Monday, October 09, 2006

Get Out of the Way

Remind me to never, ever, own a restaurant. I've been working 5-6 shifts a week at the New Restaurant, and while the bloom is still on the rose enough so that it's not too much of a big deal to spend nearly every waking moment working, I just can't understand how anyone would want to actually own a restaurant and willingly spend all of their time there!!

I will ideally work 2-3 nights a week in a restaurant where I make a gajillion dollars a night so I can afford my San Francisco rent, cocktails, yoga membership, and designer-jeans habit. When I was working doubles all week this spring, I lasted about three months before I quit all of my jobs and disappeared deep into South America. I'm determined to be more of an adult in 2007, like maybe keep the same job for more than a few months and save up some money for longer than it takes to buy a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.


Last night after bumping into yet another drunk chick buying a cocktail from the side of the bar that's right next to the kitchen, the chef looked at me, rolled his eyes, and asked, "Now why don't you blog about that?"

Tight spaces in restaurants are such a funny integral part of the way the dining-room floor and the kitchen work. There's something that develops, I call it the Restaurant Ballet, and it's the way people working very very quickly in a very small space move around each other; spinning about it rapid, graceful pirouettes, trays filled with martinis held perfectly aloft. Cooks slam knives down in precision, throwing pork chops on the grill as they reach through each others' arms in an octopus-like Tetris move to shake a frying pan as it's just starting to smoke.

When someone who is not in tuned with this dance comes into the space, it throws a wrench into the works. That's why there are metal bars to separate the service well from the rest of the bar, and why chefs give the hairy eyeball when a server steps over the invisible boundary between the side of the line where the food comes up and the side of the line where the food is cooked.

Sometimes customers unwittingly (or knowingly, which is worse) cross this line, and insert themselves into the spaces where we are trying to work. Everyone has their own tricks to get these people out of there without asking "Could you please move?" which would be a complete non-non in the fancy food world where the customer is always right. My tactic is to bump a purse every single time I walk by. Even if the purse's owner is not in my way, she will be soon. If I actually bumped someone on purpose, I'd feel guilty (I'm of Nordic descent and I'm extremely tall and sturdy) because I'd probably take them out, so a gentle purse bump every six seconds does the trick pretty quick.

One of my coworkers has no compunction about throwing an elbow, but only to guys. He lets the girls stand wherever they want. One waiter tells a story about passing a plate of hot food very, very close to a customer's ear; not so close that it touches them, but close enough that they realize something bad might happen if they don't get out of the way--although what the in-the-way-person doesn't know is that the waiter, an absolute master of balancing, will never let a drink spill or a plate drop, no matter how much drunken gesticulating goes on at the table by the people who are about to eat and drink the goods we deliver.

Restaurant Ballet keeps you in shape, but I think it's also the main cause of Waiter Nightmares, a topic which deserves its own post. More on Waiter Nightmares tomorrow...


kungfoodie kat said...


As someone who worked front of house for a number of caterers I can attest to having "waitmeres". There's nothing worse than having a to deal with missing food, unexpected storms, the dance through drunken bridesmaids, the fighting in-laws, and the ten kids who've decided to torture you by pouring hot was from candles on EVERYTHING. Oh wait, there's nothing worse until you ending up dreaming about it the next freakin night, and the next night, and the next....

Anonymous said...

When I was in culinary school I had an experience that my classmates, instructors and I came to refer to as, "The Christmas Miracle."

I was assigned to front of the house duty the last day of service before winter break. The dining room was packed to overflowing, and it was very cold that day. As I was rushing to serve water to a new table, while squeezing through a particularly narrow portion of the path, I hoisted the tray above my head as I had done 10,000 times before. Suddenly, one goblet of water went end over end off my tray splashing ice, lemon and water over a rather large area. The miracle? It didn't splash on me, any other staff, or a single patron!

I never had "wait-mares" but I had lots of dreams of chopping things by the truckload and cleaning shellfish until I smelled like low tide.