Learning from Restaurants (and a pet peeve)

Anyone who has worked with or for me has heard me rant about how they need to learn from the way professional kitchens work.

The efficiency - the focus - the attention to detail - the professionalism....

Perhaps most of all, we need to learn from the intolerance of incompetence. When working the line in a restaurant, you have to know you don't even need to think about (much less worry about) them doing their job well. Everyone on the line has to do their job well - and you have to know that everyone is doing their job well. You have to be able to rely upon all of them - 'cause if even one of them is falling down on the job, you're all in the weeds. Realistically, if you're even wondering about them doing their job well, you're probably about to be screwed.

On a functional line, you're a team. Everyone has each other's backs - all the time. Yeah, people fuck up and you cover for them or bail them out. That's different from simply not being able to do the job (or just failing to do the job well).

Everyone knows this.

So when someone isn't cutting it - they're fired. There is no, "let's try and make it work." It's just business. It's not personal.

And everyone knows that.

So everyone works to have each other's backs - and everyone works hard to do their job as well as they possibly can every single shift. Because the rest of the team is relying upon them.

In coffee we don't have that.
We don't have each other's backs.
And we tolerate incompetence.
We're selfish.

And it's hurting the experience customers have. It's hurting our businesses.
It's hurting coffee.
It's gotta stop.

And an (unrelated) pet peeve...

I live in San Francisco. It's a great food city - and it's becoming a very good coffee city.
But visitors to San Francisco often end up being steered to mediocre (over-rated) restaurants. We all know Zuni is coasting - but tourists are always sent there. The tragedy is that they have limited meals, and instead of going somewhere great - they're going somewhere mediocre.
This has always bothered me.
And now it's repeating itself in coffee. These days I constantly read about coffee enthusiasts who visit San Francisco, go to Blue Bottle and return home saying "San Francisco coffee ain't all that."
Blue Bottle ain't all that.
But it's your fault that you only visited the 5th best coffee place in SF.
San Francisco coffee really is all that. Yeah... it's no Portland. But it's getting better every day.


Andy Weissman said...


Challenge accepted.

Even though I do love Blue Bottle

onocoffee said...

This past August, I had a very enjoyable meal at Incanto and I'm looking forward to returning and giving Contigo a try.

onocoffee said...

I also wanted to add that perhaps this professionalism that's lacking in the barista world is because we lack focus.

Baristas seem to want to be the darling Rock Stars - each and every one of them. They're too cool wearing tight jeans and looking disheveled while spending hundreds of dollars on clothes and choosing not to bathe. On top of that, they prefer to know very little about anything external of coffee and then prance about with chips on their shoulders about how "awesome" they are and how they're going to win the next latte art throwdown on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, serious cooks focus on craft, technique, ability and working together. The kitchen is an intense and focused environment that's hopefully led by a demanding, high-standard chef who's constantly pushing his crew towards excellence and perfection.

In the barista world, it's a free-for-all. No one's in the lead on the bar. Everyone is just doing it for themselves. There's little or no vision guiding the cafe or the people. Even the supposedly "best" coffee joints in America are run willy nilly.