Industry Standard - Marsha Lynch

Shift Wars

A recent internet meme made me giggle. A lot.

The photo was forgettable, but the text said “When I die I want AM shift to lower my casket, so they can let me down one last time.”

One could easily swap “AM shift” for “PM shift” in the meme, and it would still be just as funny. Shift wars. It’s a real thing in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants that serve both lunch and dinner typically run two shifts, the morning crew and the evening crew. AM shift is responsible for opening duties: turning on equipment, setting up stations, prep work that might include anything from fabricating vegetables to making sauces and par-cooking proteins for the day. AM shift may also have to work lunch service, then go back to prep work after lunch ends. PM shift clocks in while AM shift is still working, and both shifts facilitate any swapping of product necessary for the lunch vs. dinner menu change. Sometimes we clash during the swap. “Get this out of my way, man – you know I don’t need this vinaigrette for dinner!” “Sorry, but when I came in this morning your crap was still in my way; you know we don’t serve Carpaccio at lunch!”

The PM shift is responsible for shutting down the kitchen plant at closing after dinner service. When every diner’s been served and there’s no possibility of anyone ordering anything else (except, notably, dessert!), we call it “all-in”. “Hey,” whoever’s in charge of the PM shift will ask the front of the house manager, “are we all-in?” If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time to start clearing out the stations and cleaning in earnest.

Fryers have to be drained and filtered, and loaded with fresh oil. Walls and stainless steel surfaces have to be scrubbed mercilessly. Walk-in and low boy cooler temperatures have to be checked to make sure they’ll hold product at the right temperature during the night.

Final food orders have to be emailed to vendors for delivery in the morning – deliveries that the AM crew will have to check in and store properly tomorrow, moving older product to the front of the shelves and storing the newly delivered stuff behind it.

Basically, this all boils down to two constant laments: “AM shift didn’t prep enough!” and “PM shift didn’t clean enough!”

I’m sure by now at least a couple of readers are thinking it would be a good plan to regularly swap employees’ schedules between AM and PM shift, to give everyone a taste of the other shift’s challenges. That does sound like a good plan! Alas, it’s almost always unrealistic.

Employee A is great at getting up early and getting to work on time, but she has to pick up her kids from daycare by 5:30 PM, or it’s a $5 a minute penalty thereafter. Employee B is a terrible early riser with nothing on the ball brain-wise before 11 AM, and if you schedule him for AM shift, he’s always late and pretty useless until after noon – at which point he becomes a rock star in the kitchen. Employee C has classes starting at 3:30 PM, and can’t work night shift except for the one day a week she has off from school. Employee D has a day job and isn’t ever available until after 4 PM. You see where this is going. Restaurant schedules inevitably get divided into AM shift vs. PM shift, with the rare exception of one or two employees who are available and viable “any time”. Those “any time” employees just chuckle to themselves, all shift long, while listening to the crying and complaining of either shift vs. the other.

Shift wars. The struggle is real. But in the end, we all come together to try and provide the best possible experience for our guests. And believe me, as much as we seem or pretend to hate each other on a daily basis, we pretty much care for each other and try to help each other out as much as we can. We save the bitching about the opposite shift chiefly for our compatriots who share a shift with us:

“Can you believe Merle left knowing I needed that aioli for tonight? That lazy SOB! I know he knew I was low!”

“Oh, my God. Look at this shelf, there’s powdered sugar all over it. What did they do last night, have a powdered sugar party after closing?”

Just lower my coffin gently, (whichever shift ends up doing it), please.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.