When you decided to sign the lease on the space on Main Street to open your first property you thought you would be leaving the politics of the boardroom behind, didn´t you? But then it happened. You found the politics of the plate rail, that piece of stainless steel which divides the forces of battle and frequently an owner can get caught up in what seems like a World Cup rivalry between the cooks and the waiters.
Chefs often assume that the rail is the one barrier that divides creativity and talent from the schleppers who are over paid for what they do. And, of course, the wait staff looks at those guys behind the rail as just a bunch of short order cooks that have no other talent than just flipping eggs. This is the extreme. And, thanks to the interest that Americans have found in food the two teams, the front of the house and the back of the house have been bonding over the past years and mutual respect flourishes periodically when least expected. But this is not to say that the division doesn´t exist. It surfaces on occasion to the detriment of the house.
Let´s take an incident which occurred last Friday evening. It is the perfect example of a restaurant limping along without anyone in control. After having a rough day I decided to take my wife to a well known restaurant in Sonoma Valley that has had a reputation for less than perfect service and food for some time. I thought this was just fodder from tourists who didn´t like the pseudo snobbiness of the owner.
The meal for the most part was disastrous as the waiter seemed dazed and confused. The major problem arose when the fried oysters I had ordered were delivered to the table and appeared as though they had been rubbed in a dark Cajun spice. I soon realized they were just overcooked and burnt. After eating one and then another I decided the other four oysters could be ignored as I had been. When the waiter finally returned he asked if he could take the plate away. I explained that he could and that it never should have been delivered to the table. He said he agreed and had told the chef that but the chef said to deliver them anyway.
Ah, the politics of it all. Who does the waiter represent in a case of a chef with an attitude? And, what should the owner do when an incident like this makes its way from behind the plate rail? In a restaurant that is less tired the waiter should always represent the customer. He is the front man. He is the guy in the trenches, spreading the word of the owner and the chef. And, if the chef is having a bad night, the wait person should have the authority to send back a meal and ask for a re-fire. In his instance the waiter was rather wimpy so he probably wouldn´t have gotten very far with the short order cook in the kitchen.
We should never lose sight of who is in charge in a restaurant. The waiter is the representative for the customer. And, if a chef is serving bad food that was brought to his attention then the guy in charge should give him the boot. And although everyone thinks the wall should come down, it holds the plates, and that´s where all the politics of the front and the back of the house meet.