In the best of times, coordinating front- and back-end operations in a restaurant comes down to maintaining a finely tuned operation. For all the moving parts to work smoothly and effortlessly, certain procedures and systems must be in place. At the end of the day, paying customers should walk away feeling that they just had a dining experience they would like to have again soon. Restaurants' inner workings are sometimes compared to a theater or well-choreographed dance, so here are some of the steps to this particular cha-cha to ensure coordinating front- and back-end operations in a restaurant is as simple as 1, 2, 3:
Front of House
The front of the house is where the "theater" portion of the program takes place. In the dining room and bar or lounge area, a well-versed host or hostess seats dining guests, takes coats and settles guests in. If hosts do their job well, they will know not to stack the tables so that one lone server is run off his or her feet — or in industry lingo, "in the weeds."
Once seated, waitstaff arrive to take drink and appetizer orders, make suggestions, answer questions and offer gracious service that suits the ambiance of the restaurant. Bussers are on hand to clear plates, fill water glasses and help out when they see a gap their servers can't always fill.
Ensuring that eating and serving areas are clean is also key to keeping the flow of the night uninterrupted and uncluttered. These efforts all help the kitchen stay in tune with what is needed in the dining room so that food is delivered promptly and at its best.
Back of the House
The kitchen and back of the house is where the magic happens and food is prepped, cooked and plated. Much of diners' experience hinges on whether the cooks work cohesively to deliver a delicious, memorable meal.
In the French brigade system, different cooks are assigned different tasks. A garde manger might be on cold-dish and salad duty, a poissoner deals with fish and seafood and a pâtissier handles desserts. Each cook prepares his or her ingredients, or mise en place, ahead of time so they are easily accessible when there is a rush in the dining room. Executive chefs know how to creatively repurpose a surplus of ingredients for enticing daily specials.
The kitchen is also where the dishwashers help keep things clean, tidy and ready to go as quickly as possible. This benefits both guests and cooks, who depend on clean pots, pans and bowls to prepare food in a timely manner.
Back and Forth
Though some restaurants operate with handwritten tickets delivered to the kitchen, most now prefer computerized chits so that the kitchen knows what must be prioritized. Either way, an efficient system should let the kitchen know what customers want and when they should get it.
This means a lot of planning must go into effectively coordinating the front and back end. Serving staff must be intimately aware of what's on the menu, including ingredients, possible allergens and whether the kitchen will make any requested substitutions (a hot-button topic for many chefs). If your kitchen has a "no-substitution" policy, it's in the servers' best interest to have a few backup dishes ready to suggest, lest they lose a customer. A kitchen expediter is also a fine idea for especially busy restaurants to keep food flowing in a steady stream instead of an uncontrollable tsunami.
From lights and decor to service and food presentation, customers take in the entire restaurant experience and treat it as such — an experience, not just dining out. For those working behind the scenes, it's more about how effectively customers were served, using processes and techniques to make a multiperson routine look as elegant as a choreographed ballroom dance.
Photo credit: Mary Luz Mejia