Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Hi, May I Help You!"

[warning: vegetarians, hide your eyes.]

One thing that mid-westerners do well is barbeque. This is a food that I did not entirely appreciate before my first visit to Missouri, but I am pleased to report that I have become something of a connoisseur. I thought that Bryant's was very good. Last year I tried Gates' barbeque, and while both are exceptionally good, I prefer Gates' to Bryant's - Gates' sauce is sweeter and slightly less smoky. And going to Gates is an unparalleled experience.

MIL (my mother-in-law) and I went to pick up dinner at Gates the other night. The location we went to is an unassuming restaurant. It is similar to a fast-food joint - bright red tile all over; stainless steel counter top, but with a diner-type window between the cashiers and cooks back into the kitchen. This window is key, as I discovered.

The entrance to this Gates restaurant has a wooden, floor-to-ceiling frame that MIL accurately compares to a corral. When we arrived, MIL hung around in the doorway looking at the overhead menu. She wanted to decide what to order before entering the corral because once you're in the pressure is on. The cashiers are quick and when they yell out "Hi, May I Help You!" you must be ready to yell back your order - sliced beef or ham (in a sandwich or by the pound), a burnt-ends sandwich, or a slab (that is, a slab of ribs).

The pressure this puts on the person doing the ordering is considerable. But the cashier has good reason to be impatient and expect a quick answer to her question because she is good.* She yells the order to the cooks in back as quickly as she receives them and she commits them all to flawless memory. While we were waiting for our order a second cashier came from the back and our cashier rattled off our order as well as those for the next five groups. (The volume of meat sold that evening was somewhat astounding.) The cashier also put the pressure on the cooks to keep up with her. It was spectacular. I recommend a visit (unless, of course, your a vegetarian; the only vegetable served were dill pickels).

*the cashier is always a 'she;' and the cooks are always 'he.'

[Incidentally, the academic in me couldn't help but note that ALL of the staff at this restaurant were young African Americans (aged between 25 and 40). This, of course, makes me speculate on the racial and class politics at work behind this example of Kansas City's famous barbeque. Any thoughts?]


Cabiria said...

Yeah, African-Americans serving white people BBQ? Nice. Why do I imagine the CEO of the company and the management are mostly white?

Dolce Vita said...

Yeah, I too figured that the CEO is probably white (as is the server in their official logo). But about half of the customers that evening were African American.

Rachel said...

BBQ is raceless - in that everyone loves a good bbq - but service industries most certainly are not. Here, only the minorities work in fast food or low level service industries. All of the employees at Burger King speak English because they're all Filipino, and at least have a passing knowledge of English as compared to German. Rule of thumb: if it requires an education, poor minorities aren't going to be doing it. I was talking to my landlord tonight about race/poverty/language problems in Austria, and it's interesting how similar the issues are and how different the responses are between our two countries.