As a young lass I had my first run-in with the hierarchical nature of the BOH. Scrubbing dishes on a Friday night, one of the cooks threw a dish in the sink soaking me with filthy water. Upset with one of the servers he took it out on me, the little 15-year-old dishwasher. That night I started to grow my chops, learning what I would and would not put up with.
Fast forward, I am bartending at a popular restaurant in Uptown. The Executive Chef is ‘old school’—which to me translates to ‘thinks he can be a jack***’. Watching him belittle and disrespect my coworkers got old quickly. His behavior justified by management and ownership validating his behavior under the guise of the ‘but, he’s really good’ mantra. In my exit interview I told them my reason for leaving was their Executive Chef, and to my knowledge, he is still there today.
“The culture and tone of a restaurant is set by the management team” says Mark Netsch, of PerformanceScope. “I’ve seen it many times. One cook in the BOH squares off against the FOH and soon both sides are neck deep in dysfunction. This toxic culture comes at a high cost. The level of stress in the restaurant is 5X. Everyone feels it, even guests. Ticket times get longer, orders are more frequently screwed up, good servers quit saying its just not worth the stress. It doesn’t have to be this way. A capable and engaged management team can change the culture in short order. Begin by asking team members, do you feel respected at work? Drill down from there.”
Expect respect. Guests can tell when they are in an establishment that puts up with people throwing dishes around in the dish pit. It emanates from the staff when a smile is forced or broken. Whether FOH or BOH, without a mutual respect the guest experience will be lost in someone’s ego. Being able to recognize that your job would not exist (or would really, really suck) without the help of other people doing theirs is an important thing. The tiered nature of restaurants is necessary for chain of command, don’t be the person that confuses that for ‘better than’. Start with something as simple as ensuring people use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ regularly. Just as plants need roots, a respectful environment that spans an entire restaurant staff is rooted in simple and constant exercises in courtesy.