Cooking School Secrets: Front of the House

Being a chef is more than just knowing how to cook. It's about knowing how to manage a restaurant (or other food business) and deal with the public. So we've got a 3-week stint working the front of the house.

Host. Server. Busser. Wine steward. With only 6 of us and an average of 40+ lunch covers each day, that's about one or two jobs more than this motley crew of aspiring chefs can handle. And, for some reason, I seem to end up serving and bussing, even if I am assigned to a different job.

It's only a week in and I have already started increasing the amount I tip from 20 to 25%. I no longer spend as much time trying to make conversation (what is your favorite appetizer?) or sitting at the table nursing my cup of coffee. Taking a walk in another person's apron is an eye-opening experience.

To protect myself (and the guests), I set some limits - no carrying more than 3 appetizers, entrées or desserts on a tray the first week and no carrying more than 4 drinks on a cocktail tray at one time. I was a quick study with the carry on your shoulder, then place the tray on a jack but the balancing of the cocktail tray proved more challenging. A few close calls but I started to relax.

On day 4, while placing a glass of iced tea on the table, it happened. Three glasses of soda poured directly onto the guest in seat 2 (a student considering enrolling after high school). I was mortified, but managed to slide into excessively apologetic without skipping a beat.

I slunk into the kitchen, wet tray at my side. The instructor recognized the look, smiled and greeted me with a jovial "Welcome to the club!"

All I could think about was Woody Allen: "I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member."

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