Go downstairs, or right into the back, and it's full of aluminium shelving units massively overstacked with tins and boxes, all supported by precarious leaning towers of fresh produce and the ubiquitous rectangular 'gastro pans' full of prepped mise, complete with lethal corners and a heavy penalty for whichever poor soul knocks one of these gargantuan towers over. There's no paint for the staff to pick off at all here, it's just exposed, probably damp plaster. Just as easy to competitively remove , but it leaves a powdery , ingrained residue that show up on your hands in the dining room. Besides, the maître d' would win anyway - they've had the practice from being here longest (a note on maître d's here. They fall into two camps: the first you would gladly do a function of 300 by yourself for, and they occasionally allow late-night incursions into the bar as a reward for manic services smashed, filling in wastage sheets for '6 shots JD' straightfaced. The second is an oxygen sink, whose only apparent purpose is to not turn up on time then let the serving system collapse around you, resulting in the 16 and 17 year old weekend staff performing miracles to rescue everything despite only being hired to give full-timers quieter weekends, yet they still share their tips. That said, there are some stellar teenage front of house stalwarts out in restaurants today, most of them with purely on-the-job training and a Christmas party season under their belts. I've been served by, worked alongside, trained and was one. Managers hire them for more than the youthful vitality they give to a wake: they come cheap and tend not to abuse the terrible staff discount most places offer.
So, right now you're sat above a warehouse full of food that certain people think doubles as a decent base for the sub-legit operations of some of the fringe elements of the house staff. Well, it probably does. But for the most part they keep it quiet and don't let it affect their work - everyone's in it for the money.
And that's not including the kitchen crews. A high pressure, high responsibility job where you put in more hours from Friday to Sunday than most people do all week will turn any civilian into a battle-scarred kitchen mercenary whilst in whites - human nature changes on the other side of the pass. I know of chefs who flatly refuse to cook for weddings without listening to Radio 4, others half-convince themselves they're Ron Burgundy and quote, in character, from obscure 80s anime films and reveal spoilers about the ending. It's an industry with high product and staff turnover and today we have social media and online job searches - chefs can afford to be idiosyncratic but nothing like the ones you hear about so often. Once the errant wine bucket or three-inch wad of redundant paperwork is kicked back and the doors swing shut for service, a siege mentality develops: intolerant of anything less than maximum effort. Chefs will become rightfully affronted and furious, sometimes personally hurt, that the one person who didn't give a pre-order is eating from their particular kitchen that night. We all want you to be happy; staff get an easier ride, the kitchen can dictate the timing of your meal more effectively and you'll tip better, but through your own blind, stupid idiocy, everyone's job is suddenly made harder. Chef and co. will actively enjoy the time it takes to replate without the sauce, or brassicas, or whatever other issue you kept quiet about, and will call service on it gladly wishing personal harm and ignominy upon the receiver.
But after work or during their day off (almost always midweek) the chef walks amongst us like any other. They wear cardigans and drink coffee or spirits in their favourite places. They walk their dogs in the park and cook their partner breakfast. They get pregnant and go on holiday and support rival teams and use Tinder and, for the most part, act normal. That said, it's 'normal' for the pastry team to get commissioned by other staff to make cakes, ice cream or whatever else. They sell it for cost plus 20%, It's a bizarrely, eerily beautiful sight: whites in the bin, jeans and tee now, a chef moves through their kitchen blue-lit by bug killers, Charlie Simpson's solo album on. They hum lines to themselves, trying them out in their mind to play somehow later (a lot of chefs begin wanting to be creative but express themselves in other ways until they get a voice in what goes on the menu - lots start bands or write. Their music taste is diverse but usually excellent.) Here, time doesn't matter: this is important for somebody who spends their days producing other people's food and can now cook for a friend. The next day, their work is handed over in a tupperware box that once held crayfish tails or Dijon mustard before it was washed and used for a hundred other things. Unless it's Sunday, when the leftover terrines, tarts and other easily carried stock that has to go is taken by pretty much everyone. A bulge in the coat or bag of someone who's just clocked out is more likely to be ordered food than industrial-grade resin that the guys stirred up using the vast bowl of the Hobart mixer.
Occasionally the chefs forgo their cut and do it at cost for a birthday or anniversary. Normally the favour would be repaid according to the person who ordered it; a half of the fairly wild home-infused spirit the barwoman stashes on top of the fridge, waiting for the cocoa nibs and ancho to do their thing in mezcal. Other payment forms include sending all the training coffees from latte art day to the kitchen or automatically triple-shot Cuban brewing some coffee in the morning (chefs are idiosyncratic, yes.) If you really owe, book a table at another restaurant on a shared night off and 'perform some research' with whoever else swapped their shift to come or just royally screwed the others on then by going for dinner.
There are some sub-groups of customer. Type I sees the restaurant as a temple of class, elegance and fawning obsequiousness towards the diner, the staff as servitude incarnate, and treat the place as such. These are the abhorrent hyena-like individuals who take two flutes at an arrival drinks 'and more for the couple over there' before pointing to an empty corner of the room and grabbing half the tray. You know full well that we've got exact numbers for this event and that your friends prepaid these. Essentially then, you're stealing from your friends. Bastards. You are far worse than Type II. They might bemuse and irritate staff, but at least they're not thieving, deceitful, backstabbing drunkards. No, the second diner is a cultist: they exist. Obsessed with celebrity chefs and convinced that Hell's Kitchen is a documentary and Kitchen Confidential is the universal gospel. They try to augment their own experience by alternately baiting and pestering the staff, wanting juicy details about the chef and the antics of the kitchen, then becoming difficult in order to hopefully provoke a meltdown in the kitchen, hoping the chef will scream things that libel lawyers up and down the room would love to get stuck into. They want a story to tell their friends, not a good time.
'You know that new place? The chef's mental!' No, the chef's just pissed that one of the tables out there is messing the kitchen about. Chefs are wise to it. Type II's other tactic is to wheedle,
'We're really sorry, it's just, well, you know, we, ummm, didn't feel...' and peter out, aware that the waiter's still there, waiting for them to acknowledge the food so other tables can see some service. Bloodlust attacks the couple. They ask things like
'Was it bad? Did the chef shout at you?' To floor staff looking to deliver hot plates, clear empty ones and make a room full of people happy, this is the equivalent of being the first responder to a car crash and being blocked by the queue that forms behind the rubberneckers.
Thankfully, there is a Type III Diner. The average, polite, initially sober person who doesn't bait staff as sport, lie, steal or believe that what goes on in 1980s American kitchens and in studio TV kitchens is totally accurate in a midlevel restaurant today. The type that KPs, chefs, waiting and bar staff are when they go out. Not that that happens much though - we don't pay them enough.