Tableside Service Goes Up In Smoke

October 24, 2009

in Server Stories

I must admit that after a number of years in the “food service” industry, inevitably there are some “Dinners from Hell” I have been responsible for. Whether it be an accident or not, I’ve always owned up to the mistake, made it right and continued on with life. However, there is on “Dinner from Hell” that stills haunts me because of my blatant stupidity.

It was years ago when I was in Culinary school earning my degree. Part of our program was the class had to run a fine dining restaurant and cover everything from all the stations in the kitchen, to waiting/bussing, to maître d’. One of our “exams” while running the restaurant was that we had to make a flaming dessert in front of the patrons in the dining room.

My day was for the exam was approaching fast and I was nervous. So I practiced and practiced and practiced the dessert until I felt I could do it in my sleep. I later realized out that this was my downfall.

My day came and I was ready. Service went off without so much as a beverage getting below 1/2 full. Dessert service came and I rolled the portable gas burner out into the dining room with my instructor in tow with all the ingredients needed. I flip the burner on and begin preparing the dish, with my instructor explaining to the now captive audience each step of the process. As things start to get cooking, my instructor gently reminds me to slow down, but I was getting cocky. I kept thinking “This isn’t so bad! I bet I even get the highest score!”

The time came to light the dessert. Again the instructor whispered to me, “Now slow down, this isn’t a race. Make sure to hold onto the pan handle once this is lit,” as he pours Bacardi 151 into my spoon. I responded with a casual “Okay” and light the spoon with the burner flame. I touch the spoon to the contents in the pan (also doused with Bacardi) and instantly it flares up. The crowd gasps in awe. “I am AWESOME!” I think to myself as I start stirring.

That’s when I get a little too over zealous and I accidentally bump the now flaming pan and it starts to topple off the burner. I hear a rather frequent patron sitting not but 3 feet away gasp in fright as the burning dessert would certainly land, if not too close to her, then ON her. I see my instructor’s hand whip around me in the nick of time and grab the handle of the pan to stop it from spilling its contents. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief as he rights the pan and whispers to me again, “I told you to slow down and hold onto the pan.”

I was so embarrassed, and it wound up that I couldn’t stop shaking for the rest of the service, which prevented me from using my brain to make things right for the patrons. Needless to say, I did NOT get the best score for that exam, and I emerged much more humble and wiser.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Slotper December 3, 2009 at 4:13 am

Culinary school… Degree??? I'm not sure the two are related in any way outside of the internet…


Ally May 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Slotper — are you suggesting that degrees in culinary arts are only available over the internet? That is not the case.


Monica R. May 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm

What are you, nuts? Culinary degrees have been around forever and that is many if not most professional chefs are trained.


sara December 6, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Don't worry I did something similiar over a bananas foster. In my dining room we all had set stations and rarely worked out of them. Mine was on the bottom tier of the dining area. But, I was asked to do a foster on the top tier for a friend who was in the weeds. I wheel everything over to the table they ask if I will explain what im doing. Everything is going great they're loving the show. Until I flame the rum. I'm used to the flame. It usually goes either straight up or slightly back. Nobody had explained the vents to me and I was somehow ignorant of the air blowing directly above me. So, there goes my flame shooting across towards my table!! It came within a foot of the lady I was mortified.


Gregg - admin June 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm

You're very fortunate that no one got burned. Four diners suffered burns just the other day – one of them seriously – as a result of a Bananas Foster presentation gone horribly wrong at a Florida restaurant. According to this article about the incident, Bacardi 151 rum bottles carry a warning label stating that the product shouldn't be used for flaming dishes: Officials Explain Bananas Foster Fire.


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