I have spent one third of my life in the restaurant industry. Most of which was dedicated to front of the house (FOH) operations and the challenge of mastering the relentlessly tricky (dare I say masochistic?) art of hospitality. I have worked in some pretty shifty places and I've also had the pleasure of working for some really great places. Regardless of the caliber of establishment, you can always be comforted by the fact that the people are always the same.
The Employees: They will range in accountability, but you can rest assured that the beloved stereotypes will emerge.
The Managers: They range in both their people skills and general ability to manage, but once again, you can count on the classic characters to be casted for the role every time.
And last, but never least, The customers: This charming bunch will run the gamut from overly entitled foodie to modern day caveman and please believe, they never cease to surprise.
From a FOH standpoint, there is nothing more challenging and exciting than controlling the guests’ experience. Oh yeah, incase you aren't on the "in" we don't call them customers... Lord NO! They are respectfully referred to as guests, and henceforth you will do the same. Sorry, you are in my world for the moment, so get used to the jargon. Either way, no matter what you call them, they are indeed your guest. From the moment they type their name into the reservation box on OpenTable and get their booties into the seats at one of your tables, they are all yours.
As your guest, their experience is now in your hands. In the hopeful scenario that you have pride in your job, you will take this seriously. At the very least, you put yourself in their shoes and do your duty, as a decent human, to give them their money's worth (even if they are ripping you off by ordering water with extra lemons and splenda on the side.... you know who you are). They decided to take a moment out of whatever kind of life they are leading and put it into the hands of you and your colleagues. They are looking to you to ensure that the hard-earned money that they are about to blow is on something worth looking back on and feeling good about. When you look at it that way, it puts a whole different spin on the sitch. Sometimes, it's a first date, maybe the first of many. Perhaps you provide such flawless, authentic service that is become an experience they aspire to repeating on every anniversary. Other times, its an extremely lucrative business deal that you are essentially hosting. Both situations, being polar opposites with respectively equal importance, are yours to command. It is your duty as the facilitator to have the intelligence, social savvy, and flat out skill to provide the same standard of excellence despite the party you are given. This is a big responsibility and a proper employee sees it as such. However, with all that being said, the fact of the matter remains... to the majority of guests, all FOH efforts pale in comparison to the end goal; eating great food.
Very rarely do people go out to restaurants, with no regard for the food, just to have a nice server bother them for a couple of hours. Nor have I ever heard of someone wasting weeks planning a special evening with only the decor in mind. That never happens. The ambience, the friendly face at the door, the free coat check, even the tasty pre-meal cocktail, will be a fleeting memory if the food falls short. After the stomach is satisfied, then and only then will the guest truly enjoy the experience. In the end, the ultimate goal of going out to eat is to eat. The ultimate goal is to indulge in something delicious. The ultimate goal is to treat yourself to something so spectacular that you can't even imagine making it at home. Sure, the overal experience is what you strive for, but let's be honest. How many times have you returned to a restaurant with great service but bad food? Probably not too many times if you could control it. Now, how many times have you returned to a place that has mouthwatering, amazing, life-changing food, but a craptastic staff? Yeah, probably a bunch of times. And the poor bastard who owns it, doesn't even realize the service is crap because people keep coming back.... But hey! That's my point! You go out to eat, to eat. Anything else is secondary.
As "the face of the restaurant" you project the illusion of having control over the restaurant's success, but it's just an illusion. It's a facade by which people are so often tricked (hence you getting mad at the server when your food is cold... not her fault people, she's not in control!) It's the individuals in the kitchen that are really, honestly, legitimately running the show. Many a time, I have ran to the back and started fights with the kitchen because of that. More often than not, the people in the back don't realize their power and that would make me mad. Put in the wrong hands -lazy unmotivated hands- that power can destroy a restaurant. However, when that power is placed in the right hands, artful, relentless hands, dude.... the sky is the limit. The power of crafting something so scrumptious that people will have dreams about it, that's something else. Knowing that you make things that people crave and schedule their life around, that's something else. Having the power so strong that people spend all day, teetering on the edge of their seat until they can rush to your table and bite into that whatever it is you make... that's something else. That's a feeling you can't get from serving up someone else's art. Approaching tables with a smile and reciting nothingness over and over again, that's not going to give you that feeling. Serving is a skill but cooking is an art. Creating great food is a matter of mastery. It requires natural talent, but more importantly, there must be discipline, hard work, and a desire to always be better. Natural talent belongs in your kitchen at home where friends and family can enjoy. In order to created beautiful food the belongs in beautiful restaurants requires more than natural talent. It requires you to dedicate your entire life to the cause.
I decided to go to culinary school because I wanted a piece of that. The secret glory that come with being one of the unsung heros. That excitement is completely different than anything experienced out in the Front of the House. They are the army reserves and in the Kitchen.... you made a commitment to the marines. You have dedicated yourself to a constant bombardment from the enemy. They are going to make special requests. The "computer" is going to mess up orders. Your beautiful food will get sent back, because some idiot didn't know that reading was required when browsing a menu. You are going to be tired. You are going to be pissed. You are going to deal with things you never imagined and what do you do? Get mad but still pump out great food, because in the end.... you have the power. You can turn any situation around with the flip of a spatula (no pun intended...well kinda) . All you have to do is whip up something "special" and send it to the table. Even better, take a moment to visit and guests feel like they've met a movie star. It's a bizarre flop between being a rockstar and being the red headed step child, but the instability and drama is your fuel. I thrive in that borderline abusive environment and I love it. I love everything dysfunctional about the restaurant business in the way actors accept the destructive nature of Hollywood. When you have that in your spirit, a regular career path won't suffice. You have to answer the call.
A little less than a year ago, I decided to make the switch. I am officially a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and my path is only just unfolding. I plan on keeping you all posted. From here on out, I am going to dedicate my blog to a more gastronomical approach. The purpose will be twofold: I will be held accountable for cooking at home and expanding my knowledge base by reporting back to you guys. Also, you guys will still be able to follow me through the adventures of my life because I promise not to turn this into a lame food blog i.e. compilation of recipes and pictures of random food products. I'll leave that to other people... they've got that quite under control. Until my next entry....
Keep it gangster my lovelies!