Sunday, January 23, 2022

Brunch From A Cook’s Point of View

What comes to mind when you think of brunch? Bottomless mimosas, fancy egg dishes? Perhaps loaded bloody marys? Seems fun right? Now ask a cook or a server what they think of when they hear brunch. Most likely the reaction isn’t very positive. For those unfortunate souls, like yours truly, that have had to work this Sunday afternoon staple, it is the most dreaded shift on any industry worker’s schedule.

If you will allow me to explain how miserable an experience a brunch shift can be for restaurant staff.  And hopefully, give diners something to think about before they decide to mistreat their server over poached eggs. Now some in the industry prefer working brunch and AM shifts. However, this article is for those like me who don’t hold brunch within high regard.

A brunch menu mix converted dinner leftovers into specials with an egg thrown on top, menu staples such as egg benedicts, burgers, and omelets. All of it is a pain to make when your body and mind are demanding to know why you’re not still asleep. Some lucky few can make such a turnaround and act like this sort of thing is normal, but for creatures of the night, such as myself, this is a struggle.

I’ve worked for restaurants that range from serving brunch a few times a year to 7 days a week, and every time was painful. On average brunch usually follows a grueling Saturday night dinner service, ending around 11 pm or midnight. After the breakdown, cleaning, and finally getting home, sleep doesn’t look like a possibility until 3 am. Most brunch shifts I’ve worked begin between 7 am and 8 am. I am not exaggerating when I say I have fallen asleep standing up while whisking away at a hollandaise sauce.

brunch
Image by Konstantins Jaunzems from Pixabay

Brunch seems to attract some of the pickest and demanding clientele into the restaurant. I’m not saying all who eat brunch are terrible, but the amount of difficult customers seems to double when eggs are involved. Or seem perplexed that the menu doesn’t have anything that resembles a particular pancake house chain. Not to mention those who seem to believe tipping isn’t important, leaving the overworked waitstaff hardly anything to show for the grueling shift they just endured.

While dinner service oftentimes is carefully executed, so there becomes a rhythm to it, even on the busiest of nights, there is a method behind the madness. Then there is the chaos that is brunch. Every ticket is straight to fire, there’s no wait between courses, at least ten things are needed on the fly, orders are being rung in incorrectly, and the hollandaise just broke and needs to be fixed before all the food dies in the window. Brunch at its worst is unbridled chaos.

So now brunch service is over, the sweet release is in reach, but wait, first the kitchen needs to be detail cleaned. Since a majority of restaurants are closed on Mondays, best to give the kitchen a full cleaning before the start of next week’s service. This consists of chipping away at carbon build-up, spraying harmful chemicals that cut through grease, and boiling out the deep fryer, just to give a few examples. Every kitchen has its own set of specific cleaning duties that undoubtedly leave exhausted crew with a sense of dread.

Or perhaps this brunch service goes into dinner service, so you have to completely flip the station, clean, and still cook some of the remaining orders before shift change. All the while, testy dinner service cooks are itching to get on the station to prep. There’s also a strong possibility you’re working dinner as well, so time to drink more coffee and hope it counts enough as a meal to get you through the next 8 plus hours.

Now don’t get me wrong, brunch can make a restaurant a lot of money and help with the food cost, and it can be very profitable for the business. Still, that nugget of knowledge isn’t exactly comforting to an exhausted cook who would rather be home in bed than poaching 10 dozen eggs at 7 am.

It was the late Anthony Bourdain that said brunch was a “ horrible, cynical way of unloading leftovers and charging three times as much as you ordinarily charge for breakfast,” and “it’s the least popular shift for cooks. I hate it.” My sentiments exactly, Mr. Bourdain. So, please remember, the next time you go to brunch on a nice sunny day for those bottomless mimosas, be kind to your server and the staff. Tip at least 20%, buy a round for the kitchen, even some kind words about the food and service. Because we are in hell at the moment, and a little appreciation makes it all worth it.

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Sara Snow
I have been cooking professionally for 15 years both in savory and pastry roles. After graduating from culinary school, I moved to New Orleans and have worked in some of the best fine dining restaurants in the city. With a long and successful culinary career behind me, I am beginning to pursue my passion for writing.

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