I’m Sick of Chefs Talking about How Many Hours They Work

I’ve been watching a lot of cooking documentaries on Netflix lately, many of which focus on a particular chef or restaurant. Without exception, whenever there is an interview with a chef the first thing they talk about is the insane hours that they HAVE to work in order to keep their restaurant going. They have to work all day, every day, and their romantic relationships always fail because they never have any time to spend with their wives of girlfriends. No other professional people in the world, including active duty combat soldiers, make their profession out to be as difficult. This is complete bullshit.

When a chef talks about the hours they work they are often exaggerating or outright lying. I saw one documentary where they guy claimed to work 16 hours a day. He lived in a huge house clearly nowhere near his downtown restaurant, so when you factor in driving and taking time to be interviewed by documentary makers, the person would essentially have not slept for several decades. Though chefs exaggerate, they do work long hours. The reason they work all these hours, in my opinion, is partly because they love being at their restaurant and partly because they aren’t good managers and delegators.

If you watch enough cooking documentaries it is easy to lose sight of the fact that cooking isn’t actually the most difficult thing that human beings do. In fact, there are all kinds of things that are just as difficult, or even more difficult, then running a kitchen. Launching a manned rocket into space for example. Building a hydroelectric dam in a remote area would be another good one. If there is one unifying characteristic of all the most difficult projects undertaken by human beings is that they don’t instantly collapse in failure if someone takes Friday off.

Believe it or not, it is possible for a head chef to hire competent cooks and train them to the extent where you can come into the restaurant in the morning and make sure all the ingredients are in stock and the prep is going smoothly and then go out to a movie with your girlfriend that night and let them handle the dinner service. If a chef can’t manage to do that once a week he is either a compulsive micromanager or is sleeping with the pastry chef.

A Modest Proposal for Interrupting Waiters

Why is it that even in the fanciest restaurants servers feel the need to interrupt conversations or ask you questions when you obviously have your mouth full? How is this supposed to enhance the dining experience of your customers? Pretty much every member of civilized society has taught since childhood not to talk with your mouth open and not to interrupt others while they are talking. Yet many high end restaurants essentially teach their employees to walk up their customers and both interrupt their conversations and pressure them into talking with their mouths full.

What is even odder than the fact that this practice is so common is that it has so many apologists. Many seemingly intelligent people have attempted to justify these rude intrusions by suggesting that the alternative to interrupting would be to ignore or neglect the diners. That is absurd.

If a server wanted to know if the customer required some assistance, he or she would simply need to walk by the table and make eye contact. A customer who required assistance would need only raise a hand or speak to the waiter. If you walk up to a table, and all of the diners are busy cramming food in their mouths, chances are they are pretty happy with their food.

Any experienced server, or even a halfway intelligent inexperienced server for that matter, should be able to tell if a customer requires assistance without having to barge in on their conversation. For example, if a customer’s glass is empty, he may need another drink. If a customer has barely touched the dish while the rest of his or her dining companions have almost finished, there may be some problem with the food. The same would also be true if a customer is holding up his tenderloin in the air and staring at it or holding it in front of the face of one of his dining companions.

I have a suggestion for high end restaurants. When the customers are seated, the server should explain that the restaurant’s policy is to not interrupt conversations or as questions when the customer is eating, and that the server will pass by from time to time and make eye contact and nod and it is up to the customer to signal whether assistance is needed. At that point the customers will either tell the server how happy they are with that policy or they will say that they are perfectly ok with being interrupted and don’t mind talking with their mouths full.