That front of house divide can loom large in too many restaurants, and create a schism that is fatal for the business. Team building exists in way too few businesses.
Here, Damien Lowe who, like me, has trodden both paths, shares his take on the reasons, and a solution.
I’m not sure I agree that it’s due to over-inflated egos in the kitchen (or out front). Often, abusive behaviour comes from low self-esteem that accepts abuse and then passes that abuse down the line. It’s a subconscious thing, and the army culture we’ve inherited from Escoffiér more than a century ago. Team building was based on blind obedience and harsh punishment. Time for a change.
The old front of house divide really has to go, team building needs to go to the top of the list, and Damien puts together a great newsletter as well, so head over to The Review if you’re interested and have a look.
Why Do Chefs Hate Front Of House?
By Damien Lowe–
Every industry has its chalk and cheese relationships. In the medical field it is doctors versus nurses. In aviation, it’s pilots versus air stewards. Even in the political arena there is always the leading party and the opposition. So it is in hospitality. Chefs (or the kitchen) versus front of house (the people who serve the guests). The common theme is always that one area thinks they are better than the other. However, both have the similar ultimate goal or end result of providing a hospitable experience to the guest or customer. They just take different paths to obtain the same results. Sadly this is where the hospitality industry’s similarity to other industries ends.
Hospitality staff, perhaps due to over inflated egos, tend to mock, shame and belittle others particularly within restaurants. Public shaming of section waiters, whether on Facebook or other social media websites seems to be common and even accepted practice in the industry. The constant put downs and belittling during the course of service often appear to have been passed through the ranks of education, training and always begins from the top. The restaurant server or the casual worker is frequently seen as the scapegoat or the verbal ‘punching bag’ when things go pear shaped during service with most comments or back chat derogatory and all too often racist (a word that interestingly no one in the hospitality industry wants to talk about).
Facebook pages set up to support chefs often provide a platform for complaints about the servers and an opportunity to belittle their front of house counterparts. These pages too, are supported, monitored and run by so called ‘mentors’ and senior chefs of the industry, who seem to encourage this online behaviour.
Whilst some front of house may not have the training, the passion or even the idea of how to run a pass or organise their mis en place, they are still human beings.
I too, was one of those chefs that used to think the front of house was from another planet. I mean, how hard is it to know that a chicken has to be cooked to at least 75 degrees or to be able to tell the difference between a porterhouse and eye fillet steak? Or even not knowing what is in a coq au vin? I too, thought that these people that float around the front of the restaurant had only empty space between their ears. Until I become one of those people.
Throughout my chef training I was constantly told that these odd people out the front who chat to guests were there only to take the food out. They were also there to sell the specials of the day and (more importantly) get the chefs a coffee (or something stronger) when they demanded it. I was not encouraged to believe that front of house staff have any real skills.
However front of house, servers, section staff or waiters do have a certain skill set. Besides being able to carry multiple plates at once, remember menu ingredients and specific orders, including special dietary requests as well as ensure that the correct flatware, glassware and crockery are provided at the correct time, they also have to put up with shit from customers. And do it with a smile. I will admit that their are some very inept front of house staff out there, after having worked with a few, but are they the ones to blame for the restaurant not performing or taking the position of waiter seriously enough to warrant a care factor? Shouldn’t that honour fall to restaurant leaders, managers and owners? Also, in what other industry is bullying and/or cyber bullying and discrimination considered acceptable?
Most floor staff in a restaurant have little or no training and there is often little encouragement to take the job seriously. Having to cope with being constantly belittled and treated with no respect, by both colleagues and guests alike, it is of little wonder that there are front of house staff shortages in hospitality. One of the first units that is taught to hospitality students is ‘Communication’ which is a far more important topic or subject than some of the other units (including how to clean windows, manage stock or how to send an email). It is an area where most businesses fail and when they do, they invariably fold.
Respect is something that is severely lacking in the hospitality industry. From the front of house not bothering to comprehend the skill set of a chef to the chef understanding of abuse that front of house have to cope with, their often poor working conditions or the vomit that guests projectile across the restaurant (both verbal and actual) . Those working in the industry need to have better respect for each other.
Most chefs (my wife included) admit that being nice to people for six hours a night is a hard task and takes a certain characteristic; one that requires a bit of practice and good teaching. Perhaps if chefs took the time to teach the front of house staff some of the basics of the kitchen instead of abusing them on social media and spent a shift or two working in the front of house to experience this aspect of the industry first hand then the special of the day might actually get sold out. Or, the floor staff may promote the chef’s best dish and be proud to serve the cuisine that has been so elegantly designed.
Then, what should be the shared goal of both chefs and front of staff might be achieved; the restaurant may actually succeed, the team will thrive and the guest will be given an experience to remember.
Contributor to The Review
Damien is a teacher and writer of hospitality and tourism. After working in the industry for many years he spends his time educating and writing about the hospitality and tourism industries. Thank you Damien, and what’s your take on the back of house and front of house divide?a