It’s all too often that we hear about surly customers and terrible managers, but oftentimes being a front of house worker at a restaurant can be really rewarding. Yes, really. These “FOH” jobs range from being a manager, server, bartender, host, food runner, and more, encompassing all the people you see and interact with during your time dining at a restaurant. The whole team exists to make sure you’re happy and well-fed, and people who’ve chosen to make the hospitality industry their career don’t just do it for the sake of having a job—they do it because they love it.
We talked to three front of house employees to hear about the aspects of their jobs that are most enjoyable and rewarding. And yes, we asked them if they like when you stack the plates after you’re done eating (we know you’re curious about that).
Here’s our panel of experts:
- Liz VanLeuwen, General Manager, Rose Mary, Chicago
- Paul “PK” Kim, Head Bartender, O by Kissaki, New York
- William Ravert, General Manager at Paulie Gee’s Logan Square and Managing Partner at Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park, Chicago
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What are your favorite types of interactions to have with customers?
LVL: My favorite thing to see in my interactions with guests really has to be when they come back a second time and a third time. Obviously there are lots of rewarding interactions with guests who are maybe only coming the one time, because they’re traveling, and that is awesome as well. But for me, building that relationship and being the place they choose to stop at on their way home from work, and on a nice night out, and for a wedding, and for a funeral, for a casual quick bite and a drink—being a place like that for guests, where they can come for succor and just whatever they need in life at that moment, that is huge for me.
PK: I love seeing genuine interest in the ingredients and techniques used in the drinks and food being served. That’s where I have the opportunity to bring the guest into my realm of expertise and create connections with them.
WR: On a day-to-day basis, I love when I have guests who I can be myself with, crack jokes with, and generally just enjoy talking to. That always makes service go by faster. On a longer-term basis I love the relationships I’ve developed with people who have been coming in for years. In some cases even after they move away they still come when they visit Chicago. (Hi Adam and Kate!)
What part of your job is the most rewarding?
LVL: That moment when you look around a full dining room packed with happy guests and a thriving, engaged team on both sides of the house, and you think, “I helped make this.” If you’re lucky (and I am), that moment happens at least once a shift.
PK: Best part of my job is developing relationships with guests and coworkers. Just kidding, that’s secondary to getting paid cash money!
WR: Definitely the friendships and bond between coworkers and fellow industry. There’s something really special about seeing people look out for each other. It’s a big thing I’ve heard a lot of people say they miss when they leave it.
What is something you admire about your fellow FOH workers?
LVL: Their perseverance, loyalty, sense of humor, practical/technical skills, the fact that they show up ready to fucking crush every night, grace under pressure, and genuine love of hospitality.
PK: I admire all the different skill sets that everyone brings to the table. I learn so much from every coworker regardless of experience in the industry. I am very much an amalgamation of all of the places I have worked and all the people that I interacted with.
WR: With the current state of things it’s the resilience people have shown. Working through COVID has been a drain on everyone but they’re still pushing through.
What skills do you have from your restaurant work that you wouldn’t have gained anywhere else?
LVL: I don’t know that I have any “hard” skills that I couldn’t have gained elsewhere, but I certainly have gained a lot of “soft” skills doing restaurant work. I can sweep a curb, figure out how much ice you need for your party, shuffle a deck of cards, and make you a perfect Manhattan. I can drain a fryer, manage a waitlist, take care of your plants, and at the same time bullshit with hundreds of strangers a night, every night, night after night, for almost 20 years now. Most lifer FOH I know could talk the hinges off a gate while polishing a truck load of wine glasses, expediting, parking cars in a rainstorm, and having your office Christmas party at the same time. If that’s not a skill you can’t learn elsewhere, I don’t know what is.
PK: Restaurant work teaches you to multitask at a very high level. Plus, I wouldn’t know how to carry five plates of tacos at one time without a tray.
WR: I think the main thing is social skills and adaptability. Working FOH really gives you the confidence to be dropped into any social situation and still feel comfortable knowing you can put on the show if necessary.
Do you remember what your very first day in the service industry was like?
LVL: Oddly enough I don’t, but I’m sure it sucked.
PK: My family owned a restaurant growing up, so I have always been service industry. My first moment was I remember being 3 years old and standing in front of the restaurant waving people in to come into “MY RESTAURANT.” I guess I still do the same thing, I just use social media instead of standing out front.
WR: My first job in food service was at Potbelly. I can’t say I remember the first day but I do remember the interview. It was my first one ever and I was terrified.
Do employees actually like when the customers stack their used plates for clearing?
LVL: I’m neutral on the guest pre-bus, but what we really like is when guests move plates and glasses (and phones) aside on the table when we’re running food and make us a landing spot for the plate(s). That is so helpful. But for the love of God, don’t move the water glass right when we’re trying to pour.
PK: I like it when the plates are stacked properly by the guests. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, let the professionals handle it, otherwise I will rain down dirty plates and silverware upon you and your friends.
WR: That’s complicated. Oftentimes the guest, if they’ve never worked in a restaurant, will stack things in weird ways. There will be food in between items so I’ll have to sort it and scrape everything down. It’s a nice gesture but can end up taking the server longer.