ARE SERVERS AND COOKS LIKE OIL AND VINEGAR?
by Chef Paul Sourgle; MS, AAC CULINARYCUESBLOG
There are many examples of love/hate relationships or classic feuds that are difficult to rationalize: the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s, Alexander Hamilton and Raymond Burr; Neil Young and Lynard Skynard, the Beatles and Yoko Ono, Democrats and Republicans, and, of course, Restaurant Servers and Cooks. What is the reason for these sometimes oil and vinegar relationships? Why did either side lose sight of the big picture? Are these feuds simply based on tradition or misunderstanding, not fact?
We have come to accept that Republicans and Democrats simply cannot get along or agree and Lynard Skynard and Neil Young intensely dislike each other as portrayed in song: “well, I hope Neil Young will remember a Southern Man don’t need him around, anyhow.” In actuality, Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on what is right for our country and, oh by the way, Skynard’s lyrics were meant to support Neil Young’s charge against racist behavior. The point is, more often than not, feuds or traditional abrasive relationships are ill founded.
In the case of restaurant servers and cooks, consider these facts:
• Service staff members are the first line of offense and defense with restaurant guests. Their primary role is twofold: customer satisfaction and building check averages for the house and for the basis of their tips.
• Unlike cooks, their wages are not predetermined. In most cases, if they do their job well, the guest will tip as is expected, but the guest is not required to do so. Servers are paid, in most cases, sub-minimum wage (allowed by law) because it is assumed that they will make sufficient tips to make up the difference.
• Servers are required to hide their emotions while performing their job. When a guest is contrary, the server needs to tough it out, smile and say, yes.
• Servers are able to perform their job only when everyone else performs theirs.
• There is very little societal respect given to the position of restaurant server. Unlike cooks, who today are able to hold their head high when they state what they do for a living. Servers tend to feel as though they need to apologize for their line of work.
• Most servers hold their current position not out of choice, but simply because it is a means to an end. There are far too few people in the United States who proclaim with pride that they wait on tables. Most are using this as a transitional job until they can find something in their chosen field.
• On the other hand, a person who takes their job of server seriously, learning everything they can about food, wine, psychology, selling technique, and technical service, can make a very respectable living; in many cases, far more lucrative than cooks, chefs and managers.
• Most servers know how physically challenging and talent demanding it is to be a cook. Although they may appreciate food, they have no desire to do what cooks do.
• Cooks are more often than not, introverted. They are typically not the gregarious, service oriented person that front of the house staff are or have learned to be. Most cooks will gladly work 10-12 hours, on their feet in a hot kitchen, but would avoid 10 minutes in the dining room at all costs.
• Cooks have a relationship with the food they prepare. This plate of food is an expression of their art. The plate is a cook’s canvas and if they could, they would hang pictures of their work on home refrigerators just like their parents did when they brought home those watercolors from grammar school (Facebook is the modern version of the refrigerator art gallery).
• Cooks follow a definitive chain of command and have a military style relationship with those in charge of the kitchen. Discipline is the name of the game in the back of the house. Servers are, to a larger degree, free agents. They have a high level of freedom in how they approach their job and the guests they serve. By design, the server is empowered to create unique dining events in an effort to maximize the guest experience and build check averages. Cooks, on the other hand, are required to follow a step-by-step process, plate their dish in the style of the chef, and replicate this same procedure time and again.
• Cooks work in Dante’s Inferno. Temperatures on the line can be in excess of 120 degrees; cuts, burns and sweat are part of the daily drill. Servers spend a fair amount of time in air-conditioned dining rooms (this is the perspective of cooks. In reality, servers have physically demanding jobs as well).
• Servers have to interact with guests, every minute of every day. The guest is oftentimes appreciative and kind, sometimes, however, this is not the case. The server still needs to smile while dealing with inappropriate and sometimes demeaning guests. This is something that cooks are able to avoid.
In all cases, it is important for everyone in a restaurant to understand that each job is uniquely challenging. Everyone works hard. In the end, front and back of the house share a common goal: customer satisfaction and restaurant financial success. To quote an old cliché: “walk a mile in my shoes..see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel, THEN maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do..till then, don’t judge me.”
Servers and cooks are in it together. One cannot accomplish their goals without the other and as such, it is critical that they work well together. Here are a few points for both to keep in mind:
• Cooks are frustrated artists and as such are proud of their work and sensitive to critique.
• Once the plate of food is placed in the pass, the cook is aware that time is its worst enemy. Picking it up quickly will preserve the integrity of the dish. Timing is everything to a cook and likely the most significant point of contention between service staff and the kitchen line.
• Keeping 20 things straight in a cook’s head while working on the line is part of the job. Having to answer questions can throw the whole thing out of balance. Cooks are not being rude while ignoring you; they are just trying to hold it all together.
• Although cooks, like servers really do want the guest to be happy, special orders do upset them simply because it throws off their timing. Be a little patient with them when they bark, it really isn’t personal.
• Servers have a very difficult job. When they bring back a special request it is not of their doing, they are simply trying to make sure the guest is happy. They are the messengers, not the source of the request.
• Sometimes servers forget things or make a mistake, just like cooks. Help them out and they will do the same for you. Try to be kind and forgiving.
• Cooks, in many cases, have chosen to do what they do as a career. They love to cook and thrive on the environment. As much as we would like to say that servers are the same, many have not chosen this a career, it is simply the type of job that is available. They are trying to make the best of it, cooks can chose to encourage them and support their situation.
If we take a moment to understand each other, forgive those occasional mistakes, help to teach each other to improve, and throw out some words of support, we might just be able to get through service with a smile on our face.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC