Wash (Not the Bon Iver Song)

“City Eats Review by Me” written April 10, 2014
“Wash (Not the Bon Iver Song)” written April, 29, 2014


An Explainer:

During the spring of 2014 I worked at a small independent cafe near to my apartment in St. Louis.  The work seemed appealing as it did not require grading or calling the homes of indifferent students.  I saw it as a new wrinkle, an added dimension to my life, in addition to working at the high school while continuing to assist with a local St. Louis arts non-profit.  And it would bring in a bit more cash.  So I was excited to get an interview with the cafe that I will, in deference to the many legal forms I would put my name to when hired, call here “City Eats.”  So Google won’t know what you are talking about.  

The initial interview of interest lasted four hours, with an additional three hour follow up chat.  This should have alerted me to something, and it did seem odd, but sort of in keeping with the slightly artsy, off-kilter nature of the nice-enough owners.  So I went with it, ready to make smoothies and dish out Asian salads.  

The cafe in question was a great mishmash of aspirations.  It fashioned itself a hot-spot for artists and creativity, as well as a bakery, bistro, and wine bar.  Their pallet was filled with so many colors that, when mixed, quickly becomes a dull grey mess.  Eventually I became a probationary employer for City Eats, which required that I have a two-month (or longer, who knew?) with my training to finally conclude with a 200-question exam.  I would also be judged and graded by all the other employees, and I in turn would critique the other three trainees on this same loopy track to cafe-dom.  This last requirement seemed unnecessary, uncomfortable, and beyond my lowly pay-grade.  Maybe all the other employees felt the same way about this requirement that reminded me of a circled firing-squad.  

Have you ever wanted to explain to your boss why they are kind of wrong?  Reveal the cracks plainly seen?  The following is my own employee assessment/confession, “City Eats Review by Me.”     


The Good (I am!)

A note about the above employee ratings I have given myself: I have really enjoyed working with the staff of City Eats, and they all have been welcoming and great as I’ve gotten to know the cafe and procedures.  Thank you to all for being so good about answering my many questions.  If I have a strength it would be wanting to learn what I am supposed to do, and carrying out the responsibilities of a restaurant to the best of my ability, both in customer service and food service.  My scores above about  how I help and work with the other members are only my anticipated hope of my usefulness and friendliness to them.

Specifically, I feel I am good at cleaning tasks, food and smoothie prep in small to moderate amounts, and sincerely attending to every customers’ needs.

Beyond the details listed below, the extensive training was appreciated, as well as the methodical manner in which I was introduced to further responsibilities.  I may have begun shadowing early– according to the regular process– but I found the early work in the kitchen, on the line, and with customers very helpful, and would highly suggest that future candidates similarly shadow at least once during the early stages of training, to better see how it all fits together, and get a clearer overall picture of City Eats


The Bad (More than a few)

What do I need to improve upon?  Presently I am unsatisfied with my productivity level (still being slow at times).  While I have already noticed myself getting faster and completing the overall task of opening and closing, I look forward to the further experience and routines that will cut down on the time required for checklist tasks.  Correspondingly, I have to be hard on the general quality of my work (question #20) for that same reason, though my accuracy and attention to detail is quickly improving.
As for question #19, “the knowledge of how to prepare a large group order” would not be my problem; rather, it would be balancing the complexity of size of the order with time expectations.  Right now I’m fairly comfortable with making about three entrees/items at the same time, and would begin to feel nervous if a single order was more, or if a line was forming at the same time.  When this has happened occasionally, the managers have been wonderful in lending a hand, and I have tried to take on more each time this has occurred.

Generally training was very well presented and carried-out, for the volume of information needing to be conveyed.  However, I do feel that coffee drinks do need to be better emphasized.  During my training I tried doing it once, and then returned to it during my “practice” day.  I want to make sure my espressos are correct, and that my ratios are right.  This could occur a few days later, after the initial training is digested.  I would also say the same for the breakfast items, only because they are ordered so infrequently.  I also understand that bar training is under construction, but I would be unsure how to make drinks (mixed, etc) for the customers at a professional level now.

While briefly at City Eats this afternoon, a customer had a question about their gift certificate that I was not sure how to answer.  I understand that we do not give back money, but what is the policy for any unused portion of the certificate?  Can another be written for the remainder if a customer does not want to use the entire amount/ the certificate had been for a large amount? I did not see anything about this mentioned in the handbook.  I also don’t think I was told about Customer Rewards discounts, or the organizations that qualify.

Also, can art sales to customers be restated?  I was told to take the money from the customer, then just give them the artist’s information, and we do not take part in the artist/customer interaction (although we’ve taken the money).  And that the customer’s acquisition of the piece is dependent upon the artist replacing the art at City Eats.  I bring this up because a) a sign in the conference room says art can be taken home at the end of the night and b) an artist has a tag saying “take it with you today!”

I would like to be reminded if artists are aware, per their signed agreements with CE, that they need to make an appointment, as they seemed confused by this.  Also, only job applications and vendors are listed in the handbook, but not Customers/Friends (simply ask if the owners are available via walkie-talkie).  While I can understand customers, are appointments currently a blanket policy for everyone?

Could we be shown/taken through procedures for injuries and use of the first aid kit, as we often work alone?  Also, what is CE’s policy for injury, such as something like slips?  The handbook only states we tell the manager, but what happens beyond this?

I would like CE to clarify its position when I see a customer enter the cafe (while I am occupied in the lager Kitchen 1 (K1) and go directly to bathrooms, (or other abnormal occurrences).  The customer in question did not come out for an extended amount of time.  What are my responsibilities in these situations, and does monitoring such semi-suspicious customers take precedence over customer service and food prep?

While being at City Eats the training that is perhaps most needed for the restaurant is VI, Food Safety Training.  I was never told proper food temps, proper produce washing, or hand washing.  While I appreciate being shown the proper technique after mentioning hand washing, the glossing over of these essentials, and what I have witnessed while shadowing/working, leaves me to wonder how much, as a wider institution, these stated policies are followed and enforced for the sake of the customer.  When I began training at CE I began teaching myself food safety, including temperatures (while I understand this is more of a food preparation need than general crew), and how to clean vegetables.  What is CE’s policy on washing vegetables (spinach, tomatoes) before prep for the line, and how closely are we supposed to follow the food expiration list in K1.  The use of food past these times (for example, a soup in the smaller, prep Kitchen 2 (K2) yesterday dated 3-19?) posted for us has caused confusion.  I would also appreciate going over proper cutting techniques, as it was not covered.  I am ending on the issue I have thought about the most while at CE.  But I would also like to say that I have been very impressed with the other cleaning, sanitation, and storage policies of CE, and the emphasis of regularly and thoroughly cleaning and upkeep.  My suggestion would be for Food Safety Training to be the very first City Eats training, as a simple but important introduction to the serious stance CE takes on professional restaurant standards.

  *     *     *     *     *

Near the end of my few-month service to City Eats, I took use of the cafe’s embracing of technology, to suggest a slight new direction, according to decency and food regulations. Enjoy. 


There seemed to be a question last week of whether certain produce served by Urban Eats needs to be washed prior to serving. Because I could not be certain myself, I investigated the need for such standards. According to FDA Code 3-302.15:

3-302.15 Washing Fruits and Vegetables.

(A) Except as specified in ¶ (B) of this section and except for whole, raw fruits and vegetables that are intended for washing by the consumer before consumption, raw fruits and vegetables shall be thoroughly washed in water to remove soil and other contaminants before being cut, combined with other ingredients, cooked, served, or offered for human consumption in ready-to-eat form.
(B) Fruits and vegetables may be washed by using chemicals as specified under § 7-204.12.

Again, was “thoroughly washing” at any one point enough? I wasn’t sure. The key phrase in (A), it turns out, is “before being cut,” according to the Health Department inspector I spoke to about my mystery restaurant, because of the outside contaminates that can enter, say, a tomato, during the slicing process (Negligence of this step has led to recalls, such as cantaloupes it turns out). “Triple-washing” was not enough, again according to the STL inspector, because of the shipping and sit time that occurs after this distributor washing. The Missouri Food Code and the National Restaurant Association like this too.

Mushrooms, because of the delicate nature of their response to water, according to the inspector, should still be cleaned before use with a damp paper towel, because as she put it, “they’ve been in the ground.”

Using food past its suggested window, happily, is not a safety issue, and merely a question of, as she said, “quality, that the customers will taste and must still be satisfied having paid for it” that is left to determination of each establishment. So we’re all good there.

Hope this has helped! 🙂














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