Upfront is the Heavy Table’s effort to bring attention to the “front of the house,” and to generate discussion and debate about service in the Upper Midwest and beyond. Consisting of in-depth interviews, this series focuses on the experience of those who say, “Yes, Chef.” What, to them, constitutes “good service”? How do hosts, servers, bartenders, sommeliers, and managers navigate the dining environment as more and more self-identified “foodies” and self-appointed mixologists take to social media and dash off reviews on Yelp even before closing out their checks? How does front-of-the-house staff deal with the social, emotional, and physical demands of service? We really don’t know — so we decided to ask. (See the first installment of this series: Tim Niver of Strip Club Meat and Fish.)
Q AND A WITH NICOLE WEILER AND TIM MULHAIR
A few months ago, we met Nicole Weiler, a razor sharp, vivacious woman who splits her time waiting tables between Barrio in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport (Terminal 2) and The Craftsman in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, all while studying at the University of Minnesota. Because Weiler could compare food service in the airport and “streetside” (server lingo for restaurants outside the airport), we knew we had to interview her for this series. She brought along Tim Mulhair, an insightful, charismatic bartender who also does double-duty at the airport (Barrio) and streetside (Jet Set in downtown Minneapolis). Weiler and Mulhair previously worked together in the G-concourse in Terminal 1, but left for Barrio just before G-Concourse implemented iPad service — both feared the new technology would reduce service to food delivery. Over an epic dinner at Corner Table, we had a lively conversation about the peculiarities, challenges, and opportunities of serving crowds who always have a flight to catch.
HEAVY TABLE: What are some of the biggest differences between serving in the airport and outside the airport?
NICOLE WEILER: Well, it takes a long time to get to work, for one! And you still have to go through security every day and pay for parking. You get a staff rate, but … And making sure that you keep track of your badge, ’cause … if you lose that badge, it’s a hundred dollars to replace it. … And you can only lose it twice. The third time, it will be surrendered, and you can’t work in the airport for two years.
… You have to pack your bag correctly. You can’t bring your favorite drink into work. … If you want to have kombucha or something while you’re working, you have to go buy it at that inflated, five-dollars-a-bottle price.
TIM MULHAIR: And I think not having regulars, not having your friends come by to see you. It’s a weird thing. … People are like, “I can’t even go look at your restaurant, because it’s behind security.”
HEAVY TABLE: How often do you have to have trainings about security, regulations … ?
WEILER: We don’t?
HEAVY TABLE: You don’t?
MULHAIR: Not once you’re badged. … Which is an interesting process.
WEILER: You have to be fingerprinted and have an FBI background check to work at the airport.