A restaurant— whether part of a national chain or a local 5-star establishment— needs more than just delicious, innovative foods to keep diners coming back for more. What happens in the dining room or behind the kitchen doors can be just as important as what goes on in the test kitchen.
While diners may only be seeing (and tasting) the final product, if things are not flowing smoothly in the kitchen, diners will know something is off. The final responsibility for a successful service rests with the head chef. From setting service standards to keeping communication clear, there are many intangible ingredients that go into creating the perfect meal.
Your Chef Sets the Tone of Your Service.
If you’ve seen Gordon Ramsey’s infamous reality TV show “Hell’s Kitchen,” you know that all it takes is for one dish to be cooked incorrectly for tempers to flair and for the entire service to fall apart. And while much of the drama on Ramsey’s reality show is clearly hyped up for the audience at home, there’s a certain method to this madness.
When the kitchen can’t keep track of orders, fire food in the right sequence, or even cook the food properly, the entire service is off. A chaotic kitchen means a chaotic front of staff. A kitchen needs a strong leader, and that starts with the chef.
Good chefs know that:
1. The feedback loop must be immediate.
Chefs need immediate, actionable feedback: Table 11 loved their sea bass; the steak was overcooked for Table 6. The same should go for the kitchen staff. Good chefs don’t wait until after the service to address problems– that means an entire restaurant will have suffered through subpar food. Instead, they take immediate action and call out whomever on their staff is responsible for slowing down the service and encourage them to up their game.
2. Only flawless-looking food can be set before customers.
Our eyes have been conditioned to see certain foods in a particular way, with some colors stimulating our taste buds and others killing off our appetites all together. The sight of a blue apple in the produce section of the grocery store, for example, would certainly be off-putting. This same principle translates to the restaurant dining room.
While experimenting with innovative foods can be fun and rewarding for both chefs and diners, it is important that presentation remains clean and appealing.
3. They must understand the quirks of their clientele.
Diners’ expectations can vary widely based on location. What works in a five-star restaurant in New York City or San Francisco is not going to fly at a family-style restaurant in Tulsa, Oklahoma or Birmingham, Alabama. And we don’t just mean the food, we mean the entire experience.
From managing the wait time (its common practice for diners in in New York City to wait for several hours or book reservations months in advance to get a table, not so much in Tulsa) to the décor of the restaurant, these aspects affect meal perception, too.
Know What Goes on Behind the Scenes.
In many ways, chefs and their staff are the ultimate multi-taskers, juggling dozens of tables, order requests, and cooking times to ensure everyone’s dish arrives perfectly prepared and on time. Think of it as “custom manufacturing on steroids”– to ensure this process runs smoothly, each person on the team needs to be on the same page. From the front of house staff to the prep cooks, communication and role clarity are key.
If diners at your restaurant have a reservation at 7pm and are not seated until 30 minutes later, it won’t matter how delicious the food is– the meal will have been upstaged by the front-of-house problems. Add in a full house and special order requests, and those are enough ingredients to turn any kitchen into a serious pressure cooker!