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Whose Menu
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gourmet articlesarchivewhose menu is it anyway?

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]

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