Kitchen Mechanics by Gary O'Hanlon: Front Of House

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I’ll get right to it.

Regardless if you’re cooking the best food imaginable, if your front of house is poor the restaurant experience is ruined. No exceptions.

Just today I went into a newly restored Gastro Pub for lunch. The place has recently had quite the amount of money spent on it. I know this because I’d seen this property in detail long before the current refurb. I was greeted by the owner, actually, no, I was grunted at by the owner. I was so annoyed. This lady couldn’t have been more rude.

Eventually we were sat at a table. 12 minutes (yes I counted) later I had to get up and ask one of the 8 disinterested waitresses for a menu. 10 minutes later I got up to ask a different grumpy disinterested waitress to take my order. Netty had to practically tie me to the chair. I was furious. More than anything I was furious on the chef's behalf. He’d no idea what was happening. Then again, he should be insisting on his staff smiling. Going back to the beginning, though, and the grumpy irritating owner, it’s hard for the staff to follow suit cause if an owner can be that dismissive of a paying customer. I can only imagine how much of a prick she is behind the scenes.

Harsh words I know, but 100% true.

There has to be an incredible amount of trust between front of house and the kitchen. I remember my days in the Hastings Stormont Hotel. Cooking during the Good Friday Peace talks. It was an experience for a young Donegal boy to be working in a crazy East Belfast hotel, that’s for sure. They did something there that I believe was taken from the famous Quaglino’s of London. From time to time they made the chefs serve and the front of house staff (with one or two proper chefs supervising) do the cooking.

It created good staff relations. I’m not a massive fan of the process but it did work to a degree. In a top drawer fine dining environment though this is tough, as it requires a serious skill set both front of house and in the kitchen, so diluting the brigade can be risky business.

What works better IMO is proper training. Daily pre-service meetings and good relations between all chefs and servers. The minute there’s a problem between a chef and a waiter/waitress it needs to be addressed and, more importantly, the problem can never leave the kitchen door. Once a server crosses that line a smile must come on. I don’t care if it’s fake: just put it on. A paying customer isn’t interested in whatever argument has just taken place in the kitchen. Be professional and keep pushing on. It always ends up getting sorted anyhow, you just can’t let it affect your business.

I’m imaging that my experience today was just that: a kitchen argument that was allowed spill out on to the floor. At least that’s what it must have been because it’d make no sense to me or anyone to want to go back to the restaurant in question if this was the way it always was. I’ll give the chef the benefit of the doubt and I will return, but it’s last chance saloon stuff for me.

The days of shouting and roaring are long gone. Rightly so. Kitchens are still very loud environments. They always will be and stress levels are off the scale from time to time. There will always be heated arguments and intense periods during service, but the key to a good professional work environment is to have people working both front and back of house that respect the level of food and service you want to be at and, regardless of the petty squabbles, post service they should all be made right. 

I’m blessed to have Beryl as owner/operator. Then there’s Kash followed by the best group of waitresses I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Some will become doctors, some teachers and others accountants but each one of them treats the job with respect. That comes from training and common sense. Do we make mistakes? Of course we do.

The key though is to put procedures in place that minimise that risk.

Today was a perfect example that we chefs need a top drawer relationship with the front of house staff. I, for one, am well aware that for people to get the full experience of Viewmount House that connection must remain strong.


Read more from this series:

The Food Critic
The Next Generation
The Front of House
The KP
The Vac Pack
The Chef