Two Hundred guests had come to dinner that night for a prime rib dinner that was now way over cooked. I was a sous chef at this time in my life and still had quite a bit to learn about management. Being young, arrogant and driven, I “knew” I was ready to be the chef of my own property, so this was a pretty big blow to my esteem. The previous week, our dishwasher had been cleaning the alto-sham and must of turned the temperature dial up when he was wiping the front of the equipment. Then on the night we needed to cook the prime ribs, my cook seasoned the beef, through it into the alto-sham, set the timer and walked away never checking the temp.
As dinner time approached and the timer went off, I went back and checked the prime rib, fully expecting to need to set them to cook for a little longer. I opened the door and once the steam cleared, I knew it was going to be a long night. The prime rib was a nice and grey and cooked well done. Serving well done prime rib to a group where nearly 80% of our orders were for rare and nearly two hundred guests come out every time there is prime rib was going to be a problem.
Cue the chef. It was right about this moment, as panic was setting in, that our chef, who had been off property all day, came walking through the back door. I felt a mixture of relief and nausea as I saw him come in, and I started to explain how the dishwasher must have reset the temperature while he was cleaning and how the cook didn’t check it when put the prime ribs in.
Very calmly, Chef shrugged his shoulders and explained to me the difference between fault and responsibility. No, it had not been my fault, I had not myself overcooked a few hundred dollars of meat, but I was the acting manager while he was gone, so yes it was indeed my responsibility.
Over the course of the night, I was exiled to the dining room. My job that night was to approach each and every table and explain to them that the prime rib had been accidentally overcooked, that it had been my responsibility, and that the best I could offer them that evening was medium well to well done prime rib.
During the course of the evening, the guests didn’t put together a lynch mob our take me outside for a stoning. In fact, though most were disappointed, no one even gave me a hard time, but rather said they appreciated that I was personally out in the dining room taking responsibility for the fiasco.
I have to admit, when it was first pointed out by my chef that I was responsible for the failures of that night, I bristled like a child who cries out “that’s not fair” when things don’t go their way. However, I learned one of the most important lessons of my career, how to accept responsibility for the performance of your team and to not trip over the “fault” line.