18 June 2010

The Most Mismanaged Restaurant in Which I've Ever Worked


Its been awhile since I posted. February was my last post, I believe. I haven't been slacking on writing, ecoRI.org is keeping me plenty busy on that end. I've published over 40 articles since taking the position as a staff writer there, and it's led to at least one ongoing freelance opportunity. Big thanks to Frank Carini for giving me the opportunity to radically alter my career path at age 35, and a small self congratulations to me for having the cojones to do it.

Also, since I last posted, I've taken a part time job cooking at a local restaurant. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I can say this without a hint of hyperbole. My current job in "the business" is in the most mismanaged restaurant  in which I've ever had the extreme displeasure of working. Really.

First, the menu is WAY too big. 94 items on the regular menu, and another 75 or so on the weeknight special menus. 
Tuesday is a dumb pasta night with 4 kinds of pasta, 10 proteins, and 11 different sauces for $9.99. The menu boasts over 4000 "pastable" combinations, and exactly zero of them are any good.
Wednesdays are truly "wacky" with the chef dreaded "twofer." Choice of lousy soup or salad, a bottle of cheap wine or a pitcher of domestic (read: crappy) beer, two entrees from a choice of 23, coffee,and dessert for the business crippling price of $30.
Thursday nights are my, and every other employees, least favorite night of the week. All you can eat shrimp served 20 different ways, many of them drenched in pre- packaged, high sodium, high sugar content sauces. What does this quick route to atherosclerosis and diabetes cost? How about $12.99 per person. That's good, because insulin, hypertension drugs, and foot amputations are expensive.

That's just the "specials."
 How about the entire box of brown sugar in 4 gallons of "French" onion soup? Here's a hint. If you carmelize the onions properly, you extract the natural sugars from them, and added sugar isn't necessary. And what? No sherry in the "French" onion? They might as well call it candied onion soup.
The clam chowder is a complete joke. We live in the Ocean State, less than 20 miles from the shore. You'd think we could use fresh chopped clams in the chowder that, honestly, could be used as drywall patch, it's so damn thick. But, alas no, frozen chopped clams are cheaper. Here's another hint. Cream is a flavor, not a soup base.

The steaks are a complete travesty. Cryovac packaged sirloin anyone? Didn't think so. How about a 10 oz. bacon wrapped filet marinated in aujus made with beef base? No takers? 14 oz. of steak tips from a cut so tough that they have to be needled AND marinated in, get this, ketchup, cola, and italian dressing, all of which contain high fructose corn syrup? And I'm the only employee that I've seen that actually takes the time to trim them of all the fat and silverskin. Whatsa matter, not hungry?

Chicken breasts? Frozen. Scallops? Frozen. One of the few items on the expansive menu that aren't frozen, or come out of a can, are the meatballs which, judging by the flavor, may as well have been.

The portion sizes are ridiculous. 14 oz. of pasta on a plate? Really? Are you running a marathon tomorrow? Not so hungry? Feel free to order off of our kids menu, but the portions are EXACTLY THE SAME for half the price!?! Oh, and kids eat free on Sundays.

The menu is populated by signature dishes from local restaurants that have gone out of business, and some that haven't, leading to ethical and legal dilemmas. God forbid you should come up with your own recipes. That would require vision and talent, a glaring lack of which is evident. 

I've never seen a less motivated, half assed kitchen staff in my life. 
No one, including the "chef", cleans up after themselves. When I work the prep shift in the morning, I invariably spend at least the first half hour of my day cleaning up messes from the night before. Every time I have to use the slicer, I have to clean it twice. Once before I slice things and once after, because no one cleans it when they're done. Never mind how frustrating this is to me, how about the chance of making someone sick with your shoddy sanitation practices? All of the equipment is less than 5 years old, and it looks like it survived the Blitzkreig.

Speaking of potentially dangerous food handling practices, how about the steam table? 
Dept. of Health says that all foods that are held hot have to reach an initial temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and held at no less than 145 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve this initial temperature, you must heat things up in a pot, on the stove. But that adds an extra step, just dump it all in the steam table pans, and crank it up! Including the canned marinara sauce.
You know that flour that you've had raw seafood and chicken in all night, that you should probably throw out? Fuck it, wrap it up, we'll use it tomorrow! Should you sift it? Why bother? The microbes from the seafood and poultry are small enough to get through the sifter.

All of these problems should be addressed by the chef, or another manager but they're to afraid of the egomaniacal managing partner, who tends to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation... actually, he lives off the handle. He keeps expanding the menu, and piling more work onto the already unmotivated kitchen staff, mostly because he hasn't worked in the kitchen a day in his life. But what  would you expect from a manager whose primary management experience was from "Old Country Buffet?"
I don't think any of them would know a good meal if it bit them back. The fryolator seems to be the preferred method of cooking most of the menu. Roasted chicken? Fry 'em to get 'em going. Meatballs? Fry 'em first. How else are you going to get a nice crust on the outside?

This place has been open for less than five years, and they're already on their fourth chef. I didn't know the other three, but the latest can't be an improvement. 

The management can't even get the schedule up in a reasonable amount of time. Most times, I have to call on Monday to find out if I'm working Tuesday, and yet, they want my requested days off two weeks in advance.

Three things I can't stand in the restaurant business are lack of vision, lack of motivation, and acceptance of mediocrity, all of which this restaurant has in spades. I could go on and on about this place, but I'll sum up by saying this:
They might as well call the restaurant "Midnight at the Apollo" because it's amateur hour every day.

As always,

Love, Peace, and Bacon grease!

24 February 2010

Darwinian Theory in the Restaurant Community

     Greetings and Salutations,

     First, the shilling. My latest piece on recycling and waste disposal can be found at www.ecoRI.org. EcoRI will also be a co sponsor (with Farm Fresh Rhode Island) of movie screenings at Local 121, beginning on March 30th. The first film in the series is "FRESH; the movie." It is billed as "Food, Inc." 2.0, focusing more on the solutions, rather than the problems of the food system in America. More on that later.

     Everyone knows that the economy stinks right now, but this downturn in the nation's financial sector could turn into the best thing to ever happen to the dining out public. 
     According to Darwinian theory, the stronger, faster, healthier and smarter animals are more attractive to potential mates, and therefore are more likely to procreate and pass on their superior genes to their offspring. If we think of a restaurant as an animal, and its food quality, service, policies, and practices as it's genes, it's customers as mates, and it's employees as it's offspring, we can easily apply this theory to the hospitality trade.  I suppose we could try Creationist theory, but much like applying Creationism to history, it just doesn't work.

     Let's say there are two restaurants that occupy opposite corners of the same intersection. The eateries are much the same. They are open for lunch and dinner, six days a week, the same amount of staff, similar menus, and a similar price point. 
     Restaurant A has a well lit, tastefully decorated and clean dining room and kitchen, a friendly, personable, respected and well paid staff, recycles what it can, and prepares its food in a creative and conscientious manner.
     Restaurant B has a poorly lit dining room decorated with sofa size art prints from the Venus de Milo "One of a Kind" art fair, windows that look like they haven't been cleaned since the Nixon administration, a staff that looks as if there are a thousand places that they would rather be, throws all of it's waste in one receptacle, and serves meatloaf that is more loaf than meat.
     Restaurant A has all the things for which it's mates are looking. Restaurant B, like the weak and slow witted animals in nature, has to use deception and trickery to attract mates (customers). This usually involves bargains, like a "two fer" deal, and coupons and promotions for free stuff, or gigantic portion sizes. But, who cares if the food is cheap or served in massive quantities, if it's barely edible, or cooked and served under less than sanitary conditions?.
     Restaurant A attracts many mates/ customers. It then passes on it's good policies and practices to it's offspring/ employees. Those employees go on to become the restaurateurs of the future, with ingrained positive notions of how to sustainably operate a restaurant, and treat their offspring/ employees equitably and with respect. Restaurant B dies quickly and without progeny.
     What I'm getting to here is the fact that, in these hard economic times, bad, and even mediocre, restaurants will flounder and fail, while only the fittest will survive. Which will amount to more and better options for the dining out public. So, something good may come out of this economic shitstorm after all.

Love, Peace, and Bacon grease!