How to Hit a Curveball

It’s actually not that hard.  It starts with a lot of preparation.  In the restaurant business, we call that mise en place.    

Every single night in the life of your restaurant, and every single day if you are open for lunch, you will be handed a bucketful of curveballs.

The toilet in the women’s bathroom just overflowed and is now running into the dining room.  Your bartender just cut his finger on a broken piece of glass and needs to go to the hospital to get stitches.  Your POS system just crashed and your VISA machine is frozen and won’t authorize any credit cards.  Everything in this business is an urgent problem needing immediate resolution.

Practice Practice Practice

In baseball you make sure you have all of the fundamentals to start with.  You have the right bat, you stand tall in the batter’s box, you make a nice smooth swing, keeping your eyes on the ball.  You show up early and take extra batting practice.  You listen to those around you who have been doing it for a long time, and you eventually learn.

It’s not very different in a restaurant.  At the front desk, you make sure your reservation book is organized.  You study it carefully, familiarizing yourself with all of the reservation names for the night, taking extra care to notice all special requests.

If you are a waiter, you make sure you know the specials for the night.  You practice saying them to the guest.  You check to see what the ice creams and sorbets are.  Before you come to work, you look over the wine list, making sure you know the wines by the glass.  You study the menu.

If you are a busser, you stock that bus station with glassware, napkins, and silverware.  You sweep the floor.  You set the tables.

In the kitchen, you make a checklist for every dish that comes off your station.  Getting everything prepared and organized before those doors open.  You make sure you know exactly how much product you have on hand for the evening and you communicate that to whoever it is appropriate to do so.

Now here comes the big cheese

Since you have all of your mise en place organized, when the curveballs come, and they will, you are prepared.  You know you got this.  You put in all that preparation for a reason.

When the customer comes in and says they are four, not two as indicated on your reservation sheet, you can handle it.  When a glass breaks in your ice at your busiest moment, without hesitation you get another bucket of ice from the ice machine.  When the power goes off, you take it in stride and light a bunch of candles. 

I was working at a place when the dishwashing machine broke and was not repairable that evening.  The chef de cuisine came up to me at the front desk and told me that the dishwasher wasn’t working and that we needed to close.  “Yeah, right.” “You can tell the owner, I’m sorry we didn’t make that $10,000 you were hoping for.” 

Figure it out!  We all know what we are doing.  Set up some bus tubs with hot water, rinse, and sanitizer and get to work.  We are prepared to deal with whatever comes our way at any time in the evening.  Deal with it.

I like to remind my students, and my consulting clients that it is just dinner.  No reason to go crazy.  It is not brain surgery.  You are not fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Let’s all get a little perspective on this stuff.  It is a lot easier if you put in the time before the game.  Then that curveball is going to look big and juicy and you are going to be all over it.



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