“Don’t Worry, We’ll Clean Up.”
How many of us out there have stayed late? How many of us out there have opened early? Shit, how many of us have come in on our day off? The answers for the test are as follows: all of us, we all have, and I don’t want to talk about it. If you answered anything else. You’re nicer than most of us. And could teach all of us a great deal of patience. But at the same time, we are bothered by a whole other reason. And that reason is the lack of respect that we in the industry go through. This may not seem like a big deal to most of you. And to most, it may not be. But over the years, it tends to get old quickly. When looking back on this, it reminds me of something that happened to me. There are three words that any chef loves to hear but hates at the same time. Those words are Easter Sunday Brunch. Did that just make you grit your teeth? Shit just reading that made me flinch a little, I won’t lie. A few years ago on that dreadful day, I was working a brunch shift on Easter Sunday. You must have seen that one coming, right? Anyway, if you’ve ever worked an easter Sunday shift, you know that you have to get there early, and plan on staying late. And without question, you always ask around or take a look at the numbers last year to try and get an idea of what you’re getting into. Don’t lie, everyone does this no matter their time in. The year before wasn’t bad at all. We got to close around 3 pm, which was nice. And no stay overs, so that helped us while we cleaned and closed. But around 1, we noticed that some of our reservations hadn’t shown up. Wait, how are 25 people not going to show up to an Easter brunch reservation that you put a deposit down for? We tried calling the customer, and no one answered. So since the business was slow and out reservations didn’t show, we decided to deep clean so that we didn’t have to the next day. Smart right? Wrong. So this group at a 12:30 reservation, and by 1 they weren’t there. 1:30 rolls around, nothing. The clock hits 2, still no one. Remember we close at 3, so by this time, we are almost done scrubbing everything down and are almost ready to go. And with our excitement building inside of us, we get ready to walk out at 3. An early out day that we all wanted and needed. Guess who walks in the door at 2:30? That reservation. Now mind you, at this point in time, we hadn’t had a plate sold in well over an hour, and we closed most of the kitchen down. Yeah, yeah, I get it, we shouldn’t have pre-closed, it’s cursed us. The kitchen gods hate us, etc, etc. So the host walks into the kitchen with a dreadful look on her face. Pale white like she saw her dead grandma. She said to me “ chef, you’re not going to like this, and please don’t kill me...remember that 25 top that no-showed?...they are here now, and its a 30 top..” The kitchen got so quiet that you could hear the dishwasher wheezing from his broken ribs that he got from the fight he had a few days ago. So I turned to my staff and said: “ Fire it back up, we’re staying late.” So we turn it all back on. I peek out into the dining room to see the chaos. I saw a few kids. Kids are easy to feed. So that made me feel a little better about the situation. But then I saw it. The feared and fabled “ I want to speak to a manager haircut.” Then it hit me, I’m the only manager on duty. Well, fuck. I don’t want to deal with any of this. But it looks like I’m going to have to. So I turn around to my line crew and say,” This one is going to be fun, get ready.” Almost immediately the tickets started rolling in. So I just on the line as well. I’m not about to let my people suffer alone. After we hear 5 tickets print, we wonder why the server didn’t put them all on one. Then we figured it out. Haircut lady must have demanded they all be on separate tickets. Holy fuck I hate people like this. Oh and get this, everything was modified. And the kids were gluten-free and vegan. Nothing against that, but maybe let a young kid live a little and have some ice cream? Just because you have fat in places you’d rather not talk about, doesn’t mean little jimmy has to suffer. Let kids be kids, damn. But in the end, we killed it. The last order went out around 3, and we got to leave a little later. We all came together and killed it. But that’s not the point. Point is, who does that shit? And why does it happen all the time? Can you not read the hours of operation posted on the outside of the establishment and on our website? Assholes.
This just reminded me of a story that was told to me that I absolutely need to share. A close friend of mine works at a high-end place with an ever-changing menu. I asked why the menu was always ever-changing. They told me it was that was due to the fact that the menu depended on what local farmers brought them. This place is all about food. Not a TV in sight. The servers are highly educated. And with their extensive training and french backgrounds, they could probably prepare better meals themselves at home. Not to mention they all speak fluent french. So it’s a very classic restaurant. It sounds like a dream, right? Well, maybe not after all. So he told me about a particular day that will forever live in infamy to him. Superbowl Sunday, he said is one of the slowest days of the year. Which makes sense with no TV in sight. The year before last they did 12 covers all day. All totaling to maybe 30 people all day. Which is typical for a higher-end place like this, it’s the slow season. Sundays were the slowest to date he continued to say. So the owners told them that they could close early. Which got everyone excited. They rarely got to ever close early. So that expectation was set in stone for a few weeks leading up to said Superbowl Sunday. So by 7:30 pm, all business was done. All reservations were in, and customers were fed. The kitchen was expected to be done and walking out by 8:30. So they decided to do like we all do with that extra time, they deep cleaned. You know, the type of deep cleaning that you do when you’re looking for a James Beard award? That kind of deep cleaning. So then a two top calls in and says that they will be in within 45 minutes. This isn’t the type of place to tell customers no. Customers pay the bills, so you can’t really tell them no on a non-holiday. So the couple shows up at 8:45. The restaurant’s normal business hours are only until 9:30. And they also have an average 2-hour dining experience. Ok, so not a huge deal right? Wrong. He then went on to explain that the couple order an appetizer and a pork entree to share. Ok, no issues with sort of rushing that. No problem. Then the unspeakable happens at 9:15. A regular couple shows up as a walk-in. Shit, you can’t tell regulars no, especially when they can clearly see another two top eating. So you seat them. And hate their existence. So this late two top knows this place all too well. They have come in numerous times before, and know the places hours of operation. Not to mention, how the dining experience works. They know this shit is going to take two hours. But they don’t care. A place that we all have been all too much in our careers. So just as I’m about to begin my empathetic apology, he tells me the best part. They order two pasta features. Pasta is always handmade fresh to order. That means, they get the ticket, kick out the apps, and make the pasta from scratch, by hand, each time, every time. My heart sank. What do you say to something like that? So imagine having to put a new pasta pot on, hand-making pasta to order, and then making the entree. All the while, you were supposed to home a few hours ago. So he says they didn’t leave until after midnight that night. Which when you’ve done this before, you know this sucks.
That’s not where the story gets worse. That part sucks, but it’s not nearly as bad as what I’m about to tell you. His crew that night in the back of the house consisted of himself, two-line cooks, and a dishwasher. The dishwasher was expecting a baby any minute that night and was looking forward to getting out early. Every minute he was checking his phone for updates, smiling ear to ear. Just absolutely beaming with joy the chef said. He never thought he’d get the call he got the next morning. The dishwasher’s girlfriend died in labor around 9:15-9:30 pm. The baby made it, but the mother didn’t. What do you do in that situation? The chef had no way of knowing, and told the dishwasher that he could leave early. But he refused because he had something to prove to the team. He kept thinking about how you never leave anyone behind. Absolutely devastated, the chef and crew shut down the restaurant, and went to his aid at the hospital. There was nothing anyone could have done. The chef said that the dishwasher just stood in silence. He couldn’t move. Frozen still in a time that will haunt him for the rest of his life. So of you might say “ well, if it were that serious, I would have just walked out, screw that job.” Others may say “ why didn’t chef just kick him out to go be with this girlfriend and the baby?” Well, you missed the point when I said, that there was nothing no one could have done. Whether or not the dishwasher would have been by her side or not, she would have passed away. Also, no one knew she has passed, not until the dishwasher got to the hospital after work still covered in last night’s features and dishwater.
So what’s my point in all of this? Well, people realize what we sacrifice to create features. And that time is precious. And sometimes people can be so inconsiderate of others. And it’s that same selfishness that keeps people in the industry from their families. Now, I know that no matter what, the mother of the child’s life didn’t depend on how late the customers showed up or stayed. But I feel like no matter what the dishwasher should have been able to leave early. But decisions were made. And if that doesn’t show dedication to the craft and lifestyle, I’m not sure what does. So when you go out to eat, please respect your fellow human beings. Be considerate of the very limited lives that they have outside of work. Be aware of the hardships that they face each and every day in order to cook and create for you. Please note that not all situations are as heavy as this one. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t matter to someone. You don’t get to tell someone else how they feel. And please always remember to tip the staff. That means the kitchen as well. Some of us make sacrifices that you’ll never see or hear about. And all we ask for is a smile, and a thank you. If you ask me, I always buy them a round. That way, they know that someone gives a shit about their sacrifices. Some of us go almost all week not seeing our families. While most of society gets to do that 9-5 bit. If only we could be so lucky. But if that were the case, then we wouldn’t be able to feed you after work at 5 pm. So please realize the sacrifices we in the industry make. And how these things affect us. Because we are some of the toughest and strongest people mentally. But everyone has a breaking point. And in this industry, there are those who will push you to your breaking point, and then play the victim. So people, please applaud the proud few who made your food. Thank them. You never know when it might make their day.
Rodney Lienhart is a Chef formerly of McKenzie, TN but is now working and residing in the Lansing, MI area. Starting at the young age of 7 years old. He worked his way through the ranks in his mom’s kitchen in the hills of Tennessee. With a background in nouvelle and southern cuisine, he uses what he knows to learn more about what he doesn’t. When he isn’t putting a flame on a saute pan, he can be found reading and researching about what makes people tick. A massive overindulgence in psychology has led him here to share what he has witnessed in his experiences. You can follow his story and insight into the world of cooking food @ chef_rodney_117 on Instagram.Enjoy reading things from this author? Be on the lookout his book coming soon. Stay tuned.