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goodfoodgood is a web portal which provides information about food and ingredients to people around the world. We take the dinner conversation online to share knowledge and inspire others to care about what they eat.

On the Way to the Kitchen

Several thoughts on the perception of time in a restaurant

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001)

Working in the restaurant is by no means an easy task. Everybody who has ever spent some time, either as a dish washer, kitchen staff in a prep or back kitchen, waiting in a restaurant will agree with me. Eating in a restaurant, especially, when there are financial resources for such extravagance, is, however, far more a pleasant and easier experience. But how does time pass in a restaurant?

What is normally visible to our untrained eyes, is this: first, the customers come, somebody takes their orders, somebody in the kitchen will after prepare the food until, finally, the food is served on their table. The time of the customers passes, if everything goes smooth, slowly, in a relaxed manner; their time can be measured in the amount of consumed food and endorphins – hormones of happiness – rushing through their veins.

Click on the picture to get the atmosphere of restaurant motion

Yet, not many customers realize that their moments of joy are just a mere snippet of restaurant life, so to speak, the tip of the iceberg. What is hidden under water is the kitchen life that starts early in the morning and continues until the last guest leaves the premises.

In a larger restaurant of about 150 seats, 2 shifts (one shift comprises around 20 people) of kitchen staff are involved in 2 cycles of food preparation. Piles of vegetables to be peeled and chopped, meat to be de-boned and cut, starters, sauces and dressings to be prepared – all these tedious tasks make you think that there is no end to them.

So, how do people working in the kitchen perceive time?

Having been asking people amidst the process and observing myself, I arrived at the conclusion that one thing is for sure: you wish it was the last piece. In the meantime, you have to cope with the task somehow: some concentrate on the process and next steps, some let themselves drift away by thoughts of something more pleasant and stimulating, some chat with the others and some think about “nothing”.

Time measured by the peels of potatoes

It is 6 o’clock in the evening and guests are slowly beginning to flock in. It won’t be until next half an hour, when the real rush hour starts, but the cooks are already at tenterhooks. The heat hours continue until around 8:30 pm, when it’s time for a smoking break. Time now, as sluggish as it was at preparation, passes like a flash. These moments remind of a blitz chess game: a huge portion of concentration performed in an accelerated mode. The players – the sous-chef and the cooks – play the game automatically, yet still with a space to creativity. If the cooks had time to count, their time would be measured by the amount of orders and smoking breaks.

Click on the picture to get the ambiance of kitchen motion

A bridge between a restaurant “heaven” and kitchen “hell” are people that ply between these two worlds – bussers. It is a sort of a restaurant limbo, transition tunnel, the place where all the waiters and waitresses must grapple with a constant switch, adjust to different modes: the kitchen where there is no place for rest and everybody twists around in a frantic rhythm, and the world where people come to rest, linger around their courses with non-intrusive music in the backdrop. The rush hour is similar to the one of the kitchen, except for the preparedness of not loosing one’s face somewhere in between. For the bussers, time is measured in stacked plates and a large amount of small talk.

“Whenever I go to another restaurant, I try not to focus on the life in the kitchen, but it is hard, as I also imagine how somebody spends time taking care of my food”, said one of the cooks in the restaurant kitchen I worked in for some time.

So, next time you go to a restaurant, remember that even though time, indeed, is an illusion, in a restaurant it has a very solid shape – it is not only the jokes spent, but also and mainly the peels, dishes or plates stacked.

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