If you ever worked in hospitality, for any amount of time really, even one shift would be enough to have a taste of one of the longest lasting battle in any industry, the good old front of house versus back of the house.
In some restaurant, you can actually feel it floating in the air, as a customer, and that’s bad. That’s when you’ve passed the point of no return. They’re forced, the staff, to work together but deep down, they hate each others guts. Then you’ve got places like Holybelly, where we genuinely appreciate one another and one another’s respective workload but once in a while, you’ll hear a little something, witness a certain look, and you’ll know that the FOH vs BOH battle is simmering on the back burner, somehow more discreetly than at other establishments, but simmering nonetheless.
The origins of that battle are unclear. After a bit of reading online and lessons from my personal experience, here is why I believe BOH can’t stand FOH :
– The kitchen works longer hours. They arrive a lot earlier and leave later.
– The working conditions in the kitchen are tougher. Heat, stress, cuts. For the kitchen, it can be frustrating to see FOH out there, chatting with customers, cracking jokes etc.
– In some restaurants (most?) the kitchen doesn’t get a cut of the tips and are paid less. At HB, everyone is paid the same (except for people that have been with us longer and as a result earn more after one or two raises) and we all get an even cut of the tips, best way to avoid frustration.
– The backbone of it all is BOH thinks FOH is unorganised and lazy and get paid more than they should.
I’m sure, in some restaurant at least, there is some truth to it, but when it comes to Holybelly, being on the floor is no walk in the park. Sarah and I, now owners after many years of being employed in various places, have been observing and discussing the eternal tension growing, then disappearing before growing again, in our very own Café and we’ve been thinking of a way to make it go away, for a really long time. I can actually say that we had the idea of swapping roles for over 2 years but the reality of putting together such a project always stopped us from actually doing it.
We’re a 49 seater with a lot of traffic. We send out an average of 950 plates in 5 days, well often pushing past the 1K mark. How do you get the cooks out of the kitchen and out on the floor and vice versa, take your barista off the machine, your waitress off the floor and onto the grill section? What do you tell your customers? What do you charge them? What should be on the menu? Trust me, it’s a real headache.
For the simulation to be as close to reality as possible, the menu should remain unchanged. All of the eggs, all of the pancakes, no lite version. Just no lunch options because those are far too advanced for FOH to master in such a short amount of time. If we do a special menu simplified for that one day (grilled cheese all day) BOH will always be like “Yeah, but you guys had it easy with that dumbed-down menu, it doesn’t count.” What about prep? The day before and for the day after? FOH can’t just rock up on the day and expect the fridges to be packed with everything they need and then leave at the end of the day with nothing ready for the next day. So we’ll do it all, our own prep for ourselves on D day and for BOH the following day. We’ll do all of our mise, bake the cakes, receive the dupes, cook the food to the best of our ability, send it out, hot and at the same time, all day long. Then, cook the family meal, do the prep for the next day, pack up, scrub the walls, the stove and the like and finally, we’ll get to take our aprons off. Then, and only then we’ll be able to say, “I’ve done it. I know what it’s like. I understand better what it is that you do.” Same goes for the BOH when they’ll be on the floor. They’ll do it all. Greet the customers, send them to the right table, keep the tables turning, accommodate all the orders and special requests, keep everything tidy and organised, deal with the waiting list, the till, and people expectations etc. And coffee too! Make all the drinks, latte, flat white, cappuccino, cocktails etc, interrupting taking an order because the bell rang, smile as a hot plate is burning your hand while that four top is trying to remember who got poached and who got fried eggs. We’re going for 100% real conditions, not watered down, as authentic as it gets and I seriously can’t wait.
The date is picked, THE SWAP will happen on Monday, March 21st and the only way we’re going to pull this off is by getting started on training ASAP, which we did. I spent 3 days in the kitchen, I’ll be covering Sarah’s duties on that day, receiving and organising the orders, synchronising everybody’s tasks and overseeing the entire service. Damian, our barista, and Regina, one of our waitress, have both spent 2 days in the kitchen each, shadowing Sarah and Marie. Marty, one of our cook, was on the floor for a good 3 hours during a busy service on Saturday. We’re only at the beginning of the project and already, the results are incredible! I’ve realised so much about Sarah’s work, all the things she has to deal with, the pressure, the stress, the organisation required, the insane multi-tasking. I know that Regina and Damian have also realised a lot of things about BOH’s reality and what it means to work in the kitchen. Same goes for Marty, I know he got a kick out of being on the floor that Saturday and came to realise a lot about what it means to handle Holybelly on a weekend day.
We’re about a week and a half into this with three more to go and I seriously think we can pull this off. We’ll communicate clearly on social media a week in advance and have signs in the café on the day so customers understand what’s going on. We also struggled to find a way to charge our customers for their food and drinks on this special occasion and ended going with a “pay what you think it’s worth” approach. You’ll get the regular check, let’s say 35 euros for 2x eggs and sides and 2x lattes, but based on what you thought the food and the coffee was worth you can pay whatever you want. We’ll have feedback cards so you can let us know how you think we did.
I’m extremely excited about what we’re doing and so far it has been an absolute blast putting it all together. I’m loving seeing my staff learning from one another, getting their minds blown and their assumptions shattered. I don’t know if this has been done before and I really don’t care about us being the first, but I can already tell you it’s totally worth the extra work, the roster nightmare, and the wrist burns (got myself a few of those already!)
Stay tuned friends and clear your agendas, March 21st, you don’t want to miss this.