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.
Sunday and Monday were Mandy's weekend. She along with most other restaurant employees never got a Saturday off. She was lucky Tuttopronto was closed on Sundays and Mondays. Everyone had the same days off. This had its advantages and disadvantages. You never had to worry about what you missed at work; but then you never got a different day off either.
Saturday had been a little smoother than Friday. Her tables were seated more evenly and she was able to take the heat. The restaurant was still short a food runner and some of her food took a little long to deliver; but at least it wasn't her fault. After the evening was over, she sat down at the bar and had a drink with Chuck the bartender. They had a nice conversation. It turned out they had a lot in common. Both were experienced servers. They had even worked in some of the same restaurants. They were both from the same area of New Jersey before going to college. It was fun for Mandy to meet someone from her home town. She was a little homesick.
Over the weekend she did all the things that got away from her all week. She managed to get her laundry done, clean the bathroom in her apartment, vacuum and even study a little. She usually got at least a call from Chef Al, if they didn't have a date; but this weekend he didn't call. She was so busy she really didn't notice until Monday afternoon. She tried to call him, but she only got his answering machine. He usually worked on Monday afternoon. She tried at the restaurant, but he was not in. She figured he must be busy and would catch up with him on Tuesday at work. The one call she did get was from Chuck.
Chuck wanted to know if Mandy wanted to go out with some of the other servers for pizza Monday night. She said yes and met them all for pizza at "The Red Hen", their favorite wood-fired Trattoria around the corner from the restaurant.
Most of the servers were there. They had a good time. Mandy left early. She had class in the morning. Her apartment wasn't far, so she walked home. Chuck walked with her, after all it was dark out. As they walked past Tuttopronto, Chef Al was going in. Mandy waved at him, but he must not have seen them. He just rushed right in without saying a word.
Tuesday afternoon Mandy arrived at work a little early. She was concerned about Al. He wasn't acting himself. When she finally saw him, he gave her the cold shoulder. "What was that for" she thought to herself.
Service started at five o'clock. Her first table was right at five. It was pretty busy for a Tuesday. They had over 80 reservations plus a private party for 18. Her tables were all happy; but her food was coming out a little slow. She wasn't too concerned. The kitchen would catch up soon.
After about seven o'clock, her food was still taking a long time. She was busy, but she was sure that everyone else was getting their food quickly. She went back into the kitchen to see what was up. "How's table 21?" she asked.
"It'll be up when it's ready," growled Chef Al. He didn't even turn around to look at her when she spoke. All of the servers noticed his mood swing. They felt bad for Mandy. She was trying real hard to fit in and to do a good job.
She was startled at Al's response. She thought they were friends. Matter of fact, she thought they may be more than just friends soon. It really upset her. She was about to break down when she pulled herself back together. She had been here before. Chefs have mood swings. He'll get over it. But in the meantime, she needed her food. She told the expediter what tables she was waiting on, and left the kitchen.
The rest of the night went about the same. She basically avoided going into the kitchen for anything. It was tough. Walking on egg shells. Finally her last table was finished. She was stewing over what to do about the problem with Al. Should she confront him? Or should she just wait it out. She was not one for waiting. She decided she would talk to him immediately.
Al was back at his desk in the kitchen doing his orders for Wednesday. She could hear him leaving his produce order on a tape when she entered his little office. He glanced up, but then went right back to his call.
It seemed he was on the phone forever when he finally hung up. He grunted a "What do you want?" with a bit of contempt in his voice.
"What's up?" she asked. "Why are you being so mean to me?"
"I saw you, you know" he said. She wasn't sure what he was talking about. "I saw you and your new boyfriend having cocktails at the bar Saturday night. I thought you were going to meet me upstairs for a drink. You didn't show so I came down to see if you were still working. I guess you changed your mind."
"I don't remember you asking me to have a drink. All I remember is that I had a rough couple of days and needed to relax. I found out that Chuck is from my old neighborhood. I expected you to call this weekend, even tried you a couple of times, but you never called back."
"Well I was angry. First you stood me up, then I saw you with Chuck. Then I saw you with Chuck again on Sunday night. You two are getting a little tight, heh?" Al explained. "Now I'm busy. Can I get back to work now?" Al was getting grumpier by the minute.
"I'm sorry you're so unreasonable. I can't believe you're so insecure." Mandy rebutted. "Give me a call when you grow up ...No, I'll call you when I think you've grown!" and Mandy stormed out of his office.
She couldn't believe how childish he was acting. How insecure!
What do you think? How do you think Al should have acted? What effect does his action have in general? Isn't he hurting more than just Mandy? Was it Mandy's fault? Maybe she should've seen him Saturday night? Maybe workplace romance isn't such a good idea. Is Chef Al overreacting? Is this what chefs do?
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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