I felt that as I’m a partner in this restaurant, I should learn as many parts of the business as possible. I’ve learned every station in the kitchen, and I’m pretty good at each except the grill. I also run the barbecue program. Now that we have enough cooks in our kitchen, I’m free to learn how to work the floor. I haven’t been a server in fifteen years. They say it’s like riding a bike. You know, I recently rode a bike. At 42, it’s not the same as when it was at 10. Things hurt that didn’t hurt before.
Our regular servers are mostly students. It’s vacation time, and they are making money during their vacations, but they also want to enjoy some of that vacation. Our main servers are going on a beach trip this week. Today was my first day on the floor substituting for them. The only other server was a young man from New Zealand, who is still training and is just starting to learn Korean.
I had learned the table configuration earlier. I know the system for that. I know the ticketing system. There are just a few details I needed to know for how the rest of the floor works.
The most important thing I needed to know was some useful phrases in Korean. Years of haphazardly learning Korean has given me a decent background in grammar, so it was easier for me to memorize phrases, but it was still a challenge the first time the words tripped out of my mouth. No matter how much I practice a phrase in my head, actually saying it to a person just causes some brain fry and reboots my noggin. When I was a server in the ’90s, I credit the job for helping me get over my shyness. The hardest part back then was introducing myself to a new table. Once the ice was broken, I was fine and relaxed. I felt this old nervousness again today because of the added challenge of speaking Korean.
Here are the three phrases I worked on.
편한 자리 앉으세요 Pyeonhan jari anjeuseyo. “Please seat where you’d like.” (Literally “Sit in a comfortable seat.”)
We don’t have strict seating. So we greet guests and ask them how many people. Then we ask them to sit anywhere they’d like. We then tell the kitchen how many people sat down.
세트 하시면 사이드 메뉴 선택 할수있어요. Seteu hasimyeon sa-ideu menyu seontaek halsu-isseoyo. “If you order a set (combo) you can choose from the sides menu.”
For our burger combos, people have a choice of side (fries, onion rings, coleslaw).
주문은 카운터에서 해주세요. Jumuneun counter-eseo haejuseyo. “Please order at the counter.”
There is a more elegant way to say that, but I needed something simple yet polite. During the lunch rush, we ask guests to order at the register. Having now done the lunch rush as a server, I see why. It’s difficult enough for two people greeting guests, explaining the menu, and serving drinks and plates. There’s no way the servers can also give full tableside service without completely slowing down the system.
I tell you, it was a good thing I have been working all the stations. After we had seated a lot of guests and served their drinks, we were waiting for the burgers to come out. I saw that the cold station was seriously backed up, so I put on some gloves, jumped in, and helped him punch out those orders. I then threw off my gloves and served those orders.
Front of house, just like back of house, is all about systems. Rhythms. After a few times, I got more comfortable with my new phrases. And I was even communicating other things and solving problems in Korean. That was until the guests said, “It’s okay. We speak English.”