Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm a Waitress!

For all of four days now...

Banquets and Catering: new class, new anxiety!

This is the class that introduces everyone to the art of serving. Only seven days long, it builds a solid foundation for the future when we work our way through the CIA's esteemed restaurants. Everyone will eventually work in two of the four restaurants - three weeks in each kitchen, three weeks each in the front of house.

Halfway through this block our class will swap with the other AM class. Right now that group is in the Banquets kitchen, cooking the food that we are serving. Come Thursday, we'll be in the kitchen.

For now, though, our class is in charge of serving lunch to a room of fellow students (75-90 each day). It's a banquet-style affair, which means everyone is seated at the same time and served the same three-course menu.

"Class" is quite a bit different than in the kitchens. We arrive at 7:30 AM, have lecture until 9:00, then set up until 10:30. We usually use 15 tables - each seats six. Table cloths go down, then napkins (a different fold each day), then place settings for all three courses (remember, it's a banquet). Glasses are iced and watered, butter dishes are set out. The pantry person takes care of all the drinks. Iced tea, coffee, and the special drink of the day are offered from the get-go, then hot tea, espresso, and cappuccinos with dessert. Today's drink consisted of pomegranate juice with a splash of cranberry and yuzu juice, topped with Pellegrino and a cucumber slice. Very tasty.

At 11:30 the doors open and the maitre d' greets the guests. He/she sends them to a table with one of the waiters, who seats them. At that point the table's own waiter takes over. He/she greets them, describes the menu, and takes drink orders. After dropping the drink ticket off at pantry, bread is served to the table. The bread - various rolls and slices from our bakeshop neighbors - is in a basket, and we serve it to each guest in turn with a spoon and fork (used like tongs). This definitely requires skill!

Then it is time to serve drinks. Depending on the drink, some days are more or less nerve-wracking. If the pantry guy is feeling particularly cruel, he will compose a drink in champagne flutes. Or martini glasses. You would never think about the logistics of a glass until it's your turn to carry a tray of them across the room in your left hand and then serve them to guests. All it takes is a little tilt and the whole bunch goes down. You just have to hope they land on the floor, and not on someone. Trust me - I've seen it many times! It's particularly sad when the drink is bright red and cascades over a lady's head and down her dress. Most classes keep a running total of downed plates and glasses.

The back waiters run the food from the kitchen down the hall to the dining room. Appetizers and desserts are all right, since they fit in a single layer on one tray and aren't too heavy, but carrying the entrees makes me wish I still went to the gym. Once the tray is set down on a stand in the dining room, the front waiters serve each table.

The whole routine is surprisingly simple, so long as drink orders are remembered and trays are safely transported and nothing too embarrassing happens. But I have a lot to learn and practice, and there's no telling whose tray that next rogue champagne flute will be on. Not mine - please!

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