Okay, let me explain the title to this piece.
I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time about the relationship I have with co-workers behind that invisible “customer/server” line. I use the word “server” loosely, because it’s not always divided by a bar or kitchen. I use it in a way where one person serves another, either by cooking, waiting, or making.
The bonds formed “on the line”, in the trenches, and behind the bar can be sacred.
When a new person is hired, there is a time where we are unsure. Can this person be trusted to defend me? Will they put me in the weeds? Will they make our tips suffer?
These are things to look for in a person. Someone you can trust and work through a huge line with. Someone who knows the ebb and flow of customer service and beverage/food production. The flow is so very important. Say I get backed up making drinks, you chat with the people in line a little. Create a little space to finish orders. If people are ordering too much of one thing and someone asks you what you like, give them the other option because most likely, the people in the back are slammed with six of the same plates.
Most importantly, you have to listen. At least in my position, where you are balancing several things at once. For example, on a busy day this is what I have to keep in mind:
There’s a big line out the door. You have six drinks in line. Two of which are triple shots, one person, for their peace of mind, orders a “wet cappuccino” in a 12oz. size, which is a little ridiculous because that’s basically a latte in my eyes. So now I worry that the dude will want more foam, which would cause a hiccup in my flow.
There are two drinks sitting on the bar that no one will claim because they are chatting. Which is okay, but they’re going to mess things up once more drinks hit the bar. People will grab the wrong cup and I’ll have to remake something. Listen for your drink. We don’t mind if you ask us before grabbing.
In the midst of making drinks, I listen to the person at the register taking orders so I can hear it in my brain. Sometimes we miss things. If I hear an order as well as see it, there’s very little possibility of me messing up, which I rarely do at this point.
While making drinks (meaning: pulling shots, steaming milk, rinsing pitchers, and repeat), people are asking me for extra forks or a napkin or that we’re out of water. In between making drinks, I refill the water pitcher only to be met with a question about the color paint on the walls of which I say, “uhhh…get back at me in juuuust a minute”.
Then I hear the inevitable last splurts of coffee coming out of an empty airpot. “HEY! It’s empty!” — “I-I-I gotcha” There is a fresh, full pot behind, ready to go, but not everyone picks up on it. So again, I have to step away, change it out, and if I have time, grind coffee and refill the empty. This is my job…I don’t mind it. Just the sequence in which they happen can be rushed.
“Do you have any clean spoons?”
I rush to the dishwasher and throw some in, tell them it’ll be a minute before they’re done. The customer usually uses a plastic straw by then, therefore making their suggestion for a clean spoon invalid.
All the while, keeping your co-workers in check. Are they okay? Do they need a break? How’s their blood sugar? Do we need to jam something in our face before crashing into the auto-chlor that nips on my heels?
Cool. The rush dies down.
We empty the OVERFLOWING bin of dirty dishes that people stack so cautiously high, that as I pick it up, one loose spoon causes the dishes to collapse into a loud clatter. Thanks. That’s gonna be a bad Yelp review from someone saying, “I wish they were quieter with their dishwashing…”
But probably not. I make this stuff sound bigger than it probably is, though Yelpers are becoming the thorn in the side of the restaurant biz. Complaining about bad service when they’ve only been to a place once and are probably themselves, thorny assholes.
It is a process of defending and serving. Making yourself confident while smiling and being hospitable.
The relationships you make with people behind the bar or on the line are solid. You determine that you’ll probably do anything for them at some point and fight for and with them if something happens. You become a tight knit group — knowing how to work well in a small space — covering where the other falls behind or misses inevitably at some point during the day.
It is, at times, fast and demanding work. But it is rewarding. Instant gratification. Day in and day out, you perform and go home finished, leaving what you did for the past 6-8 hours behind the dark wood and steam and heat.
It’s intense, but I do love the work. I like being tired.
Even when I do find myself scrubbing off dried egg yolk from a plate…
..because as we all know, it can be kind of a pain in the ass.