Restaurant Life

A Guide To Better Understanding How Restaurants Fire Your Food

Most kitchens still use the term “Fire” to signify that it’s safe to begin cooking food for a particular table. The covert operations involved in successfully delivering your food at that magical moment when every member of your party is ready are much more complicated than you think. When you take an unexpected smoke break between courses or stop eating to go off on an hourlong tangent about being raised by your alcoholic stepfather, you put the kitchen and waitstaff in precarious limbo.

In most restaurants, one of these three different approaches usually govern the firing of food:

1) Manual Entry – The waiter has a “FIRE” key on the computer system and will use it to indicate to the Chef that the table is ready. This method can be unreliable when the server gets weeded and is unable to properly communicate a table’s readiness to the kitchen.

2) Scouting – The kitchen will send a food runner to “scout” a table to determine whether it is safe to fire. Most kitchens base their decisions on whether or not to fire on feedback from FOH informants. This is the most common method in a majority of casual to upscale restaurants. Too often, the scout will be overly optimistic in his prediction of readiness, especially when there is pressure from the Chef to push food out of the kitchen to make way for new orders. It is not out of the ordinary for food to arrive prematurely despite this feedback loop.

3) Auto Pilot – High volume restaurants often fire food on a fixed time schedule. A busy kitchen with orders pilling up doesn’t have the luxury of accomodating every table’s individual pace. In this case, for example, a table’s entrees will be fired 10-15 minutes after their appetizers have left the kitchen. Menus with multiple courses or prix fixe may have a set firing schedule with specific times assigned to each course. In these high volume environments, you’d be wise to down your Jalapeño Poppers within a reasonable amount of time unless you want your main course to be served on top of it.

In an ideal world, you will never notice the gears in motion. In good restaurants, FOH and BOH will work in concert to ensure the arrival of each course of food will be seamless. The times you do notice, though, will most likely be when your food arrives too slowly. Sometimes that happens because the staff is unable to accurately project when you will be finished. Picking and nibbling at shared appetizers for example can cause unnecessary delays in the later courses. Restaurant kitchens are not in the business of throwing away food that was fired too soon, so they will usually err on the side of caution. You can help alleviate some of the stress by being mindful of how much time you are taking to finish each course.  Delicious food isn’t conjured by magic.  There are people working—usually in extreme conditions—to prepare it for you. Show respect to the chefs who cook your food by eating responsibly.

Restaurant Life

Top 10 Reasons To Respect Your Waiter

10) We probably make more money than you – At the top fine dining establishments, full-time waiters make upwards of six figures. Not bad for a job that doesn’t require a college education. Stop asking what else we do.

9) We act as an important buffer between you and the Chef with anger management issues – Do you want to go into the blazing hot kitchen and explain your pine nut allergy to the manic-depressive Chef and why he should consider substituting sunflower seeds on your salad even though there are no sunflower seeds anywhere else on the menu? Waiters will always take a bullet for you as long as you behave like a human being and tip 20%. Being your proxy in the kitchen isn’t as easy as you think.

8) We were probably out drinking until sunrise and can still accurately recite all the ingredients in the Nine-Herb Salad – Try remembering this with a hangover: “Lemon balm, wild sorrel, chive blossoms, fennel fronds, lovage, anise hyssop, opal basil, Thai basil, and Kaffir lime.” What the hell is anise hyssop? Give us a break. Our liver is working overtime and all the Advil in the world isn’t gonna cure this headache. Did we call in sick? No, we gutted it out for the love of the game. For you. So cut us some slack, will ya? Just today.

7) It isn’t easy making a white shirt, black pants, and an apron look this good – Our uniform may be soiled with yesterday’s tomato sauce from hauling your food scraps back and forth to the bus tubs, but we still manage to keep it sexy.

6) We have to laugh at the awful jokes your Dad makes to every waiter every time you go out to a restaurant – “Where’s the rest of it?” Your dad will say looking down at the two bones left on his plate when we offer to clear it. “I wanna send this back.” Sure, we’ll smile and play along but it’s painful. We secretly feel sorry for you.

busboy5) We will let you mispronounce dishes on the menu without correcting you – “No problem, be right back with that Broo-shett for you!” we’ll assure you right before we mock your pronounciation to our co-workers in the waitstation. We’ll take pity and let you go on believing there’s such a thing as “Fried Galamad.” But hey, at least we didn’t embarrass you in front of “the lady”.

4) We do not take it personally when you completely ignore our recommendations – We told you not to order the chicken, dude. We kept saying the hanger steak was the signature dish, remember? We even said we liked the sea bass more than the chicken. You were busy blabbering about having steak three nights in a row, so you didn’t get the message. Your friend, who listened, said it’s the best steak he’s had in years. It’s your fault for ordering wrong. Why did you ask in the first place?

3) We have to read the scathing Yelp review you left about us without a chance for a rebuttal – C’mon did you really wait forty-five minutes for your Buffalo wings? It was more like fifteen. Of course we shouldn’t have been on our cellphones texting in the back, but it’s our second double in a row, the restaurant is understaffed and we haven’t seen our girlfriend in a week.

2) We have to listen to you telling us what celebrity we look like while we clean the crumbs off your dirty table – “Anyone tell you that you look like a skinny version of Phillip Seymour Hoffman—while he was alive?” (Dead silence) “I think he looks like a younger version of that guy from Breaking Bad. Not that you look like a meth-head or anything. No offense.” No, no… we enjoy being compared to famous junkies.

1) This place sucks – Let’s be honest. You had a bad experience, but was it really our fault? Would you want to work in this stinkhole? Did you see how dirty the bathroom was? Now imagine how bad the employee bathroom is. Give us a break. This place sucks.