The Chef-fields and the Mc-Servers
Written by: Tom House
The age-old feud continues in a revealing look at the relationship between front-of-the house (servers), and back-of-the-house (chefs) restaurant employees.
I have been meaning to write this story for years now, as this situation is one that just doesn’t go away. In a nutshell, it is the long-standing animosity in restaurants between chefs behind the line and servers on the floor. Nowhere are there two groups of people who must work so closely together in order for the “job” to get completed correctly. I am not really sure where the bad feelings began or why, but if you are a server or a chef…you know exactly what I am talking about. Now of course there are exceptions to this story, but for all intents and purposes…this situation is quite prevalent in today’s restaurant industry.
These sordid feelings usually do not surface unless there is a lot of pressure at a given time, and in a given situation. Usually they lie just under the surface and are expressed through subtle joking between chefs and servers, or cleverly and politically masked by both groups while simply trying to tolerate each other. There are long periods of peace and harmony, and even fun and fellowship…but before too long, something happens and the camel’s back suddenly has too many straws again!
It seems that many servers think they know too much about cooking, and many chefs feel that servers are making too much money as direct result of their (the chef’s) skills and efforts. Now these are normal human traits I guess…but the bigger picture is that both groups are actually supposed to be on the same team and should be working towards the same goals. I can hear all of you now…saying that this isn’t true…or that I am full of crap. Well…this being my fourth decade in the always entertaining and unpredictable restaurant / nightclub biz…I have seen it throughout my entire career. To this day, I am still a friend to many chefs that I have worked with while waiting tables, and when we get together we never seem to remember those hotheaded moments. During the heat of battle however, those feelings of animosity still surface religiously and the feud is on!
There isn’t really much that can be done about this situation, but I can tell you something from the server’s standpoint. Many times when a server is waiting for a salad or dinner to “come up”, a chef might purposely move slower or say something like “You will just have to wait“! That is fine as long as the chef remembers that it is actually the customer that is waiting…not the server. The server is simply the “middleman” in these transactions, but perhaps because of an earlier incident, or the fact that this particular chef or kitchen employee is just having a bad day, it is the customer that may now be suffering. When I was a server, I often said to chefs in those situations, as tactfully as possible, and as a gentle reminder, “This item is for the customers that are waiting…not for me.” I’m sure the chefs love to hear that! (That might not always be the best approach…but it has worked for me).
I have spent a few years cooking behind the line too, where it is very hot, sweaty, and dirty, and in most kitchens, you are being burnt, yelled at, over-worked and generally underpaid. I actually know what it is like back there too! Compared to a good night of waiting tables in the air-conditioned dining room…serving fine looking ladies and handsome rich men…well…you get the picture! From a chef’s standpoint, waiters can come across as very demanding and bossy, and I am not saying they are not! Many servers are incompetent and mistake prone too! It takes a constant conscious effort for these two groups to get along for the sake of good service and a harmonious working environment! It is possible, and if I were an owner or manager today…I would look into this aspect of my restaurant and address the situation before an explosion of anger and yelling erupts during service hours, or worse, actual physical fighting where someone could get hurt. I’ve seen this happen too!
Servers should get the chefs cold drinks and various other things needed that are the “server side” of the line. On the other hand, the chefs should make most kitchen products available for the server’s convenience too, even if it seems that these items should have been planned for during set-up, and that goes for both sides. Of course, if the same ill-planned requests come night after night…then the chefs or servers are right to lose their patience with one another.
The servers should always try to keep the “special orders” to a minimum, while the chefs should realize that when there are a lot of sauce-on-the-sides, or plain-grilled, or substitution requests…80% of the time, it is the finicky customers fault…not the server. Good servers are constantly trying to appease picky customers, and I have always wished that the chefs knew just how many of those “special orders” are stopped before they ever leave the table. A good server will know how to “streamline” their orders and talk customers gently out of some of those crazy, time-consuming, menu-modifying ideas! Wouldn’t it be funny one night, if a given service staff just said “yes” to each and every single special request from their guests all night? Then the chefs on duty during this nightmare shift would see just how many of these aggravating requests are actually thwarted by skilled servers! Advertise it as SPECIAL REQUEST NIGHT! Get plenty of lemons, Sweet & Low, and extra water glasses stocked in advance of that shift!
It is not unusual to learn that there are pent up frustrations being held inside servers and chefs these days. Our industry is often a thankless business, and working for “someone else’ day after day can really chip away at your self esteem. When something happens that triggers an argument, try not to over-react and begin yelling at one another. Dig deep down within yourself and rise above the situation realizing that in about a half hour…the same feelings that threw you into a rage will seem frivolous at best. When the explosion can’t be avoided and does occur, be the first one to apologize later so it doesn’t become a festering issue to be re-hashed again and again in the future.
Keep the peace everyone, and strive to keep working together as a team, instead of feuding like the Chef-fields and the Mc Servers.
The moral of this story is best summed up in Yoko Ono’s words in 1996:
“We are living in a very chaotic and confused world, and if we think that we’re not in rage it’s hypocritical. What we do is maybe suppress our rage and get sick from it; or you may take it out on your spouse or your family or the people around you. And, actually, the rage is not against those people, it’s against yourself; I think it’s a rage that’s there for a good reason, and that we should admit it and share it and use the energy of that anger to do something about it.” – Yoko Ono