To Serve Mankind

   What a great day we had on Wednesday March 25th!  Many thanks to the Turlock Red Robin, my Riverbank managers, and the gents at the Sierra Nevada Brew Co for an awesome afternoon in Chico.  They arranged a tour and lunch for both Riverbank and Turlock mixos at the plant and brew pub.  I took lots of notes, hoping to get a good blog out of it.  The gents at the brewery noticed me taking notes, and gave me a good tease saying they’d need to check over what I’d written before going ot print…they’ve nothing to worry abought though, for they were all fine hosts.  Besides, who am I to talk smack about anybody who gives me free beer?

   After a lovely 3-hour car ride, from Riverbank to Chico, I was giddy as we turned onto East 20th St. and the parking lot with the solar-panel roof came into sight.  “Very cool” I thought, and continued checking out the building’s exterior.  It is very clean and well-kept, lush landscaping with a Sierra forrest feeling.  Makes sense?  More on that later.

   Upon walking into the lobby I was greeted by four smiling dudes all standing around.  I said “hi” quickly as I beelined past them to get to the girl’s room – we were just in a car for 3 hours, ya know?  When I made it back to the main lobby, we exchanged pleasantries and I got right to checking things out.   The lobby was clean and simple; pictures of hops and machines and old buildings decorated the walls.  Through the glass doors to the left I could see the brewing tank room with some gorgeous murals depicting the process of brewing.  Four huge tanks, 2 copper and 2 stainless, were taking up most of the room.

   I turned back to the lobby and decided it was time to check out the gift shop.  They have all the usual fare – pints and other glassware, shirts, hats, bottle openers, thermos’ – but no shotglasses.  So I got AP a 3-oz taster with their logo on it.  Their shirts were adorable and I really wanted a green tank but was just a little short on funds that afternoon!  Next time!

   Exit the lobby and off to the left is the area I originally darted through to get to the powder room.  What I had dashed by before was a “museum” of vintage brewing equipment, but I’ve not idea, specifically, what they were used for.  I’ll talke a wild guess and say maybe they were used to , uh, make beer?  And more pics of the people and things of the brewery’s past and present.  On this side throught the glass I could see a different style of tank area (the fermentation tanks) which I later wrote in my notes is the “metal pipe room where the yeast is added and liquid becomes beer.  Then cold filtering.”  These tanks were the bottom half of the huge tanks seen on top of the building. 

   When the time came to begin the tour, our guide Charlie “The Battery Man” Kyle took us upstairs to begin.  It was a terrace-like upstairs they call the “mezzanine” that overlooks the lobby and leads to The Big Room, which is their main venue.  The terrace is said to seat 150 and I think this would be a darling spot for an event.  The Big Room is a bit more decadent, but not pretentiously so, and is set up with seating for 350 facing a stage area.  Charlie told us they have regular shows and events.  You can see for yourself what is coming up on their website, click on “The Big Room” link to get you there.  

   Back out of the Big Room and onto the mezzanine, we were shown a brief movie that offered some insight on the brew’s beginnings and founder – Ken Grossman.  It mentions Ken’s love of nature and the outdoors (hence the landscaping and the name of the brewery!).  Later in the tour, Charlie tells of Ken’s further dedication to nature and preserving it when we were shown the four huge fuel cells (sustainable energy producing generator-thingys).  He also pointed out that there are nearly 10,000 solar panels used to power the plant cleanly, and that Sierra Nevada Brew Co. recycles / reuses 99.8% of their plant waste.

   Charlie cruised us all around the behind-the-scenes.  We got to observe the brewing tank room (Lauder Ton, Whirlpool, etc) from the observation deck above.  I got some awesome pics of the murals I mentioned earlier.  We got close to the afore-mentioned “metal pipe room” and learned more of the beer process there.  Upon leaving, we cruised outdoors past the Pilot brewery where they test their ideas.  He even pointed out where the employee health center is (quarterly free massages!) and were they are building an employee child care center.  Bravo!

   One of my favorite spots on the tour was the bottling room.  It was so cool to see those bottles going by – all the Pale Ale scuffling down conveyor belts to hungry gripping machines that ironically, gently, pick them up and box them for distribution.  I got some cool video in there!  Can you believe they put out over 50,000 cases a year?  After leaving the bottling area, we went for a pleasant walk outdoors, past the solar panel parking lot, to our final destination – The Brewpub.

   The staff already had four tables all set for our arrival, and got right to setting out waters and beers for our refreshment.  They brought out their 2 newest brews for our delight: Kellerweis, their new belgian-style draft, and Torpedo, a hoppy, rich ale, that was my preference.  They brought out two appetizers for us to enjoy while we waited to have lunch orders taken.  The sausage platter came first; it was a selection of Bratwurst, Hot Link, and fennel sausage served with a side of caramelized onions and a side of some kind of sauerkraut / coleslaw – I don’t know what it was called, but I ate it all with a fork!

   I chose to take a cup of the butternut squash soup for my next course and conservatively ordered a chicken Ceasar salad for my entree.  The chicken was overcooked and dry but I ate it all anyway!  I ate so much!  I even got hold of Angela’s salad!  They make a great house salad: spring mix, goat cheese, candied pecans…mmmmmm.  No dessert for me, I was too stuffed!  We did have a birthday boy at our table; Angela’s son Roby joined us in celebration of his 21st, and what better place to celebrate than at Sierra Nevada!?!?  We finished off Red Robin style with a loud birthday chant; “Oh, I don’t know but I’ve been told / Someone here is gettin’ old!” 

   Thank you again, so much, to Red Robin, Team Turlock, Riverbank managers, and the great staff of Sierra Nevada brew co.  I can’t wait to come back again…if only you weren’t so far away!


{March 22, 2009}   Sips vs Red Robin

   Our essay assignment for my Eng101 class, due March 14, was an expository essay developed by comparison / contrast.  Since I got an “A”, I am not too embarassed to post my paper here for your reading pleasure!


I am a lucky lady; I have two jobs.  One might immediately call to mind the obvious fiscal advantage of two jobs during this country’s depressed economic atmosphere, but the money is not my point.  I have jobs at two very different restaurants, both have their positives and negatives, and this contrast provides me with balance and job satisfaction.  I am endeared to both locations for their dynamic differences, but only the beloved guests know for sure which atmosphere is right for their own purpose or occasion.

Sips Bistro and Wine Shop is a peaceful spot with a maximum guest capacity of 37 people seated.  The tables are odd sized, making it difficult to accommodate a party of over twelve people.  As one enters, the first sight noticed is the wine shop to the right.  It features over 500 labels of wines from around the world.  The feeling is very casual, and guests are prompted to seat themselves at any table in the restaurant.  Any available staff member is happy to approach arriving guests with menus and details of the soup du jour and any specials.

Guests tend to choose from the wine list for their beverage selection, which offers 12 varietals by the six-ounce glass or two-ounce taste.  They can also choose any wine from the shop and we will chill it if necessary and open it for a minimal corkage fee.  As for the food menu, Sips’ guests choose from an unpretentious menu of healthful items.  The plates are not loaded with food, but rather have just enough to compliment the wine and the dining experience.  There are separate menus for lunch and dinner.  All items are made from locally grown and manufactured ingredients whenever possible, and soups and desserts are homemade from scratch.

  After Chef John spent 2 ½ years training at culinary school, he followed his education with high-profile work experience with companies such as Hyatt Regency, The Arizona Diamondbacks, and The Phoenix Suns.  All employees are dedicated professionals with a passion for food and wine.  The owners, Bill and Diane, are oenophiles (wine lovers) and have been for many years.  Bill has been studying and appreciating wine from childhood, and is self-taught in the ways of wine.  Both have traveled abroad on numerous occasions, and Diane has attended many local winery conferences and other assorted culinary classes to hone her food and wine knowledge and skills.  Additionally, Diane’s main love is for the kitchen; her library of homemade recipes keeps the new menu ideas and specials exciting and fun.  Although I do not have the extensive training in food or wine that our Chef and owners possess, I have been active, and learning, in this field for 16 years.

Once the guests’ food order is taken, the order is submitted on a hand-written ticket to the kitchen.  During times of high guest volume, this system of ordering and charging guests can be tedious because we servers manually write the items sold and appropriately corresponding math on the guest tickets.  When all guests are served their beverages and waiting for food, there are a few options for employees to stay busy while waiting to meet further guest needs.  Empty and / or unused dishes are removed from tables.  Water glasses can be refilled.  Dirty dishes can be run through the dishwasher and put away clean.  However, the primary focus is to watch the door for approaching guests.  Cleanliness in front and back is maintained to the best of our abilities, and is usually accomplished, throughout the entire shift.  When the environment is peaceful and quiet, we engage in friendly chit-chat.

As the shift winds down, the restaurant is put back into order for service the next day.  Silverware is rolled into napkins, floors are swept and mopped, and the minimal supply of non-alcoholic beverages is restocked into the reach-in refrigerator.  Diane checks inventory to prepare the next day’s shopping list.  This break-down time is brief and all closing procedures are performed by all staff on hand, except the Chef, who closes his own station promptly after the last plate goes out.  Bill counts the drawer and the day’s receipts after the doors are locked and all guests have left the building.

The Red Robin is another beast altogether.  This restaurant, which includes a full-service bar area called a “Refreshment Center” (RC for short), can accommodate well over 300 guests, from parties of one to thirty or more at the same table.  Upon entering the Red Robin, one is greeted as quickly as possible by a “hospo”, also known as a hostess in other establishments.  If the hospo is not nearby, it is every service employee’s charge to greet and seat incoming guests immediately. 

After, or perhaps even before, noticing the smiling greeter, one can glance around and clearly see the Red Robin’s focus on family-oriented clientele.  Flashing lights and whirring sounds of video and crane games fill the recreation area to the left.  Sights of mixologists (Red Robin’s term for bartender; we are called mixo’s for short) cheerfully shaking milkshakes and mixing martinis to the sounds of overhead music from the 80’s, 90’s, and today, can be seen to the right.  And what is that at your feet?  Yes, a 27” television is embedded into the ground so guests can catch the sports score while waiting to be seated.  The only self-seating tables are found in the RC.

As one walks further back into the main part of the restaurant, further evidence is found of the Red Robin spirit catering to families.  Parents are often to be found chasing crayons that their little ones have thrown to the ground, or tying balloons to their babe’s wrists.  A statue of a Red Robin stands cheerfully in the center of the main restaurant floor.  And if you come at the right time, you may hear a group of team members clapping out a happy birthday chant at some poor, unsuspecting soul.  The staff at Sips would never create such a loud commotion; it would disturb too many people – guests and employees alike!

Unlike Sips, Red Robin has a very limited wine selection.  Only five varietals are available for purchase by the glass or bottle only.  Red Robin does boast a fair selection of eight draft beers, eight bottled beers, and a full bar.  Alcohol sales are not of utmost import at the Red Robin; their popular non-alcoholic beverages are fountain sodas, milkshakes, and their signature Freckled Lemonade.  The same food menu is available from open to close and features over 29 burgers in a myriad of styles and forms.  To the detriment of many, Red Robin offers free refills on baskets of fries, which are automatically included as part of the meal with any burger.  To maintain food consistency among the many Red Robin chain locations, it is policy to obtain all food supplies and ingredients from the same centralized source.

Red Robin cooks may come from other assorted cooking venues, but all are trained consistently in the Red Robin method of burger building and menu item preparation.  They are constantly quizzed on their knowledge of ingredients, food safety, and preparation procedures.  Server training follows the same suit; no matter where one worked previously, Red Robin trains all servers in the Red Robin way to ensure consistency of service.  All are taught to know and follow the Red Robin “Steps of Service” standards, which are a practical and efficient guideline to granting guests optimal service.

In keeping with these steps of service, the server is required to perform tasks within a very specific and brief time frame.  These steps include but are not limited to; greeting the table with information about Red Robin, entering beverage and food orders to the computer in an immediate and accurate fashion, and offering fry refills and the dessert menu / check presenter at specific intervals.  All of this methodical prioritizing is geared at creating a 37 minute table turnaround during lunch hours and a 42 minute table turnaround during dinner.  Guests at the Red Robin tend not to linger, unlike Sips where people may sit for hours over a bottle of wine and talk.

As a shift at Red Robin winds down, servers are phased out as fewer guests walk in the door.  When a server is phased, it is their urgent priority to “break down” their assigned station.  These duties can include rolling silverware, stocking to-go boxes or straws, wiping trays, or refilling salt and pepper shakers.  Closing duties are ideally completed by the time the server’s last table pays its ticket.  When the server’s last ticket is closed, he or she prints an automated report that tells how much cash is owed to Red Robin for the guest tickets transacted.  In the case of the mixo, the same cash due report is generated, but the mixo must count out his or her cash drawer for deposit, as opposed to the personal bank the server carries around.  The back-of-house staff (cooks, dishwasher) begins their breakdown and clean up of the kitchen as early as possible.  This usually occurs as soon as the dinner rush is over.  Back-of-house staff has a lot more detail cleaning to do than the front-of-house staff, so they all stay and work together as a team until cleanup is completed.

Indeed, there are many differences between my beloved places of employment, and I truly appreciate them both for the establishments they are.  I can not choose a favorite.  But for the potential guest seeking a laid-back, mature dining experience without the clapping of birthday songs and wails of fry-deprived children, Sips is the place to be.  On the other hand, if you have youngsters to entertain, a baseball team to buy milkshakes for, or you’re on the road travelling with your family and need a quick in and out dinner, then Red Robin is where you want to visit.  But only you can decide!

{March 14, 2009}   Building the perfect drink

(Hello out there!  I know it’s been a long while…I’ve been dedicating all my writing energies to my English 101 class, which is why I’m here today.  Our in-class assignment for Saturday the 7th was to crank out a 600-800 word essay developed by process analysis.  Since I earned an A, I dedided to post my work for any to enjoy!  If you try the recipe, let me know what you think!)

     There are many positive qualities one must possess to be a successful bartender, but key to being a great bartender is making a perfect drink.  The perfect drink should be both aesthetically pleasing with an appropriate aroma and flavor balance.  At Red Robin, the most popular house drink is a Sand in Your Shorts, which requires a specific method of building to result in a beautiful, delicious, and refreshing cocktail. 

     We begin with the appropriate glassware; remove a thistle glass from the rack above the well.  Thistle glasses are identified by their footed base, bulbous bottom, and high, flared edges.  Be sure the glass is clean before filling it to the top with ice.  The ice should be free of debris; stray sprinkles (a.k.a. jimmies) from over-zealous servers garnishing their milkshakes too close to the bar’s ice well are often to be found.

     After the clean glass is set with ice, it is time to start pouring.  The vodka and triple sec are added first.  Their bottles are conveniently located in the speed rack at knee level right up at the well.  Take a bottle in each hand and free-pour a 2-count measure (1/2 oz. each) into the thistle.  The next 2 liquors to add are the Midori and peach schnapps.  These bottles are also next to each other in the speed rack, but over toward the right where the more expensive bottles of liquor are stored.  Pour in the same manner and amount as the vodka and triple sec.  Should any of these bottles run empty during pouring, simply remove the pour spout, throw away the empty bottle, and replace the pour spout in a new bottle from the storage area on the wall of the bar.

     Once the initial four liquors are in, the straw should be placed in the glass.  The color pattern of this drink is the sincerest part of its charm.  Inserting the straw after the more colorful fruit juices and Chambord are added will agitate the layers of colors, thereby decreasing the cocktail’s visual appeal.  One ounce of sweet and sour is added next.  This mixer is located in the juice well to the left of the speed racks.  One can tell when one ounce has been poured by the height of the liquid in the glass; at this point the level of liquids should reach the top of the bulbous portion of the thistle glass.  From the juice well, take the orange juice and cranberry juice in each hand and pour approximately three ounces of each juice into the glass until they reach the top of the ice.  Some of the ice will settle during this process, so a few more cubes should be gently added to the glass.  There should now be a space of 1/2 to 3/4 inch at the top where there is no liquid.  This space is necessary to accommodate the final float of liqueur, and to keep the drink from splashing over the sides of the glass while a server walks with it.  The final liqueur, Chambord, is located behind the milkshake machine.  A half-ounce float of Chambord is a beautiful top to this drink.  To successfully float the Chambord, pour slowly and aim for the ice rather than the liquid.  Allow the Chambord to release slowly down the ice and into the drink; its royal shade of purple will remain independently on top until the drink reaches the guest.

     Ready to deliver this beautiful concoction?  Not just yet.  An orange wedge should be placed delicately on the rim of the glass.  Be careful not to upset this beautiful drink you’ve worked so hard to build!  And, per Red Robin standards, do all you can to get this miniature piece of art to the guest within four minutes of the drink ticket coming up on your printer.  In some cases, a server may already be standing at your well urgently awaiting the drink.  Occasionally, the bartender will find him or her self calling for a drink runner – any available server, busser or hostess – to ensure timely delivery of the drink.  But the most fun is taking the time to deliver the drink oneself.  I enjoy delivering  the drinks I’ve made to guests.  I am proud to show off my talent and I let the guests know it!

     I have been practicing the art of bartending for over ten years and have enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  It is an art involving many talents like the ability to talk to, engage, and endear guests, think and work at an outrageous pace, and organizing and prioritizing every task of every moment as it comes flying along.  But if you can pay attention to the simple details of building a perfect drink and follow through with diligence, you’re already on the road to being a successful bartender.

et cetera