Dishin' That: What happens in the kitchen doesn't stay there

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To my new readers, and especially to the rabidly faithful old-timers, thank you for your patience as I bit my cuticles working out tedious, yet exciting, business details with The Forecaster.

Pumping out four editions weekly, this newspaper group is established, respected and, most importantly, widely read. With that appeal (and my relentless stalking), the quest morphed from a freelance writing gig into a Big Girl job.

That said, continuing with restaurant work is a non-negotiable. Not only do I experience withdrawal when I stop waiting tables and tending bar, but it gives me fresh column material. Good, bad or ridiculous, real life as seen from behind the scenes in the hospitality industry never fails, at best, to entertain and educate. At worst, it can shock, anger and more.

With decades of uninterrupted work in the hospitality business, my street cred allows for the sometimes outrageous things you’ll read. Starting at 13, I scraped gum off the bottom of bar stools. From there, I was promoted to the dish room and learned the zen of scraping, scrubbing and stacking. Eventually working all front-of-the-house positions, from under the table to general management, I landed in corporate restaurant marketing for a while. My return to the front lines as a hands-on, observant foot soldier is where I’m happiest.

Dishin’ That is not a place to turn for restaurant reviews or scoops about soft openings. It is an up-close and personal look at the human nature of hospitality and the wacky stuff that happens. In a business like no other, a simple exchange around an overcooked pork chop can reduce a seasoned server to tears. After the chef finishes freaking out, it can also be a teaching tool for the kitchen and an untapped public relations opportunity for the house.

There are countless, current conversations to be shared around tipping and the minimum wage debate. Everyone is interested in steamy restaurant romances between the most unlikely of people: dalliances are brought about by working 60-hour work weeks in close physical proximity. Making out in the walk-in refrigerator really does happen.

With summer coming, the story of a waterfront bar manager who suggested/insisted his female staff invest in Victoria’s Secret Bombshell bras must be shared. “It looks great under your scoop-neck uniform shirt,” he promised the stunned young ladies. “Seventy bucks at Vicky’s Secret will be nuthin’ compared to what you’ll make in one night with a two-cup bra size bump.”

Many readers ask questions about how to react or behave in a specific restaurant scenario. I am also challenged (as much as I am high-fived) by my brothers and sisters in the industry who beg to differ with my rants. To address and meet those needs, Dishin’ That will include my answers to reader-submitted questions; several juicy ones are queued up, and my email box is always open.

Loyal readers have asked about the cast of characters who formerly peppered my weekly columns in the now-defunct Portland Daily Sun. They’re as loopy as ever and will appear here soon.

I’m also frequently asked where I can be found shaking Manhattans. But don’t get your hopes up; although I did recently spill one of those Manhattans on a guest, it isn’t my style to spill the names of people or places.

Welcome to Dishin’ That. Punching in for work never felt so good.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.

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