Restaurant Workers Cry Real Tears Over Your Dinner

Kristi Keller

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Picture yourself in your kitchen at home, preparing a dinner party for a few favorite friends who will be arriving soon.

This is the event you’ve been saving your good dinnerware for, in an effort to impress. You’ve followed each recipe to a T, carefully adding special touches to the dishes you’re preparing. The dinner party will be a huge success because of the passion you’ve put into each plate.

Now picture this. Before arriving, one of your friends sends a text informing you that he’s planning to propose to his lady at your dinner party. Not only that, but he’s invited ten more friends along.

They’ll be arriving in an hour.

If you’ve ever watched reality cooking shows maybe you’ve wondered why top chefs have a tendency to be real jackasses. They seem to be heartless humans who have no compassion within the dark pits of their souls.

Just look at the way they treat their cooks. Executive chefs demand perfection and if a cook doesn’t measure up, they don’t make the cut.

This attitude is because of your dinner party, but on a much larger scale than your home kitchen and your ten friends.

Within any dining establishment worthy of a marriage proposal, a business dinner, or a celebration, an entire ecosystem of bodies are madly running the show behind the scenes.

In any mid to upper level restaurant, no less than seven humans are involved in each plate before it lands on the table in front of you.

Some of those humans paid for a whole education in order to plate that one meal perfectly for you. And he or she is going to drop fifty more fancy dinners onto fifty more plates in the same night as your special occasion.

Nobody attends culinary school to study for a career in being shat upon by chefs, unless they have pure passion for their trade.

For most of us who choose this industry as a career, it’s because we thrive under the stress and pressure of making your event perfect. We must be suckers for the guest experience because we certainly aren’t in it for the money.

Take your server for example. She doesn’t even get the money unless all the bodies who touch your plate before she does, did their jobs to perfection. She is the face of your dining experience so she pays the ultimate price.

Your special night out begins with a hostess. Her job isn’t just to throw you a few menus and go on her merry way.

The hostess knows everything about your reservation before you arrive. She has mapped out the entire evening for all front of house staff and is solely responsible for how each server’s night will flow.

If she triple-seats a section it impacts the experience of several guests.

So, the next time you show up without a reservation hoping to “squeeze in,” be aware that you’ve just thrown the entire flow out of whack. Give your hostess the courtesy of patience and kindness for doing you a favor.

Then we have your server. She’s the one living life on the edge because whether she touches your plate or not, she will ultimately be held responsible for your satisfaction.

Your server talks to strangers for a living and she’s expected to anticipate your needs in real time. She can’t just put you on hold to look something up. It’s do or die every time she approaches a new table.

Do her the courtesy of treating her as more than just a service industry worker. Look her in the eye while she’s attempting to ascertain your needs.

Servers choose this industry for a reason. Perhaps they like the adrenaline rush of gambling.

“Will I get paid tonight, or won’t I?”

If she does get paid it’s like Christmas at the end of each night. The gratuities she rakes in are a direct culmination of every employee within the restaurant.

Next up we have the food expediter, or “expo,” as we industry workers refer to them.

The expo is like a human GPS for the entire restaurant. He is the person who knows exactly where every single guest is sitting and what they ordered.

An expo could have 28 plates sitting in front of him on a kitchen line and know precisely where each one goes, without ever stepping foot outside the kitchen.

He’s basically a Jedi mind reader.

He knows which steak is medium-rare, who has the peanut allergy, who the vegans are, and exactly what seats you’re all occupying. He’s the reason why your specific plate is placed in front of you, without the food runner having to ask.

An expo could be a 17-year-old kid for all you know, but if he’s good at his job then he’s well groomed for any future career in civil engineering.

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Now let’s refer back to your home dinner party for a moment.

You’ve painstakingly prepared dinner for five friends who have now turned into fifteen, and they’ll be arriving any minute. How can you possibly pull it off as a team of one?

You’ve been chopping vegetables and seasoning meat since noon and now everything has changed. You haven’t even figured out if you own fifteen plates, never mind how you’ll arrange food on them.

The dinner party is becoming a high pressure affair but the people are coming, so you’d better get it together.

Now let’s compare that to a special event in our dining establishment.

There could be a hundred guests showing up on any given night and kitchen staff have no idea what any of you want   until you want it. There’s no time to pause and check the fridge for a bottle of salad dressing you might like.

Each culinary artist behind walls that you can’t see through, is stationed in the same spot all night.

One is only on salads, one is only on pans, one or two stand over a fiery hot grill for hours, and yet another is dancing back and forth between a regular deep fryer and a gluten free fryer. Then there’s the dessert guy in the back.

None of them are executive chefs.

There’s a special place in hell reserved for the executive. It’s at the front of the line. His job is to eye and inspect every single hand that touches your plate. He oversees the entire process from start to finish, and if anything goes wrong he loses his shit on everyone.

He doesn’t do it because he’s a jerk, he does it because this is your special night. Everything going on in his kitchen is a reflection of what he has taught his minions.

Within the kitchens of all dining establishments that genuinely care about the guest experience, is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode if just one person drops the ball.

We care about little things like bill times — the time it takes between the server sending the order and the kitchen pumping it out.

We care about your food allergies — we don’t want to kill our guests.

We care how your plate is presented — if your dinner looks like a hot mess, we all look like a hot mess, even if we’ve never touched your plate.

But in the moment, we don’t care if an employee can’t take the heat and ends up in tears, because it isn’t about them.

A fine dining restaurant is like a precise, well oiled machine and every single staff member involved either thrives under such pressure, or they don’t belong there.

For us industry workers, there’s nothing more satisfying than the tornado of action taking place during dinner service.

As a dining room supervisor, nothing gives me greater pleasure than sweating a little each night during a rush.

On extremely hectic evenings, I can walk through the kitchen door and see a hurricane flying around in our kitchen. Bodies everywhere, people yelling, servers losing their cool— and it makes me smile a little because our guests are never aware.

Outside the kitchen doors is a peaceful, delightful, and pleasant dining experience for a hundred strangers. They’re all making memories over what we have prepared for them.

None of them know about the tears that may have been shed during the dinner storm. Nor are they privy to the high volume of profanity scattered among their plates.

Somehow, just as we always do, we manage to pull it together for yet another successful dinner service.

At the end of each evening, once the kitchen has finished cooking for you they cook for us. After you go home but long before we go home, we gather as a group for “family” dinner.

Before clean-up begins we’re able to sit down together, make peace with each other, and appreciate the clan that we are.

There’s a certain solidarity within our industry that enables us to detach from one another but still function highly as a team, and then come back together and reconcile at the end of it all.

We’re finally able to laugh over the server who was yelled at earlier, for dropping a tray of glasses. Front of house staff shares elated guest feedback with back of house staff, letting them know their artistry paid off, yet again.

We share our feelings, we break bread together, we indulge in a well earned glass of wine.

For everyone employed in this industry, we affectionately call ourselves “family,” and we offer our time, sweat, and tears to your family.

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I'm an old school travel writer who's been flung into another writing world through life experience. I have a compassionate eye, a different opinion, and strong words for this world we live in. I also know a thing or two.

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