I realize that the way I view restaurant experiences has everything to do with living, sleeping and breathing this business. I look at the picture through the eyes of a chef. I’m reminded of that often when guests are disgruntled about modifications of menu items. People tell me I don’t understand. They tell me the guest doesn’t care about my reasoning, they only want what they want and they don’t know what the big deal is when they can’t have it.
If that is in fact true, and you really don’t care, this will just be yet another lesson in futility, but what the hell? I’m going to give it a shot for no other reason than maybe it will make me feel a little better.
We (us asshole chefs) don’t say NO to you because we want to piss you off. We don’t think we are all that and a bag of chips and can do what we want. We know you have your precious social media power, ready to blast us to the world at any chance you get. Yet, when you’re in our place you smile nicely at the manager and tell her everything was wonderful, only to give us one star the second you open your social media site. That, however, is a story for a different day.
If we tell you NO, it’s always for good reason, and there are many factors….Ego never being one of them. Most chef’s realize that without you, our valued guest, we have no one to cook for. It’s a pretty easy equation.
At the top of the list is space.
Take my place for example. I have a VERY small kitchen and serve over a couple THOUSAND scratch made meals a week…. from fresh ingredients…. to order…. when you say go. Most restaurants start out this way, or at least they hope they do. You are small, you work hard, you make tasty food, you gain a following, everyone is happy…? Not always. You are bigger now, but you still have that same small kitchen. You are adamant about providing your guests with the same quality you did when you started, not just for them, but also for your soul as chef. You won’t take shortcuts even when everything and everyone points to the fact that you should. Buy some things frozen and ready to go, buy some pre prepped vegetables….no one will know. buy dry powdered hollandaise and whisk it with water, cook things ahead of time to save cooking space and labor. Maybe if you do all those things you can fit even more people in and make even more money right? WRONG!!!
“They” say you, as the guest, don’t care about all of this. Maybe you don’t. If I took the shortcuts I could save time and space and then donate that to your cause of creating your own meal, but then I would be a sell out, and a hack and soon enough you’d notice. I would have pulled a bait and switch, and not to mention the fact that I’d never be able to put my head on my pillow at night.
Now we come to my next little…HUGE point. I’ll call it FLOW. Flow is an essential part of getting that delicious dish you in a reasonable amount of time….every part of system needs to have a smooth flow, if one thing or one person is off…NO MORE FLOW.
When a menu is designed that is one of the first considerations. Are one of the stations on the line buried by the items that they are responsible for while everyone else is twiddling their thumbs? Is there balance? Do cooks have to physically cross over one another to access the ingredients they need? Do we have enough equipment to produce the dishes quickly? Are there enough burners, oven space, fryers? Can we produce these items safely keeping allergens, and proper sanitation in mind? We proclaim we are diligent in keeping you safe from your concerns, but are we telling the truth? Are we really taking the time necessary or are we just worried about ourselves? More food, more money right? Again…WRONG! The minute trust is gone, you’re done.
Here’s a good example for you, one that guests are always mad at me about:
We had a cheesesteak section on our menu recently, that we offered both regular and gluten free. There were five different cheesesteak sandwiches, all designed with your decadent bellies in mind. This section was one of the most popular, and also one of the most detail oriented. The bread needed to be toasted properly to hold up to the ingredients, the meat was freshly shaved, several of them got deep fried goodies in the middle (again, made to order), the cheeses melted under a dome to ooey, gooey deliciousness. It’s a time consuming process for sure. There is one cook responsible just for setting up the sandwiches….all of them…every cheesesteak, every burger, every Rueben… (and yep that includes every reuben we make sub turkey or no kraut, or on white bread, or with cheddar instead of swiss) anything that comes between bread on each ticket, all day every day, gluten free or not.
There could be a dozen cheesesteaks cooking at once, and when they are at the peak of bubbly goodness the flattop person cooking them grabs cheesy, meaty piles between two spatulas and “swings” them over to the sets behind them where they are quickly wrapped to preserve their temperature, meet their side of your choice and begin their journey to your table. Any pause or hiccup during the process, disrupting the FLOW, would result in a much less than desirable outcome. It would also result in our inability to offer the section to our gluten free friends because we would be unable to streamline the process enough to execute them properly and safely. The fact that they visually look the same makes this possible. It’s like the game Memory as a kid; find the matches, get a point. The more quickly you match the more points. We quickly match the inside to the outside bun set up; roll, and cut. Any visual disruption..(no lettuce, different cheese, different mayo) and the “game” is much harder and definitely slower. It’s is not that I think I am such a badass chef that I say you can’t have no tomato just because I can. If I say yes to you, I have to say it to everyone…..and our well thought out system is screwed. If that happens, and it takes too long, you’re mad at me for that too.
The way I try to combat this is by giving you plenty of items on the menu that you can have lots of say over. I think it’s a reasonable compromise for both of us. You can build your own burger and have your choice of 5 different patties, 10 or more cheeses, a bunch of mayos, spreads, veggies, different crunchy fried goodies, eggs, and plethora of bread choices. Again, most of these are also offered gluten free or with the ability to be allergen friendly. Maybe you don’t care about that, or maybe you are the family that gets to enjoy dinner together and everyone can be happy and have lots of choices. Does that matter? There are so many creative entrees that have perfect complementary sides that make them sing with perfection…..you want to switch them out, and most of the time the answer is yes. You want to remove an ingredient from a dish I feel so passionately needs it for balance, I say yes to make you happy. You send the dish back and say it’s “dull”.
I’ll skip what I say on that one.
You blast me on social media and say I think I’m too cool for school. You say, “who do I think I am”? Well friends, I know exactly who I am. I am someone who gets up every day filled with passion to cook for you and make you happy. it is for certain my life’s calling. I do it because it fulfills me. I do it despite the fact that you don’t care what the reasons are…..you just want what you want. I do it because I love what I do, and nothing will stop me……and that does make me a badass.