"Stage"- In CIA terms, to "shadow" or "trail" at a restaurant of choice.
It was a pleasant day in Hyde Park, New York. Many students were getting ready to go to class, hike up to the 4th floor of Roth Hall for Bachelor's studies or waltz their way into a kitchen in chef whites. For me, my hand were shaking as I turned in my psychology quiz, knowing that in the next three hours, I'd be in the presence of a fine dining NYC restaurant full of staff members watching my every move. What would happen if they didn't offer me a job? What if I absolutely hated the place (especially spending so much money for travel)? What if I didn't make it on time or miss my train? I jetted to my dorm room, quickly put on my blazer and dress pants and tied my hair into a slicked back bun. My attempt was to look as professional as can be, for I had to make the best impression possible. For a CIA Bachelor's student graduating in October, I was determined to succeed in each and every interview so that by the fall, I would have job offerings to pick and choose from. Also, I would have to set time aside in September to find housing. To be stuck on graduation day not having a job lined up, was a depressing thought for me.
While travelers on the metro-north were gossiping, drinking beer and dazing out into the Hudson River, I kept going over how I was going to reach my NYC destination. The restaurant I will leave un-named for the sake of their privacy.
I remembered what my friend had told me about this place. He warned me to eat something before going into the trail, for I'd be hungry by the end of it and starving for food. I thought hard and long about where to eat in-between Grand Central and the Central Park area. My friend Chris a while back told me that if I was ever in Grand Central, to go to The Oyster House and try their clam chowder. To ease my nerves, I did just that and savored every bit of my "chowda” at the bar.
I finished my Pepsi and my Uncle texted me asking where I was in the city (a New Yorker himself). When I mentioned how I was very anxious, he said nerves were a good thing, they make people focus. I told him I was an hour early to my stage at the restaurant and he gave me some good advice. Following his order, I called a cab asap. His reasoning was to take a cab rather than a subway since it’d be more direct. Also, I wanted to travel uptown early to avoid any traffic. Indeed, it relaxed my thinking since I was in the area rather than stalling in Midtown.
As soon as I entered the restaurant, ten minutes before scheduled, a handsome host greeted and escorted me into the office downstairs where I met with the director. He handed me off to a server that would be showing me around the restaurant for the first quarter of the night. I was very impressed that there were guidelines for this stage as well as a sheet of rules for the evening. I was even on the floor plan for PM service, which was quite an honor to see!
Family meal was very well executed. There was a protein, vegetable, salad, starch and dessert- the perfect amount of food for a medium-sized staff. Dinner took a total of twenty minutes, followed by a briefing of the "who is who" that would be attending dinner that night. The staff member listed off a bunch of customers, first and last name, describing their titles and requests dinner. Each server wrote down if there were any birthdays, celebrations or anniversaries in their sections as well. New wine updates were discussed and the director also listed off a bunch of online reviews the restaurant had receieved. A few servers were quizzed here and there on upcoming events and menu items. Before I knew it, service was about to get started.
The night overall went very well. I stood and observed quite a bit in a dining room for four hours. My patience and stamina to not lean or slouch was definitely challenged. The staff members were very hospitable, friendly and easy-going in character. Yet, they were serious about their roles in the dining room and made sure each guest was accommodated to their needs. The simplistic food soared by my eyes. Colors of red, green and orange highlighted the use of fresh, raw, summer ingredients. I was honored to have witnessed such a harmonized service.
The reason why I am writing about this stage is because I want to encourage all of you to face your fears, travel into New York City and trail for some of the best restaurants known to mankind. It is an experience of a lifetime and even if you don't accept or get the job, that very night will remain with you for a while and influence your own decision making skills when in a real, fine dining atmosphere. You'll be able to compare what techniques you've seen at one restaurant to another and take note of how a successful service is performed. Stay strong CIA folk!