Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Help Us Help You

I felt really horrible all last weekend because we couldn't accommodate a customer's special request on Saturday night. This almost never happens because we pride ourselves on not only handling special requests, but handling them gracefully, and exceeding our customers' expectations.

Last Saturday was about as busy as it gets in this business. Our ticket rail was wall-to-wall for four solid hours and it was all that we could do to stay on top of tickets and keep the food moving to the dining room. If you've ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you understand this chaos and treading the fine line between getting the food out and going down in a big ball of flames. If you haven't, just rest assured that you have to put 100% of your focus into getting the food out and you have to work absolutely as fast as you can. There's no time to think about anything else, get a drink of water, or even move from your spot on the line.

So, it's not a really great time for a special request from the kitchen. And by special request, I don't mean substituting green beans for the baby turnips. Those kinds of requests are routine and easy to handle. What I mean, is, well, forget about what I mean and let me just get on with this story.

A server came back to the kitchen to talk to me about the options for a woman who was vegetarian and required a gluten-free and lactose-free meal. Talk is not quite the appropriate verb for what happens in the chaotic world which is a restaurant kitchen on a full-bore Saturday night, when we're all barking at the top of our lungs to be heard over the exhaust fans and the dish machine. Unfortunately for our would-be customer, our vegetarian special for the evening contained cheese, ruling it out.

If I had someone to step into my spot on the line or if I could have found five minutes, I am certain that I could have gone into the walk-in and found some ingredients with which I could have created a gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian meal. But, as it turned out, I wouldn't have five minutes free for another two hours. And, if I had taken five minutes right then, the whole line would have gone to hell and I would have significantly delayed dinner for half the tables in the dining room.

The server knew the outcome before he came to the kitchen, but he came to ask anyway as is his job. Maybe I could have worked another miracle as I have done dozens of times before. Not last Saturday. I couldn't stall the dinners for half the dining room for one table. Ultimately, the server had to convey my apologies and suggest that if she could find some things on the menu that would be suitable for her for diet, that we would gladly plate them and send them to her. She chose to leave and I cannot really blame her for that.

I feel bad that she left and I really feel sorry for her because it must be terribly difficult for her to find suitable meals out at restaurants. And I have no doubt that she chose my restaurant because we specialize in handling special requests such as hers. I'm also quite sure that she has never seen a restaurant kitchen on a Saturday night and has no idea why we couldn't do anything for her in a timely manner.

And, I'm a little upset that she brought this outcome on herself and didn't give me a fighting chance to help her. If only she had mentioned her dietary needs when she booked the table, we could have blown her mind with something fantastic to eat. Please, please, please, if you have a special dietary request, let us know when you book your table.

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