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The Mythology of Speed

My friend Kevo, who is a very talented graphic designer and web guy, often refers to this rule of business:

-Quality -Speed -Low Price

Pick Any Two.

Meaning, of course, that there are always tradeoffs - you can get a good price and good quality if you don't need it fast, and you can get it fast and cheap if you don't care how good it is, and you can get both quick turnaround and high quality, but you have to pay a high price.

Amongst line cooks, Speed is the thing that is respected the most. To my mind, disproportionately so.

The feeling is that any cook should be able to cook well if they have no time pressure. That's the easiest situation to be in. Cooking on the line requires a lot more than just the skills to cook the actual food. Some people crack under the pressure of being in the weeds. Some people just aren't efficient in their motions or procedures. Some people just don't move fast enough. Some people are easily confused. Some people hesitate or think too much. At times, I have all of these problems - but I'm getting a little better.

Cooks that can really put out a lot of food, with no decrease in quality, or perhaps just a slight one, deserve a celebrated status. Some of them go into a turbo mode, whereas some of them look like they're barely moving - but either way, the plates get to the window. They get a reputation as a badass, and will always be able to get work. They may have other problems, but they'll always be able to get work.

But even those who are fast but suffer in quality during a rush may get a lot of that same cache. Because even if the plates go out looking messy, missing a few items, not cooked as ordered or what have you, as long as the plates are good enough for the expeditor (the person checking the plates before they go out), the plates go out. The tickets get punched. People are getting their food.

Not speaking of anyone or any restaurant in particular, the chef may feel that he/she needs someone like this, especially if the restaurant gets really busy at times. The chef may have to put up with whining, showing up late or not at all, not doing his or her other work, showing up drunk or high, drinking on the job, demands for a particular schedule, stealing or giving away food, or other behavior that might otherwise be grounds for firing someone. Likewise, his or her co-workers on the line may put up with a lot of crappy behavior. All because this person is fast.

Personally, I'd rather emphasize Quality. But it's not very realistic in a restaurant setting. People have expectations of how long food takes to be served. And whether those expectations are reasonable or not, they are paying for a service, and when there's a discrepancy, customers can't feel good about their experience, even if the food is enjoyable. Even by the guideline above, to offer high quality and not be speedy, it would have to be at a low price.

Speed wins.

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