Carpe diem or Fish oF The day

00:00 August 02, 2011
By: Phil LaMancusa

One begins his workday at quarter ‘til seven every day; well, he considers it the beginning because every day he’s outside the restaurant at that time, every day; sipping on his coffee and waiting for the day manager to show up and let him in. The manager doesn’t get there until seven and it gives Eddie time to catch one last smoke before he hits the ground running. Eddie is the backbone of the restaurant and he knows it; he works seven days a week and hasn’t had a day off in six years. He only works until noonthirty because they discourage overtime and that’s fine with him; he’s got better things to do, like, a life. Whatever. The manager is on time today (for once) and Eddie’s day can begin. The manager is fresh out of hotel management school; he thinks Eddie is trash. Eddie has worked in restaurants since he was 12; he thinks the manager is a pussy.

Hose out the trash cans, bring them in.

Take out the kitchen mats and hose them off. Next, hose down the kitchen floors, squeegee them dry, take in the mats and hose off the sidewalk; check the windows to see if they need cleaning and hose off the walls outside the restaurant just in case someone has peed on ‘em and on to the bathrooms to clean ‘em up before sweeping and mopping the dining room. Eddie is a water sign. A soap and water sign.

The kitchen manager and prep cook get there at seven thirty (they ride in together), start a pot of coffee and check in the food deliveries and linen. Only the kitchen manager is allowed to check in the seafood and meats. The prep cook checks in the veggies for weight, freshness and quality, and stores the new stock in with the old keeping in mind proper rotation and the avoidance of cross contamination. The kitchen manager checks the schedules and reads any notes left from the night before. After putting up the deliveries and rotating stock, the prep cook gets started on the prep list left from the night cooks and lets the first dishwasher in just before eight o’clock who, sets up his station, fills his machine and pot sinks, sweeps out the walk-in refrigerator and then starts peeling onions and potatoes.

Eight O’clock, and the lunch cooks show up (hung over) turn on the overhead fans, ovens, fryers and start setting up the line, prepping their mis en place and changing the radio station, which has been on NPR, to the classic rock station that will keep pace with the rhythm of their slinging of pots and pans, slicing, dicing, lies and tall tales about the wenches that got away last night at Pal’s Bar.

The waitresses (and the second dishwasher) come in for nine and start setting up the dining room; slicing lemons, topping off the condiments, salt and peppers, rolling silverware, positioning and wiping down tables, chairs and making the first of many batches of ice tea. By ten o’clock the hostess, busboy and bartender show up just in time for a staff meal of leftovers and kitchen rejects; followed by a staff lineup and meeting to discuss the specials of the day and service points to be worked on. Fifteen minutes to grab a smoke, straighten aprons, fill up ice bins, finish some gossip or a page in the book that they’re reading and crank up the espresso machine. Places everyone; the first customers are at the door. Show time.

To the uninitiated, restaurants are staffed by invisible servants. We rarely are aware of back of the house goings on, we follow a swinging butt to our table or belly up to a bartender who could be working naked from the waist down for all we know; we face our servers and bussers at crotch level. It has been called the last vestige of pseudo-nobility; we arrive, we eat, someone else cooks, serves and cleans up and we have the right, if not the duty, to complain if things are not precisely to our satisfaction. If we’re feeling flush, we can pump up the gratuity and feel like Bill Gates. If we’re having a bad day, we become Vlad the Impaler; we can take it out on the waiter, busboy, hostess, manager or all of the above. The rules are simple: If we’re happy, we tip. If not, we withhold our love in the form of money, even to the point of leaving nothing at all. I mean, screw ‘em; tips are only the employers way of justifying low wages, right?

Conversely, anyone who has worked in the industry knows that customers might just as well be butt-ass-naked the moment that they walk in. To restaurant workers, the antics of customers are the theater that helps to pass the shift time in an ever changing fluid diorama that ranges from dark tragedy to absurd comedy and all points in between. From the front door entrance to the tooth picking exit, the diners and drinkers of the world are the meat and bones of discourse and edification to service staff; as if their inner selves cannot help but be bared for all to witness and wonder upon.

I’ve been in the service industry for over a half of a century and not a shift goes by without a ‘guest’ exhibiting behavior so amazingly unique and contrary to any rules of basic sanity and civility that in the least, I am given pause and at most I’m taken aback and primordially aghast; no shit, you guys can be weirder than dirt! I’ve seen ‘em drunk, blind, crippled, crazy, underage and old enough to know better doing stupid stuff that your mama would snatch you bald headed for.

Philosophically speaking, when you put people in an environment where they only need to consider the price of a meal and you turn them loose in a public forum, it seems that they cannot help but make fools of themselves. Maybe it’s the lack of outside stimulation that encourages them to come up with outlandish somethings to say or do; and since they are at a loss, fabrications, flirtations, inebriations, faux pas, pretentions, passions and prevarications become the rules of play. Of course the staff plays along, just as they play along with each other.

But, come hell or high water, with delayed deliveries, lunch and dinner rushes, equipment malfunctions, menstruation cycles, crying babies, grouchy oldsters, petulant teenagers, uptight queens, slips, spills, miscommunications, the ringing of cell phones, personal tragedies and nicotine starved cooks with sharp knives, the show perpetuates until closing; and until, with a big sigh, the restaurant is put to bed by the closing managers. Another day. History.

Everything will be fine; Eddie will be here in the morning.

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