It's not really even an office. Theres a computer, yes. A swivel chair, sure. But the wall is adorned with clipboards, not university degrees. The desk is littered with small piles of cash and a hundred receipts, not ornate paper weights. The three guys hovering over your shoulder, with their full sleeve tattoos, sporting the delicious stench of garlic and duck fat, arent exactly corporate material either. And its not office hours. Its midnight. Honestly, its amazing this tiny computer were all glaring at hasnt crashed. Because Ive hit refresh every five seconds over the last hour.
These are the moments of our lives... At least our restaurant lives.
From the moment a restaurant opens its doors, we know its coming. The review. That stretch of a few fortnights that will undoubtedly turn a years hard work into a dream or a nightmare. It can end in champagne toasts or tears. It can secure peoples jobs. Or it can get people terminated...quickly.
Hopefully, they will give us a few weeks to get going. Perhaps? Will we be able to identify them when they do arrive?
We know one of them has a French accent, so we alert all of our staff. The byproduct; every French speaking guest is royalty. One critic looks kind of like Jerry Springer or so were told. So theres now a picture of Jerry Springer on the wait station. One uses a credit card with an alias of one of Elizabeth Taylors ex-husbands. Our service staff doesnt know who Elizabeth Taylor is, but we will be looking for any Amex card in the name Burton or Hilton. The guy who goes to print first always dines with his boyfriend and uses the word waitron. All gay men are now PPX (restaurant terminology for VIP). Theres a new critic who we know little about, except shes a New Yorker with a British accent, and may be African American. She may be married to a chef too, so well identify every industry person in the restaurant. Of course, many of them have kids of varying ages, so were on the lookout for children with high dining IQs. If they carry cameras. If theyre writing in discreet moleskins. Please alert us. But dont freak out!
Of course, its silly. So we strategize that it would be best to just treat everyone well. We use the cliché, everyones a critic. And of course thats true. Until we actually catch a live one.
And often we do. This shakes the restaurant up. The best server is pulled from his or her station. The sous chef is going behind the line, if he wasnt there already. Interns get kicked out, brutally. Wheres that reserve wine list? Someone call the executive chef in. Its Monday night, his only night off and hes watching his Mets at the Ted, but he needs to know. Owners get text messages. The world is ending. Or so it seems.
This happens every day in the early days of a restaurants life. Sometimes there are false alarms. That actually was Jerry Springer! And as we total the visits we think weve captured, we realize weve missed a few. No critic would write based on one experience, right?. How could we possibly miss noticing a gay couple on a Saturday night in Midtown Atlanta? I really, really hope that our one server who IS an actual idiot didnt wait on her. Was it the day Manuel was on the fry station? Was it last Tuesday when we had to 86 three items? Most likely, as it always is, yes to all of the above.
Then theres the phone call. The official one. The one where you just pray that the new girl answering the phone actually remembers the name of the chef. The one, where the kitchen prays that the GM doesnt take the call and spiel about us being just a simple neighborhood restaurant. The call means its done. The critic now just wants to clarify a few things. Ask some questions. Its an important call. If you can articulate the vision, theres even the chance to win back a star. Sound unsure and theres a good chance of losing one.
Then the photographer visits. Youll try to pry information, but he doesnt know the content of the piece. You rationalize that more photos means a better review. You dont see too many pictures with the caption. Hey! Dont order this, it blows.
There is no more kitchen conversation about baseball, or music, or current events. No one cares about what happened at MJQ on Wednesday. Every cooks home life is a stressful mess. Could we get four? Probably three. Two? No way. Im moving if its two!
The restaurant reviewed the week prior gets three stars. Everyone debates that we have to get four then, because we all agree that place sucks. Half the cooks have decided not to shave until we get four stars. The sous chef and chef de cuisine spend hours in the walk-in deliberating the possibility. The exec is worried if its bad he will lose some of his staff. If its great hell lose some of his staff. Everyone prepares for the worst, and the typical Atlanta industry rallying cry finally emerges. Well, I hope its not four stars, because this town doesnt support four stars. Its bad for business. Whatever, even if its true. Whatever.
And it is revealed. And now we all have tattoos. Virtual ones.
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