Restaurant 101: Turns

The word Turn in a restaurant is more than a verb, it is noun. In restaurant speak, a Turn is the liminal space between one party completing their meal and leaving the table and the next party arriving to take residence at the same table for their meal.

When service is running smoothly, turns are seamless. A party that arrived at 6:00pm is sipping the dregs of their coffee cups and signing the credit card slip by 7:45pm. They clear off moments later under a chorus of warm goodbye and thank you‘s from the assembled dining room staff. The table is clear of everything other than a few stray demitasse spoons and water glasses, so a single busser can carry all the dishes away in one trip to the scullery, and the table is re-set before an 8:00pm reservation arrives to take residency for another two hours.

Turns are necessary to most restaurant’s survival. In order to keep the lights on and the water running, establishments must be able to turn tables. On popular nights (Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve, Saturday night), the turns enable more guests to enjoy the space on a holiday or special occasion. Attempting to accommodate turns is why, when you call at noon on Saturday the only tables available for dinner that night are 5:00 and 9:00. The restaurant may be empty at 5:00, but the staff knows that all of their tables are booked for 6:30pm, so they may not be able to seat those tables at 5:15, or may only be able to seat them with the condition that they party clears the table by 7:00.

Restaurant Etiquette: Pre Fixe Menus

On special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve–and *ahem* Valentine’s Day–restaurants tend to rely on pre fixe menu.

This can be irritating. You have chosen a restaurant that you love based on the food you typically enjoy there! Why are they changing it up? Do they really expect you to order a $75 four course meal for your three-year old?

The main reason restaurants offer a pre-fixe menu on a holidays and special occasions is the same reason that they frequently require parties larger than twelve to select a set menu; it makes the service faster and more efficient so you and all the other guests filling the dining room can get their food in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, the menu will include mouthwatering dishes from succulent pastas, unctuous roasts, cracklingly grilled steaks and seared fish…. It is in the chef’s interest to make everything tempting because she knows that if she doesn’t, forty-seven people are going to order the grilled ribeye simultaneously and her grill cook is going to get overloaded while the pasta cook’s lovingly handmade noodles disintegrate in a pool of congealing cream sauce waiting for the steaks that are on the same ticket.

If you have Pre Fixe Menu Anxiety (PFMA), here are some things to consider : Continue reading

Restaurant 101: The Kitchen opens @ 5….

All those salad fixin’s and garnishes don’t chop themselves, alas….

Ever walked into a restaurant in the afternoon, the doors are open, there’s a bartender, a host. As you mosey toward the bar for a coffee the host advises you “the bar is open, but the kitchen doesn’t open until 5 o’clock.”

That’s half an hour away, surely you could get a salad or something, right?

Not always. Here’s why: Sidework.

In order to prepare for service, the stations in the kitchen have to be set up. Between lunch and dinner service the guard is changing in the kitchen, everything is being deep cleaned by the lunch cooks, and the dinner cooks have to set everything up from scratch.  And that entails quite a bit of work behind the scenes. The salad station actually requires some of the greatest attention, as uncooked vegetables are the items most prone to food-borne illness.Ice for Salad Station

Every item must be prepared, checked for temperature, and an ice bath set up in order to maintain all items at temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

That means that while you are sipping your cafe au lait at the bar, wondering

how hard it is to put together a salad, there are line cooks in the kitchen carting fifty pound bins of ice, calibrating thermometers, chilling salad plates, warming plates for entrees, and making sure they have all their garnishes and fussy things prepared.  Once dinner service starts, they’re not going to have much downtime, if any, to catch up.

Continue reading

Restaurant 101: The Host, Your Best (Worst?) Friend

Image
the host in her natural habitat is accompanied by a phone and several menus….

The front desk can be your best friend or your worst enemy whether you are a guest, a server, or a front of house manager.  The amount of information that a host is privy to and the logistical finesse required to keep service running smoothly is enormous.

The Basics

The restaurant host, first and foremost, answers the phone. The only way everyone else is able to focus on service is knowing that the phone, squealing like a hungry baby, is being tended to by someone else.  The host makes reservations, cancellations, fields questions about the menu, directions, parking information, and screens calls for the managers/ owners.  Simultaneously, she greets guests as they arrive, seats them in a friendly and efficient manner, slips a note to the chef/manager/server about any food allergies or special requests from each table. In some restaurants she hands the server a note for each table so he can greet the table with a “Good evening, Ms. Jones and Mr. Smith…”

The host keeps the front doors sparkling, the entry way clear. She polishes the menus and replaces soiled pages.  She sells retail merchandise if there is any, and she checks bags and coats.

Continue reading

Restaurant 101: What’s a busboy do?

Image
tell tale signs of a bus boy– water pitcher and dirty plates.

A dining room runs like a football team, every staff member has a position and plays a very specific role.  It is only by having several positions with different areas of focus that you can ensure service is smooth.

For the first installment– let’s start with the foundation of the front of house staff: the bussing crew.

Continue reading

Restaurant 101: The Cell Phone Conundrum

The LA Times food section today featured a nice little piece on one new variable in dining rooms across the city, the potential hurdles that the presence of cell phones creates. A couple of additional things to consider:

For a restaurant, the cell phone truly is a hurdle to great service. It not only makes the table a minefield for potentially disastrous spills, but the cell phone in the restaurant is the culprit for more mis-orders than I can count.

Continue reading

Share Plate: OVER IT!


For this installment of Share Plate, I asked my friends who run kitchens and dining rooms what aspects of the hospitality industry they are “completely over.” As I was preparing to write this little blurb, Zagat.com ran a hot little item titled “10 Most Controversial Restaurant Policies”, which is a nice counterpoint to check out, too.

The number one issue noted by my cabal of restaurateurs, by a landslide, is guests who modify the menu. As one downtown Los Angeles general manager puts it:

“I’m officially over guests modifying a dish beyond recognition….And you should never be allowed to modify happy hour.”

The inability to modify the menu is one of the things that annoys guests the most, though. So….

Why is it so terrible?

Is it really that big a deal to just make the burger with Bleu Cheese rather than Swiss?

Not always.

But suppose the burger is coming from the grill station on the line in the kitchen. The grill station does not have Bleu Cheese on it, the pantry station does.  So, someone has to get the cheese from the pantry, to get it to the grill cook. And both the pantry cook and the grill cook have seven tickets in front of them, one of which is a table of 17 on a set menu. Somehow in the ensuing chaos,  either the special order ticket, or the tickets after the special ticket, are going to wait while one of the cooks leaves their station to rummage around for said cheese.

In that case, yes, it is a terrible request. It’s not so much that chefs don’t want you to enjoy your meal (though it is worth noting that there are usually reasons a chef chooses to serve a dish a certain way), it’s more about logistics and being able to maintain a high level of service.  About 60% of the time the guests don’t like the modified dish anyway, and the other guests at their table are annoyed that they had to wait. As a dining room manager, all of this sounds like things you are now going to have to comp.

Other hot button issues were:

  • Using a steak knife as a butter knife,  when both are on the table. The server who placed the steak knife believes that this table has everything they need for their entree course before going to take the order on her next table, only to waved down by the first table because they now need another knife.
  • Entitled servers. One prolific special events manager says, “I’m over pretentious serving and bar staff… ” This is a struggle for guests and operators alike; it’s a human industry, and humans can be….. variable.  Servers that appear at your table to feel entitled to a 20% gratuity are also the staff that appear to feel entitled to the best shifts, the best stations, and the best parties, regardless of their abilities to provide good service or be a team player. The bearded, arm-banded bartender who sneers when you order anything that’s not artisanal gin is also the staff member that will go on vacation witouth getting hs shifts covered…Not all servers display an attitude of entitlement, but those that do…. are seriously annoying.
  • Impossible requests: From a fine dining server: “requests like a “quiet booth/table” on a Saturday night.  That’s never going to happen …  it’s Saturday night!  Typically it’s the busiest night of the week.  How are we suppose to control the people sitting next to you, they too are out, spending money & have a right to enjoy the night as they see fit.”

And a nice one to end on, from a director of operations and restaurant consultant:

“I could go on and on here, from servers’ feelings of entitlement to a 20%+ tip just for serving food at a minimal service level, to guests’ feelings of entitlement to order anything they want from a menu and their dismay when they are charged for extra food or for their substitutions, and on to bloggers who are really just opinionated diners who don’t know the industry that steal time and attention away in the blogoshpere from highly knowledgable and greatly experienced restaurant people such as Mary King.”

awww, shucks…
What do you think? What aspects of the hospitality industry are you ‘over’?