Editor’s note: the following is a series of stories The Ripple is running on the first edition of the month, written in the first person perspective of reporter Lindsay Craven.
There’s a video game called Diner Dash where you control a little character named Flo who owns and runs a restaurant. Depending on the console you’re playing on you click or tap Flo all over the restaurant to take orders, prepare food, deliver the food and take payments as quickly as possible.
That’s very similar to what my experience was like working as a short order cook.
I spent the day with Nate Jones at Nate’s Place to see what it was like to work in the short order world. I learned that it is not for the faint of heart.
Nate’s day starts at 9:30 a.m. He gets to the restaurant early to prep for the day ahead, take stock so that he can place his orders for the day and do some last minute cleaning before the doors open to the customers.
Each morning he and his mother, Katrina, have to cook bacon, put away the dried dishes from the night before, make tea and make a run to the bank. While not the case this particular morning, Nate also slices his own deli meat and makes his own slaw. A couple of mornings a week he has to restock those items.
“I searched around for a distributor that sold a slaw that I thought was good enough to sell to our customers, but it just wasn’t out there,” Jones said. “So I finally decided that I would just make it in house, and now we go through at least 50 pounds of it a week.”
Once all of the morning prep is finished it’s time to open the doors, and a couple of employees start to roll in.
The crowd is slow at first, with only a few couples stopping in for an early lunch and individuals grabbing a lunch to carry back to the office. While we wait for the rush hour Nate tells me that he’s very particular about the grill and that he prefers to be the one to prepare the food if he doesn’t have a meeting to attend.
His workers don’t stand by idly waiting for a crowd. Each one finds an item that could use refilling or something that could be cleaned. It’s clear that everyone here respects Nate and his restaurant and wants it to succeed.
Around noon the crowd that I had pictured in my mind finally starts to roll in. Everyone gets to his or her post, and the group starts to function like a well-oiled machine.
Katrina takes over the register, taking everyone’s order and making friendly chitchat. Matthew Wyatt stands alongside Nate and helps assemble sandwiches and hot dogs as Nate takes them off the grill. Dustin Collins prepares the drinks and takes ice cream orders. I stand there dumbfounded at their speed.
Finally I realize that I need to jump in and help them out. I take my post at the deep fryer and package French fries, curly fries and tater tots. Once I get the hang of their routine and learn that there’s no shame in using the tongs when picking up fries fresh out of the fryer, I’m moving right along with the veterans of the trade.
In between transferring fries from fryer to container to tray, I try to help Dustin prepare drinks in advance.
I watch Nate as he prepares the burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs with great attention but still manages to pay attention to each customer who walks in the door. He asks about the families of the ones that he knows and he tries to get to know the ones that he doesn’t.
The steady flow of orders continues until around 1:30 p.m. and there’s finally a lull that allows for a quick clean up of the dining room. Distribution reps trickle in and Nate has to take a moment to go over his needs for the upcoming weekend with them.
After everything is caught up, Nate and I sit down and have lunch. He’s prepared his personal favorite, deep fried bologna and cheese on toast, and we talk about business while we eat.
Nate expresses the importance of running a good business. He not only wants his business to be successful but he wants people to feel important when they come in to eat.
“Our attitudes are really important to our customers,” Nate said. “I tell my employees that what happens to them outside of work is important to me but they need to leave it at the door when they come in to work because it’s about the customer in here.”
This seems to be an attitude that everyone has picked up and practices very well in Nate’s Place. Each customer is met with the signature phrase “your order’s ready friend” when it’s time to pick up their tray and each child is met with a smile as they receive their ice cream cone.
“That’s one of the best parts of this job,” Collins said. “Getting to see these kids with a big smile when you give them an ice cream cone and knowing that you did that for them.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org