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.
It seemed like a typical Friday night at Tuttopronto. The reservation sheet was full, the kitchen was busy prepping and the wait staff was preparing their stations. Marcel loved the busy pace right before service. He really appreciated the organization and teamwork between all of the staff.
Marcel was a stickler for organization. Sometimes the staff joked that he had no personality. He only had standards. Marcel liked to use the word "standard" in place of rule. For instance, he believed that the floor staff should always be early or on time for their shift. The standard was that they arrived by five minutes before the hour. In most places the rule was they were never late. Everything was a series of "standards" for Marcel.
Marcel rarely had to fire anybody. Usually staff who didn't measure up quit. It was very belittling to "not live up to the minimum standard". If your station didn't meet the standard set by the rest of the staff, you heard about it from them. They were all proud of the way their restaurant looked and felt. They enjoyed the teamwork and the family atmosphere generated by working with people who respected each other.
One of the staff's favorite standards was "Family Meal". Family Meal was dinner served by the kitchen on a big table set for the entire staff. Everyone, including dishwashers, busboys, managers and cooks, were expected to eat together. Even the owners and investors would occasionally stop by for Family Meal. At the table, the chef would review the day's specials and shortages, the bar manager would recommend wines to sell and the floor manager would review one or two service techniques.
Friday's meal was always great. The entire staff worked Friday so the table was extra long. The kitchen prepared roast chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed asparagus and, of course, a beautiful salad (some of the staff were vegetarians). Dinner was always on time and the managers made a big deal counting down the minutes to dinner. The whole staff could hear echoes of "Five minutes to dinner, hurry up and get ready."
At the dinner table, Marcel started his pre-meal speech. "Tonight is important, we have a full house and few VIP tables coming in. Tonight there will be two extremely important tables. One is Lance Montgomery. He is the banker who is hopefully going to finance our new location. The other is Mr. And Mrs. Johnston. They are the couple we talked about a few weeks ago when they had such an awful visit. We need to do everything in our power to impress both of these tables, as well as all of our guests." The meeting went on. The chef reviewed his specials and all the other managers made their presentations.
After the pre-meal, Mandy asked Marcel if she could possibly wait on the Johnstons again. She truly felt bad about the last experience and wanted to impress them. Marcel agreed. He told her to have a bottle of St. Suprey Chardonnay on the table when they arrived and to inform the kitchen when their order was placed. They were going to have an excellent meal, no two ways about it!
When the table arrived, Chef Al had a beautiful hors d'oeuvres platter set for them. He was all over their ticket. He even prepared the food himself. Unfortunately, an infant had been seated at the table right next to the Johnstons. This wasn't a problem until the mother began to breast feed the infant in the middle of the dining room.
Mandy could feel that some of the guests were getting a little uncomfortable watching this woman with an infant attached to her breast. Mandy decided to ignore it; and finally the baby fell asleep. Then, just as the dinners were being served, the baby began to cry.
Scream was more the word to describe what this child was doing. It was ugly. Everything had been going so well. Now Mandy had to find a way to deal with this. She asked the parents if she could hold the baby. The parents said "Sure, whatever," and just went on eating their dinners. Holding the baby didn't help and Mandy had to get back to work. She put the baby down. The parents seemed a little uncomfortable; but weren't doing anything about the crying.
Finally Mr. Johnston asked Marcel to do something. Marcel approached the table with the child. He asked them to please calm the child down. They told Marcel that the baby needed to "work it out", that he would calm down by himself. It was obvious to Marcel that the child was not calming down. He informed them that they would have to leave if the child didn't stop crying. The guests were appalled. They were almost finished with their meal and said they'd leave when they were done. Marcel insisted that they leave as soon as the course they were on was finished. They were not happy. The parents of the child were furious at Marcel. They did not believe that he would tell them to leave.
Marcel told them he'd pay for their entrees; but they had to go. He had the server bring over the check with the entrees taken off it. He stood there while they paid and thanked them for their understanding. He knew they didn't; but was trying to be as polite as possible. He then went back to Mr. Johnston and told him that everything was fine, and the table would be leaving in fifteen minutes or so.
The rest of the evening went fine. The Johnstons seemed to have a wonderful meal, the man from the bank was happy and all the other guests, except the infant's parents, left raving about the restaurant. Friday night was past and it was another successful evening.
Was Marcel right to ask the table to leave? How much could you put up with? How much would you expect your guests to put up with?
What do you think?
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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