Monday, August 1, 2011


I go to this restaurant that used to be called La Grande Orange but is now called The M Street Kitchen, even though it’s exactly the same restaurant.

Except for one thing. Which I’ll tell you about later.

I order the grilled fish tacos, or the grilled chicken tacos. It’s not like I’m confused, and I can’t tell them apart.

“It’s white. It’s got ‘grilled lines” on it. It could be either one.”

No. I order one or the other. Although they do look very similar. You might say deceptively similar.

“We’re out of the chicken.”

“Give him the fish. He’ll never know the difference.”

I probably would. Even though both dishes include the same food arrangement on the plate – the grilled whatever, cut into strips, accompanied by a green salad, black beans, guacamole, and garnished with a dollop of sour cream and some diced tomatoes.

Which is where I get off. I do not care for those last two items.

The server arrives to take my order. I say, “I’ll have the grilled fish (or chicken) tacos. But with no sour cream, and no tomatoes.” The server takes down my order. Sometimes, they even repeat it out loud, so I’ll know that they heard me. Either that, or they want to give me a final chance to change my mind.

“Wait! Did I say no sour cream, and no tomatoes? What was I thinking? I want it all!”

It’s not that. They just want to assure me they got it.

SERVER: “One chicken (or fish) tacos – no sour cream, no tomatoes.”

ME: “Perfect.”

The server then heads off to place my order, and I wait for it to show up. And finally – not an extended wait “finally”, a within-the-range-of-customer-waiting- expectations “finally” – it does.

The server sets the plate down in front of me.

“There you go, sir.” Sometimes adding, “Hot plate!”, if it is, indeed, a hot plate. Otherwise, the plate temperature goes unmentioned.

I look down at my meal. There’s the grilled fish, or chicken. (The freshly made corn tortillas come on a saucer-sized side plate.) There’s the black beans. There’s the rice. There’s an ice cream scoop of guacamole.

And there’s the dollop of sour cream. And the diced tomatoes.


Sometimes, I wimp out and just relocate the sour cream to the side, and I pick out the tomatoes. Sometimes, I call over the server. On those occasions when it’s the latter, more assertive response, the conversation goes something like this:

SERVER: “Is there anything wrong, sir?”

ME: “I asked for no sour cream, and no tomatoes?”

SERVER: “That’s right, you did! I’m so sorry. Let me take that back for you.”

Did you hear that? “Let me take it back…for you.” Like they’re doing me a favor. By replacing what I specifically didn’t order – after what will be an unnecessary second wait – with what I specifically did.

You wonder, or at least I wonder, how this happens. And it happens all the time. You ask for one thing – a minor variation of what appears on the menu – and what you get instead is exactly what appears on the menu. The thing you made cleqr to your server you did not want.

“I’ll have the hamburger, with no bacon, and no cheese.”

“You got it!”

They bring you a hamburger with bacon and cheese.

“Can I have the salad dressing on the side?”


They bring you your salad. It’s drowning in dressing.

“May I have a glass of water with no ice?”

“No problem.”

Your glass has enough ice in it to sink the Titanic.

My best guess – other than that the people in the kitchen hate me, or they hate their jobs, and they’re deliberately screwing up, so they can get fired and go on unemployment – is that what we’re dealing with here, most likely, is a matter of habit.

These restaurant people are on “automatic pilot.” They do not study the “ticket” that the server slips into the clip on that metal thing that spins around. They just do what they’re used to. What they’ve done hundreds of times before. They glance at the “ticket”, they see,

“Grilled chicken (or fish) tacos”, they think,

“I know that one.”

And off they go.

They do not bother to read the whole thing. They just skim the ”ticket”, like they’re studying for a test, and they’ll be happy with a “D. “

Maybe they noticed some ink scratchings under the “chicken (or fish) tacos”, but they thought the server didn’t mean it; they were just seeing if their pen worked.

Maybe the server (since I didn’t actually see the “ticket”) just wrote down the assigned number for “chicken (or fish) tacos”, because the chef doesn’t know English, and he simply “Made the Number.”

“It’s an ‘Eight.’ I got it!”

No. It’s habit. A reflexive reaction. Totally void of thought, concern or customer consideration.

“‘Chicken (fish) tacos.’ Go!”

“But what about the ‘no…”

“‘Chicken (fish) tacos.’ Pick-up!”

And they’re done!

The kitchen is very busy? An understandable explanation. But doesn’t it take more time to do it twice?

It’s not the “habit” per se that’s the problem. Habits can be helpful, harmless or bad. I will elaborate on another occasion. This one went longer than I thought. Though, hopefully, it was decent company.

I mentioned up top that there was one difference between La Grande Orange and the M Street Kitchen. Here’s what it is. When it was La Grande Orange, if they messed up, the manager would come over to your table, and either say, “Your lunch is on us”, or they’d present you with a gift certificate for a free La Grande Orange meal in the future. When the M Street Kitchen, messes up, you get nothing.

So even though the place is exactly the same in every way – including the mistakes – it was, in fact, better at La Grande Orange.


Ghost of Dave Thomas said...

For my entire life, which is elongated, I've been ordering cheeseburgers, ketchup only. And you're absolutely right, it's more difficult for the cook to leave something off than to put everything on it. It's the assembly line mentality. No thought, just do it like they always do. But, it's no big deal. I've learned to be tolerant and scrape all that crap off the burger, then present it to the waitress/waiter. I don't tip by rote.

PALGOLAK said...

As an ex-cook, I can confirm for you that making changes to an order always adds complications.

Let's say the cook has 10 orders for chicken tacos waiting. Getting the food out quickly, and at the same time as other orders from the same table, is stressful enough.

When, say, 5 of those 10 orders have little persnickety caveats like yours like yours attached to them, they are bound to be forgotten in the chaos that a busy period might bring.

Using myself as an example, I used to especially hate people that wanted one sort of pasta instead of another in their dish.

What the @*#*&* is the difference between having ziti pasta and penne pasta, aside from givng the cook an additional pain in the ass?

I used to hate you people... but feel much better now.

Билеты Формула 1 Валенсия said...

The chap is completely right, and there's no skepticism.