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Serving Bakers

The now-defunct restaurant chain I worked at in high school had one potato product – the baked potato. Not even the french fries were from potatoes; they were sweet potato fries.

The bulk potatoes would show up in large sacks from the produce supplier and would be baked and placed in a steamer on the short order line along with the salad and soup ingredients – which meant servers had to prepare the baked potatoes when they were ordered. That led to a wide variation in customer experience: One server might put a large scoop of sour cream, a little butter and some bacon bits, but I like baked potatoes with very little sour cream, a bit of butter and a good-sized handful of bacon bits, so that’s how my customers received them. Come to think of it, I may have had something to do with the demise of that restaurant with my youthful exuberance to provide customers with meals exactly as I would like them.

As a server, I didn’t enjoy preparing the baked potatoes. They usually had to come out at the same time as the meals, but they were kept at the salad station, with the first items to come out. The baked potatoes at this particular chain also could have used better inventory management. By the end of a shift, the potatoes that were in the steamer were shriveled and wrinkled – despite management’s orders to cut the potatoes and squeeze them to “stretch” the skin back – and I hated delivering a sub-par item to customers. That also may have had something to do with the restaurant going out of business.

But I ate out at a sit-down chain restaurant the other day and had a nice surprise. A creature of habit, I ordered the same dinner I always get with a side of fries. A few minutes after I ordered, the waitress took the order at the table behind me – three college students. The first student ordered an entrée and chose a baked potato and mashed potatoes as his two sides. The next ordered a baked potato and a salad and the last student ordered a sandwich with fries and a baked potato.

I was first caught off guard by the sheer amount of potato products three college students were eating, and then I considered the variety that the restaurant was offering. I’m sure the chain could have cut back on its potato products (it’s sometimes difficult to find a baked potato at a chain restaurant), but the added variety is good for the potato industry. The different tastes and textures that are available from one source – the humble potato – can provide a selection of side dishes that taste good and are easy to prepare.

The next time I visit that restaurant, I may have to deviate from my same old order of fries and try one of the other potato products. I think my wife will too, because after hearing the college students’ order she immediately regretted ordering an entrée and instead wanted the baked potato and a salad.

Originally posted Monday, Feb. 9, 2009

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