Ending the Front of House / Back of House War
It’s 7:30 on Friday night. There is a line out the door and the bar is packed with hungry people, anxiously waiting to be seated. There are tickets spilling out of the machine and the pass is full of hot food in desperate need of runners. Every station on the line is slammed and the servers are frantically dashing back and forth across the dining room. “Hey, Chef Dave,” asks server Carl, blissfully unaware of the wrath he is about to incur, “I have a lady out here who wants the crab cake without onions or salt, and also, she wants to know if she can have it with the snapper set instead of the salad”. . . Whether your chef chooses to respond with grace and mercy or rips into Carl like a colony of vultures into a fresh carcass matters very little. 7:30 on a busy Friday night is simply not the time.
Here’s the problem: Carl has no idea what actually happens in the kitchen. He doesn’t know that the crab cakes are made daily from scratch , shaped into rounds, and laid out in hotel pans before service. Onions and salt have been folded into the mixture and are now inextricable. No one has time, at this point in the evening, to whip up a batch of salt-free, onion-free crab cakes. Carl isn’t trying to be difficult, but Chef Dave will probably take it personally. Carl will, in turn, become convinced that Chef Dave wants very much to strangle him.
Ill-timed questions and miscommunications between servers and cooks alike begin the sort of slow, steady erosion that can lead to an all-out war between your front of house and back of house staffs. A restaurant should never become a battleground. Here is a list of four simple ways to stop the war before it even begins
- Cross-train: Part of training your wait-staff should include spending a full day in the kitchen. Your servers need to know what kind of labor and care goes into the plates that they will soon be delivering to the dining room. Ideally, they should spend the afternoon assisting with prep and remain in the kitchen during service. This way, they can experience service from the other side of the line and gain some valuable insight. It also wouldn’t hurt to have your kitchen staff back-wait for a shift as a part of their training as well.
- Communicate: Communication is one of the most commonly stated, yet infrequently implemented strategies for improving almost any sort of relationship. Make certain that your chef speaks with the front of house staff on a daily basis before service to clarify changes to the menu and answer any questions that arise. Line up and family meal present perfect opportunities for these conversations. During service, your chef is going to be too busy to answer all of your questions, so train your staff to feed their questions through the expediter during service.
- Expedite: Whomever you have positioned on the expo must have a thorough understanding of operations in both front and back of house. During service, this person serves as a buffer between cooks and servers. Find someone who can speak both languages and you will alleviate an awful lot of unnecessary tension between cooks and servers.
- Educate: Pardon the cliché, but knowledge is power. Your staff wants to feel secure in their work environment, and education is one of the best ways to facilitate such comfort. As much as they may groan and grumble about taking another wine quiz or reciting the specials, yet again, your staff craves the structure and security that comes with intentional education. The more confidant they become, the less tension will be misdirected into the kitchen.
Incorporating these concepts into your training practices and daily routines will ease a lot of the tension that tends to build up in a restaurant environment. Your guests will appreciate the changes as well. Anxiety is like a virus that leaks out from the kitchen, spills out into the dining room and onto the plates of your guests, filling them with a remote sense of dread. Peace and love spread just as easily: we simply don’t see them as often. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below.