by Lauren Rauh
Ever wonder what happens after you've ordered your meal in a restaurant? You've probably seen your waiter wander over to a computer punch a couple buttons and after hopefully a short period of time your yummy, hot dishes arrive on the table. There is definitely no rocket science required to produce your meal, but a series of well orchestrated steps are followed to ensure you get what you ordered. To illustrate this event, let's say you and three friends are out to for dinner and order three appetizers and four entrees. Your waiter puts the order in the computer by punching the appropriate buttons for each dish (if there is no computer then a hand written ticket is brought to the kitchen by the waiter).
A ticket then prints in the kitchen with your dishes on it designated into two courses. The ticket will also say your table number, how many people are at the table, and have position numbers next to each dish to mark who ordered what.
When the ticket prints, the expeditor (the person who organizes the orders and orchestrates the timely send out of meals, a.k.a expo) will read out the order usually in this fashion:
"Order in: Six oysters, a market salad, and a pot pie, followed by 2 bass, duck, and a chicken."
Then he'll distribute the tickets to the appropriate cooks so that there is one on each station and one for the expeditor. My station does not receives tickets though, because for one, I am next to the expo and can read his tickets if necessary, and also because I usually only make first courses and desserts. In other words, when I hear an order it must be made as soon as possible. The other stations are hot appetizers, and meats and will often have more than one course to keep track of. Having a ticket to read is important to organize the timing on dishes as well as to remind the cook of orders. Meats is almost always a second course (unless it is the only course). The cook needs to keep an eye on the order tickets because there is often a delay in the preparation to allow the table to finish their first course. So, back to your order.
When the expo says "followed by" the kitchen knows that the first dishes are appetizers and the last four are main courses; the oysters, pot pie, and salad must be prepared, sent to the table, and eaten before the meat dishes are prepared. Once the appetizers go out, it is up to the waiter to be aware of the proper timing for the next set of dishes. When the table looks like it is nearing ready for it's food the waiter will send a "fire" ticket to the kitchen. This ticket let's the expo know that the second courses can be prepared. When things get crazy and tickets are constantly coming in while others are being fired, the expo's job can get tricky. Sometimes he will make the call to hold back orders or fire others before the waiter has sent a ticket to keep things running smoothly. When dishes are ready, the expo makes sure the food runners (they bring the food to the table) know what table they are going to and that they have the correct dishes. And that, ideally, is that.
Though I have perhaps explained a simple process in a complicated manner, when there are over 20 tickets on the board, it no longer feels simple. Cooks must rely on memory, organization, multitasking skills, and a knowledge of how long dishes take to prepare to coordinate the send out of orders in [preferably] the sequence that they printed. This requires communication with other stations and a blind trust in your expeditor. Perhaps the main goal, however, is to appear to the customer that receiving their meal is as simple as order in, order out.