Before working in the tech sector, I spent several years working in restaurants. There were many things I learned from my time on the line.
My time in fire working through the freight train that is lunch or dinner service. My foundations for skills such as preparation, time management, and communication were laid during my years spent in these kitchens.
In this post, I'm going to summarize 7 key restaurant concepts that were impactful for me. These are ideas that I've carried forward to my workflow today.
Before exploring these ideas... We must first understand the basic layout and flow of a restaurant kitchen.
The front portion of the kitchen is known as "the line". it is where a crew of cooks make the dishes in response to customers' orders.
The back portion of the kitchen is known simply as "the back". It is where most food is prepped before service and is mostly quiet during service.
Customer orders make their way to the line from the servers. Orders are usually entered into a computer system, which prints a "ticket". Tickets come in pairs - one lives on the side of the line and the other lives on the server's side, known as "the front" (or front of house).
Orders that are completed from the line are handed over from kitchen staff to wait staff through what's known as "the pass" - a heat lamp-powered divider between the front and back of house.
It is the job of both sides to organize and complete the orders as efficiently as possible. Completing the order is known as "selling the ticket".
The orchestration of the line is conducted by someone known as "the expo" (short for expeditor). They are the captain of the crew. They call out the orders and coordinate between line cooks and front of house to make sure customers get served.
Preparation is everything. Everything is preparation.
Before service, all stations must be adequately stocked, cleaned, and ready for the chaos to come. If the night's going to be busy, you prep more. If the night's not going to be busy, you prep less. When you're on the line, and service is running, you don't have time to prep. Take the time in-between services to take care of your stations.
Prep is less about ingredients and more about the overall mentality of anticipating what you will need later and doing all you can to ready yourself for what's ahead.
Prep can be seen in all things - from how you cling wrap containers, to how you sharpen your knives, to how you date and label your ingredients.
Everything is preparation. Preparation is everything.
When an order is made, a ticket is printed. On the line, you make it your mission to fulfill that order. This is sometimes known as "selling your ticket".
Depending on the components of the order, tickets can be split across the line. Responsibility is delegated to the cooks working those associated stations (i.e. appetizers, mains, and sides).
With every ticket comes expectation. Expectation brings with it a timer that, in totality, determines the experience of that customer, the success of the night's service, and ultimately, the restaurant itself.
Tickets, and all that they represent, must be organized, prioritized, coordinated, and executed in the highest order.
You live and die by your tickets.
As far as the customer is concerned, the order and your efforts do not exist until the ticket is sold.
Sell your tickets. Get it done.
Much of the time on the line can be experienced through many intense batches of minutes and seconds.
Since orders are typically broken into multiple parts, therefore worked on by multiple people, synchronizing times across the line is crucial in selling the tickets.
You must become a master of time. To know exactly how long something takes to make, to be aware of the times of others, and to keep track of all things at all times.
Times are always communicated clearly and concisely. They are neatly rounded in minutes or seconds, never both.
Announce your times boldly and without prompt.
"2 minutes... 45 seconds... 10 seconds..."
Know your times.
Be on time.
Line cooks rely on a communication style of callbacks.
When commands are given, you must confirm that you've understood the instructions. This is typically confirmed by responding with "heard".
"Heard" is the equivalent of "10-4", "Roger", or "Copy".
During service, you can't always see or hear what's happening. A confidently exclaimed "heard" is a signal that cuts through all noise.
Not all kitchens use "heard". Some simply say "OK!", "Got it", or "Yup!". Regardless of the confirmation catchphrase, all line cooks share the sense of duty to respond to orders and to each other.
"We have 5 specials all day..."
"All day" is a phrase that means "in total". It is used to communicate the total number of orders or components of orders.
Frequently sharing and confirming all day counts is important to clarify the scope of production. Doing so while orchestrating new orders sets the focus and flow for the line.
"We have 3 Salmon, 5 New Yorks, and 2 burgers all day... Waiting on fries... Hold on salads..."
Mistakes happen. It's no different on the line. Food gets dropped, burnt, or worse, forgotten, resulting in them "dying on the pass".
You must own your mistakes. Communicate your mistakes to the rest of the line. This lets your team adjust to accommodate the time it takes to remake your portion of the order. The remaking of food is known as "a refire".
All refires must be accompanied by new times. The expo will coordinate your times with the rest of the line.
Refire represents the mentality of owning mistakes and adapting to any situation with a bias towards action. If it's a problem, you and your crew can discuss it after service.
Mistakes happen. Refire when needed. Communicate your times.
Stay focused on your times, your tickets, and tonight's service.
"I need a refire on fries. 5 minutes..."
"Hold the main for table 37. Get it ready on the pass in 4 mins".
The customers are the most important people at the restaurant. They are the reason you are there. They are the reason the restaurant still stands.
It's not about you. It's about what you can do for other people.
You do absolutely all that you can to sell your ticket and serve the customer.
That is all that matters. That is what service is all about.
Below are some of the restaurant terms mentioned in this post:
Dying - The process of prepared food that's sitting around, waiting for completion.
Expo - Short for "expeditor". The person coordinating tickets between front-of-house and the line.
Front of house - A term for the area for servers, or servers in general.
Prep - Short for preparation.
The line - The portion of the restaurant fulfilling orders from customers.
Ticket - A customer's order. Sometimes called a "chit".