V – Restaurant Wars

Looks like we’ve reached installment number five of the blog. Can you believe it? Without further ado, bon appétit!

Life is strange. There are things in life we like, but can do without. We can do without technology (gasp!)—our televisions, computers, internet, cell phones; we can survive without cars; we can even live without clothing 🙈. Yeah, it’d be uncomfortable, but survivable. We can’t live without food, water or air. Ah, such a glorious thing food can be. Even better that we don’t have to hunt for food. We can go get our own at the grocery store and make it at home. Or, we can go to a restaurant and pay someone to make it for us. Be it gourmet dining, national chain, mom-and-pop place or fast food, many places to choose from.

Why is it, though, that, when someone is being paid to serve food to someone, that person automatically becomes a lower life form? I mean, give me a fucking break! Just because you’re paying someone to provide a food item to you (because you’re in a hurry, on vacation or just simply too fucking lazy to cook your own), doesn’t mean you can humiliate, degrade or belittle them when something isn’t exactly how you imagined. Oops. Mistakes happen. They’re human. Whether it’s a fast food worker or a restaurant server, they’re imperfect humans trying their damnedest to give you what you ordered. And when it’s right, can’t you give them a compliment or an “atta boy” for a job well done?

Currently, I work at Cracker Barrel. If you don’t know what Cracker Barrel is, it’s a national restaurant chain that serves typical Southern-type cuisine. Chicken fried steak, grits and gravy, turnip greens, chicken & dumplings, stuff like that. Old-style general store type setting. Cozy place to go. Prior to Cracker Barrel, I’ve worked in many fast food places: Wendy’s, Burger King, Arby’s, Taco Bell, Taco Time, Del Taco (yeah, a bunch). They’re all different, but they do share some things in common: imperfect workers and bonehead customers. No, not all customers are idiots. Most customers are decent people who get their food, enjoy it, and go about their day. No problems. There are those, however, who were put on this earth just to make someone else’s life a living hell. The kind that you want to desecrate their food and tell them to go fuck off. But you can’t, because “the customer is always right”—even though they’re usually the reason their food was wrong in the first place.

Some customers are there for mere entertainment. Take this lady that went into Wendy’s. She orders a Jr Bacon Cheeseburger, with “an obscene amount of pickles”. She literally said “scare me with how many pickles are on it”. Good god. She was given a pickle sandwich—a burger with about a 3-inch layer of pickles. Had to be over a pound of pickles. Way too many!

Another lady at Wendy’s would order a large cup of half Diet Coke, half water, filled to the top with ice. Gross, yes. Her reasoning? She wanted water, but she wanted a hint of soda flavor. Yuck.

Taco Bell has more than its share of morons. At one time, they served a quesadilla, but instead of a tortilla, it was made with an 11” piece of flatbread (the stuff chalupas are made of). The damn thing was thick as fuck and the cheese would never melt right. Huge product flop. Anyway, this bitch comes in (she was never happy about ANYTHING she received—just liked to intentionally fuck up to get free food) and starts calling me every foul name in the book because the cheese wasn’t melted in the aforementioned flatbread quesadilla. Knowing her history of complaints, I felt it in my right to ask her to never return (I was quitting that job that week, anyway). She bitch (the “c” word would be more appropriate in this case, but I don’t use that word) has the cojones to call the complaint line because she was offended by being eighty-sixed from the store. Boo hoo, bitch!

Enough of fast food. You get the idea. Sit-down restaurants have no lack of customer drama (just watch Hell’s Kitchen). Cracker Barrel gets plenty of idiots, dumbfucks and douchebags. Mostly good people, but some? Wow. People don’t read the menu to see how things are served. Chicken fried steaks come with a country gravy on top. Typical. You want brown gravy, or no gravy? Fine, just ask. Don’t assume. Cracker Barrel has roast beef, either by itself or on an open-faced sandwich. After slicing, we cover it in brown roast beef gravy and bake it. Once, someone wanted their roast beef with country gravy. Um, no! It’s cooked in brown gravy. Some things can’t be changed!

Oh, you mean fried chicken tenders aren’t cooked on the grill? Um, no, dummy. They’re FRIED. You know, like in a deep fryer of hot oil? 🤦‍♂️

Know what triggers the ire of every grill cook and chef in the country? Fake a food allergy, just because you want something made a certain way. Granted, food allergies are a serious thing. I’m not diminishing this fact. When someone mentions an allergy, cooks try their damnedest to eliminate all possible contamination—cooking on foil, scraping the hell out of the grill, new gloves, sanitize everything a dozen times. Yeah, we try. However, because things are cooked in a common kitchen, we can’t 100% guarantee contamination won’t happen.

Also, please, for the love of god, make your order simple. Don’t be like this guy. Everyone does everything they can to get things right. If you’re nice to your servers and cooks, they’ll be nice to you. Mistakes happen. By all means, if something is wrong, inform your server politely. That’s the best way.

If it’s busy, it may take a bit for things to come out. At Cracker Barrel, we like to limit tickets to seven plates per ticket. It makes things easier to cook when we don’t have 80000 things to go over. Steak cooked this way, eggs that way, substitute sausage for bacon, no mayo on burger, extra crisp bacon, 400 side items. There’s a lot to see. When the place is packed, we might have had servers ring in a bunch of things simultaneously. It takes time to cook food (in our case, catfish is almost the longest cook time), well done steaks take forever (especially a thicker cut).

Speaking of steak, you are able to order your steak however you want, but know that (probably at any self-respecting restaurant), if you order it past medium, the kitchen is going to comment about your disgusting choice. Ideal temperature for a steak is no more than medium. Medium rare is best (in my opinion), rare is good, too. My thought is this: if you’re going to spend $15-$30 for a piece of steak, why in god’s name would you absolutely obliterate it by ordering it medium well, well done, or (even worse) extra well? At that point, there’s absolutely no flavor left, and you might as well go chew a tire tread. Even beef jerky has more flavor and texture than that [vomit emoji]. Like I said, that’s my (and probably every cook/chef out there) opinion. You eat your steak however you like. Pittsburgh black and blue to extra well done. I’ll cook it any way you want—I don’t necessarily have to agree with it.

And when it’s a new server? Oh wow. Not only are they learning the menu still, they haven’t learned all the lingo and POS abbreviations, some of which are very similar. It’s extremely frustrating to recook things several times because of screw-ups in ringing things in.

Off on a different tangent for a minute. There are many facets to Cracker Barrel. Customers only see the servers. In the back, there are dishwashers, the backbone of any restaurant. If there are no clean dishes and pans, the whole place grinds to a halt. There are grill cooks, who ultimately do the final cooking and plating for the customer (followed by any garnishes needed). There are prep cooks—the ones that do the prep of cold food, like slicing roast beef and turkey; cutting fruits and vegetables for yogurt parfaits, salad mixes, fruit cups and other assorted things needed in daily service. There are also “backup cooks”, the ones who prepare hot foods like all the hot veggies for service, biscuits/cornbread, desserts, cooking noodles for mac & cheese, etc. I am able to work in any back-of-house capacity (grill, prep or backup cook). I started Cracker Barrel 4 years ago as a dishwasher. However, an old injury in my arm prevents me from lifting the heavy racks of glasses, bus tubs full of dirty dishes, racks of clean dishes and whatnot. So, I stick to the cooking side. I’m in no way the best at anything at work, but I do okay enough to hold my own. I’m told that I’m probably around #3 in terms of grill cook (the best cook being laid up for the time being). I’m not the worst, but I don’t see myself being that good. Maybe that’s my self-criticism talking; I don’t know. Somehow, though, I pretty much get along with everyone at work. Some I’d rather not work with, but I put up with them.

That’s just a couple of stories from work. I enjoy it so much more than my last job at Del Taco. Drive-thru cashiering is the worst. At my current job, I don’t deal with people directly. The job can be frustrating at times, but I do enjoy what I do. I like that I am cross-trained and can do pretty much anything needed. My managers appreciate my work, and they do make a point to mention positive things. Unlike one job I had, where the manager only pointed out negatives—never said one positive thing about my job.

Drama can happen in any place one works. It’s a fact of life. Getting past the drama and having a good time at work makes it worth going in, making the money to pay bills. It’s not easy, but it beats the alternative of unemployment.

Next time you go out to eat, be pleasant with your server. If they screw up, remember they’re only human. Try to compliment them on a good job. Give them a nice tip. After all, servers work at practically slave labor, and gratuities are how they make most of their money. After taxes, they usually don’t have a regular paycheck and end up owing the government when they file in April. No bueno. In closing, enjoy your meals, have a pleasant experience, be safe, and be well.

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