This Is What It's Like To Work In Restaurants During Thanksgiving Week
There is no logic, only stamina.
November 20, 2018 ● 3 min read
By Richie Nakano | Art by ChefsFeed
Generally speaking, the week leading up to Thanksgiving is pretty great.
If you’re a kid, it means a week off of school. Us old people can look forward to a quiet week at work followed by a long weekend that brings with it the first tangible holiday season vibes. Even if Thanksgiving brings the anxiety of impending doom that is traveling to see your MAGA loving in-laws, the long weekend is relatively chill time to catch up on sleep, watch TV, and if you’re a maniac, start in on Christmas shopping.
Unless you work in restaurants.
The week of Thanksgiving is a cornucopia of restaurant horrors. Besides it being seriously busy there are special menus to prep, guests that don’t regularly eat out—like ever— and if your restaurant is actually open on Thanksgiving day, well: good luck.
Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week are pretty standard; if your restaurant is even open you’re probably off. On Wednesday however, you come back to work and the reservationist immediately informs you that the restaurant is fully booked with a waitlist for several large parties. The chef decided to sell holiday meal kits, so the dining room is buzzing with people coming in and out. Stressed FOH managers try to decode overly complicated spreadsheets. The pastry chef burned a batch of Parker House rolls so all of the ovens are tied up, and the walk-in is packed with employee turkeys they ordered through the restaurant. The AM sous chef decided to order light since the restaurant will be closed the following day. Prep is a nightmare, and service is a steady stream of modified orders and wall-to-wall big party tickets.
At the end of all of this, you get to haul a giant, drippy turkey home with you.
A day off! Only…not. Pro cooks are expected to cook, and the curse of cooking for a living is that everyone around you is terrified to cook for or with you. So Thanksgiving duties more or less fall completely on your shoulders. And even though all of your friends and family are off tomorrow, you have to work, so when the festivities are over there’s laundry to be done, a kitchen to be cleaned, leftovers to wrap up. You skip pie and collapse into bed.
An actual nightmare. Conventional wisdom says that this is a quiet day for restaurants: folks have been shopping all day and just want to go home and eat leftovers with their family. That is wrong. This day crushes restaurants.
Coming onto your station, there's nothing—you have to start your mise from scratch. The reservations look light, so your CDC tells you not to prep too heavily. But when service starts there's a line of shoppers looking to walk in, and next thing you know stations around you are running out of prep left and right. You’re still drowsy from the day before and the entire kitchen around you gets pummeled into submission by the night's end. You make a turkey sandwich when you get home but fall asleep on the couch before you can eat it.
After the misery of Friday, the entire kitchen is on red alert. The walk-in is packed with extra product, and the CDC is warning everyone to prep heavy and not get caught off guard. Family meal, for the second day in a row, is turkey soup and everyone is in a really foul mood about it. Service starts…and it's quiet. The reservationist tells you there have been a couple no-shows and cancellations, but the second turn is packed.
When 8 o’clock rolls around it's still dead. Everyone works on little projects, tidies up their stations, the walk in, but by 9:30 it's pretty evident that the night is more or less a throwaway. Your CDC mutters something about folks having a last hurrah with their leftovers, and sends the pantry cook home early.
You made it! Yes, you are a mostly a deformed husk of your former self but you’ve made it! "All I Want For Christmas" blares over the dining room speakers, and prep is light since Saturday was so quiet. But the fatigue is so deep in your bones that you don’t walk around the kitchen so much as you slowly ramble. Moods are better because the turkey soup finally ran out but everyone mostly keeps to themselves. Service is like Friday; everyone has blown through their leftovers and still has a family to entertain, and they all want to eat right at 6 o' clock. Despite everyone'ss best efforts in ordering and prep, the menu is cut down by a third by the end of the night.
Hours later, you change into street clothes and vow to take a trip somewhere distant and warm next Thanksgiving.