Looking over the small three inch backsplash of the counter I couldn’t see the salad bins or the chef’ work area in the small salad – sandwich kitchen that was manned by two men in white cots. It was obvious, the older gentleman was in charge of the tickets and his assistant’s responsibilities were the creations cooked in the wood burning pizza oven. The assistant also served as the go-for-guy. The pace was moderate and the dining room not overly packed for a Sunday Brunch in June in
I suffer from an affliction retained from my days in the restaurant business: I notice everything that nobody should see in a room. If there is a tablecloth out of kilter, if there is a spot on a knife, if the salt shaker and ketchup bottles are caked with foreign objects from a dip in the Eggs Benedict or the lack of a quick return on the Heinz bottle after a struggle with liquidity, I see it. It shouts to me.
Sitting at counters in front of open kitchens is not an intelligent move for a person with such a disease. However, I bring it upon myself. No matter how I grapple with the comfort of a table- out of view from any kitchen or chef- my addiction tugs at me, pulling me back to my roots: the stool standing proudly in front of the open kitchen offering a view of things the public should never see.
Salad-guy (not his real nickname) is probably a good enough chap. His skills behind the three inch splash guard were not that noticeable. His continual head scratching was. I figured the move, which seemed to automatically happen each time a ticket was handed to him, was a natural reflex caused from thought for food. It wasn’t a pleasant site for a guy who just ordered a salad for his guest and a sandwich and a side salad for himself.
My first thought: Why didn’t I order the pizza? The assistant’s hands were clean. He wore gloves whenever openly touching food. Fortunately, the assistant saw my dismay and prepared my guest’s salad and my side salad, leaving the head scratching, bare-hand salad-tosser to other dishes for those sitting away from the station.
If you are going to design an open kitchen- and we all long for the ability to contemporize our restaurants – make sure the talent within its barriers is professional. When enclosed, out of the public’s eye, a kitchen is a kitchen. When open, within view, a kitchen is a stage and your staff suddenly turns into performers for the world to see.
The array of talent it takes to operate a restaurant contributes to the diverse community called staff. Making sure those people can work in certain areas is vital to the success of every eatery. A restaurant’s front of the house team needs to have a skill level the public appreciates along with a pleasing personality. One or the other will suffice for a short period of time, and the person with both will prosper professionally and add profitability to the restaurant. But the person with neither is not an asset, and needs to be taken out of the public’s view.
Aside from staffing for the public, the appearance of what the public sees is also vital to your restaurant’s success. Take the picture above. It was taken on Sunday, in plain view of the customers sitting at the restaurant’s open kitchen counter. The side of the oven is filthy and the back splash behind the salad dressings seems to be splattered. Salad guy paid it no mind although he stared at if for at least eight hours a day. Designing an open kitchen is easy. Running it is always more difficult. And it takes the eyes of everyone on the team to have a clear vision for success.
Finding people with passion to contribute as a team player and to add professionalism and quality as an ingredient to the food is much harder than most managers and owners realize when opening a restaurant. Restaurant staffs are built like ladders. The bottom rung leads to the next and the next and the next until you reach the top. And, in professional environments, it is the responsibility of everyone to help the person below them in order to achieve abounding professionalism. Often, as you teach, you refresh your own memory and become better as an example.
Salad guy had little passion for the product and definitely wasn’t part of team. His assistant was yearning for direction- he wanted to learn and help and become better – but salad guy was in his own world, just thinking about the end of the shift, weighing unrefrigerated smoked Salmon, one piece at a time, hoping his day would end.
And that’s a head scratcher.