Now that you and the waitstaff have discussed the
menu, the guests will soon arrive and begin ordering their meals. The
waiters will have to communicate these orders to you in some manner and
included in this will be the guests' preferences. We would all rather
our guests saw the culinary vision of your menu as you do, but it's the
minority who say, "As the chef prefers." Sometimes it's just a minor modification,
such as the temperature of the meat. But you still have to get the correctly
cooked meal in front of the guest; the guest has to be happy with it (the
first time); and then you don't have to re-do the plate, which would wreak
havoc with your food cost.
So let's begin with a discussion of what your meat temperatures are and
how you would like your waitstaff to communicate these to the guest. I
have found that the majority of re-fires that occur are due to incorrectly
prepared meat temperatures. Is your medium rare pink or red? Is your rare
cool in the center? Make sure your waiters know how you're cooking style
is going to extend to the finished product and the ultimate enjoyment
of the diner.
As perverse as it may seem, some people will go to a restaurant and re-write
the menu. They obviously see things on the menu that they would like to
eat, but not in exactly the combinations they would have them if they
were cooking for themselves. (Which, of course, prompts the question,
"Why didn't you just stay home and cook?" But they didn't. They decided
to let you cook for them and pay for the privilege.) For example, at the
restaurant where I work there is a venison loin entrée on the menu. It
is pan roasted with simple seasonings and served with parsnip puree and
sautéed apples. One night a gentleman asked if the venison could be prepared
"Cajun-style" and could he have that with spinach and mashed potatoes.
Before I allowed my personal disdain for his recreating what I thought
was an already perfect dish, I decided to let the chef make the call as
to how much she wanted to alter the plate (a good idea for any server).
I was sure that she would be as offended as I was about someone completely
re-creating her menu concept. But to my surprise her response was, "Sure."
She didn't even blink. I was very impressed. She didn't allow her ego
to get in the way of the customers' tastes. Working with a chef that is
this flexible makes everyone enjoy the restaurant more.
Although I know that sometimes you have to say, "No" to certain requests
(I know that there are certain types of fish that will not stand up to
grilling, for example), you should not let your creative-self get in the
way of your service-self. A chef who is constantly saying "No" to special
requests will eventually lose not only the loyalty of a service staff,
which finds this kind of inflexibility difficult to work with, but also
the presence of a clientele who feel that they are not being appreciated.
Also, it isn't always preferences that have to be accommodated, but allergies.
Are you prepared to alter dishes that need to be garlic-free, for example,
when all your stocks contain garlic? What about shellfish allergies? A
guest might order the bass with seafood veloute, but your waiter better
know if you've used any shellfish to create the sauce.
There, we come back to communication and knowledge again. You need to
rely on your waitstaff as the translators of your cuisine to the public
who doesn't speak "food" in the same way you do.
Amy Sunshine's first job in a restaurant
was washing the glasses in her father's Kosher deli. Currently she is
a waiter at The Dining Room of the Ritz-Carlton. Please direct any questions
or comments to [email protected]