I have worked in a lot of different positions across the restaurant industry. Through that, I have built up a very high heat tolerance in my hands and forearms over the years. Literally I can grab hot things that the average person would never attempt. This isn't unique to me, many servers and cooks are like this (as are welders and glass blowers to name just a few others). Added to this, I have a pretty high threshold of pain, so I can "take the heat" so to speak.
A while back a reader Red Lobster Blog shot me an email asking how I deal with hot plates. Her complaint was that her cooks are throwing the plates in the windows too early and are getting the plates smoking hot.
First - why are the plates so FRICKIN' hot? I've run into this as well, and it is a direct response of the cooks to pressure from the managers, who themselves are taking boat loads of heat from the regional directors. Simply said, one of the things that Red Lobster tracks is food temp scores (ever called in a survey? It's on there.). The easiest way for a manager to get a regional manager off his ass for low foot temp scores is to have the cooks par the plates early. This loads up heat in our plates, which keeps the food sitting on them warmer longer. We honestly have a couple of tables in our restaurant where you can see where the hot plate has melted into the lacquered top and made a light oval. So this is a serious issue for servers.
The worst thing is when you pick a tray up out of the window not knowing someone has just loaded some blistering hot plates on the tray. You run out to drop it off, and just about the time you grab that Admiral's Feast and get ready to set it on the table, Granny decides to put her purse on the table to look for her ticket stub from when she rode the Titanic, thus blocking your landing spot. Now the distance from your hand to your head isn't all that far, but it still usually takes a moment for your hand to phone your brain to let it know it is melting. The brain tells the hand to hold on, and starts pushing beads of sweat out the forehead. This is where tray jacks are a server's best friend, because if you use the tray jacks like you are supposed to, then you have a tray you set back down on. If not, you're screwed, grab some ice on the way back into the kitchen.
Some of my worst burns as a server have actually come from grabbing an empty service tray that was sitting in the window under the glow rays. There is something about the material they use to make the large food service trays that make them extra hot. I've smoked myself good on these a number of times (slow learner!). It's like the fiberglass multiplies the heat or something.
I have blistered my hand holding onto a plate handed to me by another server. I sucked it up and played through it, but I was pissed that she handed me a plate that hot without warning.
So back to the question that prompted all of this - what do I do? I used to have some cloth hot pads that I kept in my server apron. These worked for most things, but the regional director started to raise a stink that these hot pads (not just mine, all of us who used them) were a cross contamination threat. I always kept mine clean, and I actually kept a spare set in the jacket I always wear to work (holds my keys/phone etc.) that I could swap in if my first set got soiled. But it is a potential hazard, and while I didn't like the change, I understood the need. What I switched to was a small round silicone hot pad(s) made by Le Creuset. Mine are black in color so they aren't visible when not in use (though I don't see them in that color on Amazon.com). These little pads are hand savers. They are small enough to fit in a pocket or an apron. And they could handle the space shuttle during re-entry. They are incredibly well designed in that they dissapate and deflect the heat, with the ridges adding to the insulation as well as increasing the grippiness. I've never struggled to grab things with them. The bonus is that they aren't cloth, so they are immediately cleanable. If they get soiled in any way, I just have the dish guys run them through the Hobart dish machine and they come out super clean on the other side. I haven't specifically asked the regional manager if I can use them, but he's seen me using them and hasn't busted my balls on it so I think it is OK.
Honestly, these pads should be standard issue and a required part of the uniform. All my trainees have started to get them, and some others are catching on as well.
NEVER loan them out though. You won't get them back. Servers are a sneaky lot, and when they realize just how good these things work, the pads "grow legs". I do have two sets of them (with my spare set kept in my vehicle now). I have lost one, and had another one get damaged due to my own stupidity. The pads are about the size of a coaster, and they work miracles.
Maybe Le Creuset I should inquire with Le Creuset now that their hot pad division will be working over time supplying servers...
Seriously - go buy some. Either from a high end cooking store or via Amazon or another online retailer.