A restaurant is typically a busy place. Very busy. Workers are afforded
precious few breaks. The working conditions, in summertime, can only be
described as something approaching the fiery residence of Beelzebub,
Mephistopheles and other nasty denizens of the deep. Suffice it to say that
it's not a place where one sits at a desk, sipping coffee, reading one's
email and handling tasks at one's own convenience, thanks to the inbox.
Like any other workplace, the "culture" of the place has a lot to do with the
manager. I'd hazard a guess that we've all experienced the occasional
eatery wherein the employees seem like they've just been to a funeral (my
apologies to foodservice workers who have indeed just attended a
funeral). These are places with high employee turnover and
beside filling your belly, don't really do much for your state of mind. You can
bet there's a cranky moron at the helm of such places, who is more likely than
not given to fits of yelling.
Good Corporate Culture
Every once in a while, however, one discovers a place to eat that leaves a
smile on one's face. The servers are cheerful and seem, at
least, to be genuinely interested in their customers. They get along with each
other and the rest of the staff well. Even the busboys at places like this have
a smile on their face nearly all the time. You can feel that there's something
more than just a clean, safe workplace impelling their joy.
It's called fun. Any student of management will discuss at length workplace morale. But only a seasoned
manager, coupled with a staff of professionals, makes for a place that is fun to
work at. Of course, no workplace is without its up and downs. And, of
course, there's a time and a place for everything. If a customer seems a bit on
the serious side, he or she must be treated with courtesy and professionalism,
but left alone more or less. On the other hand, if the customers at a table pick
up the positive vibe, everyone involved in their dining experience is
going to go home a bit happier that day.
It is my joy and privilege to have worked, and continue to work, with some
very, very good people. It is ingrained in their culture that these ladies and
gentlemen take themselves very seriously. So occasionally it's hard to get them
to just loosen up and smile, regardless how little or how much work there is to
Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Be Silly
My style is exactly the opposite; I like to smile. I try to make the best out
of every situation. I encourage people to just be downright silly sometimes;
just to see how good it feels.
There was an afternoon about a year ago when I was trying to be enthusiastic
and good-humored, but it was difficult, due to reasons that were personal and
had no place in my place of business. I walked into the kitchen and realized
that 40 - yes, forty - sixty-pound boxes of whole iced fresh chickens were
sitting on the floor in front of the refrigerator. We needed all of this chicken
because of a couple of catering jobs that had been booked. The bones from the
white meat part of the carcasses could be frozen to later make soup stock. Everything else is used but for the bones which are
surrounded by dark meat; which provide a soup stock that while rather rich in
taste, and nutritious, customers don't expect when they're looking for clear
(slightly yellow) chicken soup.
Butchering all of these chickens in an afternoon was indeed a monumental
task. So I dove in with everyone else, tearing off the skins and getting good
and greasy. After about an hour of this, my arms hurt, my fingers were icy cold,
and I was miserable. So the next chicken I grabbed became a puppet, doing a
little dance on the table. The six serious faces looked at me in stunned
silence. One of them asked "has he been drinking?" I said, no. But from here on
in, when we've a lot of chicken to butcher, you can bet we're going to have
It took a while for the Chicken Puppet concept to catch on. But it did
indeed, to the delight of chefs and waitstaff alike. In amazing demonstrations
of creativity, they made Chicken Puppets which vaguely but definitively
resembled other people (including myself, complete with little wire eyeglasses
and a bushy moustache).
Of course, after the fun was had with the Chicken Puppets, they were
certainly not discarded. Indeed, the lucky few Chicken Puppets which remained
whole became soy-sauce roasted Chicken, filled inside with herbs and green
onions; juicy and tender.
Let's Not Leave Out Our Vegetarian Friends
In my humble opinion there are few things funnier than a dancing chicken with
a face made up on it. However I must respect those who choose for
the sake of health, ethics, or both, not to eat meat.
All manner of puppets can be made from vegetables. Mr. Potato Head was
indeed an immense commercial success. Well, I guess you couldn't sell little
"Mr. Chicken Head" kits. It just makes sense that you can't give a five-year-old
a raw chicken and expect him not to make a greasy mess all over the place, or
worse, get sick on a chicken which carries salmonella or any of the other
nasty little germs that raw chicken may contain.
One of my chef's finest creations was a Laurel and Hardy pair made from a
large turnip and a fat carrot. I was amazed that he, from a non-English-speaking
country half-way around the world, knew who Laurel and Hardy were.
The next time you've a chicken around the house, and you or someone you love
is feeling a little blue, get silly, I say! Make yourselves a chicken puppet.
And have a nice day.
UPDATE: Hyphenated says "and NOW I'm going to google "chicken puppet""
Shaogo says "I googled it and found a Cock Puppet."
Hyphenated says "I saw that, too. It was a nice looking Rooster Puppet. But indeed, you have opened quite the can of worms."