Category Archives for "From the Front Lines"

The Shift Before Christmas

 
‘Twas the shift before Christmas, when all through the kitchen

A line cook was stirring the stock made with chicken;

The mise was laid out by the expo with care,

In hopes that the guests would soon all be there;

The waiters were nestled, all smoking in the alley

With visions of an early night and an easy tally

And the GM in her blazer and me in my toque

Were sneaking some whiskey for our pre-service snoot

When out in the dining room there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my station to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash

Wondering which busser was being an ass.

The tables were set with linens like snow

Giving the room a welcoming glow

When what to my wondering eyes did appear?

But the Maitre D’ quickly slamming his beer

And then a knock at the door, lively and quick

The first party’s here and ready to sit.

More rapid than eagles the customers came

And the D called each out by their names

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer and Prancer! Do we have a party of 5?

On Collins and Waller – Your guests have arrived!”

The staff sprang into action and worked the floor

While the kitchen plated 4 courses and more!

With the restaurant running at ludicrous speed

We struggled to keep up with the tables to feed

As I drew in a breath and quickly turned around

I spied a strange man looking the line up and down

Was he a yelper, a guest or the freaking Health inspector?

He was smiling too much and had a curious character:

He was dressed in all fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

And then I remembered about the HVAC repair

He was just finishing up with the make-up air.

I told him we’d invoice; I knew this wouldn’t be cheap

But such is the price of these restaurants we keep

The tickets kept coming, in ones, twos, and threes

And the kitchen was humming – no more substitutions please!

And where the hell is Carl? – he has that party of vegans

I have no idea what we’re supposed to feed ’em

And as the night wore on until we were done

Word came we were all in – well, all except one…

He was dining alone, an old man with a beard

He ordered the last venison and wanted it seared.

And when he was done he let out a laugh

“That was the best dinner – thanks to your staff!”

He walked out the door and into the night

“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

 

The 5 worst gifts for restaurant workers

 
For Your Chef
Since chefs love food and chefs love tattoos, what’s better than an industry themed tattoo? And what would best go with their collection of farm to table themed tattoos than a Food Services of America tatt? The options are nearly limitless: A Semi-Truck, a #10 Can, Latex gloves – each with an American Traditional styled Food Services of America banner.

 
For Your General Manager
GMs aren’t known for their emotional range: they operate on a spectrum of bemused annoyance to enraged annoyance. Since carefully compartmentalized feelings of anger and despair can start to weigh heavy on their quickly aging faces, we recommend the PAO Facial Exerciser. Trust us, they’ll use it daily:

 
For Your Owner
A restaurant owner can never get enough of their own restaurant, right? Then why not get them a gift certificate… to their own restaurant! Imagine their joy as they get to sit down on a busy night and enjoy the fruit of their own labor. The highlights will include them noticing how dirty the floorboards are, the baked-on lipstick stuck to their water glass and the guy on table 10a who thought it’d be appropriate to wear socks in sandals to a fine dining restaurant.

 
For Your Servers
“Merry Christmas! I noticed how much everyone fights over the Pandora stations so I deleted them all!”

Enough said.

 
For Your Bartender
A big bottle of Apple Pucker will put a smile on their face. Now when they’re asked for an Apple-Tini they won’t have to go through the whole “this is a pre-prohibition cocktail menu” speech and get down to making shots! Imagine their relief!

 
So Merry Christmas! And Good Luck!

3 Types of Holiday Big Tops

The holidays are here! And hopefully that means many of you are looking at full dining rooms and booked out reservations. For those of you looking forward to some lucrative big-tops, here’s a handy holiday guide of the kinds of parties you can anticipate, and how to handle them.
The Awkward Office Party

Description: These come in large sizes, like 10 or more people. All the carefully bottled up office politics will come to the surface even before the drinking starts. You’ll know this is an Awkward Office Party when only half the members have arrived: They’ll stand at the table, unable to decide where to sit. As they hover they’ll have a loud conversation about whose spouse is coming, where the boss should sit, and why no one in Accounting ever comes to these things.

Action: Identify the alpha-customer (this may or may not be the boss, so don’t assume.) Once you know who’s in charge (and who’s getting the bill) focus on getting everyone drinks.
The Dysfunctional Family Party

Description: As Tolstoy once remarked “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you’re lucky your table will feature a well-adjusted family that’s excited to sit for a holiday meal while planning presents for the children. That’s if you’re lucky – like, Ringo Starr lucky. What’s more likely is you’ll get a family so dysfunctional Jonathan Franzen wouldn’t write about them. These tables are easy to spot: multi-generational with deeply conflicting cultural signifiers. Look for at least one Make America Great Again hat and at least one PETA tattoo. Bonus points if both are worn by the same person.

Action: Stay low-profile. This is about survival and the auto-grat. If you feel daring, sneak extra scotch to grandma and ask her who she voted for.
The Uncomfortable Couples Dinner

Description: Oh these are fun. Basically, it’s a four or six top comprised of couples. They’re getting together to get away ‘from all the holiday stress of family and work’ or some such nonsense posted to Facebook. They’ll then proceed to spend the whole evening talking about their jobs and their kids. Since they all have babysitters and no morning meetings they’ll start drinking too much, too quickly. Trouble will brew before the dessert menus can be collected as it becomes clear which couple makes the most money. By the end they’ll be fighting over the bill just to show one another up.

Action: Jump in on the banter! These people have known each other since college and have secretly hated each other ever since. They’ll be eating out of your hand just so they can take a break from each other.
Happy holidays and good luck!

Holiday Reservations: Make a list, check it twice, and only cry once

The holiday season brings a lot of “gifts” and “joy,” not the least being large-party reservations. Holiday season reservations can make or break your holiday revenues, so here are a few suggestions to get you prepared for some holiday “cheer.”

Have a plan
While this seems obvious, many owners and managers go into the holiday season with a wait and see attitude. It didn’t work for Jim Henson and it probably won’t work for you. Instead, sit down and think about what a large table is going to cost you in labor (extra staff) and lost business (holding tables that would otherwise be full.) While a 20-top might seem like easy money, you might not come out ahead. Decide on the maximum table size you can handle, and how many of those you’re prepared to do in a night.

Communicate your plan to the entire staff
Once you’ve figured out what you can offer, make sure your staff is fully informed – both FOH and BOH. Hold an all-hands holiday prep meeting and make sure everyone knows what reservations they can and cannot take. Answer any questions staff members might have. If anyone raises a point you hadn’t considered – consider it and get them an answer as soon as possible. Once you and your staff are dialed-in, write out the holiday reservation policy and keep it next to the phone, just to be sure.

Put someone in charge of the holiday reservations
Make sure someone owns the holiday reservation list. It could be you, your floor manager, even one of the hosts/hostesses. The important thing is one person has a big picture view of how December is about to go down. Larger businesses may already have an Events Manager – if that’s the case, check in with them frequently to make sure nothing gets missed. If you’re handling the books, have someone back you up for the exact same reason.

Get Credit Cards to Confirm
While some guests may push back, it’s important to confirm reservations with a credit card. This serves both a practical purpose and as a point of communication. On a practical level, it allows you to charge a fee if the table doesn’t come (or even get a deposit beforehand.) As a point of communication, it allows you to let the guest know about menu items, substitutions, and all the other details involved in hosting a large party.

Say Hello Once the Party has Arrived
This is a small, but often forgotten detail: always have yourself or a manager greet the table once their seated. This is important for several reasons. First, it allows one final check on the table and the reservation. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to thank your guests for sharing their evening with you and your staff. Christmas is stressful for everyone involved, so take the extra minute to put people at ease and let them know you’re there to create a good experience. Plus, it’s a chance to make a good impression with guests that may not have normally picked your restaurant, but came on the suggestion of the party’s organizer.

Want to Be the Restaurant Owner? Know What to Expect.

You are making the jump, steadfast in knowing you can make your venue staggeringly successful. Perhaps there is an inner voice of creativity that is begging to be heard. Perhaps the time is right to snatch that piece of property that is simply begging to be occupied. Or you have had enough of ass-grabbing, penny-pinching, quality-deficient tyrannical bosses keeping you down. For whatever reason, now is the time.

Marketing, location, product — lest we forget, service is part of the product — are considered the keys to a profitable venture. But what about daily operations? Where is time best invested and money most relevant?

This isn’t about social media, menu design, or even finding the perfect location — as if that exists. Rather, this is about those next steps that take place once the ink dries; honest to goodness operational considerations.

Have more working capital than you thought. Way more.
Tapping the remnants of your savings account is never a sound idea. Have a source of funding that will ensure cash flow for the first several months. Opening food orders, a new oven, walk-in cooler repairs, plates, wrecked ingredients, and floor mats will make quick work of a few thousand in savings. Count on no real income for the first several months. Why? You have no idea who is coming through the doors and with what frequency.

Josh Gaskey, chef at The Salty Dog Cafe, acknowledges that for opening “You need a million dollars [to cover] expenses. You won’t make money as the owner for at least a year.”

Matthew Wayland adds, “Know that you will always go over your budget.” The Canyon of the Eagles chef goes on, “When the money starts rolling in, put it back into your business for the first few years.”

Sticking to your genes has to be part of the plan.
Everybody knows restaurants fail. But, why? Poor management? Dangling debt? Or did they fail to stick to their original concept? If that original idea birthed your cajun restaurant, don’t serve wraps, tacos and Pho. Don’t resurrect that dreaded seven-page diner menu that tries to be everything to everybody while simultaneously being nothing special to anyone. Have a mission and stick to it.

Get ready to get dirty.
Fixing an oven door, making smart buys and cleaning your own windows will save you money and, in the balance, be the saving grace from bouncing paychecks or not. Know how to work in your business as well as on it. Lead by example to embed problem solving. “Show your staff that you’re willing and able to help and that you’re not above bussing a table, cleaning a bathroom or washing dishes,” professes Deluxe’s chef/owner, Chad Ferry. Waiting for an issue to become a crisis will be costly and can encumber the profit of a good week, as well. Fix that goddamned leaky pipe before the floor tile rots.

Know thine Enemy… and your enemy is not the competition.
In Joe Bastianich’s Restaurant Man, Mario Batali makes clear, “Everybody pays!” Friends and family are your sworn enemy once the doors fly open. You are expected to give your business away. And that is what it is: your business. No free rides on the Midnight Moocher Express. It isn’t greed or frugality. It is practical to not give away product upon which your income is dependent. Thank Aunt Suzie for coming in by making a fuss at her arrival. Suggest a few dishes and dash over to your other customers. If that freeloader expects freebies, remind her of the time she forgot your birthday. “Your true friends won’t ask for a discount; your acquaintances will always ask for a break,” adds Ferry.

Don’t mess with the money.
Pay taxes. Make payroll. Take care of your vendors. Without fail. Working with a former restaurant owner, he mentioned that the first few months were so trying that he resorted to putting payroll on his credit card. Why? People really are the strength that will support the operation, especially until it supports itself. Burn the people, burn the operation. Same goes for produce, grocery, meat and seafood vendors. Pay the bills and don’t even think of pulling from the drawer; that’s the proverbial stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

The restaurant business isn’t hard – it’s just hard work. When you get to own a restaurant, just go in knowing the restaurant owns you rather than you owning it. Business flow dictates your free time, pop-up issues determine travel plans, employee issues direct headache levels. But you are ready to juggle chainsaws. That are running. On fire. While standing on one leg. Balancing on a slightly dry pile of dog excrement that is waiting to go squish. This is what you signed up for.

 

Ode to The Shift Drink

My Grandfather once told me that “Hunger is the best cook” so it follows that a long shift is the best bartender. In fact, my Grandfather referred to his first drink of the day as being his “Healer Pint.” I’d assume (and I’d have to since I’ve done little to no research on the subject) that as long as there’ve been shifts, there’ve been shift drinks.

I was introduced to this grand tradition well before my 21st birthday. I was working in a little pizza shop in Portland, Oregon – back before Portland became Portlandia. I’d moved there way too young and way too early to retire. So early, in fact, that there weren’t any websites for finding a job. I had to job hunt the old fashioned way: on foot while mildly stoned. Lucky for me I found a spot pretty quickly. Luckier still, the work culture was… fairly permissive.

I showed up for my first day and was assigned to keeping up with dishes and chopping vegetables. It was pretty straightforward work. Metal pans and kitchen utensils came back and I washed, rinsed and sanitized everything by hand. When I was caught up with that, it was on to chopping onions and peppers with the world’s dullest plastic handled knife. I bounced between the two stations for 8 hours and then broke the kitchen down at closing time.

The shift manager checked out the sinks to make sure I cleaned up correctly and then asked if I wanted a beer. “Shifty,” he said. “Everybody gets one free. Extras are a buck.” I asked for a bottle of Sierra Nevada just because I liked the green label. I’d drunk my fair share of beer growing up in Ohio, but none of the fancy stuff Oregon was already known for. It was delicious. I must’ve finished it in two or three teenaged swallows. “Extras are still a buck” my manager said with a smile. He wasn’t 21 either.

Through time, my shifties have changed. I got a job prepping for a family restaurant that prided itself on putting out all three meals, 7 days a week. The kitchen shift drink was a Wienhards and a shot of Powers. “It’s the non-denominational whiskey” my Chef told me. After a few months I switched over to bussing and learned the front of house mostly drank wine. “Have a big glass of whatever’s been open too long” my Floor Manager said.

As I rose through the ranks, eventually growing up to be a GM and Sommelier, my shifties evolved right along with me. Stale reds became bright and acidic whites; customers would leave tastes of aged Burgundy and Barolo; I had an odd sherry phase; Fernet became a thing. The harder I worked and the longer a shift became, the better each drink tasted.

So take a few minutes tonight and toast with your shifty – you deserve it! Prost!

Election 2016: Fernet or Malort?

It’s been a long election campaign, America, and now it’s time to sit down and have a shift drink. As a nation, we’ve listened to the candidates, carefully considered their positions and then tweeted out complete nonsense in all caps. We’ve sat at dinner tables with elderly relatives and listened to them incoherently accuse various minority groups of “killing all our jobs with their hip hop.” We’ve gone to work and heard nearly 1000 jokes built on the premise of making something or another great again. We’ve discussed email, and servers, and why servers never respond to emails when it’s about new scheduling policies.

In short, we’ve all earned our shifties. The only question left is this:  Are we going to have a shot of Fernet? Or a shot of Malort?

You, gentle reader, can decide which metaphorical digestif stands for which not-so-metaphorical candidate. The point, however, remains: Either we are going to raise a shot to a brighter future, redolent of menthol and herbs – or we’re muttering to ourselves over a half-empty glass of impenetrable bitterness.

Whichever way it goes I think it’s important to remember that democracy, and the country, aren’t immediately going to end. It’ll still be a few months before the current administration leaves office, so there’s plenty of time to think about the future, buy bottled water, and register on doulingo.

For restaurants, this election has been a long and hard slog. Some studies have even shown restaurant revenues have dropped due to the election and the levels of anxiety it has induced. Hopefully, now that things are settled people will come flooding back in, hungry for a meal and ready to drink themselves sideways. Hopefully, people will set aside their differences and once again break bread. Hopefully, the digestif of our choosing will start the healing process.

No matter how much you have disagreed with your friends, your family, with strangers on the internet, we are all still people with something in common: We are all clearly carbon-based lifeforms.

Tonight after you clean up and cash out, order your shift-drink with pride – you just survived the election of 2016.

An Ode to Barbacks

No one doubts the importance of a bartender to modern restaurants. In some places bartenders get as much attention as chefs – and not without reason. A good bartender is worth their weight in foie.

But no bartender is going to shine without a barback. Someone has to run the drinks, change the kegs, stock the glasses and just about everything else. Without a talented barback the steady flow of drinks would be reduced to a trickle.

Here’s why the Barback deserves some recognition:

They’re work-horses
Liquid is heavy. Liquid in bottles is heavier. A box of bottles full of liquid is not just heavy, but awkward. And we haven’t even mentioned kegs. Just to make matters even more challenging are the tight spaces the Barback is negotiating while carrying supplies back and forth. Keeping the bar stocked is a physical job up there with anything a crossfit trainer can imagine – except the Barback doesn’t get to drop their weights.

They get down and dirty
I once saw a Barback pull a lime from a clogged floor drain in the middle of a busy service. The drain had backed-up, with all the water from the dish pit flooding into the bar. It smelled of all the grease that was supposed to go into the trap. But it was a Friday night and the rush was on – and there’s no going back. He bent down and reached right into that bilge water, rooted around for a few moments and grabbed hold of something. A couple of yanks later he was holding an entire lime that had somehow gotten through the drain-cage. He tossed the lime in the trash, washed up and changed his shirt and was back at work minutes later like nothing had happened.

They know their shit
Want to go toe to toe with someone’s spirits knowledge? Ask a Barback what the only vermouth is with its own AOC. Want to know what the proper proportions are for a Negroni, or what kind of beetles they once used in Campari to get that distinctive red color? The Barback knows every in and out of every bottle and recipe.

They know how to treat the kitchen/floor
Much like food-runners, the Barback has allegiances to both sides of the BOH/FOH equation. As team players go, their team is the entire restaurant. Barbacks know to stay above the petty day to day drama between the kitchen and the floor. They just want to keep the drinks flowing with the knowledge it’ll all work itself out after a couple of shots.

They push the boundaries in all the right ways
When a Barback suggested shots of Rumple Minze and Fernet, I was horrified. After 3 rounds I had to admit it made a certain amount of sense. The peppermint flavor and sickly sweetness matched the bitter mentholated notes a little too perfectly. Barbacks are ready to make those leaps into new uses for traditional ingredients. After all, they do what they do because they’re excited to try new things – because they know it’ll be their bar soon enough.

Do you have an awesome Barback? Let them know by tagging them in the Facebook comments!

Cutting Off the Regular

If you work in a place that serves alcohol, it’s going to happen – you’re going to have to cut someone off. When it’s a stranger, it’s one thing, but when it’s a regular it can be another. Regulars might be friendly and fun, but things can change quickly if the situation isn’t managed properly.

Here are a few ideas on how to cut off a regular.

Be aware
Try and stay ahead of the situation. If you know someone has had more drinks than usual, make sure to check in with them. Make it friendly and casual and ask “How’re you doing over here?”  Try to make eye contact and get a read of where things are going. Since this is a regular you have an advantage: Are they acting different than usual?

Give them a heads up
Before cutting them off, it’s more than fair to let them know you’re becoming concerned. Use your instincts and ask a question that leads back to their state of inebriation. “Are you driving tonight?” is pretty direct. If you want to soft-sell it a bit try asking something more general, “What are you up to tonight?”

The cut-off
You’ve seen something, you’ve said something, and now it’s time to do something. It’s important to be as direct as possible. The message you want to relay is ‘No more for you – no negotiation. But you can have anything non-alcoholic and you don’t have to leave.’ The most important thing at this point is to make sure they don’t drive. If they are with people you can make them aware of the situation. If they are alone be prepared for the next step.

Organize a graceful exit
Odds are they won’t want to stay. Sitting at the bar both drunk and drinkless is no one’s idea of a fun night. As a bartender or server you should have either the number of a local taxi company or Uber driver at your disposal. (If you don’t have either of these, stop reading now and get those contacts.) When it’s time to leave let your regular know you’ve arranged a car – if you can I’d recommend paying for it. After all a regular has likely already dropped enough money (and will likely spend more) so consider it the price of doing business.

Respect their privacy…
There’s no need to ever bring it up again. When your regular comes back (and if you treat them right they will) just greet them like nothing ever happened. They might bring it up, but it’s their choice – respect it.

But get it into the Bar Log
Real talk: You need to cover your ass – even if it’s a regular. If something goes wrong, like they ditch the ride and drive themselves home, you could still face some liability. You want to make sure you’ve logged everything that happened and have a manager (or at least another person) sign off on your account. The odds are it will never come up again, but if it does you’ll thank yourself for documenting the event.

 

Is Your Table a Tinder Date?

No app has affected the Food & Drink Industry’s revenue quite as completely as Tinder.

Awkward first dates tend to order the high-margin cocktails that cover all the low-margin farm to table produce and lovingly raised livestock. If things go well after the introductory cocktails, they’re likely to order high-margin wines by the glass and several courses of high-margin appetizers. If things go poorly, the (not always) young couple cash out and dial up another date for the restaurant down the street and repeat the whole process.

Tinder’s impact on the restaurant industry has been profound.

So if you’re a bartender or a server, and you suspect you’ve got an awkward couple on your hands, here are a few hints they might be on a Tinder date.

The walk in/walk out
Tinder daters never arrive together, but instead meet each other at pre-selected spots. The standard behavior is to walk in, nod to the host or hostess and take a few steps into the dining room to scan for someone who looks like a photo taken in low light. Throw in the selfie-angle that accentuates the chin and other positive secondary characteristics and it can be tough to pick their date out of the crowd. So they walk back out and check their phone.
They ask the name of the restaurant
After walking up to a building with a big sign on it, and then pushing their way through a door with the restaurant’s name on it, they’ll still ask the name of the restaurant. It’s just nerves and a need to be validated. They’re really asking if their hair looks good or if they have something stuck in their teeth. Be patient. Let them know it is indeed “that place with those martinis on Instagram” their date asked if they knew.
Just water for now
They’ll wait to order a drink until their date arrives. They may even wait a few minutes after the date arrives. They’re leaving open the possibility they can say they’re “just going to the restroom” and escape out the back door or window.
“I’m just waiting for a friend”
Something about this statement never sounds true. As in, no one really says this if they are waiting for a friend. What they’re really saying is “yes, I’m sitting here with no drink and shoes I don’t wear that often. I’m feeling like this was a bad idea. I should have just stayed home and drank myself to sleep while watching Bojack Horseman which is really good once you get into it, even if none of my friends like it.”
“It’s nice to meet you!”
No one greets a friend with this sentence. Things are about to get interesting.
Drink-Chicken
This is the world’s most awkward drinking game. The rules are simple. The potential couple orders a round and then finishes at about the same time. Now they’ve reached a decision point: Stay or Go? The game begins when the server comes to get their order:

“Are you going to have another?” the first one says but actually means ‘So do I look enough like my profile? Even at this angle and in this light?’

The second one answers “I will you if you do.” This of course means ‘I’m still evaluating your overall appearance, speech patterns, and body language – but will hang out a little while longer.’

Meanwhile, the server stands at the table and asks “Should I give you two a minute to decide?” Which means ‘for the love of all that is holy or unholy just order that damned cocktail we posted on Instagram.’

 

 

 

 

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