Monday, December 09, 2013

Armchair Restaurant Fixer - The Top Chef Edition

I saw on Twitter this post about 7 things restaurant jobs will teach you.  (I know, it's almost like I didn't invent the 7 things idea.*) And it reminded me not only of my own experience -which was was either as a cashier (in what we call fast casual these days) or as a busperson - but also how last week's "Top Chef" which hit the Restaurant Wars episode, was a perfect example of how working with someone who does something doesn't mean you are any good at filling that role.  (And yes, I realize one bad day in a normal non-reality show job would actually be a learning opportunity.) So, let me put my entirely fictitious restaurant fixer hat on, and take a look at this episode.  I'm not going to attempt to recap the actual show. Just this one team's dysfunction.
So, as a sidenote I knew two things from my extensive past history as a viewer.  One - there always seems to be one team with more winners.  They always tell the camera how that means they are going to win. The other team always tells the camera that means they are the underdog but have something to prove. Generally, it works out (I think - did not do any math for this theory) about 50/50 because the more winnery side tends to have a lot of egos and that can be problematic. 
First obvious problem with the green team.  They talked about the style of food and then did not decide on their dishes together (I think secretly they all has stuff in mind) until the last minute.  Now sure, you could argue that the plates and candles will help determine your food, but I don't know why you wouldn't start with the food.  No one has ever been sent home for the plates.  (Yes, sometimes in the restaurant wars challenges the decor is mentioned for setting a false expectation, but again, no one cares if the food is good.) 
And they couldn't agree on things.  They argued about plates.  And then they later determined that they do no communicate well because Justin (who had deemed himself executive chef by the way, so hmmm) later was mad about the bowl and he said I wanted the other one, and there was a whole but you said like this one but without the silver, and he was like no I meant the other, other one.  And here's the thing, I did not pay a lot of attention to their plate discussion, but as executive chef he was also in charge of expediting, which meant talking to the chefs and servers about what was needed so the plate issue was actually foreshadowing. 
Now, before this episode I would have told you that Sara was a great choice for front of the house because she's great at smoothing over little issues and smiling while Rome is burning (if necessary).  What I had not factored in is that she's apparently a terrible listener who has also never watched the show.  So, she trained the servers abut ticket writing and the servers apparently did not write the tickets in that manner.
Now, ultimately the judges decided that snafu was the triggering factor for the rest of the mess.  And it may have been.  But, I also felt like Justin continually yelling a servers that they couldn't process orders since the tickets were wrong was not helpful at all.  Yes, I understand why having the tickets written a certain way would help.  But retraining mid shift is a losing battle.  You can remind them once, and then you got to work with what you have because the customer does not care that you wanted the ticket written a certain way.  They want food. 
And Nina, Carlos, and Shirley I think were trapped - they could tell it was bad, but weren't sure how to fix it (especially since Justin has not shown himself to be up for change or feedback) so just kept their heads down and hoped their food was good.  It's an understandable reaction even if it does nothing to help the ultimate goal.  Admittedly, in a reality show, it's probably not a terrible strategy though. 
And so the judges came, Sara told Justin the judges are here and please fire four appetizers and he said, cool give me a ticket and she said sure and walked away.  Now again, I don't know if she meant to write a ticket and got distracted and I don't know why Justin didn't notice he hadn't gotten a ticket for the judges, but it was bad.  And Sara also didn't seem to notice that the judges didn't get their food until they reminded her which is not good.  So, then they got the food and it somehow did not occur to her that in all "Top Chef" challenges you tell the judges about the food, and given that the other chefs were all in the kitchen that fell to her.  They called after heras she walked away and I can only assume she didn't hear, but that was part of the problem. 
They asked her quickly before she could walk away on the next courses and by the time it was her course she remembered to tell them without prompting.  It seemed like Sara just got drained.  I'm sure part of it was knowing things were a disaster, and then she snapped at the judges which always seems like a bad idea, particularly when you are trying to argue that you were the better communicator. 
I don't disagree with the judges decision to send her home, but I do think that Justin has also worn out his welcome.  And hopefully the other chefs on this team will try to be more proactive in resolving team issues in the future.  I think project management courses could study this episode for years to come. 

*I did not invent 7 Things, the number seven, or things.