Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why I Can't Change The Menu. Even If The Bride Wants Me To.

Friday and Saturday evening shifts are a notorious crapshoot in room service land. There are drunken room parties, where the room service department functions as the party's personal bottle service provider. There are solo diners and solo drinkers, frequently pajama clad or in various stages of undress. Sometimes there are cranky, spoiled, cooped up children. There are guaranteed to be cranky, spoiled, cooped up adults.

One such weekend night around 6 I got a call from one of the more expensive suites. It went something like this:

Guest: Can I order the oatmeal from the breakfast menu?
Underemployed: We stop serving breakfast at noon.
Guest: Do you have a fruit plate?
Underemployed: No we don't.
Guest: No fruit at all. Not a single strawberry?
Underemployed: No. Our menu items are as written.
Guest (poorly attempting to direct her mouth away from the microphone of her room telephone) : No fruit. You want a grilled cheese?
Guest (to Underemployed): It's for the Bride, she really wants oatmeal. I mean, you have it, right? It's for the Bride.
Underemployed: I understand, but we stop serving breakfast at noon. The kitchen is no longer prepared to serve breakfast. But I will ask the chef.

Underemployed puts the guest on hold, and looks at her co-worker. Rolls her eyes. Waits another 20 seconds. "No way I'm going to Chef with this," she whispers. With that, she presses the red blinking extension on her telephone.

Underemployed: I'm sorry. The kitchen is unable to serve the oatmeal at this time.
Guest: I know you have oatmeal in the kitchen. Just put some in a bowl with hot water, a side of skim and a sliced banana.
Underemployed: We don't serve instant oatmeal. Our oatmeal takes hours to prepare and is only available till noon. Is there anything from the dinner menu you would like to order?

You know we have oatmeal? Guest, you don't know shit about what we have in the kitchen.

What we do have in the kitchen:

-More eggs than I've ever seen in my life.
-An entire wall of a walk-in fridge dedicated to different cheeses, each labelled by date and weight.
-Lots of olive oil, kept in squeeze bottles on the line.
-A skin-tingly cold freezer with shelves of batters, doughs, and various experiments from the pastry team.
-Presumably illegal Ecuadorian and Mexican prep cooks, currently cleaning out large pig faces for head cheese, crumbling day old filone bread for bread crumbs, and slicing an intimidatingly large mountain of leeks.
-The Sous Chef of the restaurant upstairs, a serious-minded and wildly direct man who has fired room service employees despite the fact he doesn't regularly work with them.
- Line cooks who are busy setting up their mise en place for the dinner rush.
-Crates of lemons- to be squeezed for the fresh lemon juice used at the bars in the lobby and restaurant, as well as recipes in the kitchen. Crates of oranges- to be squeezed. Crates of grapefruit- to be squeezed and for various desert recipes. These are regularly inventoried.
-Rules. I am really not allowed to sell off menu items.

What we don't have in the kitchen:

-Crappy, you-can-buy-this-at-the-Duane-Reade-down-the-block instant oatmeal.
-Time to personalize every order, creating off menu items from ingredients we don't have at the ready.
-A secret stash of food that is off the menu but available to costumers who know the password.

This doesn't mean when at a restaurant, you shouldn't ask. You should, however, accept the answer. Any time a customer asks for extra ingredients or off menu items, I have to ask a chef (usually the Sous Chef) if it is doable and, if his answer is yes, how much he would like to charge. If he says no, that's where the buck stops. I can't go on the line and cook anything myself, friend of The Bride.


  1. Wow....what a story...I especially love the follow-up list of what's in the kitchen! The picture is so right! Now I am going to read yesterday's installment....Really funny that the black jack web site made your list....I love your blog! xxxooo

  2. This is so true. When I worked at a restaurant, we had a secret motto: "Have it OUR way, at Adrian's today." No we will not serve you sliced tomatoes as a side dish - you'd think that making one or two waitresses cry over this request would keep them from coming back to the restaurant, but noooooo. And yes madam, the cook ASSURES ME that that is indeed our award winning salsa you have been provided with, NOT marinara sauce as you claim. No I will not ask him again!

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  4. Oh and the guy that went without breakfast fuming in front of his extended whole family because we would not make him an omelet from egg whites - Egg Beaters (egg whites with some yellow coloring - probably harmless annatto) were not good enough. The joys of working breakfast shift - "Excuse me - what are Hoovose Raunchose?" "um, I believe that is pronounces Huevos Rancheros, sir." Ouch! I dropped the ketchup and it squirted me in the eye, then on the ceiling too...

    Guy sits down at table and is served coffee
    gets up to look at artwork
    inexperienced bus boy clears his table
    host forgets and sits a family down at same table
    guy comes back, is angry
    we sit him at new table, get more coffee
    my friend takes his order - He Asks to substitute gluten free bread he has brought for our toast
    my friend agrees since we caused him so much trouble already
    Puts gluten-free bread in toaster, but does not tell the rest of us
    when order is ready, my friend can't find the toast
    Puts whole wheat toast on plate thinking "he'll never know the difference..."
    Brings out meal - guy immediately says "Where is my gluten free toast?"
    MY friend, brutally honest as always, notices something on another table - "um, That guy over there is eating it"
    "THIS IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS!" guy shouts and throws toast in my friend's face. Storms out of restaurant. Classic.

  5. Thanks for sharing your stories! Keep 'em coming.

    This toast tossing business is disturbing.

    No matter how "fucking ridiculous," nobody should throw things at their server.

  6. funny how someone thought because she was getting married she was owed oatmeal anytime she felt like it.

  7. I know, right? As if her union to another person would change what the kitchen is capable of providing.