Posted: December 27, 2013
Chef Laura: Trying customers: A side order of snark
From Santa to Mr. Burns with a single sentenceBy Laura Cook Newman
“Miss,” the elderly gentleman said, summoning me with a curled index finger.
“Yes?” I replied, approaching the deuce with a spring in my step as a young manager of this new restaurant.
“I need to change my order,” he said dejectedly, while his wife looked on with a scowl. “No bacon, no mayo and a side salad instead of fries.”
“Okay, Sir,” I nodded hurriedly, as I looked around the slammed dining room. I was a bit confused why he wasn’t talking to his server, but alas, as the MOD, I was going to attempt to take care of him. I knew the kitchen was in the weeds and dreaded giving them this last-minute request.
Then I said two words I’d end up regretting: “I’ll try.”
“ ‘Try’ is a three-letter word for ‘Fail,’” he dryly responded.
Oh snap! Ironically, I just got served!
In my mind, this guy went from Santa Claus to Mr. Burns in a split second. I smiled curtly and hustled to the back of the house to change his order – which was already in the window.
After receiving the anticipated grumblings from the line, I proceeded towards the refrigerator to FIFO the dairy section. The milk and cheese didn’t really need rotating. Hiding out in the walk-in for three minutes is a foodservice worker’s way of…cooling off.
I’ve spent a lot of time in walk-ins in the last 26 years.
While rearranging bags of shredded cheddar, I thought about what had transpired between me and Old Man Burns. “He’s just cranky,” I justified. “His wife’s nagging him, his cholesterol is through the roof, and he’s hungry.” Customers are always nicer after the food comes; blame it on low blood sugar, I guess.
But, Gramps was also right, dagnabit. His snarky catch phrase has haunted me ever since.
I tell my kids to “try” things all the time: try some sushi, try using your chopsticks, try not to smear wasabi on your sister. They’re on the younger side, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt as these requests are new territory for them.
But as adults and more importantly, as employees, should we “try,” or should we just be able to do what is asked of us?
When we say, “I’ll try,” we are telling our customer, our boss, or our coworker that there is a chance we will fail. I’m not saying it’s a 50/50 chance, but we’re leaving ourselves enough wiggle room that failure is a real possibility. It’s a bizarre self-defeating safety net we weave that makes it easier for us to release our grip on the trapeze bar rather than hold on for dear life!
It may sound like semantics, but I’m…umm…making an effort not to say “I’ll try” any more, at work and in life.
That elderly man got his meal all nice-nice after I successfully 86’ed the bacon, mayo, fries and flavor from his plate. Perhaps he was my modern-day Yoda? His Jedi mind trick definitely worked and continues to challenge my work ethic to this day. “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net