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.

5. Servers need to practice pouring wine. Practice wine pouring over and around guests. DO NOT rest wine neck on rim of glass when pouring.

With a few exceptions on the higher end, wine service in St. Louis is abysmal. I don't mean the wine selection -- though, with a few exceptions, it's no great shakes -- but rather the simple mechanics of pouring a glass without dripping wine over the table, diners, etc. Knowing how to open and pour wine should be a baseline skill for any server. Practice at home, where you can drink what you pour.

6. BASIC cocktail knowledge... A margarita can be on rocks, or up, with/without salt. A martini can be dry, dirty, with olives, etc.

An addendum from experience: If the bartender doesn't know how to make a requested drink, don't immediately return to the table and ask the diner what it is. It makes me doubt the competence of everyone at the restaurant. You should have a good cocktail guide on hand for such an occasion -- and, failing that, there is always the Internet. On the other hand, if it's an obscure drink with variants, do return to ask the diner his or her specific preferences.

7. Check on dishwasher for cleanliness of glassware.

Should be self-explanatory. Sadly, it often isn't.

8. Don't invade next tables space.

You might have a lovely, shapely, begging-to-be-squeezed ass. I still don't want it in my face as you lean over the table next to mine.

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