Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kitchen, May I?

Sharon Wildwind

I barely beat the lunch crowd Sunday, getting the last counter seat in a family restaurant. Five minutes later people were lined up in a hopeful, snaky line out the door.

The place was packed, the noise level was rising, and it could have been chaos. It wasn’t.

Near as I could tell there were three managers: one working with the seating staff, one front of house, and one who checked the orders as they came out of the kitchen. I was sitting right behind the one checking the orders, so I had plenty of opportunity to watch her work.

When an order didn’t look right, she didn’t say, “This is wrong.” or “The side on this order should be sausage, not bacon.” She asked, “Kitchen, may I?”

The first time she said it, I thought I’d misheard. The second time, I knew I’d heard right, but I had no idea what was happening. The third time, I realized I should pay attention because something interesting was going on. Writers love to collect interesting things.

What the woman was doing was asking the cook if it was a convenient time to ask a question. Only when the cook replied, “You may,” was the question forthcoming. The woman was on one side of that long, narrow window that often separates the kitchen from the restaurant; the cook was on the other side. When the cook said, “You may,” he or she stopped doing anything else and the two people looked eye-to-eye while they talked. Voices were never raised and they resolved each issue in about ten seconds.

I noticed a couple of other things. When the front of house manager came to speak to this woman, he asked, “Checker, may I?” She turned to face him, and said, “You may.” Again, they looked at each other while carrying on the conversation.

When orders were ready, there was no “Pick up table four,” or calling out the menu items ready for pickup. She called out a server’s name. “Mario.” “Lee.” “Karen.” When Mario, Lee, or Karen came, both the server and the checker looked at the tray together, and the woman said, “Two blueberry pancakes, one with bacon, one with sausage. One oatmeal with fruit cup. One kid’s special, scrambled, with toast and jam. Good to go?”

The waiter would reply, “Good to go,” as he or she took the tray.

I have no idea if this is the latest thing in restaurant management, or I stumbled on the nirvana of restaurants, but it was fascinating to watch. My food came in record time and the order was absolutely correct.

Even better was watching very busy people take the time to treat each other with respect.


Sandra Parshall said...

This degree of civility would probably strike me as a little scary and creepy. The Stepford Restaurant! :-)

Julia Buckley said...

This is great--strikes me as good management. If a manager trains people to be civil, they'll be civil, because they're being paid to do what he/she asks.

And then maybe it will rub off on their behavior outside the restaurant, too.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, it was a little spooky, but nice in the end.