I made all my best mistakes at my first restaurant job, The Hard Rock Cafe. It was my foundation. My rock? But the place that first taught me how to “restaurant” was the Cheesecake Factory.
I don’t know that I’ve ever worked in a place with such an accurately descriptive name. It is a factory.
That isn’t meant disparagingly. The CCF does for restaurants what Ford did for automobiles. They successfully figured out how to “flowchart” your dining experience. There are specific steps for almost every inevitability.
In the classroom training (no one goes on the floor day one), servers get a practical review of menu items (you eat it all). The staff learns all the primary ingredients and allergens. There are instructions on what can be removed from a dish and what can’t. Even the computer system is designed to be explicit on what the kitchen can and can’t do. Then there are regular tests.
The idea is to counter inevitable friction with knowledge and process.
Having all this laid out, made it easier to do my job.
Through my previous work as a server (and my Lit degree) I’d already discovered my role as part of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth: The Hero’s Journey:
- Ordinary World: The Hero (the diner) is going about her day.
- Call To Adventure: Her stomach rumbles. It’s a threat. She must choose a path and figure out where to eat.
- Refusal Of The Call: “Is there room here? Will food come out fast? Will it be good? Will the host seat me?”
- Meeting The Mentor: (The server) “What’s good here?”
- Crossing The Threshold: She orders the burger.
- Tests, Allies, Enemies: “Can my server be trusted? Where’s my drink? Where’s my food? Did I mention I don’t like raisins? The music is too loud. Can the air be turned down?”
- Approach To The Inmost Cave: “Did the server remember my order? The burger’s here, but I need ketchup. Is this a raisin?”
- Ordeal: “Do I want a refill? Do I like this food? AM I eating a raisin? WHY ARE RAISINS ON THIS BURGER?! Should I complain about the raisins?”
- Reward: She’s satiated. The chef came by and assured her that it was not a raisin. She is at peace.
- The Road Back: Doggie bag.
- Resurrection: Dessert? Check?
- Return With The Elixir: She knows that this is the place for a good, raisinless, burger. She’ll bring her friends. She will write a Yelp review.
Silly perhaps, but melding my Cheesecake training with the idea of “customer as the hero,” made it easier for me to do my job. I had to know what went into the food, and how the restaurant worked, to be “the mentor” they needed.
This is the start of what I call, “Restaurant Theory.”
I hunkered down and learned the menu. One tactic I used was to imagine every dish as a person. Then I wrote a short story about them as their dish.
Of course, that was just the start.