What Local Restaurants Can Learn from Momofuku's Front-of-House Rules

An e-mail containing the front-of-house rules at Ma Peche, the latest venture of It Chef David Chang of New York City's Momofuku empire, has been making the Internet rounds over the past day. You can read the complete list here.

Though the hook of the article linked above is basically "OMG. Can you believe this draconian workplace?" Chang's rules don't strike me as out of line for one of the most famous chefs in the world's most scrutinized restaurant scene. And I certainly think that St. Louis restaurants could learn a thing or two about service from the list.

Here are a few of Chang's rules that address foibles I've witnessed on my many local restaurant visits:

1. "Check all menus, make sure they are not soiled, look good, correct."

Dirty menus are inevitable, but that doesn't mean a diner should have to choose his or her meal from one. This is especially true at restaurants that print new menus every day or week. Flimsy paper menus are more likely to be stained, torn, etc. -- and are much, much easier to replace.

2. "Always visually check in with guests within seconds of food dropping, but there's no point in asking them how they are doing if you can see they haven't even tried the food yet."

This is a real pet peeve of mine. A server can see -- often at a glance, without disturbing the diners -- that they have taken no more than a bite or two, if that, of their meal. On the other hand, servers shouldn't make themselves scarce after dropping off the meal in case there is a problem (e.g., under- or overcooked meat) best dealt with immediately.

3. "Do not say 'enjoy' after everything. Also never say 'are you done enjoying that?'"

Really, any kind of leading question ("Aren't the seared scallops divine?") should be verboten.

4. We don't say famous, signature, baby, micro, housemade.

Agreed on famous and signature. ("Award-winning," too -- even if the award was conferred by RFT!) Culinary buzzwords are a dicey proposition, and I'm as guilty as anyone. For example, I use "housemade" frequently in my reviews. I do think it has a place when describing something -- potato chips are probably the best example -- that diners are accustomed to having premade by an outside company. At higher-end restaurants, though, "housemade" should be the default position.

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