Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Endless Summer

On a busy night in the end of July we did it. The computer at the restaurant counts entrees rang in from the dining room then printed as tickets for the kitchen to execute. Not all restaurants are the same. Some count total butts in seats, plates fabricated by the kitchen (apps, salads, entrees, desserts, split orders, etc) total revenue, and more. Our computer counts entrees. There is some issue there, in that it may not be totally accurate. It may not count a salad with a fillet of salmon as a entree, because it isn't on the menu, but is ordered fairly often. When I first started there we had a cook who swore up and down that it didn't count a whole list of things, so he would say things like "I did 60 covers by myself in an hour and that didn't even count- then name off thirty other items". Long after his departure it is still a joke around the restaurant. Now when I said it isn't accurate, that is true, but it is also totally accurate. It may not count everything, but it does count it the same way it has since the dawn of time. We had a manager who wanted to fix it not too long ago and I pled with him not to. If we fixed it we lose years of past info, because the counts would be different, and different is rarely good in my line of work. So as argumentative as the system is, it is still the system and is perfectly accurate for what it is. It is uber-important to keep track of these things for past years for staffing and ordering purposes. As I sit to pen a schedule I look at the last two years worth of cover counts for the week in question as well as notes about past weather and groups that were in house, available to me in the cabinet is 10 more years worth of history should I be so inclined to check. In June we finally finished up our staffing push and really had a great group of cooks put together. With the addition of a few in particular and the added skills of a winter of "craft honing" with some of our others, as well as a few weeds pulled and discarded I felt like we were ready to tackle the challenges that awaited us. Maybe the argument that the economy is coming back carries some weight, or that that same rough economy knocked out at least one restaurant in town down, and another was horribly consumed by a fire in the beginning of the season. I would like to hope that it was mainly due to us making a effort on all levels to be better at service and better at food everyday, whatever the reason we were busy. As early as late May we were rocking past year numbers for covers and revenue. That led us to June on the same trail and through the summer. Even as we entered October the weather has held and when it stays good the business levels do as well.

In my 6 plus years we have never done 300 dinner covers in a single nights dinner service. We have been so close, so many times. It is rumored to have happened in the past a few times, but never recently. Dinner service count begins at 4:30 and to do 300, we need a full deck all night, and a customer in every seat of the restaurant and bar until we close at 10pm. Those stars don't line up often. The weather has to be great, and after sunset the temperature has to hold warm enough to enjoy outside dining, the reservation systems needs to capitalize on the not only perfect timing but perfect party size. Anything over 10 people will usually slow down a service enough to not get there. A dining room full of 2/4/ and 6 person tables is required. The service staff has to be on their game as well. Courses have to be timed out perfectly to minimize the amount of time a customers spends in any given seat before it can be sold again. The kitchen has to prepped for war, and cooks have to be focused and communicating constantly. Refires and botched table service will slow us down just enough to make the difference of 290 and 310. So on that day in late July we got it. 306. Then a few weeks later it was 320, and a day after that it was close to 340. Couple those numbers with a absurd breakfast service, then a punishing lunch and happy hour service, adding a few 150 person banquets to the work load and you are looking at a customer count of near 1000 ppl a day. Not once but multiple days through the summer. We did a 317 on a Tuesday in the middle of August. Revenue numbers broke records for the entire history of the restaurant, and budgets were crushed. There was a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday where we did more revenue then we did in all of January of the same year.

While it presented a massive work load for our staff they all fought like champions. Double shifts became the norm for anyone that was available, and we even pulled (my absolute favorite) "No One Goes Home Until We Are Caught Up On The Prep Load" on more then one night. Everyone stays, and sometimes it takes us hours to just get us to the point of being ready for the breakfast service that begins in just a few hours. Fighting into the wee hours of the morning in an attempt to just get the basics caught up. Dressings made, soups prepped, greens washed, etc. It became the norm to process 80#'s of halibut as it came off of the truck, and hope it rode until the truck showed up again. Instead of breaking 1 case of chickens, lets do 4 cases, then we probably wont have to prep chicken again until the day after tomorrow. Purveyors came through in a better way then they ever have, delivering better products, with better consistency then ever before. It all came together and for that I am grateful. With the investment of time and effort into the restaurant the validation comes in a 10 minute financial meeting with our CFO, who simply says "Everything looks great", which doesn't happen very often. Those conversations are better then a pat on the back, and as our management team walks away we all seem to relish in those success for just a brief second before we head back into the fire. Thanks for reading.

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