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.
Not only were the burners flaring; but so were the tempers. It was the first hot night of spring. The kitchen was busy. Things were not going smoothly. First, there was the food that went to the wrong table. Then the sauté chef burnt himself and had to go to the hospital. Now they were in the middle of the second seating and no one could find Michael, the head waiter.
Michael was waiting on the "VIP" section. He always got the best comments from guests. This made the owners like him because he had the best sales. He could "read" a guest and decide just how much they would spend.
If guests were ordering quickly, doing business, or not paying attention to the menus, he would "up-sell" them every chance he got. Similarly, if guests seemed less affluent or just more cost conscious, he would offer them very good, inexpensive bottles of wine and split salads. The way he saw it, if the guests got what they wanted, he got a better tip. If someone didn't have a lot of money, they wouldn't give a great tip anyway, so give them what they want and hope they have a good time. Maybe at least they will come back and help keep the restaurant full.
Tonight he had placed an order for "Pan-Seared Tuna" with a "See Server" note on it. Point of Sales Systems (POS) were a great step forward for restaurants in the past 15 years, but they had their limitations. Tuttopronto had a state of the art POS system; but when a guest needed special attention, a server still needed to talk to the kitchen. Normally, the servers never had to visit the kitchen. The order is placed at a remote computer unit in the dining room and the computer prints the orders at the bar, kitchen or in the pantry as needed. Then the "back waiter" or "food runner" brought the food or drinks to the table. This way, the server never had to leave the dining room; and when a guest wanted something, the server was there to attend to it.
In this case, a guest needed something special and no one could find Michael to clear it up. Chef Al decided that he would put the order together and hope it was something small. Otherwise, Michael would have told him about it earlier. A simple assumption, Al thought, as he called the entrees out. After all, he didn't have time to wait for Michael. He had 40 other people with entrees waiting to eat.
About five minutes later a "Fire Table" ticket came zipping up out of the kitchen printer. Chef Al fired the table. The meats and fish got plated and went to him to garnish. He put them up on the counter and passed the check to the expediter. Just then Michael stuck his face through the kitchen door.
"No butter on that tuna please Chef!" Michael shouted.
"What Tuna," Al shouted back. "Give me a table number"
"15" Michael replied as he tried to slip out of the kitchen.
"That's up already," Al said. "Pick it up!"
"Well, is it no butter?" Michael asked.
"It is now," Al said.
Michael knew the dish had butter. He knew Al was being sarcastic. By this time the expediter, Jim, was getting involved. "What do you mean Al, does it or doesn't it?" Jim said.
Al glared at Jim and growled, "Just pick it up... the dish is ready, the rest of the dining room can't wait for table 15 just because Michael forgot to give me a special order." Al knew that the tuna had no butter. It was seared in olive oil and garlic and served with grilled vegetables laced with balsamic reduction. Michael should have known that too, as well as Jim. Al knew he was being smug; but wasn't giving in on this one. Al felt that if he said pick it up, it should be picked up.
Jim hated it when Al was like this. "Al, does it have butter or not?"
"What is it?" Al shouted.
"Pan Seared Tuna" Jim replied.
"How is it made?" Al sneered.
"Table 15 on it's way." Jim picked up the food and trayed it for the runner. He knew what Al was getting at; and knew he had to keep the momentum up. Al would argue the point all night if Jim didn't move with it. Jim decided to let it slide and send the food out.
Life in the kitchen is always a little hot; but today was hotter that usual. Maybe Al was hitting his boiling point, but hey, that's the way it is. Do you think Al was out of line? Or should have Michael known about the ingredients? Whose fault is it if Michael didn't know? What effect do you think this argument had on the front of the house...it seems like a trivial matter. But is it?
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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