Dustin Wright: Dining, on the front lines
As the director of food and beverage at a venue located within my community, I have been on the front lines of the hospitality industry during one of the most challenging times our industry has faced and continues to face. That last statement feels odd to write, because in a “normal world” every day in our industry can feel like the most challenging.
When the world began to reopen, restaurants placed ads for positions, only to be met with echoes. The pandemic changed our industry, it was one of the first to go and was certainly not deemed essential work. From the articles I have read, servers, cooks and chefs have left or continue to leave to find work that offers more stability and/or less pressure.
As a professional server in a restaurant, you have a performance evaluation with every interaction, and the gratuity is your grade. The evaluation can be swayed by so many determining factors, including what type of day, week, month — and now especially with COVID-19 — year a guest had. Servers have told me stories of waking in the middle of the night with anxiety and disappointment, realizing they forgot to deliver the condiments their table requested.
Cooks are the unsung heroes. My first night in the kitchen on the expediting line, I immediately found a new respect for their craft.
I stood reading the orders hung in front of me, organizing plates in the window, and at times I was lost. During the chaos, I took a moment and was stunned at the tornado that emerged before me.
I observed the cooks standing over equipment reaching temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees — it resembled a battle scene. They methodically read their orders, formulating a strategy in a matter of seconds. Sauté pans shuffle and burgers are flipped as flames shoot toward them. Items are dropped into the fryer as the hot oil grazes their skin.
I stood in awe and was humbled by their skill … all while guests were in the dining room, seemingly unaware of the amount of detail in this process taking place in a matter of seconds and minutes.
Some restaurants have closed for good. The restaurants able to re-open their doors are limping along with limited team members. When my venue began to reopen, we started this way, and I thank my team regularly for being here.
If there is anything I have learned from COVID-19, it is to be grateful of what we have, especially those around you. I value and respect my team. They were so willing to jump back and push through all the challenges and uncertainty.
In my opinion, hospitality workers were needed more than the world realized. One server recently shared a narrative regarding a guest who frequents our venue. The guest shared that she is lonely and enjoys coming in to be around the buzz of people while she reads her book. The server sits with this guest for a few moments and asks about her day.
“Those are the moments that fill my cup, the meaningful interactions with those who need it,” the server says.
We have some overwhelmingly hectic nights in our kitchen —preparing over 100 orders of food in an hour and a half. Upon completing those nights, I have pulled the kitchen staff aside, thanking them for showing up.
On one particular night I gathered the team and stated, “I know tonight was hard and you could be sitting at home collecting unemployment, but you chose to be here, and you are here under incredible stress and pressure. Thank you for giving it your all and providing for our community.”
Behind the scenes, we are planning and hosting multiple events aside from running the day-to-day restaurant and bar, adding more pressure to the kitchen. Whether we are preparing for an 150-person golf tournament or a wedding, we are doing all we can to offer our community a space that exceeds expectations.
As we yet again hear about the rise in new cases, the thought of shutdowns remains in the back of our minds, and we hope they don’t occur again.
So, I ask, next time you dine with your local restaurant or elsewhere, and the wait is a bit longer than usual, and/or your table was not where you would have liked to be seated, please take a moment to appreciate being out in a social setting again.
Understand the people serving you with a smile choosing to show up day to day are doing it because they genuinely care to be here. They are doing their best to accommodate with limited team members at their side.
To those who continue to support us thank you, you’re helping us through some of our most challenging days.
Dustin Wright is the Lake Wildwood Association’s director of food and beverage.
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“You’ve heard me say this before: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state” — Cal Fire Director Thom Porter.