The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Jules was pumped! The first night. She only had a few days to get ready. Most of the staff started on Tuesday, and the dry run was on Thursday.
Her week started at 5:30 Monday morning. All of the health inspections and occupancy inspections went well. She placed all her orders, finished assembling equipment and unboxing small wares. Tuesday morning she arrived at five. The food deliveries started rolling in around seven. Jules spent the first several hours of the day putting things away, stocking shelves and taking calls from salespeople. Her Sous chef Dave, came in around noon. Together they reviewed the recipes, and designed prep lists. Assigning dishes to stations, and prep work to individuals. Jules had already made a master prep list and knew what needed to be done.
Around two the cooks started to arrive. Their start time was two thirty, and Jules had scheduled a meeting with all of them to discuss policy and procedure. She wanted to be sure everyone was working off the same page. The cooks and dishwashers all assembled by around two forty five, and Jules was ready to begin.
She reviewed all the policies and procedures for punching in and out, uniforms, eating, calling in sick and being on time. She then got into the menu. She handed each person a menu with the items they'd be preparing highlighted. Attached were recipes and prep lists. They would only be open for dinner for the first three months, so they only received dinner menus. She explained that in the future they would open for Sunday brunches, then lunch Monday through Friday. Saturday they'd probably only serve dinner.
She then led a tour of the restaurant. Along the way she pointed out the cleanliness and the orderly fashion in which everything was put away. She told them about how they should prepare themselves to spend several hours a night cleaning up after themselves and how she expected them to take as much pride in the kitchen as they did in the food.
Wednesday morning Jules day started at Five again. Today she didn't expect to be out until midnight. Sandy, the pastry chef was there waiting for her when she arrived. They had already decided on the dessert menu and Sandy was ready to get started.
Jules started with soups and sauces. Sandy started making cakes and preparing the chocolate mousse. David arrived around seven and made everyone some coffee. He proceeded to cut the veal, New York strips and then was to move onto the fish.
Shortly before noon the cooks started to arrive. They all knew what to start on. They had their lists from the day before and soon the kitchen was humming with work.
Scott walked into the restaurant to the wonderful smells of brownies cooking, garlic roasting and herbs being chopped. He was excited, opening night was on its way!
Things seemed under control. Everyone was working, the kitchen was quiet with only the sounds of knives chopping, veal being pounded and the occasional whir of the food processor or mixer. By four o'clock the cooks were to have their stations set up and be ready for a line up with the servers. Everyone seemed ready. Jules started around 3:30 checking each station. She had five stations to check and by four had only checked the sauté station and the grill. The vegetable station, pantry and desserts were all staffed by previous employees and she wasn't too worried about them.
The line up was interesting. The kitchen had made some samples of different dishes for the servers to try. Jules and Scott had decided to make three or four dishes per day until all the dishes were tasted by all the servers. The dining room staff were all obviously nervous. No one had any idea of the systems for ordering food, where to pick up what, whom to ask for help. Jules was a little upset. She couldn't understand why the wait staff had no clue. She was getting a little frustrated as she explained that the appetizer course came before the salads.
"But what if they order an appetizer that takes some time to prepare, can't we just bring them the salad first, since it's quicker," asked a short waiter with a thin trace of a mustache.
"NO!" Jules barked. "We are going to at least try to give our guests the impression we are a fine dining restaurant." Jules rolled her eyes and sighed.
Jules took a deep breath, let it out and began again. "You are to do your best, try to remember that this is a fine dining establishment. Be honest with your guests, but don't act overly friendly or stuffy. Just be nice." Next Jules went on to the system for ordering.
"Take your order, and be sure to write it down for now. After you get to know the menu you can try memorizing, but for now write it down so we don't have any problems. After taking the order go to the terminal and Ronny from the computer company will help you enter the order. The order will automatically print in the kitchen and the bar, and we'll start cooking your food." Jules was getting a little tense. It was four forty and the first reservation was in less than an hour. "When your appetizers are up the runner will take them to your table. The servers should stay in the dining room as much as possible. When you notice the table ready for the next course go to the terminal and 'fire' the next course. As soon as it's ready it will come out to the table. The time between courses should be about eight minutes today, but we'll try to get it down to four or five in the future." Jules was just about finished. She needed to get back into the kitchen right away. She could feel her blood pressure rising. She finished up with a 'good luck let's do it' speech and asked if anyone had any questions.
"Does the salad come with the meal, and how many different salad dressings do we offer," asked the short waiter with the thin mustache. "Can we do a hearts of Iceberg salad?" he added.
"NO!" She barked again. "All the salads are 'a la carte' they are all specialized as well. If you read your menu, you'll see that the salads each have their own dressing, and tonight we ask for no substitutions. We'll see about it in the future. and as for hearts of Iceberg the answer is NO!" with that Jules excused the cooks and gave Scott a look of frustration with the server. She marched off to the kitchen to start the night.
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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