Restaurant Recollections: How Service Works

Two weeks into my new job, I started to realize that I was an anomaly in this business, and had become indispensable to the team. That might sound wildly egotistical, but it was the truth. The slowness and apathy of my coworkers startled me every day, even when I thought I had seen the worst of it. Most of them didn’t go so infuriatingly slow on purpose; they just didn’t have any incentive to do a good job, or any care for food or customer service.

While it was a blessing to be the best worker, besides my two awesome Persian friends, Pardis and Valeska, who both happened to be women (go figure!), it also meant that I got stuck working just the salad and sushi station for a solid four months or so. Being on top of it and keeping the station together means that you won’t be able to move on from that station for a long time. It was fun though, especially when I was scheduled with Pardis or Valeska, or both, and if the sushi rice was cooked correctly. The three of us had a blast, because we all did our part and coordinated well, which means we would also get out of there before everyone else. Line cooking doesn’t just involve cooking the food for the tickets; as a night worker, you also have to close up all the food and clean all the stainless steel. Thank God The Beach House was big enough to hire a floor cleaner. I sure hope I don’t have to explain why this was so nice. But the cleaning still took forever. And everything has to get stocked and wrapped in plastic wrap for the lunch service the next day.

Service works like this: the tickets print as the servers punch them in. All the different stations received the entire order. If there were only salads or cold foods on the bill or ticket, you make them right away because the table has not ordered any other hot food. If there is no item made on your station on the bill, you smile evilly, crunch it up dramatically, and toss it in the trash (or, alternatively, punch it dramatically onto the spike.) On the other hand, if there is a salad and a steak on the bill, you have to wait until the steak is being plated to make your salad. It’s a simple concept, but gets very complicated very fast.

I used to work in a restaurant where the tickets were hand-written.(And yes, I give you permission to try to imagine all the different types of handwriting that servers can produce. Its mind-numbing.) There was no electronic system because the place was so small. The ticket holders were the same everywhere though. And I am still amazed that they actually work. I mean, really, how is it possible that those little silver balls actually hold on to the paper. This must be a freak of physics.

Anyhow, to get back to why line cooking gets really complicated really fast. 2 or 3 tickets is fine, easy to keep straight. But now imagine ten, and they all have a different mixture of fry foods, salads, saute station, and grill. (And they are covered in modifications (mods) and little extras people want added to what is ACTUALLY ON THE MENU (why did you come here again?! I mean this is a seafood restaurant, and you are allergic to seafood!! I don’t appreciate you putting your life in my hands on a whim!!)) The entire line is trying to communicate their ticket times to each other over the noise of the fan (oh, yeah, the fan. More on that later) the ovens the fryers the banging of pots and pans from the line and the dish pit the splutter and hiss of food cooking the creaking of equipment the banging of plates. Or the line cooks aren’t communicating, and instead the servers are yelling at everyone trying to get their tables put up. Which is much less desirable than option one. Believe me. Because servers are worried about making their tips, something we lowly line cooks are much less concerned about.

Those are pretty much your two options. Line cooks who communicate and those who don’t. It’s the biggest skill a kitchen worker needs to have. Not just because it keeps the restaurant running smoothly, but because that worker will get his ass kicked if he isn’t communicating. Which usually results in someone from another station coming over to get him out of the weeds, and then everyone being pissed at him for the rest of the night for messing up their awesome service. No big deal. Not communicating means later/longer clean up time, which is something everyone hates, even the guy who caused it.

But a good service is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating things in the world. (While some might be tempted to argue this point, I would suggest that they try it first.) And spiking that last ticket, after completely demolishing about twenty-four of them in an hour, is so awesome. Giving your station coworker a high-five (if they were any help) and knowing that you just flawlessly executed so many dishes, that feels so good. And you know what, it even feels good when you don’t flawlessly execute them, because in a place like the Beach House, which made every sauce from scratch, you have confidence in the yumminess of the food, and that it made someone, or 300 someones, happy.

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