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Servittude, Part II: Restaurant Slang June 18, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Servittude.
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Here’s one I’ll ask your help with, with a bonus True Story at the end as a Thank You Gift.

I tried Googling “Restaurant Slang” the other day and couldn’t find a decent site listing phrases that those of us in the industry bark and bandy about all the time. All I could find were sites listing cutesy old-time diner speak (like “Adam and Eve on a raft, wrecked” for two eggs over easy on toast…no one in the modern biz talks like that unless they’re in a theme restaurant.)

Here are a few that I can think of off the top of my head from my fourteen years (!!!) as a short order cook, pizza cook, prep cook, restaurant owner, and, of course, waitron. If you’d like to comment with some contributions of your own, let me know under what name you’d like to be credited and I’ll add your suggestion to the list. It’s my list, so I reserve the right to omit suggestions I’ve never heard of or that I don’t think qualify as slang (like a Black and Blue steak, which is an actual cooking style for meat).

(insert number here)-top: Party of (x) number of people, table of (x) number of people. Table capable of seating up to (x) number of people.
All-day:  total number of a specific menu item hanging on the ticket rail (“I got five french toasts workin’ all-day” means that, as of right now, there need to be five orders of french toast in the window fast.)
Clusterfuck: traffic jam created by restaurant staff
Comp: Giving food away to the customer for promotional/retention purposes (see Spill, see Void)
Deuce: table capable of seating up to two people, more if your hostess is creative. Party of two.
Dupe: Duplicate ticket/carbon copy of an order. Also, the pad of paper used by servers to write down orders.
Dyin’ in the window: refers to food that has been sitting under heat lamps waiting for some item to complete the order
Eighty-six: to be or to run out of
Grat: Gratuity, mandatory tip added to a check
Hi-top: tall tables that require barstools/barchairs to seat. Cocktail tables.
In the weeds: So busy you can’t stop or critical mass will be reached and shit will start seriously hitting the fan.
Kill it: Overcook food almost to a cinder.
Meez: your mise-en-place, or set up
Open kitchen: A working kitchen area visible to guests in the restaurant.
Sidework: seemingly neverending list of preparatory tasks performed by waitstaff, like slicing lemons, folding napkins, polishing silverware, etc.
Slinger: server. Often preceded by hash, egg, snail…
SOS: Sauce on side
Spill: taking food that has been prepared and/or served off a bill (see Void, see Comp)
Stiff: to have been left no tip; the person who left no tip
Throw a pie: to make a pizza (see Toss a pie)
Toss a pie: to make a pizza (see Throw a pie)
Two-top: table capable of seating up to two people, more if your hostess is creative. Party of two.
Void: taking food that has not been prepared and/or served off a bill (see Spill, see Comp)
Waitron: Server
Window: heat-lamp area where food transitions from the kitchen to the dining room

BONUS THANK YOU GIFT TRUE RESTAURANT SLANG STORY

This actually isn’t so much about slang as it is about shorthand. I used to work as a short-order cook in a dingy diner on the oceanfront in Virginia Beach. This was in the days before the ubiquity of computers, when waitstaff had to write their orders down on dupes and hang them on the ticket wheel for the cooks to read and fill. We had a typical breakfast menu item: your choice of eggs done your way, one of four breakfast meats, your choice of toasts, etc.

There are universal codes that every server/cook who has worked breakfasts knows: OL, OE, OM, OW, OH for egg styles (over light, over easy, over medium, over well, over hard), WHI, WHE, RYE for toast choices (white, wheat, or rye). Then there are things that servers abbreviate with a little more latitude and a little less consistency, usually the meats: B or BAC for bacon, SAU or SSG for sausage.

Let’s say the menu item number for the standard eggs-meat-toast breakfast is #3. If someone orders over easy eggs, white toast, and bacon, the server would write a dupe that looks like this:

#3 OE WHI BAC

Well, I had only been working as a short order cook for a few days when one day, the waitress hung this dupe on my wheel:

#3 OM WHE COUNT

And I stood there, completely puzzled. Count? What the heck did she want me to count? The dupes were starting to pile up on the wheel, the waitress was nowhere to be found, and I could not for the life of me figure out why she wrote COUNT on the dupe.

I should mention that I was working in an open kitchen, so I was only about five feet from an entire counterful of guests.

After turning this over in my head for a while, the light bulb eventually flicked ON. She did not mean “count” like 1-2-3-4 etc. She was making up her own abbreviation for Country Ham!

I was so excited that I figured out the riddle that I said the obvious answer out loud phonetically, and without thinking, and quite loudly, and for the entire counter of guests to hear:

Ohhhhh…..CUNT!

Ever hear an entire breakfast restaurant go silent?

Nerdcore Games Junkie June 15, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Academia, Servittude, Who Am I?.
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Wednesday was another day in the life of an eggslinger.  It was the lunch shift, and I had a dull station on a slow day.  The customers were dull and unwilling to engage with me, and so the minutes ticked by like time slogging through syrup.

The hostess sat a single woman at the center deuce in my station.  (I can’t find a decent Restaurant Slang page on Google, so I’ll let those of you outside the biz know that a deuce is a table that seats only two people.)  I noticed the woman was doing a magazine with Sudoku puzzles.  I am a big fan of mathematical puzzles, but Sudoku seems so trendy right now that I tend to shun those in favor of more classic challenge puzzles.   This doesn’t mean I won’t solve Sudokus, just that I’d pick up a Variety Puzzles magazine over Super Sudoku! any day.

This led me to think about a quote in a book I read by Anne Tyler called Ladder of Years.  The main character leaves her comfortable, predictible life one day and, on the spur of the moment, hitches a ride to an unfamiliar town where she sets up a new life for herself without informing her family.  It is an incredibly well-told story, where feminist ideas just ARE:  not pushy, not a betrayal, not bitchy or political; just the idea of a woman not having to answer to a husband and grown children she no longer feels a responsibility for and following her own whims for the first time.

Anyhow, in the book a big deal is made over the observation that a woman is rarely, if ever, seen eating alone in a restaurant without a book or a magazine.  As a woman who has done a lot of eating alone in restaurants, and a woman who has worked in many restaurants, and a woman who loves to read, I have found this hypothesis fascinating.  I have eaten out alone with and without books, and I have watched women eating alone in restaurants, and I have to say that Tyler’s observation is for the most part accurate…except for the past few years, when cell phones have replaced books as the single woman’s distraction.

Anyhow, I greeted the woman and took her order.  Ironically, she ordered almost exactly what I would have ordered had I found myself lunching at my restaurant for the first time:  an order of crab cakes and a glass of La Crema chardonnay.  I commented on this and smiled, partly out of standard waitress banter but mostly out of a sort of happy self-recognition.

A good server will walk by a table three or four times during the course of a customer’s meal.  S/he won’t necessarily say anything and may not even be noticed, but the server’s presence on the floor is vital to reading and anticipating customer needs and upping sales.  As I was walking past my customer’s table, I noticed she had moved on to a different page in her magazine.  The typeface on the page was cheerfully familiar, and it stunned me for a second.  I had to make an unscheduled stop at her table.

“Excuse me,” I asked.  “Is that….Games Magazine you’re reading?”

She smiled and showed me the magazine cover.  It was Games.

Games Magazine has been my favorite periodical ever since I was about eight years old.  As a child, I attended the Old Donation School for the Gifted and Talented in my hometown, and it was that school that taught me to love clever puzzles.  Word puzzles, number puzzles, logic puzzles, pop culture puzzles, picture puzzles…all were fair game, as long as they were challenging and threw in an egregious amount of bad puns for good measure.

Games went out of print for a few years, and I remember being happily surprised when I saw it again on a magazine stand in my mid teens.  I buy it whenever I see it, but I have realized that in the past few years, my trips to the bookstore have gotten further and farther between and I have not picked up an issue of Games probably since my early twenties.

As if my question about the magazine she was reading didn’t have the dork-identifying tone of voice that most people reserve for impossibly valuable art, cars, or cocaine, I had to let her know how I identified her choice of reading material.

“You know how I knew that was Games?”  I crowed idiotically.  (wait for it…..wait for it….)  “I recognized the typeface.”

Yeah, I actually said it.  I am about as groooovy as they come.

Luckily for me, she was as enthusiastic as I was about the magazine, and invited me to help her finish a puzzle she had been working on.  Ah, bliss.  I solved the one that had snagged her, then attempted to finish the puzzle while standing at the table.  I got all but two right away.  What a bonus!

We only chatted for a minute, but I was thrilled to talk with a fellow woman (how’s that for an oxymoron?) interested in puzzle solving.  I told her I’d blog about the experience.

Oh, yeah.  Nerd-core.

But guess who gets to wake up every morning, excitedly anticipating the arrival of her first subscription issue of Games Magazine in the mail?…

Servittude, Part One June 3, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Servittude.
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In case you haven’t figured it out yet, restaurant servers are an illusion. We are. We are paid a commission by the customer for the privilege of making the customer feel wealthy enough to own another human being to do the work of entertaining for them. We are, in a very limited capacity, Rent-a-Slaves. But if we are smart waitstaff and pick working environments more for their high menu prices than any other reason, we can be well-compensated Rent-a-Slaves.

In exchange for being an illusion, we tend to harbor highly frangible fantasies about our customers…or, I should say, Temporary Masters. We want to think our Temporary Masters are kind, intelligent, sympathetic to common human failings, and, most importantly, have the ability to think for themselves and communicate their wants and needs clearly and politely.

Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha.

Waiting tables is the only profession I know of where the customer is allowed to punish the employee monetarily for any reason whatsoever, or no reason at all. You don’t go to the grocery store and ask to get free groceries because you waited longer than you’d liked to get checked out. And you certainly don’t demand that your grocery checker’s wages get docked simply because s/he couldn’t wait on you AND wait on the customer with the ten wagonloads of food in front of you at the same time. And you would NEVER suggest that your grocery checker’s pay be withheld because you bought something that, for whatever reason, you didn’t like. But people do that to waitstaff all the time.

A tip is a whip, and most people would be surprised at their capacity for mercilessness when it comes to how they treat their waiter or waitress.

What surprises me most about waiting tables is the fact that customers (and many servers themselves) don’t realize that the server is a SALESPERSON and makes more money the higher the SALES are. People tip more for the privilege of being sold more food and beverage, and more expensive food and beverage, than they do for good service.  It’s the truth.

Don’t believe me?

A server’s lousy tips are more indicative of their sales inablility than of their ineptitude as a Rent-A-Slave.

Let’s say you sit at my table and I’m your server. I’m not slovenly, or rude, or slow; just the opposite.  I’m friendly, polite, and efficient.  However, I’m a terrible salesperson. Here’s how a Lousy Server handles this breakfast. Watch the dollar signs:

SERVER: Hi, welcome to The Restaurant. What can I bring for you today?
CUSTOMER: I’ll have a cheese omelet ($8) and a glass of water ($0).
SERVER: Very good. I’ll have those out for you in just a moment.

Total Bill: $8

Tip: 10% = .80, 15% = $1.20, 20% = 1.60

Here’s a better server:

SERVER: Hi, welcome to The Restaurant. What can I bring you today?
CUSTOMER: I’ll have a cheese omelet ($8) and a glass of water ($0).
SERVER: Very good. Now, our omelets don’t come with any toast. Would you like some toast with your omelet?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I’d like some wheat toast, please. ($2)
SERVER: Wheat toast. Any juice, milk, or coffee with your omelet?
CUSTOMER: How about some orange juice?
SERVER: Would you like a large ($7) or a small ($4)?
CUSTOMER: Small’s fine.
SERVER: Very good. I’ll have those out for you in just a moment.

Total Bill: $14 (with a potential for a $17 bill if the customer had opted for a large orange juice)

Tip on $14: 10% = $1.40, 15% = $2.10, 20% = $2.80
Potential Tip on $17:  10% = $1.70, 15% = $2.55, 20% = $3.40!!!

And if it were me, I’d have offered a side of bacon, ham, or sausage at $3 to $4 a shot.  Other servers I know would have mentioned a cappucino or coffee, or even a mimosa or bloody mary.  It’s all a matter of how much you’re comfortable pushing.  You judge each table indivudually, but they’re all potential upsells.  Every last one.

See how it works? The better server, the one who makes more money at the end of the day, can offer absolutely LOUSY service, but still do better on a 10% tip than your first server, who makes only .20 more on a 20% tip!

A successful server can manipulate the whip.

Now that you understand the fundamentals of how a successful waiter’s brain works, I feel I can talk with you more intimately about Servittude…but please, let me not bombard you with 100 Reasons Why You’re An Idiot When You Sit Down At My Table. Let’s have a coffee together. It’s on the house. Read a few more blogs, then we’ll discuss your myriad shortcomings. 🙂 Thanks, and Come Back and See Us Again, Soon!