So Adam and I were chatting last night while he was driving home from work. It’s our nightly ritual. He’ll call me as soon as he’s done with work and tell me about his day. If I’m still at work the conversation is short. If I’m on my way home or like last night, already home we’ll talk the whole 15 minutes it takes for him to drive home.
Adam works at the best restaurant in town. It’s not the fanciest. There are way fancier restaurants in town. But his by all accounts his is the best. It’s been featured in a dozen magazines: Bon Appetite. Food and Wine. Maxim Magazine. In fact the article in Maxim magazine even featured a photo of him.
Any way we were chatting as he drove home and he told me about one particular table he waited on last night. And I thought to myself as he was telling me the story that I should blog about it.
So anyone who’s read my blog knows I used to do Dining 101. So for old times sake, here’s a:
My job and Adam’s job has opened up a new world for me in the food service business. I’ve learned a lot about running a restaurant. AND a fucking whole lot about how to run a more upscale restaurant. I’d only ever worked in casual corporate restaurants. What I’m about to tell you is not as important when you are dining at The Olive Garden. If you are dining at your local seafood restaurant, steak house, or italian restaurant it’s VERY true.
You should always, I repeat always order your entire meal at the same time. You should NOT order your appetizer and then tell your server to come back for your entree order. Even worse is deciding not to order your entree until you get your appetizer or even worse than that is waiting till you are finished the appetizer. Here’s why.
In both of our restaurants when you order your meal it’s all put into the computer at the same time, with a course divider. That way the chef knows what your having for your first course, second course, third course. The chef immediately calls for your first course to be “fired.” That means it’s ordered and they want it as soon as they can get it. In most restaurants a first course will take somewhere between 7 and 12 minutes.
The next part is why it’s so important to order your whole meal at the same time.
As soon as they’ve fired your appetizer course the chef also calls for your entree course to be “ordered.” In kitchen speak this means that it’s started but not finished. If it’s a medium well steak they’ll cook it to medium/medium rare and then take it off the heat. If it’s a fish dish they’ll cook the fish to a little more than half and take it off the stove. This way when your finished with your appetizers and your server goes to the kitchen and fires your entrees it only takes about 7 minutes for them to be finished and plated. The food is cooked to your liking, there’s an appropriate break between courses, the order doesn’t back the kitchen up and you don’t wait 30 minutes for your meal. It’s a win/win for everyone.
If you don’t order your meal at the same time what happens is the server puts your entrees into the computer and it’s now what we call an “order/fire.” Meaning it’s been ordered and we need it as soon as possible. Here’s the problem. Most entrees, in most nice restaurants can’t be prepared in 7 minutes. You can’t cook a steak in 7 minutes. You can’t cook a mushroom ravioli in 7 minutes. You can’t cook a meatloaf in 7 minutes. You can’t really even cook a cheeseburger in 7 minutes. ESPECIALLY when there are 30 other tickets on the board all vying for attention in the kitchen. In my restaurant if you order your entree and it goes into the kitchen “order/fire” you are just about guaranteed it’s going to take at least 20 minutes and more likely 30. Which considering your food isn’t being microwaved (neither of our restaurants own one) and is being cooked from scratch isn’t that long. Unfortunately restaurants like The Olive Garden, Applebees and Outback have conditioned us to believe that our food should be on the table as soon as we order it. All this translates into a guest being pissed off for something that could have been avoided.
One of the big reasons that many people want to wait to order their entrees is because once again restaurants like The Olive Garden, Applebee’s and Outback and have conditioned us to know that there will not be a break between courses. In fact as soon as your entrees are finished you’ll find them on your table whether you are still eating your salad/appetizer or not. If you are in a nicer/upscale restaurant and your server isn’t clueless, and the kitchen even begins to know what they are doing this will never be the case. My servers are trained to not even fire your entrees until your appetizers are off the table. This way you get about 7 to 10 minutes between courses to digest, enjoy conversation etc. This is also why most people dining in my restaurant can expect to be there between one and half to two hours.
The reason this came up is because last night Adam had table that decided not to order their entrees until they had their appetizers. They still hadn’t ordered when he cleared their appetizers. Then they became upset when their entrees took so long to get to the table. As he said, if they’d let him do his job instead of trying to do it for him everyone would have been so much happier in the long run.
So if you are at Applebee’s you behave one way. If you are at your local upscale restaurant behave another.