10.24.2010

Steak sauce and memories of servitude

There's a ref, one of the chain gang, down at the Saints game. I always get nervous when they go to commercial. I'm about to order my second Long Island Iced Tea.

I saved the recipe for meatloaf that was suggested by a reader. This came to mind because I'm making bacon-wrapped filets tonight, and since I don't believe in anything else on filets, I take the bacon off and cook it into my green beans -- two tablespoons of steak sauce are recommended, but I'm thinking about subbing barbeque sauce. I don't typically keep steak sauce in the house, and here's why:

I worked at Outback Steakhouse for about two years, and during that time I developed an aversion to steak sauce and the people who use it. Okay -- before I receive hate mail -- there isn't anything wrong with steak sauce or the people who use it. I just don't like them.

Outback seasons their steaks with 17 different spices and is such an opponent of steak sauce in general that they are the only steakhouse in my town that does not keep sauces on the tables. Every Friday (or payday), people would come in because they can afford a meal (not facturing tip into their budget), and they'd order a filet, well-done and butterflied. They would then further bastardize our most tender, flavorful steak with (a) ketchup, and/or (b) steak sauce. After a while, I no longer hid my disgust when someone would begin to drawl, "I wants uh filet, well-done..." I think I actually once said "ew" to a customer when she was ordering that. She didn't hear me, because I was just a waitress.

I'm not saying that Outback is the best steakhouse in the world, but I do believe in their product. That says a lot, considering I have spent many hours working in their kitchen, and I've seen what goes on back there. I've worked in a number of restaurants, and as most people who've worked in the restaurant industry, I judge based on what I've seen. Much like my NFL rundown, here's my restaurant "can I eat there?" ranking... surprisingly, Outback is not #1. Readers, feel free to chime in with your own list or to disagree with mine. I'd be interested to hear about your experiences.

  1. Olive Garden. One of the worst jobs I've ever had, and morale was terrible among servers. Their servers are incredibly spoiled, as they don't have to do much sidework (e.g., rolling silverware, etc.), and they're only assigned three tables per section. Their turnover is ridiculous, and the all-you-can-eat soup/salad/breadsticks really messes with a server's flow. However, their kitchens are spotless. They were very strict in there... very much an "eins, zwo, drei" management style... like a well-oiled factory.
  2. Outback Steakhouse. Server morale is high. Three-table sections, nothing all-you-can-eat except for the pumpernickel bread, which leaves servers with more time to develop rapport with customers and run other servers' food. Yay for efficiency. Their kitchens follow all the requirements, like hair nets and hand-washing, but the only time you really see 110% in safety is when a health inspector is there. Oh god. An Outback commercial just came on in the bar I'm in. They're watching.
  3. Chi Chi's. My favorite job. The underdog of Mexican cuisine. High server morale, mostly because of the margaritas and that the managers ignored the fraternization rule. Despite regulations, their kitchens were based on the principle of "please try to wash your hands," but since most of their food was frozen and/or pre-cooked, it never seemed to apply as much. I still have a scar from a fajita skillet on my left hand, and I gaze at it fondly sometimes. Really, my only proof that they have a decent kitchen is the fact that I ate there three times a day for three years and never once got sick. Wish they hadn't gone out of business.
  4. Steak 'n Shake. Again, high turnover of servers, but for the opposite reason. Servers are there for twelve hour shifts sometimes, and they never keep it staffed enough, so those twelve hours are usually spent serving half the restaurant. Their grill is clean but pretty much nothing else, because the grill is located in view of the customers. In Sight, It Must Be Right? Sure, but only if you have a steak burger. Everything else goes in the microwave.
  5. Christos. I believe this is a mostly local, family-owned business. I wasn't popular there because the owner and his brothers favored the servers who partied all the time. As a family-owned establishment, they were under a lot more pressure when it came to regulations, as they didn't have a corporation enforcing the rules for them. Once, I saw a cook drop a pair of tongs, pick them up, and handle raw meat. After I quit (thank God), I read in the paper that they were cited during a health inspection because a cook sneezed directly into his hands and continued working. Don't eat there, ever.

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