Restaurant 101: “Corner!”

If you have ever encountered a neighbor at your local supermarket hollering “Corner” while hurtling around the end of the cereal aisle, chances are you narrowly missed slamming into a person who works in a restaurant.

(I will neither confirm nor deny that I have shouted “Corner” in public spaces like farmer’s markets, parking garages, and the market down the street from my apartment.)

Restaurant staff work constantly in tight quarters with hot, heavy, cumbersome plates of food and trays of martini glasses, and so some strategies develop to make it less likely that a bartender with a tray of glassware will collide with a busser laden with arm-loads of dirty plates. When rounding a blind spot in the restaurant floorplan– generally near the major entrances and exits to the kitchen, bar, or scullery– if one listens intently, one may hear a chorus of “Corner” being performed throughout the night.

Get close to the kitchen, and you might also hear such juicy tidbits as “On your back!” And “Hot Behind!” Or their spanish cousin “Atras!” All of which serve the same general purpose; to keep folks from crashing into one another and spilling a tray of hot shortribs all over the floor.

Restaurant 101: What is Sidework?

So, what is Sidework? This question has come up in conversation a few times since I began this blog, so I thought I’d address it in a little more detail.

Sidework is restaurant jargon for the tasks that are required to prepare the place for public enjoyment. Think of it as… detailing. It can be anything from windexing the front doors, filling 50 ramekins with ranch dressing, and stocking paper products in restrooms, to polishing silver, folding napkins, and taking out the recycling. Depending on the day, it can also be replacing light bulbs, sanitizing high chairs, or scraping chewing gum from the bottom of tables; The sorts of tasks that the phrase “additional duties as assigned” was invented to include.

Ideally, all of this takes place out of view of the guests, usually before any diners arrive, or after all the diners have left the restaurant. Which is why guests that linger for an hour after close can get the evil eye from servers who can’t begin their hour’s worth of tasks until the restaurant is empty.

Everyone working in the restaurant has sidework. The kitchen crew must prepare ice baths and bain marie-s to keep cold things cold and hot things hot during service, then sanitize every surface at the end of the night. Hosts sanitize menus, clean the coat closet, stock business cards/ mints/ toothpicks/reading glasses. Bartenders cart ice to the bar wells, inventory liquor, prepare infusions, wash all the black rubber bar mats. Servers polish every glass & piece of silver, fold hundreds of napkins, reset tables, clean service stations. Bussers rearrange furniture, clean & stock restrooms, bag the dirty linen, sanitize beverage stations/coffee makers/ undershelf refrigerators…plus anything that needs doing, as assigned by managers like me.

The most odious task I have to assign to my staff, on a somewhat regular basis, is scraping gum off the barstools and tabletops. I worked at one restaurant that kept the remains in a gallon jar in the managers’ office. It filled up shockingly fast.

Those of you who work in restaurants, what’s the strangest (or least-favorite) bit of Sidework you’ve ever had to do?