I often work in gourmet eateries frequented by the likes of the Firecrotch, KimYe and every Tom, Dick and Harry in between. Oh, they’re no Alain Ducasse type of places but shit – they sure do put on a great front (and mostly fail). Yet, the bar/restaurant/lounge going public couldn’t care less how many Michelin Stars these spots aren’t bestowed. From their perspective, the eats are damned good and the eye-candy, even better. So when you roll into my restaurant bar, peruse the menu, and ask me “what’s good?,” be prepared for a big, fat, fake-ass smile. Brace yourself for a litany of grad-school approved, Madison Ave fluffed superlatives suggesting the priciest (read: bigger tip percentage) McNuggets on the menu and how scrumptious I say they are. There’s just one problem: it’s all a big fat fucking lie.
When you sit your ass down for a meal at my restaurant, whether it’s at a table, lounge, hi-boy or bar, there are certain things you should expect (if you’re dining). One of those things is The Spiel. You’ll fall victim to a much extended spiel if you’re stupid enough to ask questions about particular menu items rather than sit passively and let us proceed with our requisite and finest stage work. The Spiel, is a suggestive run through select menu items and/or specials, where servers supposedly give an honest opinion about their favorite menu items.
But here’s the rub – and it’s two fold: (1) We’re only going to sell you the most expensive items on the menu in order to get the Check Average up into the stratosphere, regardless of whether that’s what we would have ordered or not. It makes no difference if it’s a good pairing for your other courses and beverages, the season, the time, the weather or present company. If it’s pricey, we want you to buy it – period. The bookkeeper and the G.M. will be making gold calves in my likeness after selling your table 13 apps, 6 Porterhouses for Two, 14 sides, 6 sauces, 4 pastries, 18 shots of Johnnie Walker Blue, and 4 bottles of Armand de Brignac magnum – I assure you. Well, at least until the next shift but that’s another story. We go from hero to zero on a daily basis (2) lowly me, I have never fucking tasted that $120, large-format, aged steak despite me ranting and raving about it just a few minutes prior. I expertly sold you on the collagen-enhancing, dry aging and tenderizing process, and the tantalizingly succulence in every bite. I wowed you with flavor-lock talk, our house-special searing, and how our cut strikes that perfect balance between melt-in-your-mouth goodness that is bone-in filet, and the elevated, perfectly marbled, classic flavor of the charred strip side – popping off with juicy goodness. Hungry yet?
In just about every restaurant bar I’ve ever worked in, patrons someone are under the belief that the staff has eaten, and routinely eats, every item on the menu. Well, that’s just now true. I may have sampled a house steak like 1 year ago – maybe. I might have caught a tiny, cold nibble of one catch of the days, out of the 5 specials we have that evening. I don’t know about you, but I try my damned best not to shit where I eat. For instance, I get dog tired of the in-house offerings once I’ve had them 33,756 times no matter how stupendous they are. Sometimes, I’d just prefer to roll down the street to the nearest Halal cart, Seoul truck, or Taco truck and eat in fucking peace (I love me some Taco Bell too but don’t repeat that).
More often, the bigger reason why I don’t eat what I’m recommending is because I’m fucking not allowed to. Can you imagine how quickly the restaurant would go under if all F.O.H. were allowed to consume every menu item? They’d sink rather quickly. Obviously, those rules don’t often apply to managers, owners and the like whether they’re on the job or off. Most places do give management some food perks. Since they’re relatively small in number, management’s impact on the bottom line is usually insignificant – unless they’re passive thieves, complicit, or just plain incompetent.
So what do we get to eat before, after or during a long shift? Short answer: (a) Family Meal (b) Shift Meal or (c)
Go Fuck Yourself Meal Fend for Yourself Meal. A family is just that – a large pot of yesterday’s shit-ass leftovers, miraculously brought back to life by porters Sous Chefs and slopped into food service pans for the staff to pick through either before or after their shifts. It’s akin to soup line for bums at your local church. A Shift Meal kicks it up a couple of notches and allows you to order “a la carte” from the kitchen when you’re good and ready – almost always, from a limited “low cost” selection, and mostly at the beginning or end of your shift.
The third category, despite how it sounds can be both a blessing or a curse. It can be a curse in that you have less political clout than Jim Lehrer, and can in no way, shape, or form convince or bribe the kitchen to do you a solid or two, you’re so god damned busy all night, that you simply don’t posses the 2 minute window necessary to scoff down a proper meal in a back crevice of the venue somewhere. In that case, you’re left to fend for yourself and scavenge from the kitchen, long after they’ve gone home. You’ll be presented with such lovely choices as 3-hour cold sauteed greens, hockey puck frozen mystery meat de jour (with bonus gnaws for mo better flavor), chilled Mahi Mahi steak caulk remover, and super-tasty, artery clogging, rock-solid, mashed spuds – all of which you can see in the picture above. It’s for fucking real. This is often what I’m left with in terms of nomming choices come 4am – turd sandwiches.
Fun eh? And you wanted to be a bartender?