Like most people, I have a huge backlog of games. My mission: use my Backloggery to try to knock it down a bit. Whether I play these games five years or five minutes depends on the game.
I work in IT, and spent some time doing this games writing thing for a (meager) living, but I really cut my teeth as a professional in the restaurant business. For most who started out in restaurants, they did it for just a little while; a summer spent washing dishes to have play money here, a semester spent waiting tables to be able to put money on the meal plan there, for the non-lifers, restaurant work is usually a stepping stone.
When you’re the son of a Greek who owns a diner, however, restaurant work is the stone. From the time I was eleven years old, I spent every week, once or twice a week, washing dishes, busing tables and working as a side-cook at Johnny’s Restaurant – now Johnny’s Diner (under a new owner) – in Fairfield, CT. It’s hard work, in hot condition, for very little money; this is basically how I earned my allowance, getting $25 per day. While it’s true that $25 dollars carried farther in 1992 than it did in 2012, especially for a 12 year old, it didn’t carry far enough to the point where that was even close to the minimum wage. I eventually left restaurant work at 15 to go work full-time – yes, full-time, over a summer, at 15 – as a janitor, effectively telling my father to piss off1, but I would go back and forth, in and out of the business, most recently filling in for my ailing mother as a waiter while trying to make a go as a writer. It never really leaves you, and it takes me five minutes on the floor before I’m back in a natural element.
I didn’t expect to go back to those days when I saw Cook, Serve, Delicious! come up on my list of games to play. I looked at a small indie game that was Greenlit, and figured I was getting Diner Dash: PC Edition. I was wrong. Wow, was I wrong. Instead, I found the closest simulation ever to the hectic pace of restaurant work I’ve seen in video game form.
Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Developer: Veritgo Gaming
Publisher: Veritgo Gaming
Systems: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Release Date: October 8, 2013
The premise behind Cook, Serve, Delicious! – CSD going forward – is simple: the economy is picking up, and as occupancy in a corporate building picks up, the campus restaurant has been opened up as well, and it’s the player’s job to bring the restaurant back from walls literally crumbling into becoming a five star restaurant, while appearing on cooking shows, taking bets and buying new equipment to be able to cook more food. Each level, or star, has a checklist of progressively more difficult items that must be completed before advancement. The player is given a few thousand dollars, and a list of things that they can buy, be it equipment or food itself.
One notable thing about CSD is that stock doesn’t have to be replenished; once a food item is bought, it’s there in perpetuity. So while a food item is prohibitively expensive at first, and upgrading it also hurts, the money can eventually be made back. The good news on that front is that some items, when upgraded, get a lot more expensive to buy, so it’s important for the player to consider the benefits of buying and upgrading the expensive fish option instead of keeping it cheap with corn dogs; the corn dogs are irrelevant halfway through the game, while fish and steak will eventually make someone a five star restaurant.
Promotional writing for CSD refers to it as a restaurant “simulator”, but that’s not accurate; a simulator would be what my father’s role currently is, which is not only setting the menu and the prices, but dealing with safety regulations and inspections, labour issues, and other boring aspects of restaurant management. Here, the player simply buys the food, sets the menu, and cooks to order. Each item on the menu has both good and bad points to it, which balances out nicely. For example, corn dogs are very easy to cook, and don’t cost much, but they’re fatty, cause garbage to pile up, don’t sell well in the morning, and attract rodents. On the other hand, soups are staple foods – foods that will always be on most menus – and sell well, but take a lot of effort to cook. These perks and cons can combine to either raise or lower “buzz”, which is power of the word of mouth that the restaurant is getting. Putting many health conscious items together will increase buzz because it brings in the healthy eating crowd, while putting a whole bunch of fatty foods together will lower it. The last part is something I don’t understand; if I were to have a restaurant with a theme, I would definitely put burgers, fries, and other snack items like corn dogs and soda together every day. Furthermore, the game complicates things a bit by instituting something called “menu rot”, where an item will consistently lower buzz every day it’s left on the menu longer than two days. From the perspective of someone putting a menu together, this makes no sense – if I have good burgers, they’re going to be on the menu, and the idea that burgers aren’t a “staple” item doesn’t make sense because they’re even sold as kid’s menu items in niche restaurants – but from a gaming perspective, it does help to spice things up and force balance.
All of this leads to the actual shift; a 9AM to 10PM marathon of cooking and cleaning. Depending on the size of the restaurant, there are a varying number of customer slots, and as customers come in, they will give specific orders. Each dish has its own options, and its own cadence to cooking. Whereas corn dogs are simply adding either mustard, ketchup or both, soups can have plenty of options on adding different seasonings, pastas, croutons, and various vegetables. Some foods go on the grill, others don’t, some get boiled, some have to cook for a long time, others burn easily. Each order is graded as being either perfect, “meh” (little mistakes, like forgetting the lettuce in a BLT), or bad, which either involves the customer walking out before being served, or making a tragic mistake on an order, such as badly undercooking meat. Along the way, chores will also pop up, involving fixing the toilet, doing dishes, taking out trash and even giving police reports after being robbed.
It’s the cooking aspect of the game that takes up most of the time, and it’s where the game truly shines. This is where my brain clicked into Short Order Cook Mode. I instantly learned all of the orders by heart, so I could bang them out with a staccato, robotic precision. My grill management skills instantly came back, being able to juggle multiple orders with different needs and requirements. I showed this mode to my mother – who only waited tables in diners, along with running the grill and side cook positions, for forty years – and she said she was starting to get a form of PTSD. She was only half-joking.
The game itself has other, “gamey” elements to it such as cooking competition, betting games and other ways to break the monotony of cooking many of the same dishes over and over and dealing with a somewhat slow pace – the first star doesn’t even come until after 20 days, no matter what – but the cooking aspect is still great. It determines how much enjoyment a player gets out of CSD; if the thought of rigorously grinding through a day of cooking more and more complex dishes doesn’t appeal to someone, nothing here will change their mind. I like it, so naturally, I like this game.
On a 1-10 scale, how likely am I to finish this game? – 9. I love playing this game. Love its charm, love its simple-yet-complex gameplay, love the options gamers have, it’s just great. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I’m going to have a blast getting to five stars (what I consider to be “complete”).
Should anyone buy this game? – I would recommend Cook, Serve, Delicious! to open minded gamers who don’t mind a bit of grind. Anyone who can get past the slow start will enjoy the options that unlock – I’m still not into the real meat and potatoes of the game (literally! Ha, I’m witty and clever!) – and once the game gets into a proper swing, it keeps getting better. Those who don’t like grind, repetition or what is effectively a simple typing tutor should avoid this, but at the cost, and with as often as it goes on sale, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a bargain on any platform.
WHERE AM I NOW
The following is a list of the games I’ve focused on for this piece, and my current status with them:
Galcon Legends – Stopped playing for now. Will likely gut out beating this game for achievements for an hour or so.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! – Getting my first star imminently.
NEXT TIME ON TAMING THE BACKLOG: A game the ‘Bus loves unconditionally appears! Command?
ALL OF THE ABOVE <---
1 – This makes my father appear in a bad light, but I wish I could talk to 14 year old me about this, because my father – while very tough to work for in those days – wasn’t raised like most people. Long story short: illegal Greek immigrant, came to America in ’73 as a stowaway, punched out a Philly cop and ran away to avoid arrest and deportation, learned the language literally as he went along, and now, at 66 (we think), is fully naturalized, and still works 80+ hour weeks owning two restaurants. Put bluntly, my father is a motherfucker.