Friday, June 28, 2013

Theory 7: Everyone should work in a restaurant, Part 1

Tall Child told me the last post, Theory 6: If you want the ultimate college experience join the band, was too long. After reflecting, I agreed. There was just so much material there I couldn’t help myself. The same goes with Theory 7: Everyone should work in a restaurant. So, I’m taking heed of Tall Child’s critique and splitting this post. Read Part 1 now and look forward to Part 2 next week! Please comment. I love to hear from my readers!

Let’s get down to business. Retail business. Retail restaurant business. I grew up in a tourist town, so I know many people who enjoy(ed) successful careers in the hospitality business. I place high value on the innate lessons in serving the general public. So, unless they plan for a career in hospitality, Sharky and the Gnome will work at least one summer in a restaurant. Why? Restaurant work offers an intense tutorial. I want them to experience the dining room: a place of social norms and cool, quiet protocol. To experience the kitchen. To see uniforms in chaotic yet choreographed movement. To inhale the pungency of old grease, chopped onions, and bleach. To hear pots and pans fight scalding water under the protection of Hobart. To hear the dead-on, efficient, sometimes perverse language of the restaurant nation. To slam a cork-lined tray so hard into metal that it tests the hinges on that swinging kitchen door because they are stressed to the breaking point. To rally and recover, in public. I want them to serve others.

Restaurants are labs of bacteria, behavior, conflict, passion, composure, language, class warfare, and comedy. Sharky and the Gnome come from a long line of restaurant workers. After I share with you what those in my “crowd” experienced and learned, you’ll either dine at home or tip 20%.  No matter what the service was like.


Imagine what these guys could teach us all.


So, what should my boys expect to learn when they work in a restaurant?

A new language. Here’s a short list of terms with definitions.

86’d – taken off the menu
Rush – a pile of customers coming in at once
Walking Out – just what it sounds like, which dishwashers and line cooks love to threaten to do
Two, four, six, etc. “top” – number of places at a table
Got Sat – a warning issued by another waitress, as in “you just got sat” a four-top
On the fly – indicates the cook better hurry with that dish
On the square – means four of whatever food item
Side work – the nasty stuff servers do after closing (vacuum, refill salt & pepper shakers, wash syrup bottles, mop, clean out the salad bar)
Crumb Pickers – children
EP – children who order extra plates
Charger – the fancy plate under the regular plate
Expeditor – the 15-year-old or the panicky manager who takes food off the line and arranges it on trays for the servers
Nuke – microwave (comes in handy when you forget to bake potatoes)
Cow – the giant milk dispenser
Pearl Diver – the dishwasher (the person, not the Hobart machine)

Lewd language and vile references are part of the experience.

My Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant manager, Zero*, was a short, foreign guy with bad manners. He stood (quite happily) eye-level to my space heaters and liked to taunt me by dangling the carrot of a lucrative waitress position. My first day, he exhaled in his chauvinistic style, “What size uniform do you need, a laaarrrggeee in the top?”

At IHOP, when I asked for hot syrup, the line cooks responded, “Oh, you like it hot?”

When I yelled above crowd noise to change an order, the same guys would harass, “We knew you were a screamer!”

When the scoop hit metal, a waitress would ask for more ice. In East TN, “ice” is pronounced in way that sounds like “eis” or “aes” so the cooks would yell back, “Oh, I’ll give you some whenever you’re ready!” Think beast of burden.


My cousin Moon worked at the Heidelberg Restaurant on top of Ski Mountain Road, at a tourist trap called Ober Gatlinburg. The place had a polka band, German cuisine, and a tram shuttle to downtown Gatlinburg.  Moon is good-looking. He yelled an order of Bratwurst across the line and a stout, greasy-haired, pre-elderly, seasoned fraulein cook yelled back, “Take off ‘em clothes and jump up on ‘is table. I’ll show ye some Bratwurst!”

Nepotism

Delicious told me she worked with this guy whose daddy owned the restaurant. The boy constantly griped at the staff. Once, he yapped at a kitchen worker who had plated a juicy dessert for himself, “You can’t eat that pie! My dad would be very upset.” The worker stuck his thumb in the pie and said, “Oh, well, it’s damaged now.”  By summer’s end, the kitchen help was sick of the boy's bull. They soaked cathead biscuits in water and hurled them at him. The owner's son was covered in humiliation and greasy wet dough.

Favoritism

I was a hostess at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, but I hated it. Why? Because the uppity hostesses (all college-aged) found out I was virgin. They harassed me endlessly. Restaurants aren’t the most virginal environments. Anyway, my daddy’s old, old friend G.G. was the head cook. As he flipped, filleted, and fried, he observed the way they treated me and got as mad as a hornet at those snotty hooches. If we wanted lunch, we had to ask G.G. to cook it for us. Cooks cuss. Blatantly. They are hot, worn out, stressed out, and often frustrated. Two of said hooches and I landed on the line for lunch at the same time. G.G. babied me, “Jody, let me fix you something good. How about a rib eye, baked potato, and salad?” The hooches pouted, “What!?! You said we could only have grilled cheese. Why does she get a steak?” G.G. answered with authority, “Because she is my girl and ya’ll are btches.”

To avoid the hateful hostesses, I often volunteered to fill in in the kitchen—as a fritter fryer, salad girl, or dessert girl. Plus, I loved sweating through eight fast hours in the raucous, comical kitchen. This crazy little guy called Animal was our main pearl diver. Animal was short and scrawny, low on teeth and high on energy. He wore a pink t-shirt and denim overalls. Every day. Animal braided his long, reddish blonde hair down his back like Willie Nelson. Hair is the enemy in the restaurant business. Mine was long then, so I wore it in a French braid. Animal was my friend. He begged me all the time, “Jody, let’s go out back after ‘er shift’s up and let ‘er braids out. I swar’ mah hair’s longer ‘an yourn.” Animal was not fit for the customers’ spaces, but every now and then he got curious. He’d slide through the kitchen door and prance among polished tables and chairs. Immediately, a waitress would spot him and command, “Animal! Get back in the kitchen!”

Mistakes happen. The show must go on.

“Glass in ice” is a big no-no. You never dip ice with a glass because if the glass breaks, there’s glass in the ice. Someone (you) will have to clean out the entire ice bin. Plus, you are forced to yell “We need more ice!” to the line cooks. My aunt Big Booty J learned this the hard way. She toted a round tray loaded with filled water glasses through the dining room at Green Valley Restaurant in Pigeon Forge.  Her right, thick-soled waitress shoe landed on a pat of butter and she landed in a split. Her tray of water glasses went airborne, crashing into the salad bar of chopped iceberg, olives, cheese, and pickled beets.

Machines are designated for certain tasks. G.T. learned this the hard way at IHOP.  On a diet, she milked the cow into a metal cup and tossed in a scoop of Slim-Fast. All I remember is hearing her say, “Oh, no! Sorry sorry sorry!” and watching the entire waitress station (and its inhabitants) get sprayed with pellets of chocolate Slim-Fast. Those milkshake blenders are meant for hard-packed ice cream, not milk and diet powders.

Look behind you. Delicious once witnessed a Cosbanian co-waitress catch her toe coming out of the walk-in cooler. She tripped forward, dumping five gallons of Roquefort dressing down the front of the maitre d’s white leisure suit.

The show must go on. My cousin Mooch (an elementary school teacher and sister to Moon), waitressed a summer with Delicious at Applewood. Perhaps Mooch over-snacked on fritters or gobbled down too much of G.G.’s greasy treats; Mooch had an “accident” underneath her floor-length pink gingham mountain woman waitress costume. She stashed her panties, scalded her hands, and went back to work. Hours later, she and Delicious stood in the Sunroom, which boasts a six-foot birdcage of finches and floor to ceiling windows. Mooch quipped, “Hey Delicious, look at this!” She spread her legs and overdramatized her efforts to Windex the glass. Delicious saw the entire outline of Mooch’s hooch.

The rush came. The show went on.


Check back next week to read Theory 7: Everyone should work in a restaurant, Part 2, which will include the following lessons: how to get fired, how to quit, why servers want to quit, and a little something about restaurant romance.

Until next post, think outside the barn!


Sharky meets the line

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...