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Chris Ward

What the kitchen thinks about you.

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I find the blanket 'hatred' of the customers very disquieting. If, as the OP says, he is no longer working in the restaurant business, I think that is a good thing. I worked as a waitress in several restaurants for quite a few years - none of the wait staff in the restaurants where I worked had this attitude and if the kitchen staff did they hid it well. Sure, there were obnoxious customers and we all complained about them. But they certainly were a minority. And, as a customer, I have had more than a few obnoxious servers. Also, obnoxious receptionists in doctor's offices, obnoxious students when I was teaching, obnoxious store clerks - etc.,etc. etc. There are obnoxious people everywhere. To focus completely on them and ignore the others - who are cooperative, possibly friendly and, at the least, completely neutral, is a really negative and unhealthy attitude.


Edited by ElainaA (log)
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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Cicero

But the library must contain cookbooks. Elaina

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Is this just a expansion of the Waiter Rant book's thesis into the kitchen?  I imagine the author there didn't poll the cooks because of a language gap... Since OP is coming from a French POV, is there that same language gap between kitchen and servers?  In the US, it seems that the majority of folks manning the stoves are not exactly fluent in English. 


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Be kind, I'm new.

"Waiter Rant" is one of the worst books I've ever read.  A friend bought it for me because she knew how much I loved "Kitchen Confidential" and the waiter book was promoted as the FOH version.

How wrong.  It's a series of moaning and bitching about how punishing it is to be a waiter.  Really?

Although I have spent most of my career as a FOH manager, I'm under no illusion that it isn't really a glorified waiter.  On shift, I'm serving and clearing and cleaning and getting in as many weeds as anyone else.

 The only difference is I have to deal when asked for the manager, I have to keep the kitchen from wanting to kill the wait staff and I'm there three hours after everyone else counting tills, submitting paperwork and finishing off the reset for tomorrow's operations because I don't have the budget to keep people on to get it all finished.

 

 I would be the first to say that chefs are of a different breed, perhaps alien.  Their brains are very different.  One way of seeing this would be to get them to swap jobs with me for a day.  I would likely fall over doing their jobs too.

 I chuckle inside thinking of any of the chefs I know being able to smile as they take the order for gluten free, Ovo-lacto, vego steak tartare, well done.

 

strangely, perhaps, I've always been able to generate a very inclusive feeling between back and front of house, even though I've walked into jobs where all out war is being waged.  I try to get my front staff to see the view from back staff and vice versa.

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Well, your communication skills must be phenomenal, @Cronker. I have worked only FOH and many years ago. There is a lot of friction between customers, FOH and BOH. As I saw it, back in the day, the wait staff was ground between the customers and the cooks/chefs to a pretty pulp. It was stressful, but lucrative, for me at least. :)

 

I'm looking forward to your further insights.

 

I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy restaurants too, as a customer nowadays. I love hearing about the inside stories now that I'm outside of them. 

 

1 hour ago, Cronker said:

I would be the first to say that chefs are of a different breed, perhaps alien.  Their brains are very different.  One way of seeing this would be to get them to swap jobs with me for a day.  I would likely fall over doing their jobs too.

 

Yes, chefs are such hard workers, and it takes such a toll on their bodies. They must be doing it as a labor of love, I reckon? Still, though, you got your share of perverts and sexual harassers who are not fired because they are so talented and dedicated, and I would even go so far as to say professional, except for that one major flaw. It may be different now. My experience in restaurant service was over decades ago. Also anecdotal stories from friends and SIL a bit later reinforced my opinion in this area. I don't currently know anyone directly involved with restaurant service now, and I hope it has gotten better now for everyone involved.

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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Not sure about "phenomenal" @Thanks for the Crepes, but communication is certainly the key in my mind.

Even though the chef is clearly going to descend into apoplexy if a server forgets to ask for extra chopped chilli on the side, the said condiment will still appear.

I've often counselled chefs, after service, and asked:

"Why all the fuss, screaming and yelling and making tension?  You, and I both know that we will make it happen regardless of how frustrating the situation.  Sure, the beautiful medium rare got sent back twice and that would piss me off too, but none of us are going to be hauled over the coals for it. We fix it and move on"

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Hints for servers:

 

learn the coffee/tea preference for everyone in the kitchen.  Turn up for work ten minutes early and make a round of warm beverages for the kitchen.  Trust me, the next time you screw up an order, the kitchen just might be a little nicer about it.

 

KNOW YOUR MENU!!!  Even I, as FOH manager gets annoyed when waitstaff doesn't know if the dish is gluten free, or contains nuts.  The menu is your sales product.  You wouldn't accept buying a new car if the salesperson said "I'm sorry, I'm not sure if the tyres come with that...". Never, ever ever make a promise to your guest expecting the kitchen to play along.  "Sure, we can make the risotto without the rice!" will get you stabbed.  And I would probably not call for an ambulance.

 

Always treat the dishy with utmost respect.  It's a fucking tough job.  Try it.

I had some staff who would treat the dish guy disgracefully.  I took the three of them aside and told them I was one step away from firing them for their disrespect.

I pointed out to them that without clean plates, cutlery, pots and pans, our business simply doesn't open.

The perceived smallest cog in the wheel is as important as the big wig.

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If chef ranting is akin to the temper tantrums from some in my own field....it is a learned behavior.

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6 minutes ago, gfweb said:

If chef ranting is akin to the temper tantrums from some in my own field....it is a learned behavior.

Agreed. But who is the teacher?

and can the behaviour be re-trained out?

 

i worked with a chef who yelled and screamed at his staff constantly. They were scared of him to the point where they would ask me to take some blame.  Unlikely. 

The massive problem was that we had an open kitchen, where the guests were about three metres from the pass, so they got to listen to all the bile spewing from his venomous mouth.  He made the FOH staff cut the bread for service, even when I explained that they had not been trained for this and I wasn't comfortable asking them to do it.

so, guess what?  One of my staff cut off the top of her finger and had to be taken to hospital.

chef response?  "Hire some competent staff"

I quit that job not long after, and told the boss my reason (umm, chef, chef, and umm, chef)

Chef got fired some weeks later - perhaps the upper management had heard me?.

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This thread pisses me off. You sound like a toxic chef, burned out and grouchy. 

 

On 2/12/2017 at 0:23 PM, Chris Ward said:

What they don’t want is for you to tell them how they should have written the menu. That you’d like the beef but with the sauce from the lamb. And the vegetables you think should be served with the fish. And on the side, please. Put the sauce on the side. In a pretty little pot. So I can dip my fries in it. Because now that you think about it you’d prefer fries to mashed potato. Even though there are no fries anywhere on the menu.

Can you not read? Was it not clear on the menu? You won’t like the rosemary jus with the beef, and the steamed spinach isn’t suitable for the beef or the lamb. And we don't have a deep-fat frier.

 

I mean, are you such an "artiste" that subbing out spinach for carrots (or whatever) is somehow going to ruin the intricate nature of the flavors you have composed for your guests enjoyment? Is it too difficult to execute or something? Is pouring sauce into a small pot really harder than pouring it over the meat? Lol, the steamed spinach "isn't suitable" for the beef? You're making mashed potatoes and steaming spinach, not chiseling David out of marble. 

 

Customer SERVICE. Get over yourself. 

 

 

On 2/12/2017 at 0:23 PM, Chris Ward said:

Cooks want you to arrive at the beginning of service. Come at 7, if that’s when the restaurant opens. 8 at the latest. 9 if you must, but order quickly. If it says that last orders are at 9:30 pm, don’t turn up at 9.29 and expect the kitchen to love you for your custom. Expect them to grunt and moan and whinge about your lack of consideration.

And if you do turn up one minute before the end of service, don't hum and haw over your order and not be able to decide. And don't, whatever you do, order the tasting menu if you arrive so late.

 

There are so many variables that dictate when people arrive in a place for a meal...you seem to lack perspective. You never know who will be coming through your door to custom your place. A couple that has been traveling all day and finally needs a break at 9pm to grab a nice meal. Maybe the movie got out late, or the concert went long. Maybe there was traffic. If the restaurant doesn't want to accept orders past 9pm, the restaurant should close at 9pm. Why stay open until 9:30? Why work in a place where this happens? Go work in a place that closes at 8 if that is what you want. 

 

There is a favorite story of mine where, in the early days of the French Laundry, the maitre'd informed the kitchen that a 4 top had been seated late (they had been waiting sometime at that point.) A cook let out an audible groan, and TK fired him on the spot. Clean out your locker and GTFO. Because it is a bullshit attitude. And attitudes like that are infectious, and need to be weeded out. 

 

On 2/12/2017 at 0:23 PM, Chris Ward said:

The example I always quote is from Christmas, 2009. The restaurant where I was working was closing on Christmas Eve after the lunch service for three days. Chef had already left to go on his Christmas vacation, so there was just me and the dishwasher to do the lunch service. Which, as we'd told the owner repeatedly, would not be worth doing; most French people do NOT go out to eat lunch on Christmas Eve.

So we hadn't stocked the kitchen with anything fresh, the 'Menu du jour' was what was left in the fridges together with anything interesting we could find in the freezers. The salad of the day was bamboo shoots from a can, mostly. We did three covers, clients leaving the hotel (which was also closing for three days) as soon as we opened at midday.

Then we did nothing; we cleaned the kitchen, changed the oil in the fryer, cleaned again and stood around, the two of us moaning about how stupid it was to open on Christmas Eve.

Until 1.27pm, when I saw two cars pull into the car park behind the hotel and eight - eight! - people get out and walk towards the restaurant. I called the Maitre d'hotel and warned him that we didn't have any food, certainly not enough for eight people and, anyway, it was closing time.

Unfortunately the restaurant owner caught the arrivals at the door, welcomed them and seated them and gave them the à la carte menu, from which they ordered liberally. Foie gras, pigeon, bull steaks, fish. Starters, puddings, wines, everything. I listened to the order in dismay as the owner read it out and told him, flat out, that we didn't have two thirds of the dishes he'd allowed the clients to order and that, in any case, it was now 1.45 pm.

But he insisted we serve them, that we defrost everything necessary and serve the group who, it turned out, were old friends of his from his previous workplace whom he'd invited over for lunch.

'Invited' in French means that you don't pay. So we ended up working one and a half hours unpaid overtime on Christmas Eve to serve a group who weren't even paying for their meal.

And yes, I hated them but yes, I did cook perfect meals for them. Complaining all the time.

Cooks like to complain.

 

Sooo, you were upset because you had to cook lunch for 8 people? I dunno about you, but I can do that in my sleep. Yeah, working on Christmas Eve sucks...go find another career. Having a slightly oblivious owner? I call that Monday. 

 

Sounds like you were unprepared for lunch and got caught with your pants down. Mise en place, chef. Plan for it. 

 

On 2/12/2017 at 0:23 PM, Chris Ward said:

What you won't get is the mythical spitting-in-your-food treatment; I have never, ever witnessed this in all my years cooking. 

 

I mean, good on you? That's a pretty low bar to set for yourself. "I'm mad I have to cook lunch for 8 people, but at least I didn't spit in their food." 

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4 hours ago, Cronker said:

Agreed. But who is the teacher?

and can the behaviour be re-trained out?

 

.

 

The system or the Chef is the teacher. The system needs to decide that it is not OK.

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6 hours ago, Qwerty said:

This thread pisses me off. You sound like a toxic chef, burned out and grouchy. 

 

 

I mean, are you such an "artiste" that subbing out spinach for carrots (or whatever) is somehow going to ruin the intricate nature of the flavors you have composed for your guests enjoyment? Is it too difficult to execute or something? Is pouring sauce into a small pot really harder than pouring it over the meat? Lol, the steamed spinach "isn't suitable" for the beef? You're making mashed potatoes and steaming spinach, not chiseling David out of marble. 

 

Customer SERVICE. Get over yourself. 

 

 

 

There are so many variables that dictate when people arrive in a place for a meal...you seem to lack perspective. You never know who will be coming through your door to custom your place. A couple that has been traveling all day and finally needs a break at 9pm to grab a nice meal. Maybe the movie got out late, or the concert went long. Maybe there was traffic. If the restaurant doesn't want to accept orders past 9pm, the restaurant should close at 9pm. Why stay open until 9:30? Why work in a place where this happens? Go work in a place that closes at 8 if that is what you want. 

 

There is a favorite story of mine where, in the early days of the French Laundry, the maitre'd informed the kitchen that a 4 top had been seated late (they had been waiting sometime at that point.) A cook let out an audible groan, and TK fired him on the spot. Clean out your locker and GTFO. Because it is a bullshit attitude. And attitudes like that are infectious, and need to be weeded out. 

 

 

Sooo, you were upset because you had to cook lunch for 8 people? I dunno about you, but I can do that in my sleep. Yeah, working on Christmas Eve sucks...go find another career. Having a slightly oblivious owner? I call that Monday. 

 

Sounds like you were unprepared for lunch and got caught with your pants down. Mise en place, chef. Plan for it. 

 

 

I mean, good on you? That's a pretty low bar to set for yourself. "I'm mad I have to cook lunch for 8 people, but at least I didn't spit in their food." 

 

Your response is coming across as grouchy.  I'd say this cook had been left exposed by the Chef (who was not present at the time, and given the holiday, I venture to guess the Chef hadn't ordered much because of the restaurant and hotel closing for 3 days) and was more unhappy about not being paid for working past closing time on a holiday.  That's something your post didn't mention.

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I think, in part, it's a leverage thing. Even people who try not to show up late may end up doing it sometimes. But if a large number of diners do it on a rare occasion, then the restaurants will end up copping it because they serve a lot of customers. Sorry about that. I remember trying to get a Christmas Eve supper - not late, maybe 6:30 pm Most restaurants were closed. The Thai place was open but they had pretty much given up and had to thaw some chicken for us (well it was mostly thawed when we ate it). 


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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23 hours ago, gfweb said:

 

The system or the Chef is the teacher. The system needs to decide that it is not OK.

 

Yes, absolutely! I do not know if it is the same today, but talented chefs got away with psychotic and illegal behavior back in the 70's when I was doing my damnedest to fly under their radar.

 

I've seen a lot myself, but the worst story I ever heard was when my brother, who was in law school at the time, and his wife were working at Cafe Giorgio's in Cary. It was in a glittering glass building that was reflected in the small lake in was situated next to. They served Mediterranean food, and it was really good. Giorgio Bakatsias is still in business as a restaurateur in the area. He has a passion for food, and I have enjoyed many meals some of them comped, that were fabulous under his direction. His (very much missed) Cafe Giorgio's was padlocked by the IRS and he allowed his chefs to run completely roughshod over the staff there.

 

My SIL witnessed to me the chef there threatening to rape and kill a young waitress. Nothing was done about this. I don't know if the girl spoke up, maybe she didn't want to lose her job. My SIL was in school at the time to become an occupational therapist. She eventually specialized in rehabilitating people with compromised hand function, so she is not a flake. This absolutely happened. Chef said he would tie the young girl to a tree to have his way. Service went on as normal. This happened in the 80's in the defunct Cafe Giorgios' in Cary. Poor girl. My SIL did not say a word back then moonlighting to get through her education and internship. I am sure she still remembers the incident, as I do, occasionally. Her focus then was getting through school. 

 

Don't get me wrong, chefs rock! They work so hard, some are so creative, and it is a job that many physically can't do for long enough to get really skilled at it. A paradox. We all want talented chefs working to create great meals for us to eat. They are rare individuals and so appreciated.

 

Most of us do not want the sexual harassment environment or otherwise bullying for their staff a few of them create and management ignores. Hopefully, it is much better now.


> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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Funnily, what this thread reminds me of is the time when absolutely STELLAR food and service made a huge difference to a meal. DH and I were dealing with a heavy problem that was threatening to turn out just as badly as it possibly could, and DH was so worried that he couldn't eat or sleep. I managed to persuade him to stop and have something at a Russian cafe with a very restful interior where we had eaten once or twice before. As we approached the door, I realized that it was no longer a cafe, but a rather upmarket (for the area) restaurant. It was very early for dinner, so I decided not to risk trying to persuade DH to look for somewhere else, and in we went.

 

We were obviously not their target customers, we'd been awake all night and looked how we felt, but FOH seated us in a quiet spot, and turned not a hair when we ordered only soup, and when, having eaten that, DH had relaxed to the point where he was ready to eat a little more and ordered something else very light, maybe an appetizer course.

What I particularly remember is that not only were our insignificant orders cooked and presented beautifully, but the service couldn't have been better - quiet, efficient, and perfectly timed.I have no idea what the kitchen thought, but together, kitchen and servers created a very memorable little oasis of peace and refreshment in our day.

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 That is such a beautiful story @helenjp.   I have occasionally gone into a restaurant or café and felt truly cherished.   Not fussed over which annoys me immensely but treated as though I really mattered.  Your story will stick with me for a long time.  Thanks for sharing.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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10 hours ago, Thanks for the Crepes said:

 

Most of us do not want the sexual harassment environment or otherwise bullying for their staff a few of them create and management ignores. Hopefully, it is much better now.

 

Somewhat better.  Just the other day I was talking to a chef about how the restaurant owner was giving him a hard time about the chicken breasts in the walk-in being labeled 'tits'.  The chef, who has two young daughters and seems decent and relatively professional (as far as I can tell) felt like "yeah, but at least they're labeled, pick your battles, man".  And I'll admit, I did consider making a foil cock and balls (instead of a swan or the blob it ended up being) to contain the treats I was bringing him, but then remembered it's not supposed to be a contest to see who can be most inappropriate. 

 

So yeah, it is still fairly male-dominated industry with a work hard, play hard, fairly lowbrow sensibility, especially when cooks tend to be younger men.  And it can be fun to be raunchy, flirty, foul, etc.  But it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and it did get tiresome and was one reason I wanted to get out of restaurants.   On the one hand, alcohol abuse and sexist behavior have become less acceptable in the 20 years I've been in the industry.  On the other, every chef I know has a hard time finding good workers so in some ways employees can get away with more BS when they know it'll be a pain to have to replace them.  Apparently it's a bonus when people actually show up for work instead of OD'ing on heroin or spending the night in jail, so chicken part labeling is not going to be cause for dismissal.

 

 

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