Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Idiots, assholes, and thieves...

Today's topic is... The unhappy customer.

I read a lot of restaurant related blogs, and although every one of them has already covered this topic extensively, I still feel the need to share my opinion on the subject.

The main source of contention is this: The vast majority of customers operate under the impression that "the customer is always right". This belief causes a myriad of problems. Anyone who has worked in the industry, however, realizes that this is rarely the case. I would estimate that 80% of the time, the customer is in complete error, and needs to shut his or her mouth.

Granted, sometimes the customer has a right to complain. Sometimes, a server is shitty. Or a grill cook is having an off night. Or perhaps someone just made a simple mistake. A miscommunication. Errors do occur. Even the best servers and cooks foul things up from time to time. It's hard to go hour after hour, doing 20 things at once, without slipping up somewhere. On a few rare occasions, I've visited restaurants where everything seemed to be terrible. None of them were in business for very long though.

Being a restaurant worker, however, I'm usually pretty forgiving. I'm not going to throw a childish fit if on a busy Saturday night, my server forgets to bring my side of rice. I understand that shit happens. As long as an effort is being made, I'm going to let it slide. I know how hectic things can get.

Unfortunately, many customers don't behave the same as I do. They start bitching and making demands. I believe that there are three main reasons for this behavior. Any time that a person starts berating the staff, at least one of these factors is at play.

1) The customer is trying to get something for free.... This is probably the most common motivation for starting trouble unreasonably. And sadly, people engage in this behavior because it is affective. Most restaurants, especially corporate ones, will partially comp a meal or hand out a gift certificate in order to pacify a loudmouth. Often, the lower socio-economic classes are the ones guilty of this offense, but not always. I've seen customers who drive cars that are more valuable than my home launch into tirades when they discover that they were charged $2.95 for a dinner salad.

The really ugly aspect of these occurrences is the potential consequences that employees can face. Many people think very little of going out to eat at an Applebee's, going home, and then firing off an email to the corporate office about how terrible their service was. They include the name they read off of their server's name tag, and think nothing more of the experience once they receive their apologetic email response accompanied with a $25 gift certificate. A week later they go into the restaurant again, use their gift certificate, and again fire off an email. This time they hope to get a certificate for $50.

Meanwhile, if a server catches three of these complaints, they get terminated. Maybe even fewer. I've actually read reviews and blogs written by people like this who openly brag about how much free food they've hustled, and one customer who even expressed that she thought it was funny that her complaints had gotten three waitresses fired thus far.

2) The customer is a dumb-shit... Every server or kitchen worker knows these people. They order a steak rare, and then claim it isn't hot enough. They ask if the cheeseburger has meat in it. They order French onion soup, and then demand a refund because they weren't aware that it would contain onions. They can never read the menu, or find the bathroom, or understand why it might take more than four minutes to receive their food when they're sitting in the middle of a 200 seat restaurant that is packed to the gills and has a waiting time of 40 minutes to be seated. "How long does it take to cook a dinner?" Stupid asses. How long would it take for your idiotic, drooling, overweight ass to cook a dinner? How about 400 dinners? Sit down, shut up, and fucking wait. And if you even consider sticking your spoiled, pasty face in the kitchen door to "See what the hold-up is", realize that you're looking at a group of people who are more than willing to kill you in cold blood.

3) The customer is an asshole... You see these people not just in restaurants, but everywhere. I met them when I worked the butcher counter, when I painted, when I delivered pizzas, when I landscaped. I see them in front of me in line at the grocery store. Miserable, angry, short-tempered assholes. For some reason, these detestable sorts enjoy nothing more than attempting to dehumanize those who serve their needs. I dislike them the least, however, of the entire group. As a young man, I usually wanted to throw bricks at their faces. But now, I almost feel sympathy for them. I can recognize their banter immediately, and my first thought is always this: "What has happened to you, how terrible is your meager existence, how isolated and lonely are you, that your chief role in society is to abuse every service worker you meet? Is this the only time in your day-to-day life that you experience any empowerment? Is this the only moment today that anyone will listen to your pathetic bullshit? May God have mercy on your not-so-humble soul...".

Make no mistake, however. Despite the small quantity of sympathy and tolerance I have developed for these people over the years, I'm still not exactly Gandhi or Jesus. After about three consecutive negative exchanges, I'm going to switch gears, lock into "verbal kill mode", and engage. It's just my nature. And guess what? More often than not, I'm going to win. It's a mistake to discount my intelligence and level of cunning based on the job I may hold. I'm educated, sharp, and somewhere deep inside, I have an axe to grind. I can infuriate these people beyond comprehension yet at the same time, be vaguely technical enough to avoid having the management's hammer come down on me. If it ends up with me having to defend myself to my boss after the customer complains, I think well enough on my feet that I'm going to skate free 90% of the time.

For those of you who read this, and don't work in the service industry, I request that you don't react defensively to this essay. If you're a reasonable person, who while reading this remembers back on some poor experience you've had while dining, you easily could have been one of the 20%. Some complaints are legitimate. And any decent service worker will be more than happy to admit fault and compensate you accordingly. But you must understand that while you may have been in the right, we restaurant insiders deal with many more people who aren't. Every single day of customer service exposes us to idiots, assholes, and thieves.

And there are more of them than you could ever imagine....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Getting back to normal, whatever that is...

I've been gone for a bit. The reasons are numerous.

For one, I went without a home computer for about five days. Being as I do most of my writing in the middle of the night, this situation pretty much eliminated the possibility of blogging. As for the other week I was absent, well, I can't really provide a clear explanation. I haven't really been communicating much at all. Suffice it to say that my cognitive gears have been grinding so to speak. Things have been rolling along less than smoothly. Nothing serious, just the typical psychological angst experienced by fringe people like myself, mixed with dissatisfaction in my employment and general apathy. Same old story.

But some interesting things have happened. I interviewed for a job at the world's most disgusting butcher shop, located in the world's worst neighborhood. I also was hired at another job, only for that business to cease operations and fold only 48 hours later. I met some of the stupidest people on the planet, developed a new ulcer, and performed some classic sleep-walking shenanigans. In addition, I had an epiphany, in the middle of a super busy Saturday night dinner service, that will surely alter the coarse of the remainder of my life.

In due time, I will write about some of these stories. Tonight will not be the night however. I'm just trying to make my return to the social world a simple one. Tonight, I only want to make one brief commentary.

And here it is.

Never again will I subject myself to the standards of the corporate restaurant world. Barring absolute catastrophe, I'm officially signing myself off. I will tirelessly pursue employment in privately owned businesses from this point on. I'm absolutely finished with this world of memos, bureaucracy, and hierarchical structure run amok. I have become fully convinced that the corporate structure dehumanizes the laborers, dilutes the quality of the product, and drives down wages for those who do the majority of the labor.

By no means do I desire to offend anyone, nor do I desire to burn any bridges. Yet at this juncture in time, personal principle outweighs all other motivating factors. The seeming efficiency of the corporate kitchen is nice, as is the clearly defined structure. A different kind of human could certainly enjoy that sort of thing. But I'm not that kind of human.

Once again, I am born anew....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wisdom comes with age, sometimes....

I tend to be nocturnal. Many of my fellow food-service employees also share this tendency. But for some reason, on days like today when I'm off work, it's even worse. I have this strange sense that I haven't done enough in order to sleep. So despite the early wake-up that is looming in my near future, I'm awake and typing.

I suppose that I haven't burnt off enough energy. Being as today was my birthday, I did as little as possible. In fact, I did almost nothing. I went out to get a pizza. Other than that, nothing. I took a nap, read some news, and looked at restaurant reviews online. Yes, I'm aware that reading reviews is a goofy and dorkish pass time, but I enjoy it. I really enjoy the negative ones. Sometimes you can find a link to all of that person's reviews, and usually, if they've fired off one scathingly terrible review, they've written several. Each one of which shows a deeper level of bitterness and contempt than the previous one. There are some really miserable bastards out there, who just aren't pleased with anything. Terribly difficult people.

I encountered one today when I was out for the pizza.

Although it was my birthday, and my girlfriend had offered to buy me whatever I wanted for dinner, I elected for a simple salad and pizza. We went to a local place called Stefanina's. I'm sure that many of my readers from the St. Louis area are familiar with it. It's nothing spectacular, just pizza and pasta type joint that's been doing business in the suburbs since the early seventies. Considering how much time I spend in restaurants working, it's probably understandable by most of my readers that I would want to keep dining experiences in my free time as casual as possible. I wanted something dependable, cheap, and unhealthy; in a place that would tolerate my dirty cargo shorts, flip-flops, and toenails which haven't been trimmed in two months. A place where the servers don't have to blow a bunch of institutional, up-selling smoke at me, and no one cares if I lie my face on the table while I wait. That's how I roll on my birthday. So casual and laid back that a stranger could easily mistake me for a homeless man who's had far too many barbiturates.

We went at 3:45pm, because I also desired to avoid both the lunch and dinner rush. I was in no mood to be inside of a busy restaurant. It makes me nervous and itchy when I know the kitchen is in the weeds and I can sense urgency from the servers. Plus, other patrons could be disturbed by my total lack of concern regarding my appearance. I'd much rather be the only table in the restaurant, watching the waitresses roll silverware and talk about how their ex-husbands are terrible assholes. This is the sort of thing that makes me feel good and relaxed.

So there we were. Eating a chef salad with some peppercorn-whatever dressing, waiting on a pepperoni and bacon pizza, when this old couple were sat in the booth beside us. The trouble started almost immediately.

The waitress came to their table. The conversation was initially comical, but began to grate on everyone's nerves as it continued. This is how it went down...

Waitress (W-) "Hi, how are you? What can I get you all to drink?"
Male customer (C-) "We need two small salads to start with."
W- "So just water? No soda or iced tea?"
C- "Two salads."
W- "Alright... What kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "We get a senior citizen's discount also."
W- "Alright, I can take care of that... What kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "We get a senior citizens discount."
W- (Now speaking louder) "Yes sir, but what kind of dressings would you like?"
C- "Two small salads."
W- (Now showing barely perceptible signs of frustration) "Sir, I cannot continue without you telling me what dressings you would like on the two salads."
C- "Oh. Uh, she'll have Italian and I'll have Ranch"
W- "OK. Two small salads, with Ranch and Italian. Do you know what you want to order for the entree also?
C- "Did you hear me say that we get a discount? Did you write that down?"
W- "Yes sir. Are you also ready to order the rest of the meal?"
C- "Yeah. I'll take the spaghetti, and she'll take the carbonara."
W- "Alright, I will get that in for you, it shouldn't take long at all..."

At this point the waitress starts to walk away from the table. When she's a few steps away, he calls out in a loud voice, "Uh miss! Aren't you going to ask if we'd like something to drink?" His tone is becoming a bit snotty through his country accent.

The waitress pulls the order book back out of her apron, and re approaches the table. "Yes, of course. Would you like something OTHER than the water you initially ordered?" The "other" part of the comment catches my ear. I glance at her face and notice a slight blush in her cheek and a pulsation of her jaw muscle. Her face is blank, but I'm very experienced in detecting hidden anger in the female face. She's at a light boil.

C- "Well I'd like a big beer (whatever the hell that means) and she'd like a diet Coke."
W- "Alright. And what kind of beer would you like?"
C- (Becoming combative) "A large draft beer!"
W- (Loudly, and no longer patient) "Yes. I understand. But WHAT TYPE OF BEER?"
C- "You know! One of those large draft beers you all serve. A big one."
W- "Bud light? Miller? Heineken? What?! WHAT KIND?"
C- "Oh, uh, well, Bud Light or whatever is fine. Whatever."
W- "Alright. Large Bud Light draft and a diet Coke. I'll have those right out."

As she walks away, clearly irritated, the old man and his wife shared a muffled conversation about how the waitress wasn't very friendly. The wife suggested that perhaps she is merely a bit "mentally slow". By this time, I'm starting to get a bit edgy.

The waitress walked immediately to the servers station, and began punching their order into the computer. She was really hammering away. I was slightly concerned that her index finger would snap in half.

When she was finished, she grabbed our pizza from the window and brought it to us. She inquired as to whether of not we needed anything else, like red pepper and such. We told her no, and that we were fine, and thanked her. As she walked away from our table, past their table, the older man stopped her again.

C- "Miss, are those drinks going to come to the table any time soon?"
W- (Now at a full-boiling rage) "It's been thirty seconds since you managed to order them, if you can manage to wait another 30, I'll have them here."

I was becoming frightened now. This waitress was clearly crossing into the danger zone. She was about to lose it. She went to the bar, grabbed the beer, and then fetched the diet Coke. She returned to the table well within her 30 second prediction. She set them on the table, and said "Alright, and those salads should be ready in just a second." Unfortunately, he cut her off in the middle of the sentence. "Now, miss, do you think you could get those salads? We're hungry..."

Her body turned and started walking away. Yet her head did not. It swiveled like the head of an owl, almost mechanically, keeping her eyes firmly fixated on his, as the rest of her body was walking briskly in the opposite direction.. The look on her face was one of sheer hatred. I once saw the same look on the face of a female bartender right before she tomahawked a bottle of Beefeater gin at some guys face.

Up to this point I had been laughing silently. I generally cut the elderly quite a bit of slack. They can't hear, and they often have trouble understanding some things, and modern life can be tough for them. But this guy was just an asshole. Plain and simple. Still, he was just too old for me to verbally accost. I can't say snide things to people who are tippering on the back edge of existence, regardless of how detestable some can be.

Things calmed down some then. A few other tables were seated. I saw two salads appear in the window. But the waitress let them wait for four or five minutes. She took other drink orders and hid for two minutes. Eventually, she dropped the salads, and later the two pastas, without saying a single word.

She made a pass by both tables asking if all was well and if anyone needed refills, or boxes, or anything. Both my table and the older couple requested nothing. She assured both tables that the checks would be coming shortly. She then went to the server's station, printed the checks, and stuffed them in her apron pocket. Next, she grabbed a pizza from the window, and started walking quickly to drop it off on the other side of the dining room.

While she was walking with the pizza, perhaps 40 feet away from us, the old man spoke once more. In a voice loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear, he yelled "Miss! I'm going to need a box!" at her.

She glanced briefly. The look on her face was terrifying. Otherwise she pretended as if it hadn't happened. She dropped the pizza off, then swung around and gave us our check. It was 24 dollars.

She then walked to the older couples table, and in a slow and maniacal tone, said "I'm sorry... Did you say... that you NEEDED something?"

My girlfriend dropped 30 bucks on the table and we split. Fast. I didn't want to be around for any more of it.

I'm a busy guy. I just wouldn't have had the time to testify at the trial anyway....

Monday, September 13, 2010

They come and they go....

Tonight was supposed to be an easy one. Three cooks were scheduled for a Monday night, and I was to be the first one cut. I figured I'd be out the door before nine.

So naturally, a cook vanished. He didn't show up, he didn't call, so they just took him off the schedule, forever. This meant I would have to close. Two cooks on a Monday isn't a problem though. I was just hoping we wouldn't get busy. So of course, it was busy. But everything went fine, I'm just tired now.

I'm am wondering what happened to the missing cook though. Unfortunately, I'll probably never find out. That's kind of the way it works in this industry.

At a normal job, people would attempt to find out where their fellow employee was, and what had happened to them. If I were an accountant, and the guy who sat at the desk next to mine just didn't appear one day, everyone would be worried. There would be repeated attempts to contact him, or his family, to make sure he was OK.

But in the kitchen, it's different. If a guy doesn't show up for his shift at 5pm, the boss generally calls one time, around 5:15 or 5:30. If there's no answer, and he hasn't been heard from by about 6pm, they just declare him fired and mail a paycheck to his last known address. And that's it. Over and done with. Shuffle the schedule around and look for some other live body to fill the space on the line.

Truthfully, the industry behaves this way because cooks are, by their very nature, somewhat erratic and odd people. Some are dependable and reasonable, yet a large percentage of them are fringe characters. And at any moment, they could be gone. They simply vanish, with little or no explanation as to why or where they are going. It happens frequently enough that no one is surprised.

He could be anywhere. Anything could have happened. Maybe he's locked up somewhere. Maybe he got the shit kicked out of him trying to sell stolen jewelry on the street. Maybe he just cracked up and decided he was finished. Perhaps he's hundreds of miles away, ripped out of his mind on a three day cocaine binge. Maybe he just forgot he worked today. Or perhaps he just decided to SAY that he forgot his schedule. Who knows. Really, it doesn't even matter. He's gone. I'm just left wondering, but soon I will forget about him all together.

At least there are some more hours available now.

So I'm just going to relax now, have a few drinks, and sleep late on my off day tomorrow. It's a little after midnight, which means it's now officially my birthday, which according to my rules indicates that I'm allowed to behave however I please for the next 24 hours.

When I do eventually decide to get out of bed, I'm considering eating a pound of bacon, and then sleeping for another hour. After that, who knows...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Six rays of sunshine...

Here's a brief list of things that I dislike. Some are from the present, some from the past.

1) Fryers.... I hate everything about deep fat fryers. They smell bad. They're dangerous. When I'm in a hurry, as I usually am, oil invariably gets on my skin, or occasionally, my face. And I'd rather burn in hell than clean one. It's a detestable job. After a full shift of kitchen work, the last thing I want to do is clean fryers before I can get the hell out of there.

2) People who are dirty and disorganized... I've worked with these types of cooks at some point or another everywhere I've ever worked. Everything needs to be kept in one specific spot. When something gets pulled out of a drawer or a low-boy cooler, it needs to be put back. Now. If I get crushed at dinner rush and my work space is filled up with all sorts of random items that someone has left out, or I have to search around for shit I need, I'm going to get angry. I used to work a large flat-top with another person. We kept four spatulas on the edge of it. My co-worker would set them down all over the place. I'd drop some food, and go to grab something else, and when I reached for a spat, they'd all be missing. Strewn about the area. This would occur ten times a day, and every time, I would instantly imagine myself stabbing him between the shoulder blades.

3) The chocolate fondue on the desert menu of the first restaurant I ever worked at.... Man that thing was a pain in the ass. I still get pissed off when I think about it. It required several steps and several minutes to construct it. It was by far the most time consuming item on the menu, and no one ever ordered it when I had time to spare. Whenever some table decided to have it, it was always at about quarter to seven on Friday night. As soon as you filled the ticket row, some diabolical suburbanite would request a chocolate fondue. One of the cooks I worked with there once told a regular customer, "You say fondue, but WE say fon-don't".

4) Communicating with servers, sometimes.... I'll be clear on this one. I like the servers. Most of them are great, and I realize that they have a difficult job also. But some of them, well, need to pipe down. If I'm more than 10 tickets deep, and some pissy server decides to come to the window and demand to know the whereabouts of their food, I'm most likely going angrily yell "trabajan". That's the warning. If it happens twice, I'm going to unleash a verbal beating of epic proportions, and for the remainder of our time working together, I will randomly "lose" their tickets, drag ass on their requests for garnish or lemon wedges, and as a general rule do any passive-aggressive thing I can to lower their tip percentage by 2% for the rest of their lives. We can be great partners and help each other out, or if they behave poorly, I can go silently psycho and irritate them 100 times per shift without management ever suspecting that I'm doing it intentionally.

5) Customers who don't order off the menu.... Stop it! The restaurant didn't go to the trouble of creating a menu and spending the money to produce them so that you can whimsically pick seven ingredients from four different entrees and ask to have them served on a croissant. Pick something and order it you picky, spoiled, P.O.S.! And if you've come to a restaurant which is featuring a Friday night special on crab legs, don't request to have them cooked in salted water rather than crab-boil. Just order something else. Or plunge the butter knife into your neck. Either is fine.

6) The "last-minuters".... Yes, I'm talking about those lovely people who wander in the door at 9:50pm on a Tuesday. Upon seeing the empty restaurant and a waitress vacuuming, they inquire "Are you still open?" And when the waitress shuts off the vacuum and responds blandly "Yes, we're open until 10", They smile and say "Oh! Perfect!".

No. Not perfect you morons. Yes, I know we're open until ten. Yes, I know that this is the service industry, and it's a customer oriented business. But you're still a pack of assholes.

Have you ever seen the movie "Waiting"? It's a corny movie, but that scene where the kitchen staff is standing around in a clean kitchen watching the clock tick away the last few minutes is very real. And when you walk in that door, we are infuriated. Not only do we now have to cook your food, we have to re-clean anything that is dirtied also. And none of us, servers included, can leave until your ignorant asses decide to pack up and ship out. You're basically robbing an entire group of 60-90 minutes of their free time. You people are absolutely detestable, and we all hate you.

Peace and love...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Broken bones, melted flesh, and a mouth full of shortening...

I'm tired tonight. And a little beat up.

I was fully prepared to coast through a short shift this evening.. I was scheduled to come in at 5:30, cook through dinner rush, and close. I figured the rush would never come. I mean how many people go out to eat on Labor Day? Don't all the sheep fire up their grills, get loaded, and destroy perfectly good meat on this holiday? Of course they do. I just knew it was going to be smooth sailing.

So I was a little shocked when I walked in the door at 5:15 and saw about six tickets hanging. I helped out the mid-day cook though, and we cleared the rail by 5:30. The other dinner cook arrived, and I clocked in. Two people, covering the whole line, on a Monday. No problem.

I was relaxed and happy. Four tickets came in around 5:40, but that is nothing to get upset about. Ten minutes later, I saw the hostess scrambling a little. I saw people coming in quickly. I heard two servers complaining about being double-seated. Time to start moving a bit faster. I'd better check my mise-en-place over really well.

I had some wholes in my line. The mid-day cook had screwed us over a little. Fine. That's why he's a mid-day cook. Because he's shitty. I heard the printer start clicking, so I ran to the walk-in cooler and grabbed a double armload of needed items. I can stock and cook at the same time as long as we don't get crushed. And I knew there was a light hit coming, so I was hustling.

By six I knew we were in trouble. The floor was filling fast. I was ten tickets deep, and people were still filing in. We were lightly staffed, poorly stocked, and the shit was about to hit the fan.

I walked three tickets out. Six more came in. I walked out two appetizers, tried to convince myself I was OK, and the printer spit five fresh at me. I was twenty orders in the hole now. Full bore. Rock and roll. Me and a 4'9" Mexican woman against the world. My blood pressure shot up to where I could feel my heartbeat in my face. The sweat started pouring. For efficiency purposes, we ceased standard communications and switched to kitchen Spanish, screaming "Pescado!", "Huevo, rapidemente!", "Trabajan, nueve minuto!" and things of this nature.

We were faced with two dozen orders now. Total chaos. Food was being thrown out at such an incredible rate and random fashion that the guy expediting the food started to get confused. Servers were asking for lemon wedges and being told to "Go f-ing cut one yourself! But not here! Stay out of the f-ing way!". In a three minute time period, I managed to break by finger in a refrigerator drawer, touch the base of my palm to the flat-top, and splash fryer oil onto my bottom lip. God had totally forsaken both myself as well as my vertically challenged Amiga.

"Cliiiick, click click click, cliiick- click click cliiick" said the ticket printer. Constantly. For two of the worst hours I've ever spent in a kitchen. And then, as suddenly as it all began, it stopped. The line was destroyed. Totally annihilated. Thank God it only lasted for two hours. We wiped the sweat from our faces, tried to rehydrate, and shared a cigarette out back. We had survived, and performed admirably. Not a single item was sent back. We suffered only two mis-fires, which we managed to correct on the fly before we sent the food away. There was nothing left to do now but rebuild, slap a few late orders out, and shut it down. Another fine day for the proletariat.

So I got out late tonight. I'm sitting at home now, trying to unwind while the rest of the world sleeps. I'm drinking a few "Milwaukee's Best" and trying to type with a burnt hand and a mangled finger.

I feel that familiar sense of accomplishment though. That sense of odd pride that I have done something that many people can't; something that most people would never want to do. I survived and excelled in an environment in which most would fold. A hellish storm of knives, and fire, and stress. Only a professional cook can understand this pleasurable and satisfying feeling, even if it is a bit deranged.

Yet a certain question keeps popping up in my mind tonight... How much longer can I do this? Can I still hold-my-own on the hot line when I'm 40? 50? At a certain point, you get too old for this shit. At that point, your name tag has to say "manager" or "owner". And even if I pull the trigger and open up my own establishment, I'm still going to have to step in and hammer out food.

I'm becoming convinced that I must strike while the iron is hot so to speak. The clock is ticking. The busted fingers and this burnt flesh will only take longer to heal as this carbon-based life form continues to age. I need to get my shit together and go into business for myself, by any means necessary....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

There is definitely something wrong with me...

I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have a new job. Again, it's not the most exciting gig in the world, but the pros outweigh the cons I suppose. Everyone knows I'd prefer to avoid the corporate restaurants, but alas, here I am. That's OK though. The pay is fair, it's a new experience, and I'm learning a lot of Spanish. And at least I'm not in that damn cafeteria anymore.

So far, it's been fairly slow. Nothing too crazy. Until today.

I went in at eight, and performed three hours of prep before the doors opened for lunch at 11. As is usual, people began trickling into the restaurant very slowly. By 11:30, about a half dozen tables had been sat, and my two amigos and I were casually preparing sandwiches, salads, and wraps. Smooth sailing.

Around this time I noticed the hostess walking around briskly out on the floor. Looking towards the door from the service window, I saw a party of about 20 standing there. OK, that's a big table. Yet again, this is no cause for panic.

Then I saw an eight-top come in. And then a 12. And then just a thick stream of people. In a 25 minute time period, the entire floor was filled. An entire 200 seat restaurant had just filled up as fast as the hostess could sit people down. A sense of urgency suddenly took over the entire Wednesday morning staff. The servers kicked it into a higher gear and started really hustling. Around me, on the line, the Spanish became quicker, louder, and sharper. I began to struggle to understand it. The sense of urgency soon passed, and was replaced by sheer chaos.

The next hour and a half passed by in an instant. It was wild, and stressful, and confusing. I'm surprised the ticket printers didn't catch fire or explode. The tickets just kept coming and coming, showing no mercy on a kitchen which was already deeply in the weeds. On the other side, tensions ran high as servers implored about the whereabouts of their food, while the boss tried to quiet everyone and expedite. On my side there was heat, and Spanglish, and great suffering. I briefly considered chopping my own finger off in order to escape, but just when I picked up the knife, the printers stopped their diabolical clicking and screeching. As quickly as the carnage had began, it also ended.

So it goes. And we all lived to serve the dumb-ass populace another day....

Every time I'm part of a rush like the one today, I'm always reminded of those TV commercials that the culinary schools put out. Clean, non-sweaty Anglos slowly and carefully placing basil micro greens on top of some composed tuna carpaccio; Smiling young men who's teeth gleam as they toss mirpoix around in a pan; Chefs who look like Santa Claus caringly instructing some youngster in a large, clean, well lit kitchen. "Do you love to cook? Get ready for an exciting career in the world of culinary arts!"

What a load of bullshit. Trust me on this: If you're thinking of going to culinary school, go get a kitchen job first. The picture they paint with the advertising is far from reality. I advise anyone even remotely interested to be well informed about the industry they are thinking about entering. Do you love to cook? Yeah? Great. Stay in your kitchen at home. Going to culinary school or working in a professional kitchen because you "like to cook" is equivalent to joining the Army because you "like to jog". That shit you see on the Food Network is bogus.

I'd like to start my own culinary school. Here are some things I'd show in my commercials...

I'd show a line, three feet wide and 14 feet long, with five people working on it. Everyone would be yelling and running into one another. They would all be leaning backward slightly as they worked, in an attempt to not drip sweat on the plates. Everyone's arms and hands would be covered in cuts and burns. There would be a close-up of a thermometer, which shows the temperature as being 118 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd play ranchero music throughout the entire commercial. At the end of the commercial, I'd show the exhausted kitchen staff wandering out of the door at Midnight onto a loading dock, where some would drink vodka, some would smoke weed, and some would snort coke. Some would do all three.

These would be the words you would hear spoken... "Are you looking for a new career? Do you enjoy keeping strange hours and working every weekend? Do you work well with a wide variety of social misfits? Do you wish you could sweat more? Are you stuck in a dead end job where you aren't surrounded by madmen who all possess razor-sharp cutlery? Do you have a borderline or full-blown substance abuse problem? Are you ready to live like a modern-day pirate? (Something French) Culinary School could be perfect for you, contact us today and get ready for your exciting new future!"

As I type this, I'm reminded of something a chef told me while I was in culinary school. I'll call him "Chef H". He asked me if I really wanted to do this job. I told him I did and that I enjoyed it. He paused, and told me this... "If you are the type of person who really wants to do this for a living, then something is wrong with you."

I blew his comment off at the time, but now, looking back on it a couple years later, I realize that he was correct.

There is definitely something wrong with me.