Who doesn't have a list of "don'ts" at work? Today's the pastry chef's turn. We love making people happy with sweet concoctions, and we work hard to make that happen. Here are some tips to remember when dining on sweets that will keep your pastry chef from turning into a sourpuss.
Don't treat your pastry chef like a short-order cook. During a busy Friday night service, with tickets hanging, a front-of-house manager arrived at my station to ask for a favor. A diner wanted something sweet but didn't care for our menu offerings and instead would like bananas foster; could I make that happen?
Most of the restaurants I have worked at abide by the motto, "If we can, we will." But on a busy night, when we didn't even have bananas in-house, it wasn't going to happen. If you want to suggest a future dessert item you would love to see on the menu, let the manager know. Otherwise, eat the offerings or go elsewhere to get your sweet fix.
Dining around closing time? Make your menu choices quickly. Pastry people are either first in or last out. That means when a restaurant closes at 11 p.m., and you stroll in at 10:58 looking for dinner, that pastry person typically will have to stick around after the line busts out your meals to see if you will be in need of dessert. If you will be dining around closing time, order quickly, particularly if you plan on dessert. There is nothing worse than waiting around for an extra hour or hour and a half to have the customer turn down the dessert menu.
Celebrating a special event? Please don't wait to let the restaurant know. One of the duties of the pastry chef is to pipe congratulatory messages on plates. On a busy night, I would use the reservation sheet to pre-pipe plates for customers who were celebrating special events that evening. If you can, when making a reservation, let the restaurant know who is celebrating (spell the name for the person taking the order so we spell it properly on the plate!) and what event you will be celebrating. It gives the staff a little extra time to make your event special.
Don't bring in outside desserts. Really? Consider this: You invite me to your home for dinner. As we sit down to eat the main course that you worked all day to make, I pull out a container of my own food, ask you to plate it up and make it look great, then serve it to me. Rude? Yes, and it is the same in a restaurant. Enjoy the desserts on the menu, then go home to dish up that special cake grandma made.
Leave your allergy and intolerance attitude at home. I respect that many have allergies or intolerances, and I love when they ask me specifically what is in a product so that I can guide them to safe choices. Unfortunately, pastry chefs can't always accommodate every issue.
I have a good friend who eats mostly gluten-free and dairy-free, and she is so polite when inquiring about products, and even when she has to turn down products because they don't fit into her diet. Once in a while, I'll get someone who is downright nasty because I can't accommodate them. I don't bake with eggs just to make your life miserable, so please, be polite, just as I am when I apologize that we don't have anything that works in your diet -- then wish you a happy day.
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May your dessert experience be sweet, and may you be sweet to your pastry chef.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.