A restaurant is like any multi-faceted machine — all of the parts need to be dialed in just right for the operation to function as intended. And though no two restaurants are exactly alike, they all share something in common: the front of house, and the back of house. To understand restaurants, you must first understand the differences between these two critical areas of the business. What's the difference between a restaurant's front of house and back of house? Ah, so glad you asked.
What is the front of house?
Simply put, the front of house is where customers interact with customer-facing employees. Also known as the FOH, the area may include hostess stations, dining rooms, counters, and patios depending on the size and scope of the restaurant. Those who work in the front of house, such as servers or bartenders, are tasked with communication, customer service, and hospitality, and are typically expected to dress, look, and act according to the restaurant's standards.
Another way to think about it: the front of house is any part of the restaurant where guests are permitted to be.
Common components of the front of house
The front of house of the restaurant is where you'll interface with your guests. Therefore, you want everything to be ship-shape and best set up to represent your restaurant's "brand" as well as possible.
Entryway: This is where the first impression will happen. Make sure your guests are impressed by a clean and organized space here. The entry area should capture your restaurant's feel while being a well-planned transitional space to the rest of the restaurant.
Waiting area: When the restaurant is busy, you'll have guests packed into this space. We've all had bad experiences in restaurant waiting areas, so don't let that be true for your guests. If they must wait, it ought to be pleasant. Make sure to include chairs or benches to make guests comfortable, and offer menus so they have something to read and can plan out what they want to eat.
Host/hostess stand: This is the first thing guests should see in the waiting area. A host or hostess should be available here at all times for interfacing with guests, and the stand itself should be organized and tidy.
Bar: The bar area (and all product used there) should be clean and tidy in order to a) entice guests to spend time at the bar and order more drinks b) allow the bartender to make drinks quickly and accurately. Consider adding trendy decor or TVs to make the bar an enticing place for guests to dine in the case of a full dining room.
Dining room: This is where most of the magic will happen in your front of house area. Guests spend most of their visit to your establishment here, so ensure that the area is clean, organized, welcoming, and enticing. Important: make sure tables and chairs are laid out in a way that makes them accessible to all customers.
Outdoor seating/patio: Much like the main dining room, this area benefits from organization and attractive decor. The outdoor patio can be a bonus way to seat more guests and increase revenue. Consider outdoor furniture to help with extreme weather — umbrellas to keep the sun off of customers, or outdoor heaters to keep folks toasty during winter.
Restrooms: This one explains itself. Make sure your restrooms are spic and span before service begins in order to keep guests feeling safe and comfortable. Task staffers with keeping it stocked and clean during shifts, and complete a deep cleaning at the end of service.
Who works in a restaurant's front of house?
These folks connect the guests with the kitchen, ensuring a smooth experience. Many of them wear more than one of the following hats:
General manager: Also known as the GM, this staff member oversees every front of house and back of house employee. Responsibilities include keeping an eye on the dining room and reporting shift conditions to the restaurant owner.
Front of house manager: This staffer, also known as the FOH manager, directly reports to the GM and manages all of the front of house employees. Responsibilities include interviewing and hiring employees, making staff schedules, and handling the financial matters of each day.
Host/hostess: This is usually the first staffer a customer sees upon entering the restaurant. Stationed at the host stand, this person greets customers at the door, gives out menus, shows folks to their seats, answers phones, takes reservations, and more.
Head waiter: The headwaiter is a leader for the servers, bussers, and hosts. In addition to helping the front of house staff, they serve their own tables and report to managers.
Server: This staffer has the closest interaction with guests. They provide food and drink service to guests, walk them through menu items, answer questions, take payment, and more. Servers should be personable and friendly.
Bartender: Like servers, bartenders also have close contact with guests. They are responsible for making drink orders, whether they're directly from guests or taken by servers. Bartenders may need to slice citrus or make drink components before shifts, and may also need to take food orders from bar patrons.
Sommelier: These folks are well-studied in wine and can be found at high-end restaurants with robust wine programs. They help create the wine list and educate the staff about wine options to better sell them to guests.
Food runner: Food runners run hot food from the kitchen to the dining room, and sometimes help servers by running silverware or place settings out to tables. Runners ought to have menu knowledge to answer any questions from customers.
Barback: Much like food runners to servers, barbacks are assistants to bartenders. They might help prepare garnishes, polish and stock dishes, or make drinks.
Busser: Bussers help servers wrangle the dining room. They have many tasks, including clearing tables after folks dine, polishing dishes, filling water glasses, refilling bread baskets, and more.
What is the back of house?
The restaurant's back of house is where food preparation, storage, and business administration take place. Also known as BOH, this is the part of the restaurant customers don't see, and is where food is ordered, stocked, prepared, cooked, and plated. The back of house includes the kitchen, prep areas, and manager's offices.
Common components of the back of house
Food is handled and cooked in the back of house, so therefore, everyone who works in the BOH should be trained in food safety and be diligent about sanitation. Sections of the back of house include:
Kitchen: Since this is where the food is prepared and cooked, this area will be the largest part of the back of house at most restaurants. Food storage and dish washing equipment is usually housed in the kitchen area. Keeping this whole space organized is key to an efficient restaurant.
Break areas: Your staff must have somewhere to take breaks and keep their belongings while on the job. The break area is that place. This is essential because it keeps staff out of view of customers while they aren't actively working.
Office: The office is where all the managerial tasks happen. Back there, you'll find binders, notebooks, folders, computers, and anything else a manager needs to keep the restaurant on track and running. This area is insulated from the quick pace of the dining room and kitchen.
Who works in a restaurant's back of house?
The back of house generally has a hierarchical system or a chain of command for organizing employees. Some common positions are:
Kitchen manager: The kitchen manager is responsible for managing staff in the kitchen and in the back of house. Their responsibilities include hiring kitchen staff, helping in the kitchen when needed, and keeping food safety standards met.
Executive chef: In the kitchen hierarchy, this individual is at the head of the pack. They oversee all of the kitchen staff and work closely with them on a daily basis. They also devise menus, order food, and monitor inventory cost.
Sous chef: The sous chef is next in line of authority. The executive chef's second in command, the sous supervises kitchen staff, makes staff schedules, and trains new kitchen hires on the ropes.
Line cook: Line cooks are found in each station of the kitchen. Each station has a line cook — fry, grill, salad, garde manger, etc., and each cook is dedicated to their station.
Expeditor: This person is in charge of keeping orders organized at all times so food flows out of the kitchen smoothly. Also known as the expo, they make sure dishes come out at the right time to each table. They stand on the server side of the food window, and must know the menu through and through.
Dishwasher: This person washes all dishes — plates, flatware, glasses, pots, pans, utensils, and whatever else the front and back of house need cleaned. They generally have their own station, equipped with a dishwasher and dish storage areas.
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How to build a strong relationship between a restaurant's front of house and back of house
Communication is key to running a successful restaurant or food service business. And with so many differences between FOH and BOH, employees are susceptible to confusion or crossed wires during the busiest times of service. For the sake of your employees, and to increase the likelihood of your customers enjoying their experience, encourage teamwork and understanding among your entire staff.
Use an expo: The expo straddles the line between front and back of house, since they're equally involved in the operations of each during service. Acting as the middleman, the expeditor makes sure communication flows smoothly between the front and back of house (and makes sure that servers aren't yelling requests through the window at busy cooks).
Provide staff meal before service: Also known as family meal, a pre-shift staff meal is a great way to build morale and energy up before a long, grueling shift. It allows everyone to relax and bond, and also allows servers a chance to taste the food before needing to sell it.
Encourage servers to do prep work as pre-shift side work: Prepping garnishes or chopping vegetables together is a great way to help FOH and BOH staffers become more familiar with each other. Plus, having servers help with prep work a) helps free the kitchen up to complete more complicated cooking tasks b) gets them more involved in the food process, which may motivate them more to sell the food later during sevice.
With this crash course about the difference between the front and back of house, you're well-equipped to start work at a restaurant, bar, or other hospitality business. Each part of the machine has very different functions, and that requires different kinds of roles and employees. Despite the differences, when everyone is set up to work well together, the business is set up to run successfully.