Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Things Not to Say to Your Line Cook

The Wine and Food Festival is over, the weather is beautiful and I am back to work full-time at the cafe, which means the buffalo chicken moments are picking up again. The Tuesday shift was uneventful except for an unfortunate couple that remained convinced (even after a polite correction) that they properly ordered a "panari." Of course, my mind so influenced by cartoons as a child, went directly to images of a hybrid grilled sandwich/canary that spoke like Tweety Bird. Boy I wish I was more familiar with PhotoShop.

Today was a different story. Wednesday lunch service is always more eventful than other weekdays for reasons my confidentiality clause will not allow me to divulge. Needless to say, my delightful regular customers are augmented by tourists, elderly patrons looking for a bargain, and the occasional non-working parent with children a bit too young for school. I know what you're thinking - recipe for frustration. You're right. And while I like a busy line, working at a quick clip, I find myself wishing against wish, hoping against hope, that these Wednesday patrons could keep their comments to themselves and let me enjoy my service. Here are a few examples of things I don't want to hear from customers on a busy day:

  • "Well hello David!" and you may substitute any other greeting that includes my name. Seems like I'm being pretty cold, right? Wrong. Just because I wear a name tag doesn't mean that you know me personally. I am happy that my regulars know and use my name. They've earned it. But don't think that correctly reading my name tag entitles you to a personal exchange, especially when I'm busy.
  • "Wow, it looks like you could use an extra set of arms!" Really? Well I think you could use a little common sense. If I'm working so hard that I could use an extra set of arms, do you really think I have time to listen to witless banter, let alone participate? Here's the thing. A customer may say things like this in appreciation of my speed or effort, but it always sounds like an insult. Just like when I hear people say...
  • "I can't believe you're out here all alone. You could use another person." Thanks. Actually, I feel pretty good about serving nine people at once, each with multiple items in their order, that I am able to keep organized and serve hot together. Besides, the greatest impediment to fast service is any among the follow: customers not moving down the line, ordering food item by item, taking another customers food instead of one's own, and forcing the line cook to engage in that witless banter when s/he is clearly trying to bust through some orders.
  • "Oh, you mean the panani is a sandwich? I thought it was ____ (insert embarrassingly incorrect food item here)." Where do I begin? We've already been over my issues with sandwich mispronouncitation. My biggest issue here? If you don't know what a word or menu item is, ask before ordering. Don't wait the three minutes I take to cook the food only to stop me when I want to move on to customers that have waited patiently for my attention. Questions come before ordering, not after.
I recognize that some of my issues might seem unreasonable but know this: cooks are prideful  attention-mongers that like the thrill of working quickly, but we will never feel good about unreasonable wait times. We need to work with customers to make sure food gets out hot and fast and we need customer assistance to get that job done. Minimizing the not-so-supportive chit chat is a great way to help.

Knowing what one just ordered also helps. And asking reasonable questions early in the process is the way to speed things along. My total lack of knowledge about food can fill hundreds of books but I always ask questions quickly before ordering. That's how I learn and make things easier for the cooks at the same time.


  1. um, i would want to use your name if you had a nametag. :) but it still made me laugh. AND i always ask "is that vegetarian?" before ordering. Who says pa-nanny? really? aren't these people new yorkers? is a panini california cuisine? aren't panini makers as common out there as gifts? we have one sitting under our stove that's been used once in a year. but pa-nanny is kind of fun to say. maybe i'll use this as a secret approach to make myself laugh when i go to a restaurant and mispronounce everything i order horribly. in the most embarrassing way. and try to keep a straight fez.

  2. I have no doubt that you calling me by name would not have bothered me because you don't wreak of privilege :) We've ordered food together and you are nothing if not charming, so you're off the hook.

    I have no idea what's going on with the panini/panani mess. I have never seen so many places that serve panini in my entire life. Let me know if you begin Project Mispronunciation and I'll write about it. I'm sure it would be hilarious! Oh, and you've inspired my post for tomorrow.