Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Welcome Back!

Yesterday was the first day that we were open after our annual August vacation. The first day being open after having closed for a week is almost like opening day of a new restaurant.

When I walked in first thing in the morning, the cooler was bare. Throughout the day, case after case after case of food came in and had to be stocked, prepped, and brought onto the cooking line. Is it any wonder that we were still prepping for lunch even after the first tickets came in?

We open for lunch at 11am and there is no way to get the line set from scratch between 9am when the morning crew arrives and 11am. We depend on having basic items such as salad dressings, toasted nuts, garnishes, basic sauces, etc. being left from the day before. In reality, we probably only prep about a third of the lunch menu daily, depending on sell through from the day before. Yesterday, it all had to be prepped from zero.

It can't all be done in our small kitchen with our small crew in a two-hour window. So what to do? Like most rational people, we prepped the most commonly ordered items first, when we could. Of course, when the seafood delivery doesn't show up generally until 11:30 or so, what can you do? Open without seafood and prep like hell when it does arrive.

Customers, however, are not rational in their ordering patterns. Nor cognizant of the fact that the day after a week-long vacation is a killer prep day for us. So what happened? Naturally, we had a very early rush before 11:15 (for me, this is just starting to be breakfast time, so early rushes always surprise me) and trust me, we were depending on that hour between 11 and 12 to keep on prepping. And equally naturally, the early customers shotgunned the menu: they ordered everything totally at random. And of course, we were set for the dishes that sell the best historically. Mr. Murphy must have been in the dining room coaxing customers into their aberrant ordering pattern yesterday.

We ended up prepping several of the dishes as they were ordered at lunch yesterday, but we never managed to get totally set. We'll have to go back and catch the remaining items this morning.

The afternoon shift was one long grind, prepping eleven appetizers and ten entrées in a three-hour period. The hardest part for me was finding time to think through the menu to determine what we needed to do all while prepping feverishly. Granted, our dinner menu changes daily so we're used to a lot of work in the afternoon, but still, only about a third of the menu changes daily, so that the whole menu turns over about every three days. Having to deal with 100% turnover is tough.

And in the afternoon shift, we're used to having all the prep at hand that the morning crew has left in the cooler for us: minced garlic and shallots, prepped herbs, diced onions, carrots, celery, poblano peppers, and so forth. When the morning crew doesn't have time for this such as yesterday, it slows down the afternoon crew. And some of the braised dishes that take long slow cooking have to be started by the morning crew. Those dishes will just have to wait until later in the week.

To top it all off, I have developed an obnoxious little cold that has left me almost voiceless. My 12-hour shift in the kitchen compounded by the cold was draining. I'm not complaining mind you—being in the kitchen beats the hell out of doing paperwork in the office. And that, friends, is why I am blogging right now; I'm procrastinating in the face of a vast mound of paperwork. It's the same story today in the office as it was in the kitchen yesterday. Yippee! Good thing I love my job.

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