Walk-in Amnesia

How to avoid the inefficient time-killer of forgetfulness.

Have you ever left one room and entered another, only to wonder why? If you have, you may have more in common with cooks and chefs than you thought.

Imagine you are extremely busy, so busy that you could grow three extra hands and still not be able to do everything demanded of you in a reasonable amount of time. Imagine that during this insanely busy period of time, you have to stop everything you are doing and run—don’t walk—to another room to get something you need.

Imagine that room is 39 degrees Fahrenheit, and filled to the brim with food. That room is called a walk-in refrigerator, or walk-in, to the restaurant worker. Now, imagine that this little trip to the walk-in, in the middle of the busiest part of your day, is being taken at the possible expense of finicky dishes which require every part of your attention, and you have a dozen such dishes all burning away. You have calculated in a fever that you have about 20 seconds before your workload is compiled to the point of impossibility, and you spend five seconds dashing to and five seconds sprinting back from the walk-in door.

In the walk-in you have but 10 seconds. 10 measly seconds decide whether you will be able to succeed in your job or fail; 10 seconds decide if your customers will be happy or not; 10 seconds decide if you will let down your friends and coworkers or not.

The importance of those 10 seconds cannot be overstated. If you miss one ticket or burn one sauce, the mistakes will compound and it will cause a snowball effect of more and more mistakes. The timing of the entire restaurant will be compromised. Other cooks and servers will have to change their timing to accommodate your mistakes, and the entire building will turn into a chaotic war-zone, where friends turn to bitter enemies. Seldom does a busy night in a restaurant end without an apology, and a bygone forgiven.

Back to the walk-in. Supposing you made it there in five uninterrupted seconds, you must find what you’re looking for quickly. If it’s pickles you need, you must hope the bucket is already open (in a forthcoming post, you will learn some tricks for being more efficient in the walk-in). Same goes for onions, which can be a pain-in-the-rear to remove from the bag, and if it’s meat, you may have to move two or three 80 pound boxes to get to the one you need.

All of those little bits of work add up fast. Other times, someone has put something away wrong—more time. You wonder how hard it can be to find something in such a small space? If the manufacturer of the product changed the label recently you may be staring right at it and have no idea where it is. Distraction after distraction, in the cave-like hideout of the restaurant.

Often designated as a hold-up safe-room, walk-ins are built tough. The walls in the walk-in are insulated, and usually offer a good sound barrier. It is a necessary baffle sometimes for aggravated cooks, a place where swearing is never chastised. A haven for exchanging secrets, or a place to spout off about the boss, with no repercussions. Cooling off figuratively, and sometimes just to stop sweating, and have a glass of cold water.

At least everyday, though, you can find a frazzled cook, in the midst of a busy push, standing, frozen in place, with a look of disbelief. Scratching his head, wondering aloud, “What the hell did I come in here for?”

If it happens to you, try this trick: Say aloud over and over again the item you are looking for, as you enter the next room or the walk-in.

Too late? Then grab something that you know you will need eventually, and get yourself back to your station so you don’t screw up everyone’s night. You will remember what you needed at the next worst possible time, at which point you can start the whole process again.

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One thought on “Walk-in Amnesia

  1. Pingback: Deep Fried Corned Beef | The Sober Sous Chef

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