Yesterday I got the chance to stick my head above the stainless steel ocean of the kitchen and try my hand at talking to actual Disney Guests. Out front, before the world, looking at the smiling (sometimes not smiling) faces of Disney fans like me who were hungry for Columbia Harbour House deliciousness.
Let me put this out there: I’ve never done Front of House stuff. Like, ever. When I worked the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, I was able to take tickets, talk to Guests and make their food all at the same time, but that felt temporary. In a real restaurant? Nope. I’m clueless.
“We need someone on Food A!” I heard one of my coordinator’s say as I walked past the door.
“I’ll do it! Put me out there!” I ran back to the kitchen/onstage door, beaming with enthusiasm (picture Dory from Finding Nemo–‘Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!’) and bouncing on my black workshoes. “I did counter once.”
“Are you busy right now?”
“I’m just cutting broccoli.”
Angela, our coordinator, a loud and boisterous New Yorker with an unmistakable accent, looked at me with amusement. “Go for it!”
I did a double take. “Really?” They never let me do Front of House. I always bug them about it (“Can I do it today? Can I trade places? We have an extra culinary, do you need any help out there?”) but they won’t let me–it’s a pay difference, and I therefore cannot crosstrain, which drives me crazy. I want to learn so badly. I want to see your smiling Disney faces.
Angela opened the door for me and I stepped out of the brightly lit kitchen into the dark woodwork of a nautical-themed restaurant, one I barely ever see from the outside. It was cooler out there, and the guests were all standing by, clutching their receipts. They were nice, normal vacationing families… but the sheer amount of them combined with the overwhelming sensation of I have no clue what I’m doing made their smiles seem a little more menacing than magical.
I looked at Bradley, one of my favorite Cast Members. “Bradley,” I whispered. “What do I do?”
He pointed out the basics, training me on the fly. Lets just put it this way: I was a clueless mess, but I was having so much fun.
“Bear with me!” I kept telling my Guests as they waited for their food. “You’re my first Guests, so this is really exciting.”
They were all very patient, even wishing me good luck. Minus the one rather nasty lady who glowered at me like I had two heads.
Finally, I was just moving too slowly and they bumped me out. I will admit, my tickets were beginning to all look the same and tangle up in a big ticker tape parade at the counter, slightly mangled as I tore the tops with a smile. I could tell the other Front of House Cast Members were both amused and annoyed, but I was having the time of my life. I would talk to the Guests and get distracted, or I had trouble reading the hieroglyphics of the ticket (two kids strawberry yogurts? Oh. Did I get those already?).
Finally, when I went back into the kitchen, I felt as though I’d run a marathon. I fell back into the hum and familiarity of the kitchen, where no one was pushing or jostling or waiting for their food with hungry eyes. (Great. Now the song from Dirty Dancing is stuck in my head. And now, yours as well. You’re welcome.)
I told everyone I came across, “They let me on counter!” One of my closest culinary Cast Members high fived me. “Finally!” he said. He knows of my dream to deal with Guests.
“So, how was it?” one of the other coordinators asked.
“It was wonderful! I’m terrible at it, but if I do it once or twice more, I’ll be magically tossing out trays like a card dealer. I loved it. I want to do it again. Can I trade with someone?”
He laughed at me. “Well, imagine doing that every day for twelve hours a day.”
I refused to be deterred. “I thought it was wonderful,” I said. And it was. Hands down, my favorite day at Columbia Harbour House. (Other than the day they gave me a radio and I heard one manager say to another, “I need you to keep an eye on Bradley. I just saw him dancing through the dry stock room.” Perfectly timed on cue, Bradley danced through the door into the kitchen, and I think I laughed for a good half hour.)
I wish there were a way to do both–culinary, which I truly do love, and Front of House, where I can interact with Guests. Because isn’t Disney all about a great Guest experience? I want to be a part of that.
But, this is the place where dreams come true, and you never know… maybe someday I’ll get the best of both!