How can we strengthen the relationship between the kitchen and front of house? By Emma Underwood

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th August 2018

Restaurant manager Emma Underwood explores the relationship between the kitchen and Front of House.

We all have tough services. Despite hours of training and practice, it is unfortunate that things sometimes can go a little bit wrong. Mistakes are made, and no matter how minute they may be, the way that restaurants operate can often mean far larger repercussions.

Cooking   Credit Jade Nina Sarkhel 13
Credit: Jade Nina Sarkhe

Such an evening happened the other week at Stem. An order was sent to the kitchen incorrectly by one of the younger front of house members, resulting in a cheque having to be redone in the middle of a busy service. I sent her down to the kitchen to apologise, and service continued relatively smoothly. Sam, our Head Chef, came to me after service upset. He felt at odds with how to deal with the issue. To him, mistakes mean a lapse of concentration which ultimately mean a lack of care. While it was a small error, in his eyes it meant that our colleague doesn’t care about the restaurant is the same way that we do.

“How can we make them understand our passion, without shouting and screaming?” he asked me. Restaurants are emotional places, tensions and tempers can be raised over the smallest things, this never justifies shouting and screaming.

We spoke through the issue and came up with a few resolutions that have so far been proven to be successful. When we opened Stem, Sam and I had never worked together before, but we had a lot of working values in common that I felt would make us a good team. It has always been important to us to maintain a strong relationship between front and back of house, and I’m lucky that whenever Sam and the kitchen have issues they come and speak to me about it rather than letting tensions simmer.

One measure we’ve since introduced is for the front of house to spend more time in the kitchen. They have each had a day in there prepping and working lunch services, which in the height of the current heat wave has been met with very mixed reactions, but it’s been invaluable for them to understand the kitchen more thoroughly. We’re also lucky with our Chef’s Table which is right in the middle of the kitchen, as it allows the front of house to learn the rhythms of service for back of house.  

emma quote

For me though, the main issue that Sam raised is how to make our colleagues understand our passion, and it’s a comment that has hugely played on my mind since. The answer I gave him was, “Why should they understand?”, they are serving our food and wine, on plates and glasses that we chose, in surroundings that we have orchestrated and with a service style that we have created, so why should they care in the same way?

It has been vital for me since to make sure that our entire team has more urgency for the definition of what we do at Stem. Now, when we learn about dishes we learn about each other’s favourite elements, rather than just the components. Many of the front of house use this approach when explaining the dishes to the guests, it gives them a sense of personal urgency over what they are serving. Similarly, our wine pairings are all now created as a team, including the kitchen. Everyone is also welcome to contribute to the restaurant playlist, with wonderfully eclectic results.

These are really small measures, but we’re learning to create a restaurant that encourages everyone to take pride and care with how they work. The days of shouting and screaming in restaurants are thankfully becoming outdated, and I’m proud that Stem is part of this change.

Blog by Emma Underwood, Restaurant Manager, Stem

Emma Underwood blog image
Emma Underwood

Emma Underwood is the restaurant manager of Stem, in Mayfair, having previously worked at Where the Light Gets In, based in Stockport and Burnt Truffle in Heswall, part of Gary Usher’s ever-expanding restaurant empire.

Emma started working with Gary in 2012 when she joined the Sticky Walnut team as a waitress before moving to the sister restaurant, Burnt Truffle as the general manager.

Emma is also part of the TMRW Project along with food writer Anna Sulan Masing  which was set up in 2015.

The project acts as a platform for people starting out early in their career to help them grow, learn and connect with each other. It hosts the Chefs of Tomorrow Dinners, the front of house initiative The Switch, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th August 2018

How can we strengthen the relationship between the kitchen and front of house? By Emma Underwood