" /> FoodZealot.com: November 2006 Archives

« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

November 02, 2006

The Advocacy System

It may not seem like it, and some people may not tell you that it's the case, but in a restaurant, there are four factions, each with their own interests and motivations: the management and/or owners, the customers, the kitchen, and the waitstaff.

The management and/or owners are looking at making a profit from the sale of food and drink. Like all businesses, they try to minimize cost and increase revenue. Although people open restaurants for lots of reasons, for them to make the most money, owners give as little as possible in exchange for the highest amount possible.

Customers are there to be fed, but also to be attended to, and it's also for the overall experience of the restaurant. Customers are there to get food that satisfies their hunger at a "reasonable" price, in a reasonable amount of time. If customers can get something without paying for it, they're even happier.

I'm biased. As a cook, I most often side with the kitchen. The kitchen prepares and cooks the food, the ostensible product of the restaurant. Also, part of the role of the kitchen is to parse out the food in the proper portions, and as such, are gatekeepers. Generally, everyone in the kitchen is paid hourly. Whether the restaurant is busy or slow, kitchen workers get paid the same amount. Sometimes a small percentage of tips goes to the kitchen, but it's usually not very significant, and not closely tied to how busy the restaurant is. Cooks get their rewards from things other than money - but that's a topic for another day.

Waitstaff are paid a smaller hourly wage, but make the majority of their money in tips, which of course are variable with how busy the restaurant is, how many tables are assigned to them, how much food and drink is ordered per table, whether dessert is ordered, how prompt service is, and how generally satisfied with the experience the customers are: all of these things are reflected in the tip.

As such, the role of service staff is to side with the customer. This is ensured by the fact that tips go to the waiter and not the kitchen. If the customer is happy, they tip well, and the tip goes to the waiter. This is the incentive for the waiter or waitress to keep the customer happy. Since this is the case, the waitstaff becomes their Advocate. Their representative. Their fiduciary. They have the same interests as the customers. The only subtlety to their position is that they want customers' bills to be as high as possible (to drive up the base on which tips are determined), without making the customer angry (where they might reduce the rate at which they tip).

Let's say an order comes in with all kinds of requests of it - a customer wants a burger split in half, and one half is medium rare and gets cheddar, and the other half is medium and gets blue cheese. To the customer, this is a perfectly reasonable request, because the customer only thinks of what he or she wants.

First off, the cook gets a ticket that probably looks like this:

BURGER, med rare, med cheddar blue SPLIT, C-SERV

The cook who receives the order will say, "What the fuck is this??! I need to speak to ________ (the server). Get _________ in here!!" To the cook, this is a totally unreasonable request, because it requires a lot more of his or her attention and effort: an extra plate, cutting the burger in half, cooking half the burger more than the other, making two half-size cheese portions, leaving two extra half-size cheese portions, keeping straight which half (with which doneness) gets which cheese, and assembling two half-burgers. All of this while doing all the other burgers and other food that he/she is responsible for, and receiving no extra money for the extra effort.

As the Advocate for the customer, the server can use several strategies:

Asking nicely, "Hey, guys, I'd really appreciate it if we could do this for this customer."

Trying to bro down with the cooks, "Hey, I know it's fucked up, but can we do this for this customer."

Trying to get sympathy, "Hey, this guy is a real asshole, can you just help me out on this one?"

Trying to make the customer sound important, "Hey, this guy is a VIP, how do we make this happen?"

Flatly, "Look, this is what the guy wants, can we do it for him?

Trying to make it sound reasonable, "Hey, it's just two kinds of cheese - what's the big deal?"

Flattering the cooks, "Hey, you guys are the best - you can make that happen, right?"

Just like an attorney, depending how well they choose their strategy, and how convincingly they plead the case for their client, they may get a good result. Most times, the kitchen will end up fulfilling requests like these unless there is some firm ground to stand on, like it involves extra ingredients so there should be an upcharge, or it physically cannot be done, or there are premade ingredients that have on thing or another that cannot be removed or separated. In a way, it's a little bit of a dance, because for the most part, customers get what they want if it's possible, and if they're willing to pay an upcharge.

But there are degrees of success as well. There might be some passive/aggressive intentional overcooking, or a less than even split of the burger.

But definitely a few aspersions cast at the customer and possibly the Advocate as well.