Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh How the Tables Have Turned

It has been less than one week since my last shift at Cafe Confidential and I eagerly await orientation at my new job in the coming days. As I sit on the plane flying away from the corn and soy bean fields for the concrete jungle of my adopted NYC, I'm forced to recon with the fact that I don't do well when unemployed. Over the last three days, today in particular, I have become one of those borderline rude customers that drew my ire, but for different reasons. Honest person that I am, this entry will serve myself up as the annoying customer.

My problem began two days ago during a celebratory dinner at Bacaro in Champaign, IL, easily the finest restaurant in town, no doubt a result of the NYC influences of its executive chef/owner. The meal was superb, exactly what a restaurant experience should be. The bartender, who briefly worked with with my best friend at another restaurant in town, started us off with glasses of Prosecco followed by one each of the two drink specials. Neither disappointed. Next, we were treated to complimentary amuse bouche, a savory smoked shrimp with orange and fennel before our appetizers and entrees arrived. We shared a slice of pumpkin cake for dessert complemented by a fine glass of Riesling. I was in culinary heaven, made that much better by the personal connection my friend shared with the bartender and server and I with another server and the executive sous chef who prepared our meals. I felt connected to the restaurant.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Wrong. The next day, I encountered two customer service professionals before going for dinner at the award-winning BBQ restaurant, Black Dog where, as I discovered, I knew two of the cooks and one server. With each customer service pro and then the Black Dog bartender and host, I found myself obnoxiously trying to help them manage their stations more efficiently, on the one hand, and making demands based on expectations for speed and multitasking held for myself, that were unreasonable for people accustomed to working at a slower pace. I could clearly recognize the bartender's contempt for me and could hardly blame her. Although I will maintain that it is not unreasonable for a person to take two separate drink orders at once.

Today, I reached my low point boarding the plane to Atlanta. Already frustrated by the deliberate (read: ungodly slow) pace of the passenger ahead of me, I interrupted him to request that he reverse the direction of his duffel bag, even as he was reaching to place it in the overhead compartment. Yes, I could already recognize that his duffel placement would be inefficient and decrease the available space for my bag and simply could not suffer the inconvenience of moving it myself. Needless to say, the passenger in 18A is not my biggest fan. Nor is the flight attendant that expressed frustration when I tried to assist his colleague in delivering a beverage to the person sitting next to me. No, I don't know her. But the young woman ordered a drink and shouldn't be expected to wait that long.

My lesson? First of all, sometimes I need to chill out and remember that I am in no way perfect. Second, I can recommit to the notion that line cooks and servers have a special kind of genius for organizing tasks and working efficiently. After three years as a cook, I am not at genius level yet. But I will always do my best to show appreciation to the people that prepare and deliver my food at a restaurant. There is such amazing mental agility to go with physical prowess and culinary knowledge. I am proud to be among them.


  1. Hey, take comfort in the fact that you're part of the world's largest secret society.

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