Beating Murphy’s Law in the Professional Kitchen

Chefs Life and Murphys LawIf you’ve been in the restaurant/catering business for any length of time then you know from painful experience that that bastard Murphy’s Law is going to show up. Although he never makes a reservation he will show up, sooner or later. Here are some strategies you can put in place for dealing with him when he arrives.

Plan for his arrival!

You know he is going to show up at some point, so make plans for when he does. Always have a plan B. Know what you’re going to do if somebody calls in sick, if the oven goes down, if your product doesn’t arrive, if the party is moved ahead or back, whatever. A seasoned Chef can “see” possible tragedies and avert them before they arrive.

Plan for the unexpected, for the worst case scenario. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Mentally prepare your crew ahead of time

For instance, if you have an ungodly amount of reservations all at one time then there’s a good chance Murphy will show up and turn pain into agony. Let your staff know about the pain and possible chaos ahead of time so they can be mentally prepared for being buried. Give them clear instruction such as “focus on quality not on speed” or whatever. If you have a steward or prep person who can help pantry, make sure they’re on the line during the crunch.Talk with the front of the house to see if they can slow things down a bit during that time frame.

I’ve been know to tell my crew, “At 7:00 tonight we are going to get bent over and raped with a stick so prepare your stations as best as possible. When you sink, just keep breathing, focus on what you can do, focus on quality, do your best, and fuck the rest.” It’s not politically correct, not something HR would approve of, but in our high-stress, chaotic, adrenalin-charged working environment this testosterone laced comment puts smiles on faces and challenges my staff NOT to sink. “What do you mean Chef…we can handle anything! Let it come!” When the crew is aware of the challenge ahead of time, and are both ready mentally as well as with mise en place, then when Murphy shows up he is usually slammed against the wall and told to sit the fuck down! Mental preparedness is EVERYTHING.

Late arrivals and food quality

How often have you been told to have food ready at a specific time for a group, a tasting, or an event… and then they are late and your food quality suffers? It’s a catch 22, either you’re late in serving the food, OR they are late and the quality of the food is sub-standard. Either way they blame you. I’ve learned that it’s better to be late and serve quality product, than to be on time and serve sub-standard food. I plan on having as much ready as possible and then do the final finishing touches and plating after they have actually arrived (this is somewhat easy to do in restaurants, not so much in banquets). Murphy likes to say something is urgent and then arrive late. Put quality first.

Always arrive early! If you figure you need 2 hours to set up then give yourself 3. It’s sooooo much better to “walk into” an event opening than to “run like a madman”. Murphy loves offsite events… there are tons of things which could go wrong. Get there early so you have time to address any/all challenges. And bring something to do incase everything is absolutely perfect.

Don’t trust anyone!

Always doublecheck EVERYTHING. Anything that you have delegated out needs to be double checked… it’s still your responsibility and don’t trust that they have completed it until you see it with your own eyes. It’s your ass on the line, not theirs. It is not so much a matter of distrust as it is a professional habit of verifying everything. For that matter, double-check yourself as well.

Beating Murphy’s Law is about due diligence. Planning is everything. If you’re looking only at what’s right in front of you then he’s going to catch you. You need to be looking one or 2 miles down the road, seeking to solve problems before they ever even get to you.


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