Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Food is Cold? Your Own Damn Fault!

Taking a single step before the next is a perfectly reasonable strategy in many facets of life. It works well with walking, that's for sure. Fixing a car and following recipes... great idea. But ordering food step-by-step is not only a recipe for receiving a cold meal, it might also attract a violent reaction from your barista or, in my case, line cook. Let me explain.

Contrary to popular myth (and all of you customer and food service pros can back me up in the comments section), the people that serve your food are not idiots. Their brain capacities exceed that of gnats. Many of them can even spell gnat without looking it up in a dictionary. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that cooks and waitstaff (but not banquet staff - whole different thing there) possess a very special kind of genius that civilians simply don't understand. A mental capacity for retaining strings of information delivered under sometimes grueling (pun intended) circumstances and translating that information into a hot meal to be enjoyed by all. The only thing that can get in your cook's or server's way is a customer that simply cannot keep up with the pace or, even worse, insists on ordering food item by item by item ad nauseum. I am not exaggerating when I say that item-by-item customers fill me with a fury that boils as hot as the water in my steam trays. We're talking cartoon steam coming out of my ears.

Why is this a problem? Let's start with my top three reasons:

1. Just like a car doesn't like going from 60 mph to 25 mph, neither does a line cook who actually takes pride in working at a breakneck pace. Grinding to a halt to take and prepare an order is physically uncomfortable.

2. It makes your food cold. Now this bothers me for two reasons. First, I actually care about the product that I send out. All cooks do - in spite of everything, we are prideful people and our food matters. The more significant reason, however, is that customers often complain to managers about cold food, even when they caused the temporal drop. There is nothing quite so punishing as being held responsible for an item-by-item customer's shortcomings.

3. Many customers order item-by-item because they presume that's the most I can handle. That presumption is insulting. Offer the benefit of the doubt that the line cook or server can keep up and, if proven otherwise, hold the person accountable. But do not act like I need a sock puppet show to understand something as simple as an order that I have probably heard before.

This experience is pretty common. My inspiration for the entry on my last night off before the new work week came during a visit to Dunkin' Donuts on my way home from the City. I stood behind a young man, probably a local college student, who waited about four minutes to receive a nice hot order of hash brown bites (they are delicious). The line attendant walked to the register only to receive a follow-up order for hot chocolate and, I kid you not, I could see in her eyes the desire to leap across the counter and shred the customer like a carrot. Funny, I felt the same thing. I didn't want to wait to order my hash browns!

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