Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Reasons To Admire Those Who Toil in Restaurants

Alternate title for post:
Why I would drink [even more] excessively if I worked in a restaurant.

I recently had the opportunity to shadow a sommelier at a high-end restaurant during dinner service. Apart from confirming my belief that I would so be fired before the end of the shift if some restaurant were actually crazy or desperate enough to hire me, one thing that stands out starkly in my memory from that experience is how insignificant, dismissed, and non-human I felt around the diners. I have heard servers talk about feeling invisible, but that was not quite it. I was definitely visible, since people clearly saw me and asked me for things, but it was more of a benign lack of acknowledgement of my existence, coupled with an attitude of entitlement.

To illustrate, I was floored to read about diners complaining about servers and bussers trying to clear their plates when they are not finished eating. On the flip side, I have also heard complaints about plates not being cleared fast enough once people are done eating. Yet these are the same crazies who begrudge servers the measly 15% gratuity they deign to leave, after expecting their every desire to be fulfilled immediately, getting irritated if servers do not tell them enough about the food, if servers tell them too much about the food, if servers hover, if servers fail to apparate at their side the moment they want ___________. Do not even get me started on diners who decide to pop into a restaurant two minutes before closing and then get grouchy at being "rushed." How happy do you get when your boss gives you a project at 5pm on a Friday. Are lack of manners de rigueur for dining out these days?

Those would be front of the house issues. The kitchen has a whole other set of issues with which to contend. A recent episode of Top Chef Masters had the chef contestants preparing a meal for a vegetarian who does not eat dairy and has a gluten allergy. The following are some examples of actual conversations I have had with people at work trying to decide where or what to eat:

"I don't like poultry."
"What about turkey at Thanksgiving?"
"Fine, I like turkey and chicken, but nothing else."
"Rabbit tastes like chicken."

"I won't eat organs."
"You loved foie gras."
"That was before I found out it was liver."

"Indian sounds good, as long as I don't have to eat lamb."

"I don't like ground meat, except hamburgers."

"I can't eat cheese because I'm lactose intolerant." (Cheese does not contain lactose.)

"Sausages gross me out."
"What about hot dogs?"
"Hot dogs are okay."

"I want my steak well-done."

"I don't like raw fish."

"I don't like seafood."

"I eat everything. Except sweetbreads."

"I don't like spicy food."

"I put Tabasco on everything."

Feel like ripping your hair out yet? After training for years, accepting all kinds of abuse, and being paid pittance for most of your career, why would you subject your culinary creations to this type of audience. I am frankly surprised that chefs do not hack off one of their ears in frustration.

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