Monday, February 9, 2009
I'm sitting there, trying to enjoy my dinner, and I can hear it. A sound that makes my ears perk up, my heartbeat increase, and my pupils dilate. No one else that i'm with hears it--between the sounds of plates being stacked, diners chatting, and and music playing softly in the background, how could you? For me, it's programmed, deep in my brain. The sound of a ticket printer. One of the most unique, screaming, ugly sounds in the kitchen. It's like a continuous loop, sometimes quick, sometimes long, but always demanding your attention...because at the other end of your printer is a POS with a cranky waiter who is trying to please a difficult guest. And once that ticket is in your hand, the countdown has started.
Being the expo usually means a few things:
1. You have worked hard, and that work has been recognized. Your chef trusts you.
2. The cooks respect you, and are willing to do what you say.
3. You know the kitchen, understand the timing, and can work the pace of an evening.
1. You're an idiot who can't serve / work the line and/or conned their way onto the station. Your chef doesn't trust you, but believes in the resume you doctored up.
2. The cooks don't respect you, much less trust you. They want to do right by the guest, but if the opportunity presents itself to sabotage you, they will jump all over it.
3. You don't know the timing of the kitchen, and don't care. The cooks will conform to you, or else.
The idea of "the expo" is to pace the whole evening out. You get a unique chance to try to push really hard (and possibly wear your cooks out) or to let the cooks determine the pace(and possibly get far behind and eventually crash and burn.) You have to be able to speak / confront, and make unpopular decisions, - let a cook know where their place is should things turn ugly. It means you are constantly counting--how many rib racks are left, how long until that well done burger is done, and how many more chances your pantry cook gets before you tell him to go home and get his shit together. A good expo is able to befriend and dominate their staff all at once. They use the same language, all the time. They defend their kitchen when necessary. And they can critique a cook without demolishing their confidence.
A bad expo just plows through the evening. They become a slave to their emotions, or fears, or the printer...or often they bow to all three. Tickets get lost, cooks get blamed, and at the end of it all is a mess of sweaty, mentally spent bodies that look at this person as the enemy. Going into another service with this person seems unimaginable. Their fear permeates the whole kitchen, and the poison from this fear turns into distrust, which leads to dissent, and eventually the dismantling of what could have been a strong crew. You look at the ruins of a bad night and have an endless list of 'where it all went wrong,' but no solid way to fix it.
"Expoing" isn't a privilege, it's an honor. It's an absurd amount of power and responsibility...and at the end of the night you need to be looking at what was good and what wasn't, and already be formulating your plan to be faster, smarter, better. You owe a debt to your chef, and also to the cooks--who will remember you down the line as a person who helped them become better. And in the end the collected knowledge you gain from working that printer will make you a more complete chef...and will make the cooks that you called tickets to want to follow wherever you go.