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The Do’s and Don’ts of Dressing for Halloween

Dressing for Halloween is a fine art – especially for a restaurant crew. People can attempt to thread the needle between the macabre (decomposing zombies!) and the unsettling (pumpkin spice lattes!) Or they can just dress as clowns, which seems to be the trend.

Whichever way you choose to go, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for the Halloween weekend.

Do – Have a staff theme
One way to make Halloween fun for both the staff and the customers is to coordinate costumes. Have a quick staff meeting and decide on a theme. The best themes are topical, so look to the latest television shows: Stranger Things, for example, is ripe for the picking. The FOH can dress like it’s the 80’s and the BOH can dress as a mix of military personnel and electricians. No matter the theme, make sure it’s easy enough for everyone to execute. Game of Thrones or SpongeBob SquarePants might require a bit too much commitment.

Don’t – Get too political
It’s been a “fun” election year, and even though the 2016 cycle is ripe for the pickings, it might be best to let it slide. As much as I want to organize a group costume around the theme “Insane Trump Posse” it might be too soon. Way too soon. In fact, I’d wait until 2032 when Bristol Palin is running for re-election. (Boo!)

Do – Make Fun of the Food World
Self-deprecating humor is a fun way to exorcise a few demons. Imagine a whole wait staff of Guy Fieris. Or each staff member can pick their own culinary celebrity to skewer. I’d be more than willing to grow my hair and learn to use mousse just to dress as Gordon Ramsay and yell about how burned everything is.

borkbork

Don’t – Dress the FOH as the BOH and vice-versa
Like most séances, this always starts with good intentions – but ends in a demonic possession. While swapping uniforms might sound fun, someone will always take it way too far and feelings will get hurt.  If you’re not sure who is the least popular staff member, this costume idea will provide your answer.

Do – Go for a good prank costume
A Burger King in Queens, New York decided to dress as McDonald’s. What’s a little trademark infringement among rivals? Besides, Halloween is all about pushing boundaries (while keeping things fun.)

Don’t – Do Nothing
You can’t ignore Halloween and hope it just goes away all on its own. All night long your customers are going to be coming in dressed like Sexy Teachers, Sexy Police or Sexy Football Players Suffering from a Torn ACL. Meanwhile you’re just going to look stuffy and cold. At the very least, make some goodies to hand out to Trick or Treaters.

Happy Halloween!

Get the Stage that’s Right for You

You’re thinking about making that leap to a more professional kitchen – but doubt keeps holding you back. The best way to prepare yourself for a big step up is to get some first-hand experience and request a Stage.

Staging is a great tradition in the restaurant world. It allows cooks of varying experience to see new methods up close and personal. It can also be a stepping stone for those young cooks looking to break into award-winning kitchens that are known to launch careers.

Here are some pointers on getting the Stage that’s right for you.

Pick the right restaurant
First of all, make sure it’s a restaurant that is open to stagiaires. Skip corporate chains and look for chef-driven restaurants. Also, think about the logistics of a kitchen hosting a Stage. There are a number of tiny galley kitchens running a two cook line that produce amazing food, but they might not have the physical space to afford a third cook whose abilities are limited. Ideally, a Stage-worthy restaurant has a large kitchen and uses something like the brigade system.

It’s all about the food
It’s not enough to Stage in any old James Beard awarded kitchen, you’ll want to follow a kitchen that’s making the food you’re interested in learning more about. Do you keep hearing about molecular gastronomy, but don’t know the first thing about fluid gels? Find a kitchen that does. Interested in wood fired ovens and traditional cooking? There are amazing places that don’t even have a stovetop. Ultimately, if you have to choose between a kitchen that has won awards and a kitchen that is making the food that interests you, go with the food.

Enjoy Life, eat out more often… and make it count
Once you’ve decided on where you’d like to Stage, make a reservation for 1 and go have dinner. Skip the date, since this meal is all about the food (and the networking.) Be the best guest you can imagine yourself being. Ask good questions and listen to all advice as the staff recommends dishes to you. Take notes – treat the meal as the first day of your Stage. When you’re done, ask if you can meet the chef – but take no for an answer. If you do get to meet the chef, keep it quick. Compliment their food and ask if you could follow up with them about a Stage.

This last point is an important one, so it bears repeating. Ask to follow up about a Stage instead of asking for a Stage. This is a subtle difference but it lets the chef consider your request without being put on the spot. If they tell you to call back in the morning, you’re likely to be talking with a Sous Chef anyway.

Persistence
If you get rejected, start your search over from the beginning. The point is to push beyond your boundaries and to learn new skills. That requires a thick skin and a tolerance for rejection. But if you persist, you will find your way into a kitchen – and that kitchen will be a good one.

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If you’re looking for something to do between shifts, you should check out our Instagram account: @poachedjobs.

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Here’s some of our recent favorites:

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Poached Summer Games

The Summer Olympics are happening in Rio! Every four years the world unites to celebrate peace, global community and Women’s Beach Volleyball. The athletes have dedicated their lives to their sports – to merely compete in the Summer Games is a life achievement few will ever know.

But you don’t need to feel left out. There are a number of ways you can recreate the thrill of the games in your own place of work.

Here’s a few sports you and your co-workers can enjoy in the spirit of the Summer Olympic Games:

Front of House

  1. iPodathlon. This is also known as “iPod Chicken.” The rules are simple: load an iPod with hours and hours of perfectly acceptable restaurant music… and then add Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers.) When service begins just set the iPod to shuffle and press play. The first staff-member to skip a song loses.
  1. The Shift Toss. This is a sport that’s based almost purely in strategy. The goal is to swap a bad shift (that happens to coincide with a Frank Ocean concert, because he’s going to tour… right?) with a good one. Players can use nearly every strategy available: guilt, deception, blackmail, or bartering. Whoever can manage to not only swap the most shifts, but also make the most in tips while working the least hours is the winner.
  1. The Patio Relay. The patio relay combines both strategy and endurance. The basic point is slightly different from conventional relays: the player needs to ring as much in sales as possible while making the fewest trips. This means pushing bottles instead of glasses of wine; punchbowls instead of martinis; and family style meals instead of courses. An additional challenge is in maximizing your support staff to keep those waters full, otherwise even the most experienced athlete can get bogged down.

 

Back of House

  1. The Sharpie-put. The goal is to get the most Sharpies by the end of service. To get a Sharpie, simply grab one from someone else’s station without being noticed. If you are caught, you have to give all your Sharpies to whoever caught you.
  1. Synchronized Swearing. Form teams of 2. The goal is to develop the best tandem swearing routine. Points are given for difficulty and originality. Be warned, while this event sounds easy, there is a deep pool of talent out there that will make a few mere MF-bombs make you look like an amateur.
  1. The Fryer Slalom. The goal of the Fryer Slalom is to simply survive. Everyone who walks past the fryer and across the water and oil slicked floor is a competitor. Specialized equipment is highly recommended, but there is no shoe better than your own sense of balance and situational awareness.

 

7 Things You Don’t Want to See in Your Restaurant

Most restaurants live on a steady rhythm. Deliveries, prep, maintenance, etc. become so predictable you can set your watch to them. If the fish delivery happens late, it can throw the whole prep schedule off – with the effects echoing into service itself. I used to be able to walk through the building and know immediately if my shift was going to go well or fall apart faster than the British economy.

Here are a few of the things I didn’t want to see in or around my restaurant

  1. HVAC Technicians: Some of you just winced at the mention of it. But if you’ve had to deal with an aging facility you know the pain of seeing a plain white van parked next to your building. If there’s a ladder against a wall, it hurts even more.
  2. County Health Inspector: There isn’t a restaurant clean enough for a stress-free visit from the health inspector. If you actually happen to really cook with actual ingredients, it can be even worse. It was a 90 second drill to dump drinks, move hotel trays around, and hide anything involving a sous vide bag.
  3. Liquor Reps: Nothing like having a drunk salesperson buying rounds of some Fireball-laced cocktail on his company card just so they can prove they got facetime with an influential bartender. Seeing the Liquor Rep walk in the door means half your tables are going to have to wait for drinks while he distracts your staff by talking about the latest quinoa rum he desperately needs to sell a pallet of.
  4. Wine Reps: Basically the same as above, but with less Fireball and more Merlot that’s named after an animal that leaps.
  5. “Rat lookin’ sume-bitch”: We get it, you need to catch all the Pokémon. You still have to wait to be seated on the patio.
  6. Dishwasher carrying the wet dry vac into the walk-in: Something has happened. Something terrible. Best to wait until everyone has had time to put together their cover story before getting involved.
  7. Any party of 6 or more comprised of a single gender: A group of men will drink too much and harass the staff. A group of women will drink too much and harass the staff. Mixed groups just drink too much, which is fine.

 

Local Man Wearing Fedora and Drinking Sherry Actually a Cool Guy

Asheville, NC – A local man sporting a jaunty fedora ordered an Amontillado at the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge this afternoon. Witnesses reported he loudly informed the bartender that Sherry is “under-appreciated” and “a great food wine.” It was immediately assumed the man was a complete pepper-brained clown-tool by everyone present.

“I couldn’t imagine him being anything but a total dork-nozzle jerk-fest,” said Jason Thompson, the bartender. “From the moment he walked in I just knew he was going to be a huge pain in my ass.”

Judging from the man’s oxford shirt and cargo shorts most of the bars regulars shared the same opinion.

“He looked like the kind of guy who tries to hit on your girlfriend by asking her if she likes podcasts,” said Brent Peters, local business owner and bar patron. “I took one look at him and thought he had the most punchable face I’d seen since Saved by the Bell got canceled.”

Despite all these initial reactions, the man turned out to be a really cool guy, everyone would later agree.

“He sipped his Sherry and we all kind of assumed he’d be a pimple-fingered dumpster-muncher,” explained Molly McGivens, hairdresser. “We were bracing ourselves for his observations about contrails or whatever. Instead he was downright delightful.”

According to witnesses the man told funny jokes about political candidates without taking sides, discussed Game of Thrones without giving away any spoilers and even commented that he had a pet, but never forced anyone to look at pictures of it on his phone.

“I have to admit that ordering Sherry is usually a dead giveaway that someone is an absolute mushroom-tattooed sphincter-goblin,” said Thompson. “But this guy really changed my mind about Amontillado. Though, I’m still pretty suspect of Fino, Oloroso and Palo Cortado.”

The man even left a larger than 20% tip without even saying he was a big tipper. He was last seen vaping as he walked to his PT Cruiser.

The Rise of Counter Service

If you look at new restaurant openings you’ll notice a trend taking shape: the rise of Quick Service Restaurants, or QSRs.

First, a little vocabulary. Fast Food is generally defined as a restaurant where the food is prepared ahead and handed to you over the counter (think McDonald’s). Fast Casual on the other hand, makes meals to order and runs food out to your table. The lines can get blurry – for example, Chipotle is often placed in the Fast Casual category because the food is made to order.

For years, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell dominated the QSR scene. But things have changed in the last 20 years. The Washington Post reported that between 1999 and 2014, fast food restaurant expansion basically flat lined, while growth in fast casual QSRs like Shake Shack increased by a magnitude of 550 percent.

Fast casual food is less processed and often locally sourced. (Although some fast food darlings like In-N-Out and Burgerville champion local purveying.) Because the food is fresher, Fast casuals charge more for meals. Fast food prices hover between the $3 to $6 range, while Fast casual prices go for between $7 and $15.

Both models share one thing in common: they save money on labor by operating with fewer workers. There are no hostesses and no servers, just a crew to take orders, take money, prepare food and keep the dining area clean.

A good example of the Counter Service trend is Little Big Burger, a fast casual burger joint. Business partners Micah Camden and Katie Poppe gambled that food concepts which appeal to our sense of comfort are nearly recession-proof – even in an uncertain economy.

While opening several Little Big Burger stores, the duo also launched counter-service concepts specializing in donuts, fried chicken and hot dogs. After seven years of operating Little Big Burger, Camden and Poppe sold their mini-franchise to the corporation behind Hooters for a cool $6.1 million. Meanwhile they’ve also expanded their Blue Star Donuts concept to Japan.

That success has not gone unnoticed. Of the approximately 55 brick-and-mortar restaurants that opened in Portland, Ore over the last six months, nearly 40 percent are classified as Fast Casual establishments. And that’s not counting Pine Street Market, the city’s first food hall that houses eight high-end Fast Casual concepts — all of which operate on the counter service model.

While table-service will never go away, many business-minded restaurateurs clearly see an opportunity in counter-service based QSRs. As labor costs rise and margins get thinner, we expect to see more and more restaurants exploring this growing and exciting trend.

 

The 5 Stages of Food Coming Back

Nothing can disrupt a smooth enough night like food coming back through the window. The rail is full of tickets – special orders, VIPs, add-ons and big-tops. But you and and crew can handle it all… until you see Carl the Host heading your way with a plate in his hand. Food coming back is part of the job, but it’s also one of the worst things that can happen on a busy shift.

Here are the 5 stages of dealing with food going the wrong way through the window:

Denial – I didn’t put mayonnaise on that. You must have the wrong table, or maybe the customer doesn’t know what they ordered. I checked everything on the expo. This isn’t the right burger…

Anger – What do you mean they’re allergic to eggs? No one is allergic to eggs. Did you make a note on the ticket? In pen? In the red pen like we talked about during standup? This dumbass backwards unsophisticated Hell’s Kitchen watching bridge and tunnel weekend warrior yelp reading yelp reviewing mother-yelper has no idea what a good burger even tastes like MUCH LESS AN EGG MUCH LESS MAYONNAISE!!!!

Bargaining – Are you sure they can’t eat mayonnaise? It’s just a little bit, barely any – I mean I can just scrape it off and they’ll never know. I’ll make sure you get extra staff meal, just help me out here. I have a full rail and that 8 top is about to hit. We can work something out.

Depression – Why do I always end up here, standing in the window with Carl debating some lady’s condiment aversion? Why did I even come in? Why did I take a job washing dishes back in high school? Why did I learn prep and fryer and sautee? Why did I ever think lead-line was the right move? I should’ve just gotten hammered and stayed that way. Life is a series of empty promises, meaningless events unconnected to perceived outcomes – the Universe is indifferent as I stand on this slowly warming rock spinning in bleak and empty space…

Acceptance – Oh, I’ll just throw a new bottom bun on the grill real quick. Refire up! Runner! CARL!

Things To Do in Denver When You’re (Not Yet) Dead

Part 1: THE FIRST 24 HOURS

Flying in early one afternoon last month, the whitewashed circus tent of Denver International Airport looked as if the spectacle had left town and forgotten its tent in the middle of nowhere. My assignment was to come to Denver, Colorado, to do some recon. I knew as we landed that the next 48-hours were going to be about seeing some of Denver’s best casual eateries..

Poached Jobs was launching in Denver, expanding into its twelfth city. From sea level to a mile high, coast-to-coast Poached gives the hospitality industry a platform for streamlined sourcing of the most qualified job applicants. With a bit of Poached swag, and a very empty belly, I was going to infiltrate every corner of this city. Denver has been building off its well-developed food scene in every category. The city features some of the finest dining in the West, if not the whole of the USA – but my focus is on the fast and easy side of the culinary scene.

DEN_DevilsFoodBakery_200hAfter a long flight I was definitely ready to grub, so my friend Mike and I made our way to Devil’s Food Bakery & Cookery. The wait became well worth it when in front of me was placed hands-down one of the best-ever fried chicken & waffles. It came out smothered in sausage gravy and house smoked-syrup that blended salty & sweet with perfection. Mike and I split a homemade chive biscuit smothered in ham, poached egg yolk, and melted cheese that was pure amazingness. The dish was delicately flavored, with a studded tangy mustard profile and hidden mound of melted alliums. Naps were all that we could think about after this experience.

DEN_GrandmasHouse_175sqA few hours later, we were rested and ready for the beautiful autumn afternoon to be explored. We dropped by Grandma’s House for a few midday beers. The local drafts felt great, sipping in the ridiculously hot weather for it being mid-October. Grandma’s House is not your typical bar, but if you enjoy throwback heirlooms, kitschy design and funky seating in a nice open-air drinking hole, this place will suit you. Our buzz carried along until we dropped into Park Burger for absolutely massive meat bombs.

I don’t truly remember much of this experience; I was too busy shoving food into my mouth so fast that oxygen couldn’t get in. The truffle fries were thin and worth eating four or five at a time while I tried to suck the guacamole from my Chilango burger out of my mustache. I ended with a root beer float that nearly floored me. Their use of an artisan root beer had me savoring the soda over the vanilla ice cream for the first time.

DEN_ParkBurger_175sqFood coma ensued as our night wrapped up with some local beers shared on the couches at home. With one more full day left, Mike and I had stuffed our faces to a point of turning in early; it was just after midnight last I remember.

The next morning, shaking the fog from my head, all I wanted was a black coffee. Mike and I brewed a cup of Pablo’s dark, locally roasted Danger Monkey beans. Still full from the night before, we sprung for an early lunch at the very popular local chain of Mexican fast food, Illegal Pete’s. The burrito was full of fresh, made-in-house ingredients. Wolfing down a burrito bigger than my forearm and the bag of chips that they gave me with fiery salsa for free had us craving beer once again. Though we resisted the immediate urge and figured perhaps we should wait an hour.

To be continued…

 

Want More from Jonathan Merrill, aka Chef Vagabundus?
– Find him on Instagram: http://instagram.com/chef_vaga/
– Check out his website: The Vagabundus Project

 

Just Say No to Pumpkin Spice

If you’re a chef or bartender you may have heard a variation of the following “maybe something with pumpkin spice?”

It might be a friend or a family member trying to be helpful. It might be a manager or owner looking to capitalize on the omnipresent food trend. Either way these are words no creative culinary professional wants to hear. After working for years to develop not only technique, but also theories of flavor, all anyone can ask you for is something with “pumpkin spice.”

It’s your job to say “no.”

There’s nothing wrong with pumpkin spice, anymore than there’s something wrong with wearing North Face jackets and Uggs. It’s a fine fall tradition that a little known coffee chain has managed to, against all odds, promote nationally on a tiny budget. And these underdogs have managed to find a much needed foothold against their locally owned competitors. We applaud and celebrate their innovative spirit. Still, though, you need to just say “no” to pumpkin spice.

notch

It may start innocently enough. For bartenders it usually happens with a pinch of cinnamon. Soon cinnamon isn’t enough to build flavor so you’ll add some nutmeg. Next thing you know, you’ll be asking the pantry guy for “just a handful of cloves…” By then it’ll be to late. Your perfectly balanced Manhattans will be replaced with schnapps, cream and microplaned spices.

Chefs are not immune. It’ll start with a harmless soup special on the fresh board, maybe a clever dessert. Pumpkin spices will soon find their way into a side dish and finally a dry rub. You’ll end up sitting at the bar alone, staring into your shot of Fireball and smelling lightly of ginger and all spice.

It’s not too late though. You can resist the pressure and just say “no” to pumpkin spice anything. Though it may be hard, though all your friends are doing it, though it may seem like there’s no way out – you can rise up and resist.

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