Front of House vs. Back of HouseLast updated on 3/14/2019
In order for a successful restaurant to flourish, there are many parts that must work together to create a positive experience and end result for the consumer. Understanding the differences between front of house and back of house functions will significantly help your restaurant flow more effortlessly and increase efficiency.
Being knowledgeable about the parts of a restaurant, the breakdown between front of house and back of house, along with the specific role of its employees is an important concept to grasp when working in the hospitality industry.
You can use the links below to jump to specific topics you'd like to learn about:
- What is the Front of House?
- What is the Back of House?
- Improving House Communication
- Front of House Positions
- Back of House Positions
- Common Terminology
What Is the Front of the House?
The front of the house, also called the FOH, refers to all actions and areas that a customer will be exposed to during their stay at a restaurant, such as the lobby and dining area. Your front of house space is the perfect place to use decor to set the theme of your restaurant. Employees who work in the front of the house should have excellent hygiene and adopt a professional, welcoming demeanor at all times.
Common Locations in the Front of House
These front of house locations are where all the interaction with your guests will occur. Keeping these areas clean and orderly should be a top priority. Any staff member who enters front of house locations should be on their best behavior because they are representing your establishment.
Your customers will form a first impression of your business as soon as they walk in the door. In order to make it a good one, the entryway should capture the theme and feel of your restaurant and create a natural flow leading to other areas. Don’t forget about the outdoor appearance as well! Keep the area outside your door clean and swept.
During the busiest times of day, customers might crowd into your waiting area. If they are made to wait too long before being acknowledged or are forced outside because of limited space, it can create a negative experience.
In order to alleviate this, waiting areas should be as comfortable as possible. The addition of chairs and benches gives your guests a place to rest while they wait. Placing extra stacks of menus within reach helps to entertain them and also gives them a head start on their menu decisions. When your customers already know what they want to order before they sit down, it increases your turnover rate.
The hostess station should be visible as soon as your guests enter the waiting area. It’s important to acknowledge and greet customers as soon as possible, and a host or hostess should be on duty at all times so that no one is made to wait. Make sure to place your hostess podium in a location with a good view of the waiting area and entry.
Most guests who eat out at restaurants will use the restroom at one point during their visit, especially if they have children, which is why it’s crucial not to overlook this small area. The state of your restrooms can have a big impact on guest experience. Modern fixtures and tile can improve the look of the room, but the most important factor is making sure the area is clean and well stocked. Assigning periodic restroom checks throughout the shift will ensure that the paper products and soap are stocked and that all messes are cleaned up quickly. A thorough cleaning can be performed at the end of the shift.
If your restaurant plans to serve alcohol, make sure your bar is as inviting as your main dining area. It should feel welcoming and serve as an alternative location for guests to enjoy their meals. Providing entertainment in the form of big screen TVs ensures that guests stay longer and order more drinks. Because guests can easily see the liquor bottles and cocktail mixes behind your bar, make sure to keep them clean and use liquor pourers to prevent fruit flies. The whole area behind the bar should be organized so you can serve guests quickly.
The dining room is the heart of front of house operations. It’s the area where your guests will spend most of their time and also where many front of house employees will work during their shifts. Dining rooms can be laid out and organized in a variety of ways to suit your restaurant’s concept, but there should be a natural flow from room to room. Servers should be able to maneuver freely, and customers should be able to access their seats with enough space to feel comfortable.
Adding outdoor seating to your restaurant increases your capacity and dining revenue. Dining al fresco is especially popular in the summer months, when many guests look for restaurants with decks or patios. You can take advantage of this by making your outdoor dining area as welcoming as your dining room. Decorate with outdoor furniture and lighting and provide umbrellas or canopies so your guests are protected from the hot sun. Patio heaters can turn your outdoor dining area into a year-round space.
Front of House Positions
Creating repeat customers by providing an unforgettable dining experience is the main goal for front of the house employees. They act as liaisons between guests and the kitchen, and have many job titles and functions.
- General Manager - The general manager, or GM, oversees the entire restaurant staff, including the front and back of house, but they spend a lot of time in the dining room. The restaurant owner relies on the GM to be their eyes and ears and ensure that operations are running smoothly.
- Front of House Manager - The FOH manager reports to the GM and oversees all employees who work in the front of house. They are responsible for interviewing and hiring new staff members, making schedules, and handling customer complaints. At the end of the shift, they count the drawer and record the day’s earnings.
- Headwaiter/Captain – The headwaiter leads the wait staff, host staff, and bussers in providing the best customer service possible. In addition to serving their own tables, they act as a supervisor and report to the front of house manager.
- Sommelier – Commonly found in fine dining settings, Sommeliers are wine specialists who are knowledgeable in all aspects of wine. They assist with creating the wine list and help with food pairings, as well as educating the server staff so they can better serve guests.
- Bartender – The bartender is responsible for making all drink orders taken from servers or directly from guests. They pour beer and wine, create mixed drinks, and serve other beverages like soft drinks. Their additional duties may include serving food to their guests at the bar and prepping bar garnishes like lemon slices before the shift.
- Server – Servers should be personable and accommodating because they have the most interaction with guests. Using their knowledge of the menu, they take customer orders, answer questions, and make suggestions. They interact with kitchen staff, prepare checks, and collect payment.
- Host/Hostess – The host or hostess is stationed near the entryway and greets customers as they enter and leave. They also take reservations, answer phones, show customers to their seats, and provide menus to guests.
- Food Runner – Food runners provide a valuable service by making sure hot food is served to guests immediately. They wait at the kitchen window and deliver orders under the guidance of the expeditor. Because they interact with guests, they should have menu knowledge and be willing to meet requests for additional items, like silverware, extra napkins, or drink refills.
- Bar-Back – Bar-backs act as an assistant to the bartender, with their most important task being keeping the ice filled. They make sure clean glasses, napkins, and garnishes are stocked and might even help to make drinks in a pinch.
- Busser – Bussers prepare tables for new customers by clearing away dirty dishes and wiping the tabletop surface clean. Because they spend a lot of time in the dining room, they should wear clean aprons and adopt a professional attitude. They often assist servers by filling water glasses, serving bread, or helping with minor requests.
What Is the Back of the House?
The back of the house, also known as the BOH, encompasses all the behind-the-scenes areas that customers will not see. This acts as the central command center in a restaurant because it’s where the food is prepared, cooked, and plated before making its way to the customer’s table. All back-of-house staff should wear clean uniforms and aprons while on the job. The back of house also serves as a place for employees and managers to do administrative work.
Common Locations Found in the Back of the House
These back of house locations are where the most food contact occurs. Any staff member who enters these locations should be trained on food safety and sanitation.
The kitchen is usually the largest part of any back of house and can be divided into smaller sections, such as areas for food storage, food preparation, cooking lines, holding areas, and dish washing and sanitation areas. Your kitchen layout is a big factor in the efficiency of your staff. Make sure to choose a layout that has good flow and will help you meet your kitchen goals.
Break rooms and employee bathrooms give employees somewhere to place their belongings, take breaks while on shifts, and look over work schedules and notes from managers. Providing a space for your staff to take their shift meal prevents them from sitting and eating in the dining room, which can be unsightly for your guests.
Managers should have a small area in which they can do administrative work that is away from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen or dining room.
Back of House Positions
Roles for employees in the back of house usually have a strict hierarchy in which each person has a specific job to fill and chain of command to follow.
- Kitchen Manager - The kitchen manager is responsible for managing the back of house staff which includes interviewing and hiring new employees, ensuring food safety procedures are being met, and assisting the kitchen when they are busy.
- Executive Chef/Head Chef - The head chef is the most senior member of the kitchen staff. They supervise the kitchen staff, create menus and specials, order food, determine cost, and take care of administrative tasks.
- Sous Chef - The sous chef is second in command, reporting directly to the head chef. They are responsible for supervising the kitchen staff, creating schedules, and training. When the head chef is away, the sous chef assumes leadership.
- Line Cook - Line cooks work at different stations along the kitchen line and can be divided up by cooking type or food type, such as fry cook, grill cook, salad cook, or pastry chef.
- Expeditor - The expeditor is in charge of organizing orders by table so everyone sitting at a particular table is served at the same time. They work on the server side of the window and should be very familiar with menu.
- Dishwasher - Dishwashers are responsible for operating all dishwashing equipment. They clean dishes, flatware, and glasses in a timely manner so that the turnover rate in the dining room is maintained. They are also responsible for cleaning pots, pans, and cooking utensils for the kitchen staff.
Improving Communication Between the BOH and FOH
All businesses can benefit from improved communication between staff members. Because the role of front of house and back of house employees is so different, it can sometimes lead to misunderstandings that affect the quality of your guests’ dining experience. In order to provide the best service possible for your guests, you can adopt some of these practices to encourage better communication and teamwork between your front of house and back of house teams.
Add Prep Work to the Servers’ List of Side Work
Requiring your servers to cut bar garnishes or salad bar ingredients gets them in the kitchen and makes them more invested in the cooking process. Assigning minor kitchen tasks to your servers frees up the kitchen staff to handle more involved prep work. It also provides more contact opportunities between servers and cooks. Camaraderie forms when you’re chopping vegetables side by side.
Offer a Staff Meal
Providing a staff meal is not only a morale-booster for your employees as a whole, it also brings both sides of the house together. Kitchen staff can prepare the meal and the wait staff can serve the drinks. Bonding over food sets the tone for the entire shift. It also provides an opportunity for servers to taste your menu options so they can make suggestions for their guests.
Use an Expeditor
Sometimes the food window can become a chaotic place. Employing an expeditor helps to eliminate communication breakdown between servers and cooks. Servers come to the expeditor with requests or order changes and the expeditor passes the info to the kitchen staff. When the cooks have questions about an order or need to let a server know that a certain item is sold out, the expeditor acts as the middleman. Designating one person as a liaison prevents disagreements and ensures that all requests are heard and understood.
Common Terminology from the Front and Back of House
Restaurant employees use some common terms to communicate with each other. Making sure the members of your staff know what these words mean will lead to more effective interactions and teamwork.
- 86 - When the kitchen runs out of ingredients to make a specific dish and can no longer serve it, the dish is considered “86”. It’s important for kitchen staff to make the server staff aware of 86 items as soon as possible.
- In the Weeds - When the kitchen staff is extremely busy and are having a hard time keeping up with orders, they are considered to be “in the weeds”. Servers can also end up “in the weeds” if they can’t keep up with their tables.
- On the Fly - When something has to be cooked last minute, it is needed “on the fly.” Servers may need to order something “on the fly” if the first dish was not acceptable or if they made a mistake on their first order. No matter the reason, any items requested on the fly should be made immediately to keep guests happy.
- Sections - Restaurant dining rooms are divided into sections, and each section is maintained by an assigned server. The host or hostess has to be very familiar with each server’s section so they don’t seat too many tables in one section at once. Staggering the tables will help the servers and cooks keep up with orders.
- Turnover - Turnover is the rate at which a table is filled during a shift. High turnover is desired because it means that wait times are short and guests are being seated and served quickly.
- Upselling - When servers make suggestions to guests in order to increase the cost of the bill, it is considered “upselling.” It’s a good opportunity to increase profits especially when it comes to alcoholic beverages.
- Behind – While navigating around the kitchen it is considered good manners to say “behind” if you are passing behind another employee. This is to alert them of your presence and prevent accidents.
- Window – The window is the heated shelf where cooks place completed dishes for servers to pick up and serve to guests. Food that is left to sit in the window too long becomes dried out and unappetizing, which makes it imperative for cooks to get all dishes in an order out at the same time.
- Sidework – Servers are assigned specific tasks, or sidework, to be performed at the beginning or end of their shift. Sidework can include filling salt and pepper shakers, cleaning restrooms, or polishing and wrapping silverware.
Now you have an understanding of the differences between the front of house and back of house in a restaurant. Just as the physical locations within your business are different, the employees who work within those spaces perform very different roles. By keeping in mind the important functions of each space and training your staff to work together as a team, no matter if they work in the front or back, you'll have the foundation for a successful business.