The Restaurant

The Restaurant
Formal Dining

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting a Job in the Restaurant / Job Expectations

Getting a job in a restaurant no matter what position (all job expectations) will include doing things that are never listed on any job description. There is no way you could ever really prepare yourself for some of the things you might be asked to do. It has seemed to me that the less corporate your place of employment, the more likely you'll be asked to do something just crazy. Mom and pop places are notorious for this kind of behavior for a few reasons including no actual job descriptions and no one else around to do the work.
Some of the things I can think of that I've been asked to do includes some tile work (cleaning grout, laying grout, ripping up tile, etc.), plumbing work (from plunging toilets to changing pipes on a three compartment sink), computer systems (setting up POS systems to wiring screens), and all other sorts of general labor like filling in pot holes in the parking lot, laying gravel, pulling weeds, painting signs, setting up racks, putting up shelves, etc.
This kind of thing would never happen at an accounting office or law firm. Can you imagine a lawyer filling in pot holes outside their office? Ha! When you are working in a restaurant you really need to be a jack-of-all-trades. I can only imagine some of the things some people are asked to do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dining Out: Drive-Thru's

Recently someone asked me, "How hard is it really!? Every time I go to WhereEver Burger they get my order wrong!" I will try to explain...
First, before the person even hears your order, you have to know what you want. What's the difference between a burrito and an enchillada? Should I get the Double Cheese Burger or the McDouble? Do you know what comes on a Whopper? The whole process starts with you communicating what you think you want to them. (No there isn't mustard on a Whopper).
Next, it has to come out of your mouth that way (no big deal, but people miss speak). It's common for people to be thinking Jr. Bacon Cheese Burger but say Double Bacon Cheese Burger. Do you want a Quarter-Pounder or a Double Quarter-Pounder, one word makes all the difference between complete satisfaction and a moody customer.
Ensure you speak in a reasonable volume. Do not whisper your order, remove the cigarette from your lips, get off your cell phone, and avoid yelling into my ear. This will help you get what you want.
So, your end of the deal is taken care of. You feel that all you needed to do was speak and drive around to the first (or second) window. Simple right?
However, the words travel to a little box a few feet from you to the speaker. These things arn't cheap to fix, so if the speaker blows, you may get someone asking you to repeat yourself often.
Even if the speaker is working fine remember that 327 Hemi makes a lot of noise, not to mention the ambulance flying down the side street, or your kid's in the back seat raising cain. It doesn't help that your drunk friend thinks you are a "Rockstar" if he keeps yelling, your order will be wrong.
Then order travels through the box into the restaurant (nothing too complicated)
Or in some cases this thing is out-sorced to another country, so the order flies through space to India or some place like that. In either situation you face some static and shorts, your order may come through in waves.
From the speaker it goes into the other person's ear. No big deal except for the fryers beeping, the soda fountain running, the kids screaming, the manager yelling, the cash register ringing, the hoods sucking, doors creeking, shoes squeeking, etc. etc.
We will assume for argument's sake that all parties involved are completely fluent in English, which is almost never the case.
The order goes from the ear to the person, then they input it into the POS. Not complicated but if you are in a hurry and you have to hit several different tiny buttons on a computer, you are likely to make a mistake occasionally. The more "special" your meal the more button strokes.
Next, to the kitchen! The order is sent from the computer to a moniter or a printer in the back. The kitchen staff reads the tickets (assuming we are all fluent in English again) and begins to prepare the order. This can be complicated. Words are ALWAYS abbreviated to various things:
  • Dbl Cbrgr
  • Dbl w/Chz
  • D HB w/ Am
Then you can run into trouble with modifiers (mods):
  • Dbl w/Chz
    • 86 Am, sub Chedr, no pickles/ketchup, sub must, x onion
  • Garden
    • no tom, ranch DOS
Keep in mind that different foods can and usually come from different parts of the kitchen. The guy making your burger is not the guy making your salad is not the guy cooking your chicken.
Let's assume that is all right. It's all understood and made perfectly. Next the food goes into what is called the window. In an ideal world the only food in the window would be one order, but often times there is too much going on for someone to be waiting for food, but someone does this job and they are called the expoditer. This person gathers up the order. This means the person goes through all the food in the window and finds the items to complete your order. (He/She is reading a moniter or a ticket). Even if EVERYTHING is perfect up to this stage if this person grabs the wrong sandwhich and stuffs it into a bag, the order is INSTANTLY and COMPLETELY wrong. Not only is it wrong for YOU it's wrong for the OTHER GUY.
Past that there is a steady stream of cars driving through and it has been known that a bag go out the window to another car. It's silly, but it happens. Usually this problem occurs when the expoditor sets the bag down and the window operator thinks it's for the current vehicle when in reality it is for the car behind them.
Finally, it goes from the window operator to you!

Let's recap the number of individuals:
  • 1, You
  • 2, Order Taker
  • 3-6 Kitchen
  • 4-7 Expoditer
  • 5-8 Order Taker/Window Operator
That's an easy 5 people.
Unfortunately, many of these 4-7 people are as described in an earlier post (high schoolers or passing through). These people are paid minimum wage and are treated pretty crummy, don't expect too much from them. Also, many of them don't speak English very well, but none the less, even if the language barrier is nonexsistant consider this happens hundreds of times a day, so it is possible to get your order right. It seems like a miracle to me that anything does come out right.
Hopefully you are beginning to see how things can get a little mixed up. It's a long complicated process that takes literally minutes if not seconds to complete. There's a lot going on. It's easy to screw up.

Getting a Job in the Restaurant: Co-Workers

I suppose it is with mixed feelings I can report that the hospitality industry, restaurants in particular, are possibly filled with quite literally with dozens of personalities. If you go into a law firm, you'll see an over whelming majority of business types, same with accounting or other professional service. If you go to a car garage you'll find people that love working on cars, with the restaurant... It's a grab bag of everything. While it is nearly impossible to describe every single person that walks through the doors looking for a job, there can be many generalizations.

This kind of person is always trying to be the best (typically not the boss, but always sucking up). They are constantly complaining about something not done right, health codes, company policy, etc. etc. This person usually has some experience and wants to do a good job, but can be a pain to deal with. They are sticklers for the rules and will bust your chops for over-portioning anything. The kind of person that grabs a scale or thermometer to check your work for no apparent reason. There aren't too many of these kind of people, not that many people really care.

Passing Through
There is a lot of these kinds of people. There are many different sub-sections to this group:
  • Schoolers: They are putting themselves through school, no real interest in the job. Depending on where you live, there can be a whole lot of these people.
  • Out-of-Workers: Laid-off/fired recently, feels like the job is beneath them, seeking a 'real' job.
  • Part-Timers: They have a 9-5 job somewhere they are miserable at and enjoy doing something different. They are usually pleasant to work with, but no real loyalty to the restaurant.
  • DJs: These guys are 'DJs' or 'actors' that work for a steady paycheck until the band's hit single tops the charts. Usually they are cool enough, but you may pick up a lot of their slack. Worst part is they may ask you to come to a show or listen to a mix tape...
High Schoolers
We were all there once. Probably their first job, no experience, usually lazy, somewhat stupid to the world around them, etc. etc. They come and go, and it wouldn't be fair to generalize too much about them. I only mention them because you won't typically see high schoolers working at a dentist's office.

Pot Heads
These guys are just looking for some cash to feed the monkey on their back. No real drive in life, no cares, no worries, all of which translates to pulling your weight plus theirs. They are usually slow, clumsy, just generally not a great person to work with. They care about nothing, but it's not uncommon for one of them to be throwing a party on any given weekday.

This may seem horrible to say but what's a person to do without an education. I suppose they can be a day laborer or work at a restaurant. Either one.

Old people that want to make some money on the backend of their life, maybe even waited tables or was a car hop in the 1950's. Times have changed Grand-dad, you move too slow, this "computer-thing-a-ma-jig" is called a point-of-sale (POS), and you take too long to ring anything in, your memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, and if I have to tell you "NO pickles" one more time I might scream. Also, I've got my own tables to worry about I can't carry all of your food for you.

There is a large population of immigrant workers in restaurants. I have worked with Mexicans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans, Filipinos, Chinese, and people from the Sudan. This is only the surface of it. Most of these people are hard workers. They may have a speech barrier but they are some of the best workers around.

There are all of these different kinds of people, yet I have seen the patterns of them over and over again. This isn't meant to be rude to the elderly (sorry, but you really can't teach an old dog a new POS system) or the uneducated (I am in this industry!) just a glimpse into the world I love. This is just a sample of the kinds of people I work with, and how much or how little they care about the customer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Job Profiles: Busser/Utility

A busser, occasionally called a bus boy but more commonly called everything else (words I won't care to write), is a key part of a restaurant. As every establishment is different, different people may perform the functions of a busser. Sometimes the host/hostess bus tables, sometimes it's the server's responsibility, sometimes managers help out, and sometimes they hire specific people to take care of cleaning up tables.

Job Description:
It's the busser's job to clear tables and reset them for the next round of guests. Other common requirements of being a busser include: checking salt and pepper levels, filling sugar caddy, cleaning up spills, maintaining the restroom, and general work. Sometimes bussers are responsible for doing dishes.

Pay Rate:
As a busser you should expect minimum wage, but oftentimes the servers are required to tip you out 1 or 2 % of their total sales. Depending on how busy the restaurant is a busser can make a fair amount of money for doing unskilled labor.

What's Next:
In the front-of-house, a busser can be promoted or cross trained to host or serve. Depending on their age, they could be a bar back. In the kitchen bussers can become dishwashers, prep cooks, or line cooks, but they will probably start at a slow station of the kitchen, pantry/salad.