Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Does anyone have Gordon Ramsay's phone number?

I had lunch with my mom yesterday at a long-established restaurant in Cayce, SC. This is just across the river from Columbia.  If you live here, chances are you've heard of this place at least and you've probably been there a few times.  It's never been a fancy place, but it's a local, neighborhood type joint that people are loyal to.  However, during my visit yesterday, it occurred to me that this place would be horribly, devastatingly, brutally ripped to shreds by Gordon Ramsay or Robert Irvine. Because I'm feeling generous, I'm not going to name the place, but I probably should.

If you can't handle the "F" word, skip this

The first thing Ramsay would say is "F#@& me!" what is going on here?  The decor, if you can even call it that anymore, is atrocious.  Old, outdated, has that dirty look no matter how often it's cleaned.  Dingy tile floor, crummy "restaurant" chairs, light fixtures that look like they're from a 1970's pizzeria like Shakey's.  Anybody remember that place?  The ceiling is black, with open rafters, exposing the duct work. While this can be a cool look in some venues, this is not one of them.  It just looks dusty and makes you wonder if something might float down and land in your food.  The table tops are sticky but not from food or drink, just that old chronic stickiness that you get from years of chemicals used to "polish" them and the build up of residue.  

Kickin' ass and takin' names

The menu is ok.  And, seriously, it's just ok.  I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp.  The dressing was really nice and the salad was NOT drenched in it, like some establishments.  The shrimp were steaming hot right off the grill, but it was evident from the color and flavor that they were frozen.  I mean, come on folks, we're a coastal state.  The shrimp are only 2 hours away and people send them up here every morning. But, the thing is, if you just want a quick salad, chicken wings, a sandwich, this place isn't horrible.  I'm just pointing out that it's not a spectacular menu that you'd write home about or rave about to your friends.  It's just ok.  Ramsay, however, would have spit out every bite of every dish in the place.  That's kind of his M.O., you know.

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!

 Here's what really bugged me and got me thinking of writing about this.  I had a straight shot view of the kitchen and waiter/waitress station.  Our waitress was a pleasant young lady but I witnessed a few things from her that were alarming.  Some of it could be chalked up to her youth & inexperience, but when you own a restaurant, you have a responsibility to train ALL employees, regardless of their experience, to proper food service techniques.  And, what I'm getting ready to tell you, does in fact go back directly to management and ownership because they are guilty of it too...

The first thing that caught my eye was my waitress, directly across from us, stopped to put her foot up on a booth seat to tie her shoe.  This caused my eye to go straight to the floor of the kitchen.  If you've ever spent any time in a commercial kitchen, you know you don't want to roll around on the floor or smear the bottom of a kitchen shoe all over your skirt or nice new pair of khakis.  But, that's what the next customer seated in that booth was going to get. Next, she got a rag and wiped off this same table and I watched her take it back to the server station and just hang it up on a hook.  Not thrown in the laundry or even rinsed out, just hung up for next time.  From there, she went and found a carpet sweeper and cleaned up around the table (I love to watch this while I'm eating).  Now, it's admirable that she's cleaning the dining room and tables, etc.  but from this point, she returned to the kitchen to pick up an order.  Have you picked up on what's missing here?  No handwashing.  At. All.  From shoe tying, to dirty rag wiping, sweeper handle to plate of food.  Now, know this:  I am not a squeamish type, but this really disturbed me.  

So, now I am fixated on these table rags hanging on hooks.  I saw multiple waitresses and two guys who appeared to be in management roles use, reuse, hang, rehang these rags without once rinsing them or exchanging them for clean ones.  This explains a lot of that table stickiness I bet.  I also can't stop looking at everyone's shoes and how clean/dirty they appear from walking around on a kitchen floor. Every server I saw carried dirty drink glasses back to the kitchen by carrying them with their fingers down inside the glass.  This isn't really so bad, as long as they are washing their hands as soon as they put them down.  But, sadly, no. About now Gordon Ramsay is screaming at the top of his lungs and goes marching into the kitchen.  Unfortunately, he'd probably start inspecting the kitchen and the walk-in and about to have a stroke.  

I think the reason I wanted to write this for you, while not disclosing the name of the restaurant, is to point out that many places we all frequent are often not what they seem and certainly not what we expect or deserve.  Serving food and drink to people should be handled with the same degree of care as dispensing medication.  Your product is entering another person's body and can either make them healthy or sick. I have no doubt that any restaurant owner I could ask would say they, of course, do not want to make anyone ill.  But, I think what happens is that after years of business, restaurants can become complacent.  Like with this place I'm talking about:  they have loyal regulars, they have been successful in business for years and years and people keep coming in.  But, when you see something day after day, your brain stops noticing it. Like a dirty kitchen, like servers not washing hands, like rags not being washed and replaced often enough.

We all want to believe that a restaurant that invites us in, takes our money and feeds us is doing everything right because they want to take care of us. Sadly, it's just not always the case. Some places are poorly run, dirty, unsanitary and the management just doesn't care. But, I'd like to think that most, especially locally owned businesses, really are dedicated to their clientele.  As is the case with this well-established restaurant, I just think they've gotten comfortable and unconsciously slack in their daily procedures. At least that's the benefit of the doubt I'm willing to give them.  However, will I go back?  At this point, I'm going to have to say no. 

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