The Friday rush is about to hit its threshold. The restaurant will transform from an empty dining room with servers making small talk and bartenders laughing with a few early bar regulars, to a packed house. The hostess ushers couples and groups of friends to their tables and notifies the appropriate front of the house staff that is due to take care of them. The parking adjacent to the building starts filling in, as does the bar service well, where drinks are starting to pile up.
When you peak your head back to the kitchen, you’ll see that this is the most quiet that group of workers will be all night. The mise en place is done and stowed accordingly, and as tickets slowly wander into the kitchen, there is barely enough work to keep each station’s worker busy. Soon this will all change, when tickets start chirping through the printer and whoever’s working the wheel starts calling out tickets – marching orders for how the team in the kitchen will approach the next few minutes of battle. Another order is called out, dictating the few minutes after that. And another, and another and another – until hours later when the final menu in the dining room closes and the order is rung in.
In a well-oiled machine of a kitchen, the last four, five or six hours might have gone fairly smooth, but to my knowledge, there’s never been a perfect service. Getting closer to a perfect service is even harder when you’ve got 300 on the books and there are twenty tickets hanging before 7 o’clock even arrives. What keeps perfection at bay is that fact that even though you as a restaurant do everything you possibly can to account for missteps and things that might go wrong over the course of a night, you never know which ones will manifest themselves, and you certainly don’t know when. Something was mis-rung, overcooked, improperly plated, served cold – the list of potential snafus is endless – and there’s no other way around such an issue, but by simply working through it. Table 20 needs another medium burger even though the one sent out was flawless – it doesn’t matter, just get them another goddamn burger, so we can, as a group, move closer to the finish line. There’s no time for wasted back and forth communication over who’s right, who’s wrong and who’s going to stubbornly hold up the progress of the entire line.
One of the greatest assets a skilled kitchen worker can take from their experience is the necessity to adapt and deal with adversity – one of the great truths of life – both in and out of the kitchen. In the kitchen, you won’t be successful, if you aren’t ready for when something does go wrong, because more often that not, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. This is why we have a mise en place – to minimizing the moving parts of uncertainties, because there is always a certain percent of uncertainty you’ll have to face in every shift. To deal with mentally takes a certain amount of grit and bounce-back and if you don’t have it or are able to develop it pretty damn quick, you will never make it long term in the kitchen.
The fact is, in life, we face adversity every single day – in big ways and small. The more you’re exposed to challenges as you navigate through life, the more ready and resilient you’ll become in addressing each adverse situation. The more you’re able to successfully handle the small difficulties in life (and on the line), the more prepared you become in dealing with when something really goes wrong.
You might find yourself at work burning out, frustrated and in need of a change – just wishing the people around you would get their shit together. Once you’ve worked long enough in the industry, you’re sure to find yourself feeling like this at some point. In such a situation, remember – everything you’re experiencing today is making you stronger for what you’ll be dealing with tomorrow. This is a tough concept to wrap your head around when it feels like when your life feels like one big obstacle after another. However, there’s a Jim Rohn quote out there related to this and says,
“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.”Jim Rohn