EDITOR’S NOTE: This week I’m letting the chefs, owners, and staff of Portland’s restaurants have their say. These have been edited for length and clarity, but all are real stories from the front burners at your favorite eateries.
I was working at a highly acclaimed new restaurant. Our hours and services were punishing, the line was intense, and we all drank more than any human should.
One day, conversation turned to hydration. A sous chef declared he would drink so much water during his shift that his piss would be crystal clear by the end of service. Surely, this was impossible! Line cooks are notoriously poor hydrators.
The most insane cook on our entire crew (you know, “the work until 1 am on Saturday, do blow all night, show up for brunch at 7 am on a stolen bicycle without a shirt, and crush service” kind of guy) decided that he’d make a bold move: He declared that should our sous chef manage to attain perfectly clear urine by shift’s end, he would drink it.
Sous was chugging a quart of water every half hour. At the end of the evening, he emerged from our disgusting staff bathroom holding a warm mason jar of perfectly clear piss, wearing a positively wretched smile.
I watched an adult man pour his own urine over ice and hand it to his employee. I watched that employee take a drag of a cigarette, exclaim “FUCK IT,” squeeze a lemon into the glass, and throw it back.
We all howled and screeched. The cook shrugged and demanded we all buy him shots. We cleaned, clocked out, went out, got drunk, and went home.
That insane cook went on to become sous. He is married and has a child.
Fuck You, Manspreader
Dear prick who leans back too far into the primary walkways of my restaurant:
Fuck you. You are always the same guy—I mean, not the exact same guy, but the same guy. You are 5’9” yet you take up the same amount of space as former basketball star Manute Bol.
Servers have to maneuver like acrobats with scoliosis to get around you. Your legs are splayed, your khakis are creased, and your wine choice is always shitty. You are loud—like too fucking loud. Reclining in your barstool like a slumpy teen, yelling about your golf game. I’m convinced you use the restrooms only to throw paper towels all over the floor like some kind of demented flower girl with the shitty swagger of a wealthy hip-hop mogul. Your wife has a fake onion allergy, but somehow garlic is okay.
I personally will always bump you and smile. And I will apologize. To be clear, I don’t mean it.
Take It to Chuck E. Cheese
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is from a popular restaurant with a fairly substantial price point and a mostly adult clientele.)
A party of seven made a reservation for their daughter’s birthday on a very busy holiday weekend. Three of the seven were children under age three, and the birthday girl was turning two.
They brought in a birthday cake for us to store during dinner and cut when they were ready. Our staff had to dodge their little ones running around the restaurant screaming (bloodcurdlingly loud) at the top of their lungs. Once they were ready, we had a slight misunderstanding (totally our bad) and we cut the cake before presenting it with candles.
I apologized profusely and gave them a 25 percent discount on their entire bill, but that wasn’t enough. They proceeded to scream in my face in front of a packed restaurant, slapped my hand away when I tried to pick up the cake that I had puzzled back together, and demanded we pay for their entire bill because we ruined their two-year-old’s birthday.
After 10 minutes of profusely apologizing and taking their abuse, I lost it and told them, “Your screaming kids ruined the rest of my guests’ meals, so I guess we are even!” Other diners heard me and gave me high-fives and hugs, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. Next time maybe they’ll go to Chuck E. Cheese.
Minimum Wage Zeros
Hey $15 Now and Governor Kate Brown:
We’re not fancy, not on any Eater list, not in the Oregonian’s Diner. THE ONLY PEOPLE I PAY MINIMUM WAGE ARE MY SERVERS, who already make $25 to $35 an hour once you add tips. There are a lot of servers/bartenders out there making into the six figures. They’re the only ones getting raises with your new minimum wage bill.
This market demands that everyone else in my restaurant already makes well over minimum wage—even if it weren’t already the right thing to do.
(I pay them more than minimum wage before the tips they get pooled out. But I’m afraid to tell you about that because I could get in big trouble, even though everyone agrees to our tip-sharing system before they are hired, even though our employees constantly tell us how much they love working here, and because, if we could be above-board with tip sharing, you would collect more taxes.)
Oh, and auto gratis, or raising menu prices? Don’t even get me started—we’re seeing how that’s working out. Before I owned a restaurant I was uber progressive. Now I’m uber frustrated. You’re making it difficult for me to do the right thing, the fair thing, the best thing.
OWN A RESTAURANT FOR A FEW YEARS AND THEN TELL ME HOW TO RUN MINE!
Just in Case You Think They’re All Haters
I sat down to write, but am drawing a complete blank. Maybe I’ve got the wrong idea, but all that comes to mind is negative stuff—and that is not where I am these days.