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Back of house: What you need to know about hiring, and fostering a sustainable BOH culture

If your restaurant is experiencing a greater need for back of house (BOH) staff like chefs and line cooks, you’re not alone — it’s a major issue across the restaurant industry. And you can’t run your restaurant without them, so you need to know exactly what it takes to hire and foster a sustainable BOH culture.

There’s been an increasing labor shortage in BOH roles over the last few years, and even though restaurants are combatting this by offering higher wages and more incentives to attract new talent, it isn’t enough to make up for the lack of a healthy BOH culture.

While the widespread shortage of BOH staff isn’t in your control, creating a sustainable BOH team can be. In this post, we’ll talk about what you need to know to hire the right BOH employees and create a great BOH culture so that you can avoid the risk of turnover and retain a top-notch team for the long term.

What does back of house mean?

‘Back of house’ refers to the areas of a restaurant or cafe that customers don’t see — like the kitchen, storage area, break rooms, and offices — and where all the behind-the-scenes operations take place.

Back of house staff typically includes anyone involved with menu planning, food preparation, BOH staff management, and cooking (like the kitchen manager, executive chef, sous chef, line cooks, and dishwashers).

Back of house vs. front of house

The biggest difference between back of house staff and front of house staff is customer interaction. The front of the house (FOH) areas include your waiting area, dining room, bar, and the pass counter where the wait staff pick up food. FOH employees usually include servers, hosts, general managers, and bartenders.

There are also a few hybrid staff members like food runners, bussers, and barbacks (or bar bussers) who work as go-betweens for the BOH and FOH staff.

Unlike their back of house counterparts, front of house staff like servers and bartenders usually receive tips and —as tipped workers — are often only paid a standard minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, so they rely on tips as their main form of compensation.

If your restaurant uses a tip pooling system and distributes tips evenly amongst staff, back of house workers like line cooks and dishwashers — but not managers or supervisors — can also receive tips. In this case, an employer can’t take a tip credit from them and has to pay all employees an hourly minimum wage of $7.25.

How to hire the right staff for BOH operations

Even though they aren’t customer-facing, your kitchen staff is essential to creating a great dining experience for customers. But the BOH can be a stressful environment that requires quick decision-making and collaboration, so it’s important to think about what qualities you want in your team members when hiring.

Your BOH needs will also depend on the kind of restaurant you run. In an upscale restaurant, you may need a sauce chef and sommelier. But in a small, casual bistro or cafe, you’d probably only need a head chef and a few line cooks to manage your smaller volume of diners.

Chefs and managers

At the top of your BOH food chain are the chefs and managers who execute the restaurant owner’s vision, handle restaurant operations, plan and price dishes and menus, manage inventory, and oversee the daily food preparation and cooking that happens in the kitchen.

When hiring for these positions, it’s best to find candidates with at least five years of restaurant experience and a culinary degree or certification, if applicable. These roles include:

  • Executive chef
  • Sous chef
  • General manager
  • Kitchen manager
  • Food and beverage (F&B) manager, who handles inventory management and pricing
  • Sommelier, which you’ll usually find in a fine dining restaurant

Line cooks

In the French brigade system, cooks prepare dishes in a ‘line’ of stations to make the whole process as efficient as possible.

The line cooks are the BOH staff who, under the instruction and supervision of an executive chef or sous chef, actually craft the dishes you order at a restaurant. Depending on the restaurant, each line cook may be responsible for a different aspect of a dish. A few examples of line cook roles include:

  • Fry cook
  • Sauce chef
  • Prep cook, who gets the food ready for line cooks to use
  • Pantry chef, or the chef garde-manger, who prepares cold foods like salads and chilled soups
  • Pastry chef
  • Short order cook, who usually works in a fast-food or quick-service kitchen and prepares quick dishes like eggs or fries

Cleaning & maintenance

Restaurant kitchens get messy and restaurant equipment needs regular deep cleaning and repair, so it only makes sense that you’ll need staff members dedicated to tasks like thorough cleaning and regular maintenance.

We recommend bringing on a custodial crew and maintenance technicians that have background knowledge on restaurant appliances and how to keep things like exhaust hoods and deep freezers clean ahead of health inspections.

Entry-level roles

It’s ultimately up to you or your restaurant’s hiring manager to decide what kinds of roles don’t require much (or any) prior experience. For example, you may prefer to hire inexperienced line cooks to train on the job, so they know how to follow your executive chef’s specific workflows.

Here are some BOH positions that are often entry-level:

  • Dishwashers
  • Bussers (which are hybrid BOH-FOH staff)
  • Food runners (which are also hybrid BOH-FOH staff)
  • Line cooks

You’ll need a comprehensive training process for any entry-level employee, so new hires have a good initial experience with you as an employer and feel well-equipped to meet your standards. We suggest that you include the following in your training:

  • Thorough onboarding and training about your restaurant and the basics of their job before putting them to work.
  • Complete food handling, food safety, and cleanliness training so that you don’t run into any health code violations.
  • The opportunity to shadow people in the same or a similar position.
  • Regular performance reviews every month or two to offer praise and feedback, as well as talk about areas for improvement.

How to maintain professionalism with a BOH team

While BOH culture is widely known for its chaotic, fast-paced atmosphere and clash of various personalities and experience levels, it’s possible to maintain a professional environment where everyone works together and recognizes they’re part of a team.

Building and maintaining a professional BOH team could involve:

  • Incentivizing teamwork with extra breaks or bonuses
  • Hosting team-building activities outside restaurant hours to foster interpersonal relationships and communication
  • Regularly gathering input and feedback from your team to see how you can improve
  • Getting everyone involved in the brainstorming process for team activities and better engagement

How to create a sustainable BOH culture

When an aspect of your BOH culture — or any team culture — isn’t working, team members, FOH staff members, and even customers can sense it almost instantly. Building a team of people who love what they do isn’t enough. It takes intentionality and work to build a sustainable BOH culture, and here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind while you do so.

Do assess your team culture

You can start by asking managers and supervisors to reflect on the state of your BOH culture. Consider topics like how often you prioritize employee happiness, how much you invest in professional development, and how you take care of your staff members more generally.

Don’t wait too long to share employee schedules

Did you know that waiting too long to share employee schedules can lead to more turnover?

A Homebase survey of over 6,000 teams found that when a business published staff schedules with only one or two days’ notice, they were more likely to see a turnover rate of 42% or more. This rate dropped to 26% when employees received their schedules with eight days’ notice or more so they could make plans like child care arrangements, health care appointments, and leisure activities.

Last-minute schedules are, unfortunately, a common facet of working in the restaurant industry, so having a reliable schedule that’s ready in advance will also boost your reputation as a great employer in your community.

Do have a plan for managing conflicts

Conflicts are inevitable in restaurant kitchens, so you shouldn’t wait for them to arise before you or your restaurant manager figures out how to resolve them.

Some conflicts are only a matter of validating employee feelings about an issue, so let your new employees know from day one that you and your management team are always open to hearing out complaints or concerns.

If transparent communication isn’t enough to resolve a conflict, you may need to gather facts and evidence from the people involved, if possible. Ultimately, you should empower your employees to move forward professionally, even if a dispute between them can’t be entirely resolved.

Other considerations for managing back of house employees

Just like for front of house, you need reliable systems in place to manage your BOH onboarding, compensation, and scheduling. Let’s take a look at some practical solutions you can implement to manage your BOH team effectively.

Back of house position onboarding

With turnover being so frequent in the food service industry, expect that you’ll have to onboard new employees more often than other small business owners. And remember that you’ll probably be onboarding employees who’ve never had a job before.

One of the best things you can do for a painless onboarding process is to avoid the mistake of waiting for a new hire’s first day to have them read employee welcome packets and fill out important documents.

Instead, send them all the required reading and documents as soon as they accept their position. You can use a tool like Homebase onboarding to have new employees e-sign their direct deposits, W-4s, W-9s, or 1099 forms, so they’re ahead of the curve and well-prepared for their first day.

Tip splitting

Tipping can complicate compensation for restaurant employees — and tipping laws also vary from state to state. With the pandemic changing the way many restaurants operate, some owners and managers are also choosing to implement a tip splitting system to account for employees like delivery drivers or curb-side workers.

Just remember that if you require your FOH employees to share tips with the back of the house, you have to pay them minimum wage. And if you’re worried about tip tracking, you can use this custom tip splitting template.>

Back of house employee scheduling

We’ve already talked about how important it is to post employee schedules at least eight days in advance — and the best way to do that is with restaurant scheduling software.

Scheduling both your FOH and BOH employees can be challenging when you consider how different their job descriptions are. BOH employees often need to come in to work much earlier to prepare food and plan dishes before the restaurant opens but may leave earlier than FOH staff once the kitchen closes.

Homebase’s free scheduling tool lets you use auto-scheduling or templates to customize and automate employee shifts and add shift reminders and notes for every team member. And it’ll even remind employees when they have an upcoming shift so you can avoid no-shows, confusion, and excuses.

Run an efficient BOH team with Homebase

There aren’t many work environments in the world that function like the BOH of a restaurant. And if you’re the owner of a growing restaurant, you might feel like all of your attention has to be on the guest experience, and you don’t have the time it takes to streamline your everyday BOH operations.

That’s why Homebase exists. We don’t just offer scheduling tools — we provide small business owners and hourly employees with an all-in-one solution for team management. Homebase has tools for everything your small business needs, including time tracking and timesheets, payroll, hiring and onboarding, communication, employee happiness, and HR and compliance.

Back of house FAQs

Who works BOH in a restaurant?

Restaurant BOH — or back of house — staff is made up of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ employees responsible for food preparation, cooking, plating, and cleaning roles. Here are a few of the most common back of house roles:

  • Executive chef
  • Kitchen manager
  • Sous chef
  • Line cooks
  • Prep cooks
  • Dishwashers

Is BOH different from FOH?

Yes, BOH is different from FOH (front of house). Restaurant FOH staff are the customer-facing employees who interact with and serve diners. FOH staff includes:

  • Hosts or hostesses
  • General managers
  • Restaurant owners
  • Servers
  • Food runners
  • Bartenders
  • Barbacks

How do I find BOH employees?

Here are some creative ways to find BOH employees beyond posting on sites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, or Craigslist:

  • Use Homebase’s hiring and onboarding tool to publish your job postings directly to popular job boards and manage your whole recruitment process — sign up for a free account!
  • Share your job openings in social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
  • Post on restaurant-specific hiring sites like Sirvo, Culintro, Poached, or Culinary Agents.
  • Partner with local high school guidance counselors to find entry-level employees and reach out to nearby vocational schools and culinary programs to find candidates who have culinary training.

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