Meeting in a small, bustling Italian restaurant that resembles your Nonna’s kitchen tucked away in the far corner of Vancouver’s trendy Gastown, I shared an intimate dinner with Miss Zoe Klymuik-Turner: photographer, fellow BOH contributor and expeditor of a popular Gastown joint.
Having ourselves a chick date, getting our glasses topped up with prosecco before diving into our first course of crispy polenta and bocconcini fritti, Zoe takes photos of her food “like an asshole” – her words, not mine! We discuss her journey through the restaurant world, which she took out of necessity in order to pay off her massive student debt from photography school. Starting as a busser and moving to hostessing she was drawn to the animosity and soon fell in love with the aggressive nature of it all. She says she likes how people are not afraid to speak their minds. When someone is being lazy you could “fucking tell them” and no one would blink twice. There is no human resources department to report to; if you don’t pull your weight, you are bluntly asked to leave. Being home schooled as a young girl, Zoe found it difficult to read people. So when she first entered an environment where people told you exactly what was going on, and there was no dancing around an awkward or difficult situation, in a room full of straight talkers, she felt she had finally found a place where she could grow.
As an expediter, Zoe is the liaison between the front and back of house. She sees everything that happens in the kitchen and makes sure that the dishes get to the appropriate table in a timely fashion and that they are served as intended. To her dismay she is constantly downtrodden by the lack of mindfulness and empathy that both front and back of house show towards each other, leaving her to put out fires and keep the peace so the restaurant may continue to function without any significant delay.
The chefs are tired, overworked and underpaid. The servers are getting yelled at and cursed for simply relaying what a guest has requested. It is no surprise that issues arise between the chefs and servers; that is the result of being able to only see one side of a situation. When training new staff Zoe ensures that any person new to the industry is aware of what the chefs go through on a daily basis. Getting paid a daily rate regardless of how long they work; arriving hours before their scheduled start time because their station was decimated of “mise en place” from the service the night earlier; and lack of sleep from tossing and turning over a slightly negative comment from a guest.
This sage advice was given to her when she first started out and it has stuck with her: “Respect them. We are here to help them. The least we can do is make sure their plates are polished.” This is one of those small acts within a restaurant which feels like much more and is very appreciated. The expo is there to support both sides of the pass, both servers and chefs. Zoe passes this advice on whenever she introduces a new person to the role, in the hopes of closing the gap between the front and back of house.
The idea that there is a “Clash of the Titans”-style war between front and back of house is a concept that needs to be banished from all restaurants. Bickering aside, we are all there for the same reason: the guest. Zoe puts it in the most perfect of words when she says “The guest is God”. Without the guest we would be nothing in every sense. They are the whole reason we have the opportunity to lead these lives on the edge and push the creative boundaries of food while adhering to traditional service. Why can we work anywhere in the world? Because everyone needs to eat.
“One team, one dream” is a phrase often made fun of due to its overuse in the kitchen but it is accurate nonetheless. The servers do not exist without the chefs, and the chefs need servers to provide the experience because most of us are so socially awkward that we really should be banned from any human interaction. We need each other and furthermore, we need to put an end to the constant conflict. Put our grievances aside and understand that all of us has to deal with unpleasant shit that none of us want to deal with. I am so grateful for servers. I know that I could not do their job, and I am so grateful that when I put an item on the menu I can count on them to sell it. A good server is able to read a table so perfectly that they can tailor their style of service based on the guest needs.
It is a simple idea that seems to be lost on a lot of people. We are fighting the same fight and if one person goes down, we all go down. It looks bad on all of us if someone makes a mistake and cannot recover because the rest of the staff would rather watch them drown. Granted we are not perfect, and lashing out at your co-workers for a split second is to be expected in such a stressful environment. However what we can control is how we react after the fact, and we can choose not let it impact the guest experience. This is crucial.
Be kind to one another. And remember that the guest is God.
M: “ What is the ultimate message you would like to get across?”
Zoe: “ Opening up the conversation between the front and back of house of being empathetic towards each other. Communication is key, when you are on a team you have to be able to communicate, you cannot bring your egos into it. Everyone has such big egos and that is what makes it difficult.”
M: Zoe! What’s the dream?
Z: “ As much as I love restaurants and as much as I love expediting, I want to get into film. My goal is to be a director of photography”