art form and is replicated in individuals daily all around the world.

 

There is no doubt that food is art. Anything that attacks one, or more of our senses and causes a severe redirection of that sense is certainly art. Anything that requires such planning, thinking, and practice in the hopes of flawless execution and emotional appeal is art. The only problem now is where am I going to find a steak and glass of old vine zinfandel at 9 am?