Improving Cook & Server Communication.

Improving Cook & Server Communication.

Are you this guy? Sometimes I am, but I’m working on it…lol. Let’s remember one thing, it’s a two way street. No one party is to blame for bad communication. It’s all about training! That will make for a good future post!

So let’s have a look at this particular topic, and some solutions.

Communication between the FOH and BOH (front of house and back of house) in a professional kitchen is a constant ebb & flow of playful camaraderie, pointed comments, and terse words spoken under duress. A solid establishment with a professional crew will treat each other with respect (even in the midst of the coarse teasing which is common in our industry) and will always focus on getting quality food to the guest in as timely a fashion as possible…even if during the rush it is taking longer than normal. Here are some thoughts on how to improve cook – server communication and interaction.

The Server’s Perspective

Servers have the impossible job of trying to make everyone happy, regardless of the situation. They are tasked with the responsibility of not only meeting every guest’s normal expectations, but of also being able to move the incorrigible asshole from being an indignant prick/bitch to becoming a raving fan.

Servers have learned the art of being professional soothsayers even when their minds are screaming “There’s the door…get the f__k out!” Servers have the skill to handle guest’s inappropriate abuse/stupidity in a professional manner.  Most cooks on the other hand would quickly introduce an asshole guest to their fist, or to a torrent of foul language, resulting in their subsequent termination!

What Servers Need to Understand

Make it short and sweet
Servers need to understand that in the middle of the push it is not time to point fingers or have a long conversation with the cooks about how something went wrong, or how it should have been done. The cooks don’t have time for a long explanation about why you need something on the fly or whose fault it is. All the extra talk only annoys a cook…they’re buried, they’re trying to focus, and you are interrupting their work process. Be short and to the point, but as polite as possible.

Improve BOH and FOH communication

Don’t take it personal
If you ask the cooks a question and they bark an answer back which appropriately answers your question but isn’t in a nice tone…let it go! They’re busy. They don’t have time for “please”, “thank-you very much”, “can I hold the door for you”, etc. Their short, curt answers are the result of being in the weeds and needing to focus. They’re (usually) not really mad at you, you haven’t done anything wrong, they’re really not even yelling at you. Their tone of voice sounds intense because they are intensely focused, trying to slam out the plethora of plates they have working while keeping track of all the ones they still have to get started. They say that the average person can remember 6 – 7 items at a time. It’s not uncommon for a cook in any station to be working 12 – 20 dishes at any given time, all in various stages of production (just starting new dishes, remembering the 5 in the oven which are all on different cook times, and plating the ones which are going to the window now.) Forgetting any one of those items for even just 1 minute can result in a f__ked up dish which needs to be started over, which derails the whole table for 15 – 20 minutes.

In the middle of a push the cooks want to interact with outside distractions for as short a time as possible so they can get back to digging out of the hole. Short, succinct communication is best. It is distractions that will really piss them off. Tell them what they need to know in as short a sentence as possible and let them get back to work. If you have an expeditor and/or wheelman then always work through that person.

The Kitchen Perspective

Cooks are under immense pressure to produce tons of quality food, to slam it out as fast as possible, and to make sure that it is genuinely quality food which hits the window…not dog food slung out of Billy Bob’s Choke & Puke just to sling shit out of the kitchen. The pressure to work fast and maintain perfection is severe. When it gets busy, the temptation to simply sling shit to clear the board is perpetual. But a kitchen with pride will always make the guest wait in order to serve the best possible meal, rather than simply slam food into the window in an effort to get to get it out as fast as possible.

What Cooks Need to Understand

As important as quality food is to the kitchen, quality service is equally important to a great server. If a server is asking “how long on such & such table” it indicates that they are a good server. They care about the guest, the food, and the service. The cook’s job is to make the food. The server’s job is to keep the guest happy…regardless of everything else!

If their table isn’t ready when they arrive even though they made reservations 6 months ago for their special anniversary… it’s the server’s responsibility to make the guest happy. If they didn’t get the special table or the exact time that they wanted…it is the server’s responsibility to keep them happy. If the kitchen is buried and the food is taking too long because the FOH sat too many f__king people all at once… it is the server’s job to keep them happy. If their significant other just cheated on them, they lost $10K in the casino, their favorite cat/dog just died, and they just got fired…you guessed it, the server gets the pleasure of dealing with that guest and trying to keep/make them happy.

It’s also very important to note that it is in a server’s job description to be polite in the face of adversity and stupidity. They are required to restrain themselves, be professional and polite regardless of the rude and impolite treatment they receive from guests. Since they have learned this skill is it so hard to figure out that they would expect a similar level of tolerance and professionalism from the kitchen? If they can respond professionally to an arrogant asshole guest, shouldn’t they be able to expect some small measure of professional response from the cooks when they have a legitimate request relating to their food or customer service? The FOH & BOH are opposite sides of the same coin. We need each other to make us whole (corny, I know!) So let’s all play nice together in the sandbox.

If a server questions the quality or appearance of a dish…swallow your pride and take an honest look! Seriously, they see the same dish plated by all the other cooks who work that station…it is possible that you made a mistake, or could have done better. Don’t put your pride, or your need to clear the board, in front of serving quality food.

Cooks, remember these tidbits

  • When a server asks “How long…” it is because:
    • They need an accurate answer so they will be better equipped to deal with the next few minutes of service. It may seem like they are saying, “Hey asshole! Where the hell is my food?!” (and perhaps they are!) But really, they are asking for the damage report so they can make informed decisions about how to handle their part of service for the next few minutes.
    • Just like you have food in various stages of preparation, they have a sequence of service which they need to manage with multiple tables and multiple guests. If you mess up their timing it will come back to haunt the kitchen later…irregardless of whether they wish to piss you off or not. Give them the info they need to make them successful…and which will ultimately make your life easier.
    • Depending on how much/how little time they have before their food is ready, they can plan their next few minutes to:
      • Be prepared to console a guest who is waiting longer than usual
      • Pre-bus a table
      • Take a new table’s order
      • Take a dessert order
      • Deliver desserts
      • Deliver drinks
      • Greet a new table
      • Water or bread a table
      • Deliver the check to a table
      • Decide how to deal with an angry guest
      • Use the restroom
      • Or any of many other things they need to keep rolling
    • You have food which you need to keep rolling…they have a sequence of service which they need to keep rolling. Both are required for a successful service.

Best Practices for Cooks

improve cook server communication
  • Always try to answer with alacrity (a cheerful willingness to help or assist).
  • ALWAYS (seriously…f__king ALWAYS!) give an accurate answer such as “2 minutes.”
    • But do not say “2 minutes” every time, regardless of the actual time!
  • NEVER give one of these typical responses:
    • It’s coming
    • It will be ready when its ready
    • It’s working
    • When it’s in the window, it’s ready
    • Go away
  • Do you want them there to pick-up when the food is ready? Or do you want it to sit there and die in the window? If you want it served as soon as it hits the window…then give them an accurate answer so they can plan their timing!
  • If you don’t give them an accurate answer for how long their food will take then you have NO VALID REASON to hold it against them if their food sits there dying because they are tied up doing some other aspect of their job.
  • If a steak or anything else needs to be re-fired:
    • Fire it NOW!
    • Don’t waste time trying to figure out whose fault it is!
      • It doesn’t matter right now. Let the manager & chef figure it out later if it’s necessary
      • Finger pointing fixes nothing
      • Good grief! Swallow your ego (if that’s the problem) and move on brother/sister!
      • The server/guest made a mistake and now you’re incredibly buried? Have a 5 second melt-down then get your ass back to work! FOCUS!!

What do you think? How can servers improve their communication to the kitchen? How can the cooks improve their communication to servers? Tell me your thoughts. Cheers, and happy relations!