A Kitchen Conversation, Translated

A sous chef speaks to a server in a steamy kitchen. “OK, that’s the special eighty-sixed. Eighty-sixed, you hear me? And if I get one more order for it, I’m gonna lose my — ” (ticket printer chirrups) “Oh My God! Get me Lance right now!”

The server wheels around and heads for the dining room to locate the hapless Lance. She spots him and beckons. “What’s up?” says Lance, looking nervous. “Brian wants to see you. Special’s eighty-sixed.” Lance rolls his eyes dramatically. “Will you do me a favor and ranch thirty-two for me?” he says as he walks toward the kitchen door.

Restaurant worker-speak may sound like a secret language to the uninitiated. What’s happening here? “Eighty-sixed” means “we are out of this item or dish.” So the servers have sold all of the evening’s specials. 

That’s good, right? 

But Lance has put in an order for another special, and all the chef has left to build that plate with is a trout fillet which fell in half, and he doesn’t want to serve it. Lance knows he’s in trouble and will have to bear the derision that Brian is preparing to unleash upon him.

Knowing he’ll be in the kitchen for a few painful minutes, he’s asked his fellow server to deliver a serving of ranch dressing to table 32 — as ranch dressing lovers are notoriously anxious to get their second serving of dipping sauce.

“Brian!” Lance says cheerfully, trying to look sheepish as he walks up to the line.

The chef waves Lance’s ticket, outraged. “You asshole. I eighty-sixed the special! I gave you a count! What is this shit?”

“I’m sorry, dude! I didn’t see it! Seriously, you don’t have one more? I can ask them to change it, but… hey, what’s that?” Lance points to the two halves of raw fillet on the cutting board.

“That’s something I wouldn’t serve your mother, and she and I are really close these days! It’s not supposed to be in two pieces, man.”

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“It’ll be fine. Throw some veg on top. They’ll love it. The one we had in pre-shift was amazing!”

Chef says he’d given the servers a “count.” That means that he told a server or manager earlier in the evening exactly how many specials were available to sell during the upcoming service. Some restaurants have fancy point-of-sale systems capable of tracking the count as specials are ordered, reducing the amount available to ring in. Others have someone write the number on a memo board in the server’s station, and servers are supposed to erase and rewrite the number available when they sell one.

Lance says he didn’t see that the count had fallen to zero. He doesn’t want to go back to the table and tell them he made this error, not after he waxed rhapsodic about the trout, telling the table he tasted it before service. “Pre-shift” is a meeting the servers have before the guests arrive (or as they’re arriving). Table sections are assigned, and servers usually get to taste the evening’s special, all of them falling on it at once like a pack of starving coyotes armed with forks.

Also, the chef has disparaged Lance’s mother, by intimating that he and she have had relations. Lance, in survival mode, has wisely ignored this salvo and instead handed the chef a compliment, hoping he can convince Brian to eke out one last special. Lance is heavily invested in this outcome, since restaurant patrons sometimes punish servers by reducing the tip when something goes wrong with their meal, whether the error is the server’s fault or not.

Brian doesn’t want to compromise his chefly integrity, but Lance has done the right thing by appealing to his chefly vanity, and he’s already reaching for the split fillet.

“OK, man. This time. But I swear to god, if another one gets rung in, that’s it, there is no trout in this building.”

The ticket printer chirrups. “Oh My God! Someone get me Tiffany!”

“Love you, mean it!” Lance cries, as he flies back to the dining room to locate the hapless Tiffany. •

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

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