Would You Like Fries With That?

friedebateIn Lauren Simmons’ piece earlier this morning, we ran what we’ll refer to as an essay from a server working at a local restaurant. The article started out as the details of a basic restaurant service day, but one comment from the subject caught my attention as I was editing the piece. It was about how customers who order half fries/half salad make the server “cry inside”. I asked Lauren to delve further, hoping to truly find out why this order creates such a fuss at many establishments, and her piece this morning was the response she received.

When the essay arrived in my email inbox, my first thought was that it completely and utterly exemplified the rude, snotty attitude that we, as customers, fear from restaurant servers, and that has given particular areas of town a deplorable reputation in terms of restaurant service. (Okay, actually, my first thought was that it was a huge joke, because I can’t strip the little faith I have left in humanity to believe that there are people out there who think like this.)

Aside from the fact that I find the attitude in the piece to be utterly deplorable, pretentious and judgmental, there are a few points I wanted to address from the customer’s point of view.

I’ve worked enough retail jobs to know that the customer isn’t always right, and I’ve worked in enough kitchens to know what bitching and moaning goes on when a special order comes in. (You, with the food allergies – are your ears burning?) But the fries/salad issue always struck me as so silly – it isn’t as if customers are asking for half filet mignon and half lobster.

Half-fries Half-salad is one of the many occupational hazards of serving. The person that orders food this way is joyless; caught up in some of the worst aspects of consumer culture. Ordering Half-n-half is a struggle between ordering what you want (fries) and what you probably should have (salad). The cultures of beauty and image have made enjoying a leisurely burger and fries on a patio nearly impossible.

No, see I’m not joyless, because I’m getting half fries AND half salad. My world is pretty full of joy. I’m not concerned about beauty and image (uh, what?), and it IS just a “leisurely burger”. It’s not world peace, or anything that requires a grand philosophical debate. I like fries, I like salad, sometimes I have one or the other, sometimes I want some of each. There’s no need to overanalyse it – or judge people because of it.

Ordering Half-n-half is also a sign of the individualized culture of entitlement that has started to ruin dining. Eating a meal is about sharing an experience with a friend or with what the Chef has concocted for the menu. Ordering half-n-half is chaotic and self-involved.

Oh puh-leeze. Seriously. It’s a burger, not the 14-course tasting menu at Susur. The customer, at least when ordering the burger, really doesn’t care about “what the chef has concocted for the menu”. If they did, they likely wouldn’t be ordering a burger or a sandwich. Try as we might by stacking them with truffles and fois gras, a burger is just a burger – it’s not haute cuisine.

Ordering half-n-half ensures that you will not get enough fries or salad to make you happy, ultimately leaving you unsatisfied with your meal.

That depends entirely on the size of the serving, doesn’t it? There are plenty of places that offer (yes! OFFER!! with no whining, fussing, rolling of eyes or hand-wringing!)) half and half, and send out huge honkin’ servings that completely satisfy. (We love you, Epicure!)

Ordering half and half is inconsiderate to servers who have to communicate that order to a fast-paced kitchen.

Ah, see, here’s the truth to it. It’s not about culture and beauty, or the downfall of society, it’s that we’re making more work for the servers. And while it’s true that most servers work their butts off and have to deal with a lot of crap in the average workday (customers who drink too much and tip too little, loose children, dine-and-dashers), it seems to me that the stray order for half and half should be just another bump that they’re able to coast over smoothly. In the grand scheme of things – is it really THAT big of a deal?

So as a server, and a person studying society, it seems that ordering Half-fries Half-salad is a spectre hanging over the restaurant industry.

A spectre hanging over the restaurant industry????? Okay, see, now’s about the time when I’ve gotta think this person is taking the piss out of us all. We had an old saying back in my alt.gothic days that applied to the overly dramatic whiners. “Hand – staple – forehead.”

Surcharges: If a restaurant charges one or two dollars to make this substitution, diners would understand That this is a special request. This would also reflect food costs that might be incurred by having wasted half-orders of food that were not used in a day.

You know what’s even more annoying that servers who whine about half fries/half salad? Places that are so fucking skeezy as to charge extra for it. I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens. Potatoes and yer basic mesclun salad mix represent some of the cheapest ingredients in the place. Again, it’s not as if someone is asking for half steak and half lobster. Fries and salad are not peeled or washed to order. It’s also not as if these items are pre-portioned and there’s going to be a huge pile of half-orders at the end of the night. Even if they are pre-portioned (where are we, McDonald’s?) the most that will be left over at the end of service is half an order of each. Basic math. And I’ve yet to work in a kitchen that threw out any unused potatoes or salad mix at the end of the night unless it was already rotten. That shit just goes back into the walk-in for the next day.

Share: Come with friends. If you both want a bit of both, why doesn’t one person order fries and the other order greens?

And if my dining companion doesn’t want to share? Seriously, kitchen staff are not stupid. They can figure out half of a basic side of fries or salad. And customers shouldn’t have to share to accommodate a server more interested in judging them than in doing their job.

Order what you want: Let’s face it. You want crispy, golden, double-fried Yukon golds and you want to smother them in ketchup or mayonnaise or malt vinegar. You deserve it. Going out is a treat. Stop punishing yourself because some lifestyle magazine shows you a person with six-pack abs eating a 20oz. steak. Live. Be Happy. Eat!”

This contradicts itself, so I’m not sure what our server friend is trying to say here. Are they pushing us toward the fries to avoid having to send a half/half order to the kitchen? Or are they backing down and genuinely telling customers to “order what you want… you deserve it”? regardless of whether they approve?

Ultimately it comes down to this – it’s not about the downfall of our culture, it’s not about beauty and image. It’s just some potatoes and a little bit of lettuce. We’re not asking to replace that salad with truffles and steak, and it’s not that huge a deal for the kitchen to do – otherwise there wouldn’t be places that offer it outright – with no “annoyance surcharge”.

My prodding of this issue, in encouraging Lauren to go back and find out WHY a half/half order makes this particular server so upset, was never really answered. The essay rings hollow and is more a series of limp excuses than a true explanation. It’s speculative at best, and as far as I can see, it mostly boils down to them just not wanting to. So there. Nyah. All the philosophy and cultural theory is just meant to distract from the lack of a real reason and work as an excuse for someone to judge others and complain about the people who keep them in a job, all the while demonstrating the attitude that gives servers in our city such a bad reputation.