A co-worker asked me yesterday if I had addressed on this here blog HOW a restaurant works, as in “Have you ever mentioned, on your blog, how WE don’t cook the food?” By “WE” he meant those of who serve it.
“I’m sure I’ve mentioned it”, I said. He practically ordered ME to “mention it again, would ya?” What he meant, of course, was that it is one of those things that cannot be mentioned ENOUGH.
And you know what? He’s right.
We catch a lot of grief as a result of what is going on in the kitchen. Sometimes, by way of an explanation, I just throw up my hands and say, “I have NO IDEA what’s going on back there!”, as if I don’t. Truthfully, I usually do.
There are many, many reasons why it appears that your order has fallen into some black hole. Not to “pass the buck” or anything, but sometimes it’s your fault.
I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. No this, no that, light on this, heavy on that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Your dining partner wants well done fries, but you don’t. You want your fries seasoned, but he doesn’t. Your food cannot come into contact with pepper or oil or butter or air, etc., etc., etc. Guess what? Getting all of that right takes time.
Yeah. Sometimes it’s your fault. Accommodating your special order, substitution, or downright foolishness takes time. Trading one sauce for another takes a few extra minutes, as does chopping your salad or finely shredding your cheese. Items are prepared a certain way for a reason. That reason? Efficiency. Sure, we’ll do everything we can to comply with your requests. Because, yeah, we know, you have dietary restrictions, your kid has allergies, and your husband has OCD (“None of my food can be on the same plate. NOTHING can touch ANYTHING else!”), but it takes time.
Servers love it when you “special” folks get all worked up because you notice that the guy that came in ten minutes after you has been served before you. He ordered a rare steak and mashed potatoes, people — mashed potatoes that we didn’t have to make specifically for him. He just eats them as they come — with salt and pepper. The cook didn’t have to mash up a potato for him. You, on the other hand, are another story.
And, speaking of stories, ENOUGH with the stories. Not to sound insensitive, but we don’t actually care WHY you are so “special”. Just tell us what you want/need with a minimum of fuss and we will do our level best to get it right. Seriously. We lack both the time and, quite frankly, the interest in how/when you developed whatever physical or mental malady that prohibits you from eating this, that, or the other thing. You can’t have citrus? You need extra citrus? It’s fine. Whatever. Just tell us so that we can tell the kitchen. That’s it. Easy enough, right?
This may come as a shock to all of you “I’m in a hurry, but want you to answer thirty-three questions before I can place my order” types, but we want you out of our hair. Time is money and you will never leave enough of the latter to make it worth our while to fool with the likes of you. We want to deliver the correct order to you as quickly as humanly possible, drop the check, and wish you “Good Day!” Discussions which include how you contracted colitis while doing charity work in the jungles of Borneo in 1978? That is entirely too much information. We get it. You’re a good person. Let’s move along, now.
In fairness, lengthy ticket times are not always the fault of the high-maintenance customer. Sometimes it is “us”. There exists in the restaurant industry something called a “labor plan”. What this essentially means is that we staff according to how busy certain days/hours tend to be. We rely upon patterns. Every so often these patterns do not hold.
For example, there is no rhyme or reason for twelve tables to walk through the door at 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. This is what we call “an unexpected rush”. If you happen to stumble into this situation, please do not say things like “it looks like you could use a little more help today”. I would love to respond to this type of ridiculous commentary by answering you with “No. What we could have used was for all of you people to come in between the hours of noon and two, you know, when ‘normal’ people eat lunch. We had enough staff on then.” I don’t though, I just nod my head up and down, pray you will shut up and order, and cross my fingers that the additional kitchen staff hasn’t left the building yet.
Because, yeah, we have one guy on at 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. It’s a pretty safe bet that he won’t be able to handle this onslaught alone.
Every once in a while, even when we are fully staffed, even when your order isn’t ridiculous, even when your server does everything right, your food will be delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with us or with you, but that have everything to do with a kitchen staff member (or members) whose ability to do their job is compromised in some way. They’re angry, upset, sick, annoyed, overworked, underpaid; they may not like your server, they may not like the manager, they may not like themselves very much. They’re just plain old psychotic. The list goes on and on. Still, this has nothing to do with your server. We cannot control the behavior of the kitchen staff.
In other words, short of using a cattle prod, we cannot make them move any faster. When we “disappear” into the kitchen, we do so to do various things, none of which include cooking your food. That’s just not the way it works.