Give front of house its due

03 April 2008
Give front of house its due

David Pitchford, vice-chairman of the Academy of Culinary Arts and chef-partner at Read's restaurant at Macknade Manor, Faversham, Kent, says we should be celebrating the talents of front-of-house staff as much as those of chefs

I am old enough to remember the days when the maître'd was king in the restaurant and the chef would be unknown. I'm not suggesting that we should return to those days, but equilibrium between the chef and his restaurant manager should be restored.

Good food on its own is not enough to satisfy the customer, nor gain the restaurant a reputation. I can say all this because I am a chef.

For more years than I care to admit, my wife, Rona, and I have been partners, not only in life but also professionally. But from the moment that I won a few awards and then a Michelin star it was always about me, and rarely did Rona get a mention.

Most successful high-quality restaurants I know succeed because the chef and the restaurant manager have a good working relationship. And yet the wide-ranging skills of the front of house are undervalued. Apart from their social skills that give the customer the first impression of the restaurant, most of the best service professionals speak two or even three languages fluently. They have the knowledge and appreciation of wine, often to the depth of a Master of Wine. Likewise, their knowledge of running a business, keeping up to date with food laws, hygiene matters and staff recruitment, make the business.

Currently, even the best colleges in the country tend not to offer training courses for service, while training programmes for chefs abound, thanks to our profession's televison exposure.

But let's be honest here. What quality does our chef need to become a media star? The ability to cook is not enough he or she has to be able to communicate. And yet one of the most powerful strengths of the successful front-of-house man or woman is precisely that - the ability to communicate. They can, and do, make you feel as though you are the only person in the room who is important and has ever mattered, and that every whim of yours gives them the power to please you.

Television has made the chef and given him and the profession respect - let's give the front of house their turn.

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