Chris Hill Blog: Back of House vs Front of House

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st October 2017

Chef and restaurateur, Chris Hill takes a look at the waged war between front-of-house and back-of-house with this month's blog.

I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here, but I think it’s one that might actually hold some truth to it, at least at times — it’s based on the experience I’ve gained through working in a dozen or so restaurants in nearly every capacity you can imagine. I’ve also worked with many more in a consulting realm. The same problems surface again and again, regardless of location between these two vital entities in any restaurant.

Where does the friction come from?

I think it comes from four things:

  1. Wage gaps — In most restaurants, the amount of wages a FOH makes is considerably more than their BOH counterparts.
  2. BOH thinking that their work is more important, just because it’s more labour intensive and demanding.
  3. BOH feeling like their work falls under the realm of having a skill, while they consider their FOH counterparts as mere ‘order takers’.
  4. Restaurant environments are tense and stressful. Not everyone is cut out for it, but even for those of us who are, it’s easier to fly off the handles when we are stressed and being tested, versus a normal 9 to 5 work environment where you might be pissed at a coworker for not CC’ing you on an email.

I do think the friction is less severe in fine dining, because of the very nature of the type of restaurant setting and professionalism associated with higher menu costs and nicer settings. In these environments, the service staff has often made their careers out of waiting tables or crafting cocktails and they almost always take tremendous pride in their work — if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a job and certainly wouldn’t have made their way up the service industry food chain. You don’t start waiting tables at the nicest place in town — you earn your way there.

It’s also safe to say that almost any cook on a line or running a kitchen in a high end or professional setting also takes pride in their work, and they most likely have also chosen to make a career out of it. Thus, the relationship is more along the lines of let’s do whatever we need to do to take care of our guests. There is a mutual understanding amongst professionals that respect the other side and know that they are doing their very best — even if a server rang something in wrong or the guy on the grill cooked a medium-rare steak well done.

It was a mistake. Things happen and it’s really easy to blame the situation on-the-go ‘dumb ass server’ or the stupid ass line cook’, but if we’d all try to better manage ourselves through these situations than we might be able to bridge this gap a little bit.

I think we need to do 4 things:

  1. Remind ourselves that we’ve been the one who screwed up before and we will screw up again.
  2. Give whoever made the mistake the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it was an honest mistake. Because it probably was.
  3. Assume that the person on the other side that screwed up is doing their very best — just like you. Let’s try to assume that they are just as professional as we are.

And finally, the most important of the four:

4.Understand that in the moment, blaming someone for whatever it is that happened accomplishes nothing. Somebody screwed up, now how do we fix it and make it right? We can properly manage how and why the mistake was made later in the shift — this hopefully keeps us from making the same mistake again in the future.

To make a restaurant truly work, you’ve got to have both sides working together. When the kitchen is on a roll and pumps the food out faster than the FOH can run it, do the kitchen guys try to properly organise things in the expo window to ensure that the food can make it out to the customers as fast as possible, OR do they sit back, relax and watch their counterparts getting pummelled — that’s not good for anybody. AND, when the kitchen is getting rocked, for whatever reason, does the service staff grab them a drink refill or something out of the walk-in they might need that keeps them from having to leave the line, OR do they congregate by the service station talking about weekend plans or the pain in the ass customer at table 32.

At the end of the day, wherever you are in the totem pole of the restaurant industry, it’s important that you show up as a professional.

Call yourself a professional, even if you’re only waiting tables through college flipping burgers for the summer. To make it work, to have a well run organisation that’s healthy and that people want to be a part of takes a lot of work and that work starts at the top. We need to understand that we are all on the same team working towards the same thing. So, when something goes wrong — there’s no need to bitch and moan. There’s no time for that. Let’s just figure out the best way to handle it moving forward.

Let’s take care of each other, appreciate each other and make our restaurants more fun to work in.

Chris Hill
Chris Hill

Chef Chris Hill left a job in the business world to follow his heart and passion into the world of cooking and the kitchen. Chris opened his first restaurant at 28 and grew into the role of executive chef.

Having taken his experiences in the corporate world, as well as those in the kitchen, Chris has built a large social media following centred around TV appearances all over the Southeast U.S., his writing, TEDx talks, and his mission of helping industry workers to lead fulfilling successful careers.

Chris' first book comes out in the Summer of 2016 and is a dive into what makes for a successful career in the restaurant world, and includes exclusive interviews with some of the world's leading and most respected chefs.

You can follow Chris on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and read more of his work here.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 31st October 2017

Chris Hill Blog: Back of House vs Front of House