December 16, 2015
Chefs must be able to work effectively alongside a restaurant's wait staff.

Chefs must be able to work effectively alongside a restaurant’s wait staff.

Your culinary arts program centers on giving you all the skills necessary to become a chef. Whether it’s chopping techniques, specific cooking traditions or how to move about in a kitchen, you’ll have cultivated a very specific and important set of skills. Yet when it’s time to enter your first professional kitchen, you’ll interact with people who don’t share in your food-centric knowledge. Chief among these individuals are the restaurant’s wait staff, who have their own unique challenges by dealing directly with patrons.

To be truly successful, the kitchen and waiters must work together as peacefully and efficiently as possible. Here’s how:

Try to talk it out
Consider everything you’ve been told regarding proper communication as a chef. Almost all of that will apply to when you have to speak with members of the wait staff. Both parties need to maintain an open channels of communication, lest the entire meal-delivering structure suddenly breaks down. If there is an issue in the kitchen, be sure to tell the wait staff so they can relay that information to customers if need be. The inverse also proves true; wait staff should feel comfortable to go to the kitchen with any-patron related issues or concerns. One of the easiest ways to talk is to hold weekly or monthly meetings. This is a chance for any individual staff member to ask questions, bring up concerns or address issues impacting the whole restaurant.

Recognize your differences
As mentioned above, chefs and wait staff have very different responsibilities. Chefs deal with the stress of preparing meals in a timely manner. Waiters and waitresses, meanwhile, must deal with impatient customers eagerly awaiting those world-class meals. Instead of seeing the two parties as totally different, you as a chef must recognize that everyone’s working toward the same goal. It can be hard to do that given the structure of most restaurants. But if you find yourself becoming irritated by the wait staff, remind yourself of the interconnectedness between both groups and what it means to the restaurant’s survival. Understanding the motivations of other people is an invaluable advantage to perform almost any job function.

Repair the language barrier
As a result of the different motivations and training styles of kitchen and wait staff, each group speaks a distinct language. In most kitchens, communication, especially word choice and sentence structure, is geared toward minimalism. That’s why, as Chef’s Blade pointed out, chefs have their own lingo, like “fry until GBD,” which stands for golden, brown and delicious. Cooks might also refer to an under-the-counter refrigerator as a low-boy. Wait staff may not be familiar with these terms, which is why you should avoid them when communicating with the front of house. Better yet, you might also offer brief training courses to wait staff, offering insight into the cooking process and various terms. These “classes” can be an effective way to bridge any communication gaps.

Create your own buffers
Yes, chefs and wait staff are on the same team. However, that doesn’t mean that both parties are inherently equal, at least not all the time. While you should always treat wait staff with respect and courtesy, it’s important to recognize that, at least when it comes to delivering the actual food, chefs are usually in the position of power. As renowned food writer Josh Ozersky explained, chefs should use this authority to properly train wait staff. By that, Ozersky means that chefs need to work with waiters to streamline the meal process. For instance, if it’s especially busy, make sure the wait staff are aware of the pressure and how they can better approach patrons to mitigate added stress. If swapping menu items might prove cumbersome, see if the wait staff can lend a hand when taking orders. Waiters can be an effective intermediary between you and curious or picky dinner guests, but only if you rely on them in the right context.

Dole out some praise
Being a chef is hard work, but so is that of the wait staff. While you deal with burning dishes and clouds of hot air, the waiters and waitresses deal with annoyed, sometimes angry patrons. Let them know you understand what they’re going through by offering a little praise. According to Gallup, a simple pat on the back or other form of recognition can be a huge motivator for almost any worker. These little gestures not only establish value, but they can cause people to surge with dopamine, a neurochemical related to feelings of happiness and pleasure.