Awesom Cheesy Noodles
“Awesom cheesy noodles” (direct quote, spelling mistake and all) was one of the best compliments we ever received in our guest sign in book. This would have been referring to the ‘kids pasta’, which was penne pasta with butter and parmesan. Not rocket science, not by a long shot, but many (many) times in the restaurant business the most important thing you’re doing is making sure everyone at the table is happy. This takes more skill and psychology than servers are often given credit for. (And why a very good friend of mine, who was a restaurant person in her early life and went on to a very senior position in the fashion industry, always says that she will meet any job applicant with restaurant work on their resume. It is an unbelievably effective training ground for those undefinable skills.) For a lot of tables, for a lot of parents, if the kids are happy, everyone is happy. Enter the cheesy noodle.
Writing this I realize it reminds me of growing up. I lived in the UK with my family several different times as a child, where some of my strongest memories are of country pubs. Children were not allowed inside, so mom and dad would choose ones with gardens and they would go inside and get me and my sister an Orangina and salt and vinegar crisps. Sis and I were content with this enormous treat and a pub garden (probably with a stream running through it) and mom and dad could have ale and grownup talk and life was good. I’m also thinking that I’m fairly certain this is why orange soda was the only soda I would ever drink as a kid. (Though the Sunkist of the USA had nothing at all to do with the Orangina of the UK.) Salt and vinegar potato chips were also the only potato chip I would eat until I was well into my teens.
At our place, one of the things the servers had to do when they came in at the start of a shift was go over that night’s menu and ask questions about anything unfamiliar. They were to ask how to describe sauces and get tastes of things they had never had. This was not everyone’s favorite activity, but they were pretty game, most of the time. Even when, at some point or another, the husband made them all try Marmite. (Full disclosure: He and I both LOVE Marmite. But, as they say, you either love it or you hate it. Second full disclosure: No one who worked for us ever liked it.) But tasting things, and sharing that in the kitchen, it was a constant for us. We were trying new things all the time and getting feedback from staff was important to us. They were great and adventurous and very honest.
But, back to the noodles. The kids weren’t the only ones who loved the cheesy noodles. If the truth must really be known, this was a very popular staff meal too. We always offered our staff pretty much whatever they wanted for their evening meal. Everyone ate when the time was right for them and their duties, so usually towards the tail end of a shift as things quieted down. (There was often a snack from the cookie jar to tide them over. See previous post.) There were times we said no to requests, if we were running low on a certain item. Or times when people would wait until the end of a shift, so they could have something once we were sure we didn’t need it for a customer. (And there was that one time that a waitress had decided to have the chicken dish, then we got a last minute, late, order for chicken and her dinner got served right out from under her nose.) For me, I usually ate when we were all done for the night, so I ate late, light and pretty much 95% of the time it was tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil. Other folks had their favorites. Sometimes it gave them a chance to try something they would never be brave enough to order out themselves, or something they would never think to cook at home. But very (very) often it was cheesy noodles, add some broccoli.
P.S. In case you thought I was kidding about the tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil, I’ve included a few standout presentations from over the years.