I have worked in restaurants my whole life. Till the little monster was born almost two years ago, my life revolved around executing meal services. Front and back, top to bottom. I have held every position possible in the industry from dishwasher to department manager. Service culture is a universe in and of itself; with its own language, practices, traditions and philosophies.
The term “in the weeds” has many other descriptors, but that is the most polite way to describe what happens when the demands of the situation overwhelm the system. It can happen to the separate parts of the restaurant organism or to the system as a whole. When an individual part of the restaurant is in the weeds it is usual due to that person or persons having not prepared their station adequately. Hosts who panic and instead of asking people to wait a couple minutes, double or triple seat servers. Servers that are unorganized in their process, and slam the kitchen. Bartenders who didn’t stock enough. Cooks who didn’t prep enough- you get the picture.
It can also happen even when each aspect of the system is prepared, trained and well stocked. Sometimes there are just too many demands in too short a period of time. Like when a bus pulls into the parking lot without calling ahead (something I believe should be punishable by a week in the dish pit for all involved.) When properly spaced there is no problem serving everyone. But there is a point; even in the most well run establishment when the demands outpace the ability to serve everyone what they want, the way they want it- in a given span of time.
Popular dishes are ordered till there is simply none left on property and they are “86ed.” Even good servers and line cooks can get so overwhelmed that they shut down mentally. It is one of the worst feelings you can have, a drowning sensation. There is so much that needs doing; no obvious place to start and it feels like no effort that will matter, panic takes over and spreads. The whole system flails.
My success in this industry came from my ability to deal with the weeds. First, in my capacity as dishwasher, then prep-cook, line cook, to chef and so on- till I found myself in charge of staff, expected to lead others through it.
I feel like the world is in the weeds right now.
All systems are overwhelmed, the people underprepared, no one knows what to do first or when it will end. In a restaurant at least you have hours of operation, a deadline where the doors will close and the shift will be over. The world has no such luck in this instance. No one knows exactly the scope, timeline, short term or long term consequences of this virus.
Everyone, everywhere was caught off guard and no one knows for sure what to do or how to do it. Time is giving us some of those answers. I want to take a minute and thank the people who are putting themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us. They are heroes in the truest sense of the word. When this is over we need to remember the people that didn’t run, that did a job even though they may have been petrified. The people who put thoughts of your family above their own.
We owe them an almost unplayable debt.
What we CAN do with these moments is simple. I know very little- about a great deal but I do know how to get out of the weeds. It starts with a breath. A pause, and a moment to acknowledge that your plans have changed. That grilled cheese sandwich you made because we were slow, will get cold and most likely go uneaten entirely. Accept that, and let its perfectly melted cheese goodness go without resentment.
Do what you can with the things you have at your immediate disposal. Take things one step at a time. Don’t be overwhelmed with the tickets that stretch down the line, and the infernal printer that won’t stop spitting out orders. Focus on the very next thing you can do, till you think that is covered and then look out and try to grasp the whole. You will feel more capable and less overwhelmed. It is hard to know how this will effect everything; from the healthcare and educational systems- personal finances to the global economy in the coming month and years.
This is uncharted territory that has no frame of historical reference.
Be kind to those you are sharing your space with. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen jovial pre-shift dynamics turn into knock-down, drag-out screaming matches or actual fights. All because of the stress of the situation. These instances almost always result in feelings of chagrin, lasting dislike, and sometimes broken connections.
Don’t let them.
It is very true that in stressful times you will learn a great deal about the people around you AND yourself. I have always felt these challenges could be overcome, or are blown out of proportion by the emotions involved. Being kind in the moment will not change the situation or inevitable outcome, but it will change the way you feel when the situation has passed. Even when I was totally justified both in the moment, and by objective measure after the fact- laying into someone rarely had a net positive outcome. Most of the time; my disappointment with myself and my behavior, canceled out any righteous validation.
At the end of the day, I could have done better.
I know that in this instance the stakes are much higher, but we all cause harm to others everyday by acting out of ignorance. Be it by spreading a contagious (but largely survivable pathogen) or buying products in the first world that result in enslavement and environmental genocide in the other places. Humanity’s default behavior is to spew out toxins and create waste without thought for the future or others.
Let us take this time to acknowledge that there is no “other” and no “away.” There is but this one earth and we are all on it together, woven to one another by so many strands that there is no untangling them. We can struggle against this web, casting blame and tightening its stranglehold on us, or accept the reality of this new world.
We cannot go back to a time when countries were sovereign nations, disconnected from the wide world and internally dependent. Nor should we want to. Our brave new world has some pretty amazing advantages in communication and coordination that could be used to save our species and others. I do not say “save the planet” because Earth has been through massive extinctions before. What we do on her surface stand little chance of destroying our rock as a whole.
We can get through this, but it will have to be through cooperation, selflessness and compassion for others. We cannot think only of our families and loved ones. We must consider those far away, people who we will never meet. All I can hope; is that this will be a world wide pause, a time of careful and honest reflection about our actions and systems. We need to reconsider our priorities and values in their totality, if we have any chance of “flattening this curve” and the many other exponentially damaging systems we participate in.
Take this time to breath and be grateful you have breath in your lungs. Many others are struggling to do so, right now. Hug and kiss those you can, call those you can’t and tell them how much you value their love. Do not fill your days with trying to predict the future, it can’t be done. Use this time to develop new skills, devote time to old talents you often lament giving up or not keeping up on.
Simply appreciate your own existence.
Be kind as you can in your actions, both to those you share your home with and those you touch virtually. Shelter in place, if at all possible and understand that there are many (like my husband right now) who are put in situations where they have little choice. Be grateful that you are in a situation where you can put your health before your wallet, many can’t.
I choose to have faith that this will end. I don’t pretend to know how or what state we will be in when it does. In time, those who are left will have a story to tell future generations. What will we take from this? What changes will we make? I don’t have the slightest clue, but I do have hope that it will fundemently change the way we interact with each other and the Earth.
Be well and please, take care of one another.