Archive for January, 2013


Disclosure

The following is what I wrote for the final phase of our ServOlympics contest at Söntés, read yesterday to the waitstaff:

I didn’t write a poem. What I’m going to say isn’t funny, & it doesn’t rhyme. But Tessa’s guidelines for this part of the contest included telling everyone something interesting about our team. As you know, Paul and I have consistently had a lot of points. I’m going to tell you how we got them.

I got 200 points for painting upstairs. But I didn’t paint by myself. There was a whole team of us, including Bekah, Barbara, Darrell, and Dawn.

Teqhe night Paul got 315 points for selling Earthquake—I was working a party in the basement and I ran food for the floor so Paul could pay attention to his Mayo group. Yes, it was a party, but they ordered off the house menu and could order any wine they wanted. With poor service, they may have ordered 2-3 bottles. They ordered five.bekah

Bekah and Jose were the ones who set up the table for Paul, so that when he got here, he could focus on the details of his group. Lunch crew consistently does that for dinner crew.

The night I sold 268 points in wine and beer bottles, Dawn ran food to my tables, and she explained the dishes to the guests so that they felt taken care of, even though I was across the room opening wine. And Darrell had to get me another bottle of beer every time he turned around. I sold 14 bottles of beer that night.

Kiwi & Darrell consistently send out drinks in a timely manner. We rarely wait for anything from the bar.

Annie stepped up when we needed a bartender. It typically takes 2 weeks, at least, to get a bartender trained so they know where everything is and how to make the drinks. With Annie, there was no two week period–we didn’t miss a beat.

Sometimes Paul and I worked hard for our points, timing our tables well so we could sell desserts and dessert drinks. Other times we made efforts not to lose points: triple checking that we closed the safe at night, triple checking that lights and candles were out.  And sometimes, we just got lucky.

For the Paul and Jody Show, this was never a contest of two’s, this was a contest of one. One restaurant, trying to elevate service.wine barrel One serving staff, trying to help each other and find camaraderie.

For that reason, most nights I worked, I tried to write down things that other servers did. Things that were helpful or just plain impressive:

Kiwi is cheerful and always ready to help.  So is JR. So is Stacey.

Stacey always organizes the server station for us or we would all be in a world of hurt.

This month, Angel moved the creamer cups after we discussed it at a meeting.

Barbara sold 18 bottles of wine at lunch on a Friday.

Annie cleaned bird poop from the alleyway. She cleaned poop for crying out loud!

This is still anybody’s game. It’s entirely possible that Tessa will give 1000 points to the team with the best poem. Everyone’s still in this. But the points my team has, we got because of all of you. If the Paul and Jody Show happens to win, whatever we win, we’re sharing with everybody.

UPDATE: The Paul and Jody Show DID win the ServOlympics! Let the sharing begin!!

For more restaurant guts & glory, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

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Last week in German class, we were grouped into partners to ask each other basic questions: how are you, what do you do, etc. My assigned partner, Bill, and I chatted away in a sort of German/English (Germish?) and he mentioned a writer who worked at Söntés that has now published a book. He wanted to know if I knew her.

Instead, I said, “I think that’s me.”

We were both amused by this, and he said, “She wrote the book, it’s behind-the-scenes to waiting tables–I’d love to read that! She came through town to do a book signing and I missed it, but maybe she’s speaking somewhere else, and there was an article in the paper about her…”paper

I thought about it (I really did! But I couldn’t think of anyone else he could be thinking of) and I said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about me.”

At this point, we were both getting a really big kick out of this conversation. And I was able to fine tune a few of his points: I continue to work at Söntés, Upside Down Kingdom is available there and at Barnes and Noble at Apache Mall, I’ll be speaking at the Library in March…

I love that he remembers it as I “came through town” as if it’s an event. I kept thinking, “I’m so normal, he’ll never believe me.” (I didn’t tell him I came through town earlier that day and bought kitty litter.)

Now really, how often do you get to say, “I think you mean me,” to someone as they say wonderful things about you?

If this ever happens again, I hope I’m just as fascinated. It would be a real shame on my part if this ever got old.

To find out what all the fuss is about, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on
Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

ServOlympics

We’re entering our final week of the Söntés ServOlympics—the contest Tessa invented so (we do her bidding) the servers will clamor to outdo each other in cleaning, polishing, and serving, all for the golden prize of an hour-long massage at a local spa. (There are other prize options, but this is the one we’re elbowing each other to get.)

We’ve been organized into teams, and Tessa allowed us to create our own team names (silly, silly, Tessa!). See for yourself:

Spoons Full of Fruit

(Angel and Kiwi)

Named for Kiwi’s first name and Angel’s last name.

Points: 84

The Paul and Jody Show

(Paul and Yours Truly)

Name is reminiscent of Looney Tunes’ silliness.

Points: 870.5

Southern Comfort

(Jose and Babs)

Name chosen because their southern birth places.

Points: 233

Satanic Mule

(Dawn and Stacey)

Named after a downtown drink.

Points: 155.5

Raging B* and Blithering Idiot

(Bekah and Darrell)

Named after two bottled beers available at Söntés.

Points: 617

All Shift All Stars

(Annie and JR)

So named because they cover lunch and dinner shifts.

Points: 287

securedownload[1] (2)(The picture is Jose, polishing glasses. Not pictured is Jose juggling fruit a minute earlier.) The team tallies are posted in the Server Station—usually nightly, but looks like we’re still working with Tuesday night’s numbers. Lazy pollsters. So, the above totals do not include the last two nights’ heroic efforts, which could change the standings quite a bit… Again, we get points for the usual magnificent serving feats, acrobatics with trays, and sprinting to clean tables the fastest. Or, by explaining ingredients and cooking techniques in our dishes, suggesting wine pairings, and by not knocking anyone over as we sprint to clean tables the fastest. Cleaning, painting, and the like also rack up points.

With one week to go, come in to cheer us on! Guests can contribute by polishing mountains of silver (okay, not really, but it’s something to strive for, right?). Guests can truly contribute by filling out comment cards located in our check presenters or by reviewing us online. Yes, you can write up your Söntés experience on Yelp.com, OpenTable.com, UrbanSpoon.com, and TripAdvisor.com. Make sure to include your server’s name as Tessa checks all these places to make sure we’re well-received!

Next week the winning team will be announced!

For more serving feats, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

OmaGoodness

Want to know what the restaurant staffers do on their day off? Here’s a conversation that took place on Sunday, the only day of the week that Söntés is closed, via Facebook Messenger. The part of Chef will be played by Söntés’ own Chef Bryce Lamb. The part of the Server is played by yours truly.

Chef: New game. Menu changes: You have to guess the menu changes and explain them correctly to the guest.

Server: Do we get hints? Like on Iron Chef when they’re told a secret ingredient?

Chef: No, it’s a game. Kinda like Life.

Server: Life is way too fun to be a game.

Chef: No hints. You have to guess what is in the new menu item.

Server: Cinnamon.

Chef: No.

Server: Perhaps you should consider adding cinnamon.

Chef: No cinnamon. No.

Server: Cinnamon makes everything better.

Chef: No, that’s butter.

Server: A new dish with cinnamon AND butter? Yum!

Chef: No.

Server: Cinnamon and butter. You’re a genius. I can’t wait to try it.

Oh, the things our Chef must tolerate! However, as you can clearly see, he started it. What’s no secret is this Friday’s Omakase menu: TWENTY courses prepared by Chef!! (Rumor has it there are a couple spots left. Söntés.com has all the info. UPDATE: optional wine pairings have been created! Now you can enjoy the twenty courses with wine! They’re listed in italics.)omakase

Omakase Dinner, January 25 at 6 p.m.

Razor Clam & Apple Salad with Lemon Foam   pair: Miner Viognier

Lobster, Truffle & Caviar

Celery Root Gratin

Gingerbread with Blue Cheese Fondant & Beet Chip

Lardo with Pretzel & Grain Mustard

Beef or Buffalo Tar Tar with Quail Egg, Parmesan & Grilled Bread  pair: Van Duzer Pinot Noir

ABC Foie with Celery Leaf & Chardonnay Gelee

Seared Scallop, Tempura, Soy & Citrus  pair: Brogali Gavi

Roasted Marrowbone & Grilled Bread

Smoked Wagyu Beef & Kohlrabi Cream

ABC Duck with Persimmon, Clove, Cinnamon & Saffron Rice Cake  pair: Ramey Claret

Champagne Sorbet with Pomegranate, Pear, Mandarin & Walnut Sabayon

Cheese from the Cellar  pair: Cune Resado

Yuzu Curd Tart with Blackberry

Apple Granola, Whiskey Ice Cream & Buckwheat Honey

Mango Soup, Citrus Sorbet & Puffed Black Rice  pair: Sake

Chocolate with Grand Marnier & Peanut Brittle

Spiced Bitter Chocolate, Nuts & Chocolate Crumble

Oranges & Chocolate Truffle  pair: Royal Gingersnap made with Willet Potstill whiskey & chocolate orange bitters

Plus a special treat from Chef!

 

Annie and I are serving! See you Friday!!

For Söntés reservations, visit Sontes.com

For more restaurant behind-the-scenes, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

 

Shameless

None of the following shenanigans happened where I currently work. Anyone who knows where I currently work or knows our owner will automatically know this stuff would never take place there. Things are different now: we have leadership for one thing. What follows are events from a different era entirely.

Years ago, I worked with an eclectic group of servers, chefs, and bartenders who all knew how to laugh and how to make money. These were high times, when we didn’t think twice about handing over money for good food and good service, before our 401Ks shrank, back when a wedge of lemon could fix everything and everyone wanted to drink martinis. I was working for a restaurant whose owners could make money selling ice cream to Minnesotans (literally). They’d amassed our talented team of goofballs—we’re talking a century and a half of combined cooking and waiting experience among us—and let us run the show. We exhausted ourselves in service. We threw caution to the wind. We were brazen in our abilities. Work was simultaneously a puzzle, a drag, an effort, and an adventure. It all makes us wonder, when we get together today, if things really were as great back then as we remember. But we all remember them well.

The bartender used to change his clothes behind the bar as we were setting up. Every shift, he’d arrive before we opened and change into his bar uniform and work shoes from his street clothes and tennis shoes, leaving his street clothes balled up under a bar shelf. After work, he’d change back, leaving his work clothes stuffed under the bar. One night, when the bartender went out on a smoke break, a member of the kitchen staff took one of the tennis shoes from behind the bar and Krazy glued it to the ceiling of the employee bathroom. At closing time, the bartender couldn’t find it. tennis shoeEventually, due to badly stifled hilarity in the kitchen, the bartender found the stuck shoe. It took three staff members to get the shoe down. Days later the owner asked, “Why is the paint chipping off of the ceiling in the employee bathroom?”

It was at this same place that the kitchen staff collected the rubber bands (a.k.a. gumbands, for all of my people in Pittsburgh) that came on the produce delivered to the restaurant. They made a ball out of them, and the ball had grown to about the size of a soccer ball. Then it went missing. There was a full restaurant search conducted, which yielded nothing. The kitchen staff, distraught at the loss of their ball, even questioned the produce vendors. Foul play was suspected. Then one day a note appeared on the staff bulletin board with a picture of the missing ball. It was a ransom note, and the picture showed the rubber band ball on an unfamiliar stove about to be cooked. The manager saw this on the bulletin board and said, “Looks like everyone around here has a lot of time to waste.” The owner later walked by the bulletin board and broke into a fit of laughter. toilet paperSoon, the idea was planted that the baker stole the ball, so one night, the kitchen staff toilet papered the baker’s house while he slept.  That was enough for the real culprit to return the ball, unharmed.

There was a season when our desserts were selling faster than we could keep them in stock. Many nights we were down to one lonely item left to sell—and this was at the beginning of the shift. We took to ransacking the freezer for anything we could cobble together in the form of dessert. This is how Chocolate Dream was born. Devon, one of our servers, found a boxed chocolate dessert in the freezer one night. It was like hitting pay dirt. We all decided no one would notice if it were gone. We cut it into squares and someone added a scoop of ice cream. Someone else tossed on some hot fudge. Whipped cream got added and the whole concoction tasted pretty good. We called it Chocolate Dream, made up a price, and got to work adding it to the menu, printing a new stack of menus, and creating a button for it in the computer complete with proper taxation. While these logistics were going on, Devon showed the entire staff how to make it. We were crazy, but known to be consistent.

There was a grouper dish at this particular fine establishment. When we rang it in at the computer, a ticket would print in the kitchen that said Fish. At least, at first it did. The bartender changed it to print Fish Freako whenever the grouper was ordered. (Technically, he didn’t use the word Freako but another similar word that starts with F, if you get my meaning…) Through the magical use of proper computer coding, he made sure that guest receipts still said Grouper. printerThe change printed only on the chefs’ printers. They found it hilarious and would call it out whenever it was ordered. When the entire table of food was ready, that same ticket would accompany the dishes so the servers would know what to take from under the heat lamp. We’d carry the dishes out of the kitchen and would say the name of each dish as we set them down in front of guests—and every time, you had to stop yourself from saying Fish Freako and try to remember to say Grouper. On busy nights, you could hear servers say, “Filet mignon, seared ahi, artichoke pasta, and, uh, fish,” and stifle a laugh. The owner found out one day—months later–and made us change it back. Much as the owner threatened, not one of us would admit knowing who changed the coding.

These shameless examples are just the tip of the iceberg. And while they are shameless, they’re also filled with solidarity, teamwork, and loyalty to one another. Really, is there any other way to serve?

For more restaurant tom-foolery, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

Secrets

No one was too badly hurt in the following shenanigans, and everyone got a good laugh. To our regular guests: if the owner asks, your response is, “That never happened.” What happens at Söntés, stays at Söntés. Until it gets blogged.

  • One night, we built a fort in the server station, rigging tablecloths from the ice machine to the shelving next to it. When Kalea was done serving for the night, she clocked out and sat in the fort and drank a bottle of Riesling. This is the same night that we got ahold of some Superman stickers and poster. Superman spent the next two years posted in the server station, like a pinup. Kalea wound up covered in the stickers.
  •  This is JR the night he realized he was the only one JRworking who didn’t have purple, pink, or maroon hair, so he asked Dawn to color a blue stripe into his hair with a dry erase marker.
  • One Christmas, a regular guest shipped a giant meat smoker to the restaurant as a gift to the owner. The box it arrived in was so big, we had Kalea hide in it and jump out as unsuspecting servers passed by. Then we came up with an elaborate ruse to lure the owner into the kitchen. She suspected nothing as I walked her past the box. Even the kitchen staff controlled their amusement until she passed. Kalea jumped out right on cue and hilarity ensued.  The owner told us we were all fired, but she laughed when she said it, so we all continued to show up for work.
  • We write our names on our drinking glasses in the server station. One night, servers wrote Me, Mine, and Not Yours on their glasses.glasses
  • Kalea and I acted out a gunfight one night after closing time, using toy guns and the dining tables as shields.
  • One day in the kitchen, as the chefs talked about their fantasy baseball teams, the servers decided that since fantasy-everything exists these days, we’d start a game called Fantasy Life. Josh suggested we get points for taking showers and showing up for work on time, but everyone gets kudos for things like that. What we don’t get, is accolades for doing the wrong thing. “Going shopping and spending too much money should get you points in Fantasy Life,” I said. To which, Annie suddenly said, “Oooh, I’m good at Fantasy Life.” It was decided that points would be awarded for drinking the most cans of beer. (Why cans I don’t know.) And points would be awarded for best insult or best comeback. Servers were quick to pair into teams and discuss what bad things they were particularly good at. It’s nice to know your talents.Guy
  • Guy, cleaning the hoods (while standing on the stove).
  • We played It among the servers—a silent form of IT, without the running. We engaged in casual evasive maneuvers around the dining clientele, as any staff member trying to approach you on the dining floor was probably IT and was to be avoided. The bar was Base, where you were safe from being made IT, but you had to be touching the bar. Since we’d suddenly reach out to touch the bar when anyone walked by, most of the regular bar guests were brought in on the game so they understood this quirky behavior. Eventually, we started texting “You’re IT” to each other after work, and couldn’t keep track of who was IT anymore. That’s when Minnie arrived.
  • Someone left a Minnie Mouse figurine at the restaurant. It was at the host station for weeks. We started moving it to the server station and back again, so Minnie could enjoy the different scenery. The owner would see Minnie in one location, then see her in another and started to question her own sanity. Thus, a game was invented to hide Minnie in plain side and leave cryptic and poetic clues to find her. Chef, in particular, really liked hiding Minnie. Chef was new to us then, having traveled half the country to accept the position of Head Chef for our restaurant. He was famous, yet unassuming and quiet, and none of us knew him very well. But soon, his marker board in the kitchen, where he’s supposed to write mid-shift menu changes, was quickly overtaken by elaborate clues to finding Minnie. Whoever found her got to hide her again. Even regular guests would keep an eye out for her. The game kept up for weeks, until, rumor has it, Kalea accidentally took Minnie home in her apron and lost her. Update: At yesterday’s staff meeting, Annie confessed to losing Minnie. Kalea was framed.
  •  The owner forgot her cell phone at the restaurant one night, so we took pictures of the phone all over the place—including the bathroom–and sent her texts with the pictures.phone visited bookWhen she picked up her phone the next morning, she discovered the phone’s adventures.  Matt, who owns the bar next door, stopped in and we asked him to pose with her phone. We sent his picture to the owner that said Matt tried to steal/buy the phone. (You’re a good sport, Matt.  We’re lucky to have you as our neighbor!)Matt
  • One night, toward the end of our server Laura’s pregnancy, we sat on the floor of the server station to polish the glassware. When that was done, we stayed on the floor and decided to paint our pinky nails with the polish that Laura always brought to work. A regular guest popped in to the server snail polishtation to see what all the giggling was about. He got a painted nail before being granted leave of the station.

Our simple amusements are made up in the moment so we can keep our sanity or show some personality. They’re not meant to win prizes for cleverness or to do any harm. The best ones include input and involvement from our regular guests. That’s the beauty in becoming a regular guest: We don’t keep secrets from you. Not only do you know what’s happening behind the scenes, you’re like family to us—the fun relatives we’d let eat on the couch and stay in the guestroom. You’re always invited back.

For more restaurant behind-the-scenes, check out my book Upside Down Kingdom on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

Braless

At the moment, two of my coworkers have no filters when it comes to what they say. photoOne of them, let’s call her the Braless Wonder, (she laughs at this nickname), is fond of saying that she and I have opposite personalities. I admit I’m more of a quiet observer to the things going on around me and that I usually hold my tongue—usually. But the reality is, I’m usually also thinking exactly what Braless is saying out loud.

Braless is a former policewoman. She and her longtime mate share responsibility of five children, all of whom are happy and polite when they’ve come to the restaurant. Braless is blonde, tough, edgy, and has had more near-death experiences and surgeries than anyone else I’ve ever met. So much so, that Braless has a devil-may-care attitude, and a rapturous gusto for life. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She plows in and fixes the problem. While she says “opposite” with some audible disdain, I never protest, even though I see things differently.

There are many types of servers in this world. Everyone has a slightly different personality, and those traits come out when you’re serving. My style of serving is a bit ninja-like: I’m quiet, I listen to their likes and dislikes and allergies and doctor photo (3) recommendations. I dart in and out replacing silver, rearranging the items on the table, and refreshing drinks so that guests rarely even know I’ve been there. When they look down, all they know is that they have all they could need or want, and it’s all been done exactly as they would have done themselves. Guests return wanting to be taken care of, without having to make decisions or think about the service, so they can concentrate on their dinner guests, and the restaurant owner makes sure they get me.

Braless, also, gets to know her guests’ likes and dislikes, and recommends the right dishes and the right wine and beer for them.  But she does this by talking to them. By the time they leave, she knows their names and their pasts and their future plans, and they know her. She’s spent enough time as a patient in the hospital that she relates well to other patients, and is able to cheer them up with her sharp humor. She wishes them well or on their next series of tests, or safe travels home, or to enjoy the movie they’re going to see. Guests return asking for her by name.

Both of us have served long enough that though the above descriptions tell of our particular niches, we both adapt to one another’s styles if the table warrants it. We’re practiced, and can naturally slide out of our comfort zones to adjust to guest needs. This in no way stops us from envying the one another’s personal serving style, or from asking one another’s advice on tables.  Because of who we are individually and where we’ve been, hardly a night goes by that we don’t ask a fellow server or the restaurant owner to stop at a particular table and relate personally to a guest.

Similarly, there are many types of guests in this world, and each one needs a specific server at a specific moment.  There are days when I go out to eat that I want to be fawned over, and days when I just want to be left alone. Our restaurant sits in the heart of the Mayo Clinic, which gives us a very different clientele.Mayo Clinic Yes, there are the usual guests, young and old, who are on dates or just stopping in for lunch before heading back to work again. There are also brilliant doctors who travel the world because of their specialty, board members who decide the fate and direction of medicine as a whole, and celebrities and rulers of countries who have stopped in for routine or non-routine checkups. And, there are those who
have just spent an entire day at the Clinic, being poked, prodded, asked a million questions, and are slated to return the next day for more. Sometimes they are celebrating good news. Sometimes they’re reeling from bad. Most of the time, they’re just waiting.

As servers, we get it. It’s our job to get it. We reach out to our guests and assess their needs—not just for food, drink, and ambiance, but for comfort. A person can get sustenance just about anywhere. Why did they come here? What do they need?

Despite our style differences, Braless and I strive, ultimately, to solve the puzzle of what’s needed, and raise the guest’s expectations when we make it happen. We’re always looking for ways to improve. And we always hope to feel it was a job well done when we clock out.

Every time Braless says we’re opposites, I get the feeling that she’s really trying to say we’d never find ourselves friends in normal life. Restaurant life, of course, is not normal life. Restaurant life is full of changes, quick adaptations, and just plain winging it. It makes you try a different approach. This is precisely why our friendship works.

(posdrinksted with the permission of my hilarious friend Braless)

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon: dld.bz/bYuX4

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