The Grinch said it best when he complained about all the noise coming from Whoville. I don’t like most noise unless it’s in celebration of a walk-off home run at Fenway Park.
There’s a difference between noise and sound.
To me noise is any unwanted disturbing sounds or distractions. The tapping of a pen, loud gum chewing, excessive talking, motorcycles revving needlessly on Broadway in Saratoga, disruptive music, and anything else I deem annoying. Trust me, I deem most unnecessary sound annoying.
Yes, I know I may seem slightly insane.
I have neighbors who make noise late at night with music and general frolicking about their yard while drinking a bit and raising their voices in proportion to the quantity of alcohol consumed. They seem to enjoy themselves as much as I now enjoy mowing my lawn and weed-wacking on Sunday mornings at 8:00. I’m in the market for a new chainsaw.
I love peace and quiet in my home and I deserve it. I work hard all week and when I’d like to relax I think it’s not too much to ask that others respect my wishes for reasonable amounts of noise.
I’m also not a fan of noisy bars, restaurants, or most public places. Yes, I’m getting older, and I’m perhaps turning into a “get off my lawn” kind of person, but I’m entitled to a quiet environment when I’m in a personal space like my home and my kitchen at work.
My first few hours in the kitchen are spent alone as I get in 3-4 hours before anyone else to set up the kitchen, get a lot of my prep work done, check in any deliveries, and to enjoy the peace of being alone. I sometimes play some banjo music, Johnny Cash, or Pink Floyd at a low, company-keeping level, but I often play nothing as I find pleasure working to the gentle hum of the exhaust hood and nothing else but my thoughts.
As my morning turns to mid afternoon the remainder of the kitchen staff starts to join me and I share my music at the same low-level, or turn it off in order to focus on communicating with them about the prep, and the upcoming evening.
Early in dinner service which starts at 4:00 there’s always a bit of noise happening as we finish up prep, more service staff arrives, there’s social activity among arriving employees because they haven’t seen each other in as many as two days, and final instructions are shared between management, FOH staff, and BOH staff. It’s sometimes hectic and noise producing. That’s when a shot of Irish Whiskey would help, but I know better. I simply do not like a hectic and noisy environment.
That may cause you to ask why I work in a restaurant kitchen. Remember I said I consider noise to be any sound that is disturbing or distracting? The sound of a smoothly flowing kitchen during busy dinner service is like soothing music to me. The cooks on the line are communicating well, the service staff is coming in and out with only a minimal amount of speaking with focus on the immediate needs of dinner service, and the music is either non-existent or on a rhythmic Spanish guitar station like Jesse Cook played at a level that allows regular speaking voices to be heard.
As the chef I have control of the music, I can train the kitchen how to communicate during service in order to keep us all on the same tone and working as a single unit, but I often find it difficult to keep the front of the house on same track. They work in a different environment. A busy dining room and bar can create a lot of noise, most of which cannot be controlled or blocked out. They cannot control the conversations with patrons, the number of questions they get, or the general din of the space. The sounds may be unpredictable, sudden, or in some cases uncalled for. It’s the environment they have adapted to, and sometimes carry that into the kitchen.
My small kitchen has more predictability, and the sounds are smooth, constant, and usually necessary. The issue comes into plat when the two environments mix. A serve enters the kitchen to ask for butter and the presentation of their request may sound like this: “You know those two on table 45?” “Well they finished their apps and have some bread left over from their cheese plate and want to take their time between courses. It’s their anniversary and they’re going to enjoy their wine. They’re from NYC and they met here in Saratoga 10 years ago.” “What do you need?” “They want butter for that bread.” All I needed was the last six words, the rest was noise.
The other thing that can distract a kitchen is the server engaging a kitchen staffer or another server waiting for plates at the pass in idle, irrelevant conversation. My kitchen is small, and I work only a few feet from the doorway. I’m old and not very sharp of mind so I need to focus on what I’m doing. Anything not immediately related to the dinner service happening currently is noise.
The kitchen, and restaurant at The Merry Monk was a real circus. Zero leadership from the front and a long bred culture of running amok in the kitchen.
Noise is not always the fault of the service staff. I once had a kitchen guy that could not stop talking, mostly about nothing. Most of the seasoned professionals get that a smooth-running kitchen is to their benefit. Folks that are new to the restaurant world don’t understand the difficulty of the job and that quality product and service requires focus on the task at hand. I have a good staff right now and the front of the house has strong leadership. With summer approaching we’ll see a few new faces that just need a shhhhhhh.