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A Day in the Life of a Las Vegas casino cook's helper


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#1 ScoopKW

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Posted 10 September 2011 - 06:31 PM

Today I left for work at 7 a.m. for my 8 a.m. shift.

Nothing went right. Got stuck in traffic behind an accident that luckily didn't involve me. Usually I arrive with half an hour to spare so I can pound a liter of black coffee in the EDR (employee dining room). Got to work four minutes late, which means I've added 1/2 point to my demerit total -- which up until this day was perfect. Oh well. Luckily nothing happens until I reach six points.

On the way to the kitchen where I work (there are dozens of kitchens, with hundreds of chefs, cooks and helpers working at any given time). I walk through a hallway as long as a football field, with hundreds of Alto-Shaams along the wall. Along the way, I see the rigging crews setting up stages for the conventions, and the country western concert scheduled later this week. The bakeshop is close to the dressing rooms, and you can often see celebrities filching muffins from the bakeshop queen marys. (10-20 queen marys plus at least 20 speed racks full of baked goods leave the bake shop every shift, three times a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.)

The day started traying up pepper-crusted maple bacon. How much bacon? One stacked pallet of 15-pound boxes. Roughly 600 standard baking trays of thick-cut bacon. Driving home, all I could smell was maple. I've washed my hands 20 times today. They still smell like maple. Maybe I'll make some pancakes tonight. Looked up at the clock and it was 1 p.m. The day is just FLYING by.

In the background, two cooks are arguing who was the best Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger. What decade is this, anyway?

I go grab some lunch in the EDR. I get a chili relleno, a tamale, and a couple pieces of chicken and wash that down with more coffee. A guy sits down next to me and says, "A meal fit for a king. [Slaps his lap and whistles.] C'mere King. Here boy!"

Nothing good in the dessert display today, so I skip that. I don't need dessert anyway. A quick mile walk back to the kitchen.

The whole kitchen smells like beef. Cooks are searing off a few hundred NY Strips, and there's always a few hundred gallons of demi going at any given time. Our demi is from scratch. Makes a world of difference. We use it all over the place. It gets bagged in 5 gallon "chubs" on a machine that will take your fingers off if you're not careful. Worst day I had was when the machine nearly got me, and I ended up spilling 5 gallons of hot demi all over myself. I got it good from the kitchen that day.

But next it's sandwiches. 400 at a clip. Line up five stainless tables, slap plastic wrap on them, and then it's "Deal A Meal." One person throws slices of bread like playing cards onto the tables. Another follows with meat, then cheese, then garnish, then spread and top. Most people speak Spanish in the kitchen -- it's the lingua franca. Chinese cooks yell at Haitians in Spanish, because it's the language most people speak. Mexican "circus music" blares in the background. Sounds like a German oom-pah band on speed. But today the only thing coming in was the classic rock station. Thank God. I hate circus music. Could be worse. The night shift usually listens to Top 40. I didn't know who Katy Perry was before I started. Now I know the lyrics to "California Gurls" by heart. That's not something I'm particularly proud of, by the way.

The chefs are talking amongst themselves about possible sandwich combinations. I yell out "brie and proscuitto on sourdough."

"Mmmmmm... food cost!" is the reply. "Pepper jack and carmelized onions. Same as the rest, 400 count." (The chefs count EVERYTHING.)

Actually, we have a ton of sliced proscuitto in the walk-in. Literally, one ton. All pre-sliced and cryo'd. I can't even imagine the food cost. That will go to another kitchen and get used for a special of some sort. I imagine garmo (garde mange) will get that pork.

Finally it's quitting time. I say goodbye to the COD -- Chef on Duty. I change, and throw my checks and whites into the laundry chute. It will be clean and pressed when I come back. And then I drive home. As slow as the drive in was, it was the opposite on the way home. Didn't even see a red light. Made it home from the Strip in 15 minutes. Which is probably a personal best.


Next installment... sometime.

Edited by ScoopKW, 10 September 2011 - 06:33 PM.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#2 JeanneCake

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 05:41 AM

I like hearing about someone else's work day; especially since I'm a small operation (there are only 3 of us in the bakeshop at the moment) and it's pretty cool to hear about what it's like in such a large hotel/casino!

Waiting patiently for the next installment....

#3 CaliPoutine

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:22 AM

I'm waiting too.... HURRY.

I find this fascinating, especially since I just returned from Vegas where I partook in the "buffet of buffets". NEVER AGAIN!!

#4 ScoopKW

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 09:06 AM

I'm waiting too.... HURRY.

I find this fascinating, especially since I just returned from Vegas where I partook in the "buffet of buffets". NEVER AGAIN!!


For those who don't go to Las Vegas, the "Buffet of Buffets" is a Caesar's Entertainment pass that gives free access to the buffets at seven properties. Of those seven, three are pretty good, as far as buffets go -- Caesar's, Paris and Rio. The rest (like Imperial Palace) I wouldn't eat if you paid me.

I'm not a big buffet person. It's often not much more to go someplace where I don't have to wait in a line for an hour and get to eat what I order, cooked how I want it. The big problem with Las Vegas buffets is that they have to turn a profit. (EVERY department has to turn a profit. The tables don't subsidize the resort like they did when the mafia ran things.) And when a visitor is paying $45 for an all-day pass at seven restaurants, that gets tough.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#5 ScoopKW

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 10:08 PM

[All names have been changed to protect, well, me mostly.]

So, today I walk in and Jimmy is walking quickstep with a 400-pan of SOMETHING. He's obviously in a hurry. Chef calls out to him, "What are you doing?"

Without missing a step, Jimmy shouts out, "I'm doing NOTHING, chef. Could you please not bother me while I'm trying to do nothing?"

The chef in question has an excellent sense of humor. This is par for the course around here. That same day, we're searing some color on a lot of marinated chicken breasts. How much is a lot? About five bird baths and a few more trash cans full. A "bird bath" is a giant bowl on wheels -- looks like a birdbath designed by the folks at NASA. And since it's primary use is for seasoning and marinating 100-pounds of chicken, it's called a bird bath. Nice double entendre. Once seared, they go into 200 pans on speedracks to be finished off in the ovens.

We've got five bird baths, plus the white trash cans that are only used for food storage near the flattop. It's 4:30 p.m.. Three people are busy seasoning and searing the chicken. Probably 1,200 pounds of breasts all day.

Chef calls out, "I need all this done by five o'clock."

Of course, there is NO WAY IN HELL this job is going to be done by five. Not if the flattop was 200 feet long, and we had 50 cooks assigned to searing them, and a working time machine. Jackie, who is on the grill today says, "No problems, chef. 5 o'clock heard."

I'm thinking to myself, "Yeah, right, Jackie. You and what army?"

He starts shaking his butt from side-to-side. "Chef, can you please get me a broom, so I can shove it up my ass and sweep the floor while I finish this chicken by five? I like to multitask."

The five o'clock deadline was due to the fact we all have to dress up and be "eye candy" for a convention. We suit up and hit the convention area, where we have our stations. Sometimes we're carving steamships of beef, other times, we make omelettes to order. Today, I'm frying high-dollar mac-and-cheese. There are a lot of other assignments. But I'm on mac-and-cheese duty. I've got three portable burners, six non-stick pans. The stewards bring me 200-pan after 200-pan of pre-made macaroni in a three-cheese bechamel. My job is to sweat shallots and onions, then add chopped lobster meat, then add cream, and bacon bits. Then I add the mac-and-cheese, and fold in some minced black truffles. Finally, I add white truffle oil and serve two-ounce portions to the crowd.

I do at least 400 orders in the span of two hours, and by the end of the night, I feel nauseous from the sheer amount of fat I've been working with. Paula Deen herself, if here, would likely take a bite and say, "Dear Lordy, that's rich!" We decided that a 2-ounce potion had around 800 calories.

Of course, the special requests come in -- no bacon, I'm a vegetarian. No lobster. No lobster and no bacon. No garlic. I've got three pans going at all times, so that isn't too big a deal.

One moron asks if I'll fire just the lobster for him. Yeah, right, buddy. I've got a half-pan of lobster all day, and you want me to make you a truffle lobster salad. No dice. As it is, I run out of lobster 2/3 of the way in, and I finally run out of black truffles near the end of the party. The leftover oil will go back to the kitchen.

We used it the next day for truffle-parmesan-fries. This was a back-to-back front of the house day. I did chicken satay on a portable teppanyaki grill for the first half of my day, then I was on fry the rest of the day.

The satay was fun. We were serving a convention of fast-food franchisees. The kind of franchise I don't eat at. One of the franchisees walked up, looked at the 100 satays I'm doing and says, "Quite an operation you have here. But I'm in the restaurant business, so I know how it is."

I say, "That's GREAT!" (thumbs up). But what I'm thinking is, "Lady, this place serves thousands of people at once. We're running on electricity we make in our own freakin' power plant, which alone employs twice as many people as your hamburger joint. We buy olive oil by the SHIPPING CONTAINER. How the hell do you 'know how it is?'"

Finally, I was on fry for another party. We were slammed the first two hours -- we had like eight Vulcans going non-stop. Then it just died, and we got to stand around and talk about other kitchens we've worked in. (That's the main topic of conversation. Previous kitchens. Often with three-minute stories of sadistic chefs who thankfully bear no resemblance to our chefs.)

There's the usual banter, but it's goofier than what Tony Bourdain describes in his books. Sure, we get the usual "Animal House" type stuff. But the other day, it was nothing but bird calls. Bird calls! Sounded like peacocks in the kitchen, and two guys are having a running conversation in pigeon. Sounded like a Three Stooges convention was in town, and everyone wanted to be Curly Howard.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#6 Broken English

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 10:32 PM

This is a very entertaining read, thanks a lot for posting, and keep them coming. :cool:
James.

#7 Honkman

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Posted 15 September 2011 - 11:00 PM

Yes, keep them coming. Great read.

#8 Shalmanese

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 12:34 AM

I do at least 400 orders in the span of two hours, and by the end of the night, I feel nauseous from the sheer amount of fat I've been working with. Paula Deen herself, if here, would likely take a bite and say, "Dear Lordy, that's rich!" We decided that a 2-ounce potion had around 800 calories.


Sadly, as impressive as this sounds, a 2oz portion of pure fat only contains 500 calories.
PS: I am a guy.

#9 gfweb

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 05:29 AM

Throw some sex and drugs and you've got a book here,Scoop.

#10 Florida

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 07:59 AM

Great stories...

Reminds me of my kitchen days and why I no longer work in a kitchen. Certainly more fun to read about it than it is to actually do it.

#11 Shelby

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 10:14 AM

You're a very good writer! I can't wait to read more!

#12 Genkinaonna

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 04:50 PM

I've been waiting for chapter two! Keep it up!
If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

#13 ScoopKW

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 05:09 PM


I do at least 400 orders in the span of two hours, and by the end of the night, I feel nauseous from the sheer amount of fat I've been working with. Paula Deen herself, if here, would likely take a bite and say, "Dear Lordy, that's rich!" We decided that a 2-ounce potion had around 800 calories.


Sadly, as impressive as this sounds, a 2oz portion of pure fat only contains 500 calories.


Two ounces, volume. This was nothin' but fried carbs. While I don't doubt you, this made me sick just cooking it.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#14 annabelle

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 05:34 PM

Oy, Scoop. Thanks for reminding me why I quit cooking professionally. Who in the hell makes up the menus at your place of employ? That mac 'n' cheese is making me nauseous just reading about it. Keep up the great stories!

#15 JeanneCake

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 06:00 PM

This is a great read, very enjoyable.

More, please!

#16 rarerollingobject

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Posted 16 September 2011 - 06:10 PM

This is great, I love it!

#17 CaliPoutine

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 09:06 PM


I'm waiting too.... HURRY.

I find this fascinating, especially since I just returned from Vegas where I partook in the "buffet of buffets". NEVER AGAIN!!


For those who don't go to Las Vegas, the "Buffet of Buffets" is a Caesar's Entertainment pass that gives free access to the buffets at seven properties. Of those seven, three are pretty good, as far as buffets go -- Caesar's, Paris and Rio. The rest (like Imperial Palace) I wouldn't eat if you paid me.

I'm not a big buffet person. It's often not much more to go someplace where I don't have to wait in a line for an hour and get to eat what I order, cooked how I want it. The big problem with Las Vegas buffets is that they have to turn a profit. (EVERY department has to turn a profit. The tables don't subsidize the resort like they did when the mafia ran things.) And when a visitor is paying $45 for an all-day pass at seven restaurants, that gets tough.



We did Rio, Paris and Planet Hollywood. I wouldnt eat at Imperial either.

#18 barolo

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 09:36 PM

Love it, next chapter please.
Cheers,
Anne

#19 Broken English

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 10:49 PM



I'm waiting too.... HURRY.

I find this fascinating, especially since I just returned from Vegas where I partook in the "buffet of buffets". NEVER AGAIN!!


For those who don't go to Las Vegas, the "Buffet of Buffets" is a Caesar's Entertainment pass that gives free access to the buffets at seven properties. Of those seven, three are pretty good, as far as buffets go -- Caesar's, Paris and Rio. The rest (like Imperial Palace) I wouldn't eat if you paid me.

I'm not a big buffet person. It's often not much more to go someplace where I don't have to wait in a line for an hour and get to eat what I order, cooked how I want it. The big problem with Las Vegas buffets is that they have to turn a profit. (EVERY department has to turn a profit. The tables don't subsidize the resort like they did when the mafia ran things.) And when a visitor is paying $45 for an all-day pass at seven restaurants, that gets tough.



We did Rio, Paris and Planet Hollywood. I wouldnt eat at Imperial either.


I did Flamingo for Sunday breakfast. I stuck to Margaritaville after that.

Imperial Palace I wouldn't eat at either, but their blackjack tables served me well.
James.

#20 ScoopKW

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 02:42 PM

Time for a new installment.

I would love to tell you what I did this past week. But if I did, anyone familiar with Las Vegas would know exactly what casino I work for. And anyone who works at that casino would know exactly who I am.

We can't have that. I don't mind telling you the generalities of casino life. But if I start being specific, that's breaking the rules and I could be fired.

So instead, let's talk about the people in my neighborhood.


The demographics of the Las Vegas casino kitchen cooks is roughly 10% caucasian, 10% black, 15% Asian, and everyone else is Latino/Hispanic. Being Las Vegas, most of the Latinos were either born in Mexico, or are second or third generation. There are lots of Salvadoreans and Nicaraguans as well. Roughly 80% are male.

The demographics of the chefs, however, is 40% caucasian, 30% Asian and 30% Latino. Half of the chefs are women. I draw no conclusions about that. I'll leave it to you.

Back to the cooks.

I'd say roughly 10% of the cooks are the sort of person who reads eGullet, or Food & Wine, or watch the occasional show on Food Network. They're foodies who not only cook in restaurants, all their free time revolves around restaurants. They're constantly going out to eat, or auditioning at fancier places in their free time. (Incidentally, my phone just rang -- an audition for a spot in one of those fancier places. Wish me luck.)

The other 90%? It's just a job. A casino cook makes a fairly good living. A husband/wife cook team could easily save up enough to put a good down payment on a house in less than three years. Many cook's helpers are content to remain cook's helpers. Cooks spend more time in front of hot stoves. There is a significant workload increase.

Many are happiest on "easy money" days. "Easy Money" is something you hear a lot in the kitchen. A cook comes in on swing shift to relieve the day cook.

"Easy money?" the swing shift cook asks.

"Easy money," is the reply.

That means there's enough work to keep you busy, but you're not plating for a convention of 3,000 people -- being served one hour from now. The actual saying of "easy money" is unnecessary. Anyone can tell when the kitchen is slammed. But it's something the cooks say to each other at least once every other day, so I thought I'd mention it.

Speaking of "easy," let's talk about the kitchen itself. They are a DREAM to work in. Throw out all your preconceived notions about what it's like to work in a Las Vegas kitchen in the summer. They keep the air-conditioning cranked so cold, I sometimes wear two layers under my jacket. The kitchens are pleasant, well-lit, and meticulously clean. We have teams of stewards assigned to each kitchen. All they do is clean. Eight hours a day of cleaning. Our stoves and ovens are spotless. You can eat off the floors. Cooks and cooks helpers clean the equipment -- slicers, buffalo choppers, Robot Coupes, etc. But everything else is handled by the stewards.

In Kitchen Confidential, when Tony Bourdain suggests that quitting your career and becoming a cook is a stupid idea, I have to ask, "Why?"
Haveave you ever worked on top of a Florida roof in the summer, Tony? What the [censored] do you know about hard manual labor? I've worked all sorts of jobs. And I'll tell you what. I wish I had started in the kitchen. I come home feeling a lot better -- physically and mentally -- then most jobs I've ever worked.

Finally, cook interactions.

There's some of the stupid, sophomoric, blatantly sexual comments passed around. All of them involve [a specific homosexual act]. Unless, of course, the cook in question is gay. (I forgot to add that to my demographics. I'd guess roughly 30%. Ten percent are open about it, which means there are probably a lot more in the closet.) No point accusing a homosexual of being homosexual -- doesn't work. My favorite ever comment was from a woman mercilessly cutting down an older Asian guy.

"Sure I have small [mammary glands]," she said. "But I still get more women than you do."

She then held up her pinkie, insinuating older Asian guy is hung like a roll of Certs. That got HOWLS from the kitchen.

But there's not as much of that going on as you've been led to believe. At least not in the kitchens where I work.

More often, the conversation is "what you did before you became a cook." The answers would surprise you. Roughly 30% of them have an advanced degree -- one that isn't conducive to employment. Like philosophy. "I thought I could teach philosophy," they'll tell you. "Didn't work out. Here I am."

Other cooks are quite wealthy, and cook anyway. There's one guy in the main kitchen who rents his 30-something houses to coworkers. "I only rent to coworkers," he told me. "If they get fired, they get evicted. If they [censor] up my place, I'll find them and beat the [censored] out of them."

Roughly one third of the cooks have rental properties, vacation houses, stocks and other investments. The other 70% haven't made a smart financial decision in their lives. They're the ones driving $70,000 cars and renting an apartment at $1,000 a month.

They're ALSO the ones who will tell you that the CIA invented AIDS, and keep the cure locked away in a secret vault. That 9/11 was an inside job. And that it's impossible for the poor to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder.



That's all I have time for today. I'm back to work in an hour.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#21 minas6907

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 10:42 PM

I would love to tell you what I did this past week.


Cooooome on, we wont tell anyone!

#22 Broken English

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 12:22 AM

Keep 'em coming, I love these posts.
James.

#23 Jenni

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 01:04 AM

Really interesting post about your kitchen demographics and the atmosphere.

#24 ScottyBoy

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 02:17 AM

I really look forward to every post man, keep it up!
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#25 Porthos

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 05:18 AM

Keep up the interesting thread, Please, I'm really enjoying it.

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#26 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 06:06 AM

Damn, Scoop, you made me late for work since I couldn't stop reading this. Luckily we don't get dermits, we just don't get paid.

Most excellent, looking forward to more.

#27 ScoopKW

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 06:28 PM

Next installment will compare "strong" and "weak" cooks, and how things go in the kitchen on a bad day. I'm just wiped the [censored] out today, though. I've had maybe six hours sleep in the last 72.

Edited by ScoopKW, 27 September 2011 - 06:29 PM.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#28 Genkinaonna

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 09:42 PM

Go, sleep! And then write more!
If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

#29 threestars

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Posted 28 September 2011 - 02:04 AM

Had a good read... :) Keep us posted.

#30 Big Joe the Pro

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Posted 28 September 2011 - 07:14 AM

Thanks for the stories. I guess Anthony Bourdain would've started posting on the Internet 'back in the day', luckily he had "The New Yorker" (I believe it was) to recognize his talent.

Does anyone else find the phrase 'back in the day' to be an oddly compelling strange twist of words or is it just me? I find it so odd I feel forced to put it in quotation marks. Anyone know who coined it?

Anyway, I have a couple questions if you don't mind. You can ignore them if you prefer, I wouldn't feel slighted. Maybe you could work the answers you'd care to give into future installments? I'll be here.

> What's the average starting pay for a cook's helper?
> I would imagine that the casinos are union shops (which is ok by me)?
> Do you work eight hour shifts and are they consistently at the same time of day (i.e. always mornings)?
> Is OT available and is it strongly suggested you accept it or it is totally optional?
> Are employee meals free and are they buffets and/or all you can eat?
> What's wrong with Imperial Palace? It sounds like a Chinese buffet?

Ok, thanks again.
Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?