“Dear Leila”: Tackles the Front of House/Back of House Divide

By Leila Wagner |

Whether it’s a fine dining restaurant or a neighborhood dive, restaurants and bars are the back-drop for many of our lives’ most significant (and insignificant) moments. We’re here to let our hospitality expert answer your most vexing questions.

Whether you’re drowning your sorrows in the bottom of a glass or the bottom of a tip jar, Leila Wagner is here to help sort out your problems. Have a special situation for Leila? Email her already: leila@neatpour.com

This week: Leila tackles a divide that’s probably been around as long as restaurants have existed: the tension between front-of-house employees dealing with customers, and the back-of-house folks who make everything. When managed, a harmonious, successful business can thrive. But when left unattended, these disputes can bring down any establishment.

Dear Leila

I work in the back of house. Why does everyone outside of the kitchen suck so much?

Sweating at the Salamander

Your letter is spare of detail, but as a manager who has mitigated my fair share of FOH vs. BOH skirmishes, I can imagine the crimes of the servers you work with.

Do they treat you like a servant? Do they even bother to learn your name? Do they walk into your kitchen in the middle of service an ask if pasta is gluten free? Do they cry out for a ramekin of some condiment they were supposed to set up during their opening duties, acting like it’s no big deal when you have five pans on fire and a whole line depending on you and every second counts? Do they come crawling to the expo line so very very sorry that they forgot to fire table ten; then return minutes later to complain about table ten’s ticket time? Do they slide dishes into your pit without even thinking about scraping them? Do they stand in the kitchen gossiping and laughing and texting on their phones while you sweat your ass off so they can take home $300 a night in tips? If any of these things are true, then they do indeed suck.

Why they suck so much, I cannot say. There are always going to be people who horse around and don’t take their job seriously. Some people will take advantage of those who are giving it their all.

If you don’t have the authority to speak to them directly to demand respect and boundaries, take it to someone who cares and someone who can change things. If the front of house is distracting you and compromising the kitchen, the head chef and the front of house manager should know about it. If they can’t get a handle on it or don’t care, it might be time to stage in some kitchens where the staff has a better sense of boundaries.


Dear Leila,

I am a server, and try my best to be a good co-worker. Why do I feel like the back of house is so mean to me?

Miffed at the Micros

The kitchen’s attitude towards you usually depends on you. Sure, there are plenty of restaurants where your coworkers won’t bother to learn your name until you’ve been around two months. And, there are others where the kitchen is standoffish or even aggressive at first. It may seem “mean” to you, an eager and bright-eyed newcomer, but it is usually because of a history of bad experiences.

The back of house busts their asses in hot, wet, intense conditions all night. They might have a chef who screams at them. At age 28, their knees might already be fucked up. They might be washing dishes and cleaning floors, getting no love even from the rest of the kitchen. They might be working on their only day off in two weeks because it’s that-or-find-a-new-job. And, remember, this is all to take home a fraction of what a server does.

For many guests in restaurants the food is by far the most important part of the meal, and yet the person taking all of the compliments and praise for it is not the people who cooked it. I bet every time you walk into the kitchen it’s to ask for something or to take something. The only time the line sees you might be when you swoop in at the worst time possible asking for them to fix your mistake or to answer a question you should already know. Do you expect them to drop everything for you.

What have you done for the kitchen lately? Try bringing them some water a few times a night. Don’t talk to them when they are obviously busy and focusing. When they speak to you listen to what they have to say, say “heard,” and then follow their instructions. At the end of the the night, give them props for the work they put in. If you want the kitchen to treat you like a friend and not a foe, you’re going to have to earn it with consistent help, consideration, and understanding.

Read more Dear Leila here and here.

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