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What's the average 'error rate' in your kitchen?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Yes, I have been diagnosed with symptoms of burnout before, but I have taken one or two steps back and feel a lot better for it. However, being a chef and operator, my restaurant business is all-consuming, both during and outside service times, and I can't help my perfectionist attitude when it comes to cooking. I'm so obsessed and deeply concentrated during service times that I make no mistakes. I'm beginning to think this is a bit unhealthy, as everybody makes mistakes.


What has recently occurred to me is that we never get any complaints due to genuine mistakes, i.e. cold food, wrong degree of doneness, etc. You know what I mean. Of course, there is the occasional moaner where something has not been to their liking, and of course we do get 'professional complainers' who get a kick out of slagging you off on Yelp (waiting times, waitress has no idea about wines, portions too small, uncomfortable chairs, yadda yadda...) or those who think they know better how to run a restaurant and are full of 'well-meaning' advice. Yet the food is always, consistently the way it was intended to be, although we aren't a chain, but what you would call a Mom and Pop in the States, a small one at that.


I eat out at restaurants myself (time allowing) and talk to a lot of foodies about their experiences. Mistakes are made wherever you go; you could say 'shit happens'. A certain number of mistakes is normal and human. What is your average error rate during service? Are we all this obsessed? I guess there will be more mistakes where the owner doesn't sign off each plate before it is sent. Or not?


I know it's probably hard to say really, as not every unhappy customer will complain, but customers are more likely to complain explicitly about genuine mistakes than about less tangible/subjective issues.




post #2 of 6

I've learned a long time ago that just because nothing is said, doesn't necessarily mean everything was right.

The repeat business is your answer..

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hi chefross,


you're right and I'm obviously not naive enough to think that only explicit criticism is real. You can only go by those plates that are sent back into the kitchen. Additionally, I work in an open kitchen, so I'm probably closer to the customer than most chefs and receive feedback more directly.

But if you put all your feedback, i.e. direct, Yelp, rejected dishes, etc., together, you can still figure out what criticism is technical (error-related) and what is purely subjective.




post #4 of 6

Quite high where I work. Except for the head chef the combined total years of experience of 3 chefs is 4 years so as you imagine a lot of mistakes are made. Obviously sometimes complaints are made by people who like to moan and sometimes they are from people who just don't like part of the food although it is actually cooked fine.

post #5 of 6

     First I'd say you're doing great if you are on top of things well enough that you don't make real mistakes. I'm always surprised at the number of places I eat at who may have great local reputations with a reputable young chef but who do make genuine mistakes like cold plates for entrees, over poached eggs, brown lettuce in salad, room temperature soup,over pounded chicken breasts, etc. They may be creative and using local products but they seem to overlook the necessity for keeping on top of the basics. 

     In reference to people not liking the food in general, I am reminded of the review I read years ago whose author referred to the soubise sauce as "too oniony".  This was before the internet and in an actual newspaper review. 

You are not too obsessed. You're doing what your supposed to do. To me that's the challenge of the business; keeping up the standards of whatever you serve be it pizza or filet mignon. 

     I worked in an "open kitchen" for five years, cooking behind the counter directly opposite the customers. Feedback was immediate and blunt. I learned to be my own worst critic so I wouldn't have to hear it from someone else. Not having a wall between me and the customers also taught me that when the waitstaff relayed a customer complaint, they were relaying an actual complaint, not just trying to mess with me or ruin my day. If I could, I would have every cook experience the same to better understand the overall restaurant process. 

     When I eat out, before complaining I try and assess whether or not what I have been served is being served as intended. I may not like it but often that is simply the way the restaurant operates and complaining won't change anything. The last time I ate at a high end, experimental, gourmet restaurant I was going to complain about the portion size as in 'It looks and tastes great but it's the size of a sample, not an entree". But it clearly was not a mistake.

     On the other end of the spectrum, my first time in a Waffle House while traveling through the midwest, my first sip of coffee tasted like dirty water. Before complaining I noticed the table of regulars eagerly getting refills from the same pot. Apparently not a mistake. 

     While just about every place could use improvement in some regard, I'd say stay obsessed. That's what you are supposed to be. And if I ever get to Germany, I'd love to stop in. 

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hi chefwriter,


thanks for your long reply!


You've said it far better than me: I am my own worst critic. On the one hand, that's a good thing, because I care, on the other hand, I think it can get a bit unhealthy and obsessive. When it gets really busy, I get stressed out over it and develop tunnel vision, sometimes I even get a kind of mental blackout, because I'm focussed so hard on ensuring the food is served the way it was intended.


We all make mistakes, but if you care, you should try your best to make sure that every plate you sent is perfect. It's not always possible, but in most restaurants there is a large enough window between "good enough" and "perfect", where the customers will not know the difference, unless they're compulsive regulars who always order the same dish.


I have worked with talented young chefs, especially one sous who worked for me for a year, who did care a lot about the food in general, sometimes got hung up on tiny details that, in a rustic setting like mine, were negligible, but when it came to service time and we got slammed, that anal attention to detail flew out the window and they would make avoidable mistakes.




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