By Marie Beachdale
Editor’s Note: This column contains graphic injury descriptions.
Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012, Surfside Beach - While front of house restaurant employees deal with crabby customers and through-the-roof stress levels, back of house employees work in a fast-paced danger zone.
As a server I have suffered my fair share of bumps, burns, and bruises, but I have it easy compared to the men and women in the kitchen. I have witnessed more stomach-turning, blood-gushing accidents than I ever could have imagined while working at a restaurant.
The first bloody mess I ever saw was when I had just started at the restaurant. The manager, who had been prepping food in the kitchen, was standing by a sink and looking somewhat lightheaded. I asked him if everything was all right.
“Do you have a weak stomach?” he asked.
Upon shaking my head “no,” he unwrapped his finger from a paper towel, and held it in front of my face.
I instantly regretted asking him what was wrong, as all I could see in front of me was a hand full of blood. Upon closer inspection, I realized he had taken a sizable chunk of flesh out of one of his fingers.
I could feel the color draining from my face. I was in awe that he was able to laugh about his injury. That’s the day I learned that most back line employees either have unusually high pain thresholds, or they are super humans.
A year later I was standing in the service window talking to a cook as he cut tomatoes. Mid-sentence, he cursed in pain and threw the knife down on the cutting board.
Worried, I rushed around to his side of the window and saw the tip of his thumb lying on the cutting board. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I should have helped him, but I couldn’t pry my eyes away from his thumb. His hand was instantly covered in blood, and once the other cooks became privy to the accident, I was pushed aside as they collected the piece of thumb from the cutting board and placed it in a portion cup.
“Here, take this to the hospital with you and they might be able to sew it back on!” one cook shouted, almost sounding a little too excited.
I expected to see the injured cook crying, or at least looking like he was in pain, but he was grinning like a fool as he collected the cup with his thumb, bandaged himself up to stop the bleeding, and headed out the door.
I thought the thumb fiasco would be the worst injury I would ever witness, and it was… until a few weeks ago.
We were in the middle of dinner rush on a Friday night. Ticket times were short, and the kitchen staff was working hard and busting their butts to keep customers happy. As I was standing in the window waiting for food, I watched a disaster happen in what seemed like slow motion.
One of the cooks slid on the greasy floor and started to lose his footing. In front of him was a stove top with two pans on high heat. As he headed for the floor, I was praying his face wouldn’t end up in one of the burners.
Luckily, it didn’t, but instead his hand reached out for anything to hold on to, and in the process knocked a hot pan off of the stove, which landed directly on his arm.
I closed my eyes instantly, as if it would stop any negative outcome. When I opened them moments later, the injured cook was back on his feet, but holding his arm in obvious pain. He ran out of the kitchen and headed outside, asking me to follow behind him.
Once out the door, I asked him if he was all right.
“I’m in pain, but I just need you to wrap up my arm for me and I’ll be fine,” he said, as he held his arm up in the air.
I had never seen anything like it, aside from maybe on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. His arm was so badly burned in one section that strips of skin were dangling from it, exposing delicate flesh of various pink and purple shades that I wasn’t aware skin could turn.
I closed my eyes again, and demanded that he go to a hospital.
“No, I can’t, I have to get us through this rush first.”
Now that’s dedication.
I did my best at playing nurse, applying shiny burn cream to his blistered arm and wrapping it in bandages. He secured the bandages with a hefty amount of duct tape, and was back on the line in minutes. I couldn’t believe it. When I burn my finger on the toaster, I’m in tears. How was this guy jumping right back into the hot kitchen?
Back of house employees are incredibly tough. And to think, on top of all of these injuries they have to deal with demanding servers all day, too!
So the next time you’re dining out at a particularly slow time of day, pay attention-- you just might hear the kitchen staff sitting around telling their stories from battle, proudly displaying their scars.