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Importance of communication between chefs and FOH

Communication between chefs and front of house teams in the food industry is imperative to reduce the risk of allergy incidents and miscommunication. Menus are created by chefs, often with head office support, whether that be in a restaurant, hotel, hospital, or school. In hospitals and care homes, dieticians will also provide additional support, so the onus is on them to communicate ingredients and allergies to the wider team.

Chefs may need to alter the recipe if the suppliers send substitute products, or if they receive seasonal fresh produce, which can affect the allergens in that recipe. For example, if the chefs add a drop of cream (contains MILK) or if they add MUSTARD to the cheese sauce, the front of house teams need to be aware so they can communicate this to the customers.

Communication between the chef’s team and front of house must form part of the daily procedures. Never assume the other team members know which ingredients have been used and which menu items may be suitable for customers with food allergies.

The front of house team is often made up of part-time or agency staff and may not be familiar with the menu items on offer. The customer will interact with the FOH team member; therefore, they must have enough knowledge to provide correct information for customers with allergies. The company policy may recommend that FOH staff confirm with the chef or manager before taking the order from the customer, however they need to have a positive attitude and should feel confident when talking to customers with allergy requests.

It is good practice to introduce a daily “pre-service” brief if the menu changes daily, or on a regular basis if the menu generally remains the same. This can be done using a template that includes confirmation of the menu used; the chef delivering the brief will ensure due diligence and the document can be filed with the daily HACCP sheets.

The procedures should include a robust process that clearly identifies all allergen-free orders when the information is given to the team. There are various methods that can help FOH staff, for example, using tablets or order pads to take the order that highlight allergen-free requests. It is important not to rely on this and that a conversation between FOH and chefs must take place. Once the order has been received in the kitchen, normal procedures for preparing and cooking the meal should be followed.

It is best practice to take the allergen-free order straight to the customer first – often the meal is clearly identified using a flag placed on the plate or a different colour or style of crockery. The chef who has prepared the meal should hand this directly to the FOH staff member clearly stating “This is the gluten-free meal for table 6,” for example. It is no good having a member of staff take two meals to the table stating, “one of these is gluten-free, I think it is this one!”

The chef should always listen to queries from FOH staff; they often don’t have the same knowledge as the chef, so all questions should be answered clearly. When there is a function or event, it is best practice to serve all dietary requests from a separate serving counter, with one or two FOH staff taking responsibility for managing guests with specific dietary requests during the whole service. They will know exactly where the guests are sitting and should note their name and their meal choice. As with all instances, good communication is important during service at a formal event to reduce the risk of error.

Training is important and should be planned into an annual training plan. Online training may provide basic knowledge; however, it is important to ensure training includes a suitable level of allergen training according to the role and responsibility of the staff members. Managers, supervisors, and senior chefs should attend a higher level of training than other team members as they have more responsibility (Level 3 is recommended). Other team members should attend Level 2 allergen training or a similar standard, with regular refresher training planned in. This will help to embed a positive food allergen culture into the team.

Good communication between chefs and front of house will result in robust allergen procedures, knowledgeable staff, and a positive allergen culture, which will give the customer the confidence to dine in your establishment and become a regular.

Jacqui McPeake JACS Ltd on behalf of Allergen Accreditation

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Published on May 4th, 2022

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