Are you still serving?
Here in the UK we are not habitually nocturnal creatures. We wake up early and have our breakfast. We go to work and then eat our sandwich at lunchtime. Then in the late afternoon we eat our supper. 6pm will do it, maybe 7pm. Unless of course we are going out for a meal with friends and/or family. This pushes things back by an hour or two. Table booked at 7.30 maybe 8pm? Well we need time to iron that fancy shirt or blouse, put your face on or just sponge off the food stain from your suit’s last outing.
As a chef who doesn’t get to eat out very often. Well not on a weekend night anyway. I can appreciate the ceremony which goes into an evening out. But this post is not aimed at chefs. Because what I am about to drop on you is something that NO other chef would ever do to a fellow brother/sister. Never! It’s just wrong and disrespectful.
Passing a busy restaurant and its late. It’s 9.15pm and the thought enters your mind….shall we get something to eat? You stand and look at the menu displayed outside and notice that they close doors at 9.30 “Oh that’s fine, they’re still open for 15 minutes”.
You see the menu has a 10oz rib-eye steak with hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce which you know will sort you right out! As you enter the restaurant, a slightly bedraggled host approaches you. “Table for two?” they ask hopefully (Hoping there is not a platoon of colleagues about to pile in with you)
“yes, please…we haven’t booked. Is that ok?” The host knows full well you haven’t booked. All their bookings are in and fed and watered. With a quick glance at the clock they know they cannot turn you away without facing the wrath of a TripAdvisor review or the owner (who’s away skiing).
You are then shown to a table which and the menus, water and bread rolls are all brought to you in record time. You see the host disappear to what you guess is the kitchen. It is now 9.26pm.
Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant will know how that conversation with the chefs went. For those that have not, then imagine working 16 hours in thirty degree heat, where everything is hot, sharp and angry. As the finish line approaches, the thought of that ice cold beer or crispy white Rioja has you salivating like Pavlov’s dog… to then be asked to do another hour.
As chefs we know this will happen. It happens all the time and we get angry. We deal with it. Front of house staff are the aggression filters of the kitchen. They take the foul language and the tantrums and return to the customer with a smile. Ready to take your order. I can only apologise to the wake of waiters and waitresses I have verbally abused in the past. It was never personal…well mostly never!
In all walks of life, whether you work in retail, an office or factory floor. We all get that moment when you see someone approaching you just minutes before close of play, and you know that they are going to add time to your working day. Even as a teacher I was once advised to not ask “is everything ok?” to a student on a Friday evening. The risk of adding hours to your day outweighed humanity it would seem. I was never put in that situation thankfully. I like to think that my humanity would have prevailed in that situation though.
So, back to the restaurant. You’ve ordered the steaks. The chef is grateful that you didn’t ask for them to be well done. Although the béarnaise sauce has just been eaten by the kitchen porter with the crusty baguette ends so now, whisk in hand the chef frantically get to work on two portions of buttery eggy herby goodness. Hoping the customer will not notice the dried tarragon as the fresh stuff all went in the original batch. The commis chefs are frantically re-cleaning the kitchen and re-wrapping/labelling all the stuff that they had originally cleared away earlier under the false pretence that they were almost done for the day.
Here’s the thing. When you order late like this. In adding to the chef’s day, you are also taking away the chefs’ prep time. Also, their break away from the kitchen become that much shorter. There is a massive difference between a 10pm finish and 11pm. Especially when the next day starts at 9am and you’ve got a 40 minute commute each way. You do the maths. The same can be said for the late lunch diner. If the establishment is more traditional and offers lunch and then dinner. As opposed to all day dining. Then once you order at 1.59pm That then takes away from the chef’s prep time for the evening service. It’s not your fault, I know. But if you choose to order three courses this late in the day, it may have an effect on the chef’s mood.
It is the lifestyle we as chefs have chosen. There are those who will say that if you don’t like it then just get out. Unfortunately, a lot of chefs have. Reasons like these are why we are finding more restaurants are struggling to keep and attract the younger chefs. It has never been a trade conducive to a social life and family welfare as I have stated many times before.
These blogs are usually triggered by my own kitchen moments. This one in particularly has been inspired by years of me being late to pick my kids up from school in the afternoon or missing dinners with friends and family after I’ve told them “I’ll come and join you after I finish up in the kitchen, I should be out by 9…..”
I am not bitter and I am fully aware that the majority of people are very respectful when arriving/eating late. So, if that’s you. Thanks. Chill. Move on. I just wanted to give a little insight to our world.
“…I know its late but is there any chance of a Cheese Board…”
“Chef!?” *Put apron back on*