A recent spate of chef-memes posted on Facebook has me thinking. These lists probably seem harsh to diners who have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but if you work in one for a couple of weeks, you’ll encounter all these things.
Number 1 is hating on diners who come in at the last possible minute of service. Yes, it’s only 10:56 p.m. and the kitchen is open until 11, per Facebook page listings and website hours. This is technically not a sin. The restaurant has posted their business hours, and you are well within them. Kitchen staff will still hate you with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns. The crew is back there, cleaning their counters and lowboys, enduring the servers coming back into the kitchen and counting their cash tips in front of them, while inviting them out to a club. Good cooks have already re-stocked their stations for the guys who will come in tomorrow morning for lunch service. The dishwasher has already scrubbed all the sauté pans and coffee cups.
However, there is a way to do this gracefully. Call ahead. Let them know you’re coming. And it wouldn’t be awful to tip really well in this situation. Even tip the kitchen if the food is amazing at this hour. But you should make as sure as you can that the tip actually makes it to the kitchen. As in, give it to (or point it out to) a manager.
Number 2 is “the line cook who always begs for more hours but also always wants to be cut first and never wants to stay around for clean-down.” We all roll our eyes when this guy clocks in. He brags about his cooking prowess but will do anything to avoid dicing carrots and other menial prep duties. He’s always on his phone (unless the chef is on the line), and he steals your side towel if you forget and lay it down for even a fraction of a moment. Also, he’s the first one to ask to borrow money.
Number 3 is the wise old dishwasher. This guy is a full-on ninja. He might not even be “old,” but he’s always there with your clean hotel pan when you need it most. He knows where everything is in the walk-in. He knows who’s been dating who, and although he would never offer this info unsolicited, you can have it for the price of a specially prepared plate. By the way, in our world, good dishwashers get to eat whatever they want. And they will eat it sort of like a squirrel, cheerfully hiding it behind the stack of soft drink syrup boxes. You’ll never actually see them take a bite. Good dishwashers are the backbone of a kitchen. Never doubt it.
Number 4 is the picky diner. Some cobble together a dish for themselves from all the ingredients they see on the menu (“I’ll have the rotini pasta, but with portobello mushrooms instead of shiitake, add some artichoke hearts, but just the top part, not the bottom part near the stem, and I’d like to substitute the sauce from the special you described, but leave out the onions — I don’t like onions.”). Child, that sauce is full of onions; it’s onion city, and we made it earlier this morning. Don’t cause your server to slink back to the kitchen to explain all your modifications to a busy sous chef. The servers want to please you tonight, but they have to interact with the cooks every day.
Others claim allergies that likely aren’t real. It’s OK if you want us to go light on salt or pepper, but please don’t drop the bomb when you order that you’re “allergic to salt.” When you use the word “allergic,” that means we have to make your entire meal from scratch. Everything in our kitchen, including the ice cream, probably has some salt in it. It will take a long, long ticket time, and then you’ll complain to your friends that your dish was “bland” and service was “slow.”
If you have actual, real allergies, call ahead, in the early afternoon, and ask if the kitchen can accommodate you. Chances are, we will, but we’d appreciate the advance notice so we can serve you in a timely manner, along with the rest of your party.
Bon appétit, people!
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou.