Sunday, April 11, 2010

Room Service. Can I take your order?

I work very occasional shifts as a Room Service Operator, Runner and Expeditor at a trendy hotel with a great chef behind its room service program. The Room Service office is a small one, squeezed across from the large walk-in fridges in the massive prep kitchen. It's really cold. Equipped with a telephone and a Micros computer to input orders the office has a spartan efficiency. When the shifts are slow, I shoot the breeze with the pastry chefs, the prep cooks, and the line cooks. Anything to pass the time. My fellow room service workers have managed to squeeze 2 chairs and a milk crate into the office so when things are really slow we can all enjoy a sit.

What is an Expeditor?

Think Gordon Ramsey calling orders on "Hell's Kitchen," minus the Michelin stars, the authority and the accent. When a ticket ordered from the lobby or room service prints to the kitchen (the kitchen pass is all of 5 feet from the room service office), the Expeditor calls it out to the kitchen. And then she sets up plates on the pass so that the cooks can plate the food as quickly as possible. The Expeditor is familiar with every dish, how it is plated, and what the cooks need to make it happen. I like expediting. In the land of lobby and room service, the pace is steady enough that I never get overwhelmed. Expediting in a slammed kitchen is as much a skill as cooking in one. Tickets coming in faster than you can put them on the board and call them is multitasking at its sweaty best.

What is a Room Service Operator?

Underemployed: Room Service, Underemployed speaking, how can I help you?
Guest (drunk, tired, or confused by the telephone): uuuuh
Underemployed: How many people will be dining today?

If it's the morning, and the guest is European:
Guest: Eh, yes. I will have a tea.
Underemployed lists the 7 available teas and asks about milk and sugar preferences.
Guest: Earl Grey. Milk. One croissant.

If it's the morning, and the guest is American:
Guest: Yeah, I need coffee.
Underemployed: Would you like a small or a large pot?
Guest: Large. And the two eggs fried, with bacon, and wheat toast.

Room service operators get hung up on a lot. Since we answer the phone with a clear greeting defining which hotel service the guest has reached, if a guest were looking for housekeeping he'd know immediately that he hadn't reached it. And then he'd hang up on me. Or, he'd get so far as to ask me to fix the television in his room, at which point I would tell him that this is room service, but by the time I get to the part where I suggest who he should contact he's already hung up on me. Don't sweat it, travelers. Rudeness of this order is really no big deal.

What is a Room Service Runner?

2 sturdy knocks are heard from without.
Underemployed: Room Service.
Hotel Guest opens the door.
Underemployed: May I come in?
Hotel Guest nods, unable to speak for lack of caffeine or sobriety.
Underemployed: How about I set the tray up on this desk? All I need is your signature.
Underemployed hands them the bill, Hotel Guest signs, Underemployed exits the room, extremely quickly and closes the door behind her remarkably quietly. It's almost as if she despises being in strangers' hotel rooms.

Room Service runners must be trustworthy. If there are any cash tips left, it is an honor system of sharing the tips with your fellow runners and operator. I always share my cash. What goes around comes around. For real. There is nothing better than when another runner comes back down to the office and slips a couple dollars into your backpocket while you're taking an order over the phone.

Truth be told, Room Service sometimes can feel like the B team. I returned to the Room Service station after a 4 month hiatus, looking for some quick easy money. "You don't fit in down here," a friendly line cook told me between orders, "You seem to have a clue."


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