Is Running Hot Food Always The Priority?

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running hot food

The food looks perfect, now if they could only eat it.

I have worked for a number of companies and managers over the years that repeated a similar mantra.  “Running hot food from the window is the top priority.”  This is often heard from the mouths of managers, kitchen staff, and expediters.  It has been emphasized so often that it is often accepted as factual.  While it is a very important factor of the guest experience, I would contend that running hot food is not always the first priority in providing the ideal guest experience.

Serving your guests food that was perfectly prepared by the kitchen is very important.  The food should be sent out of the kitchen at optimal quality.  Letting the food cook or dry out under heat lamps will not improve the quality of the food.  Heat lamps do not improve the taste of food.  They are only meant to preserve the temperature of the food as it awaits delivery to the table.  Heating lamps will buy you a very limited amount of time to maintain the temperature, but are not a subsititute for running hot food.

You should want your guests to have an incredible meal.  One of the most important factors in this is to have them eat their meal when it is at peak quality.  This does not however mean that running hot food to the guest immediately after it comes out of the kitchen is always ideal.  This may seem like a contradiction.  It is in fact accounting for a very important factor that is often left out of the equation.  While food does not hold up well under heat lamps, it fares far worse sitting in front of guests who are prevented from eating it.

I am going to contend that your top priority should be to have your table prepared to eat the food as soon as it is delivered from the kitchen.  An entrée that arrives when the guest is still enjoying their salads will get cold and undesirable as your guests push it aside to finish their salads.  Guests will quickly lose patience as they stare at a meal in front of them while lacking the condiments or silverware they need to begin eating.  Guests will feel rushed and become annoyed if their food arrives minutes after the appetizer was delivered.  I will not say that food sitting under a heat lamp falls into the “out of sight, out of mind” category.  Rather, food sitting in front of them will make them far more agitated about waiting for a fork to arrive than a brief delay in runnign hot food.

There is a reason for optimism in this reshuffling of priorities.  Most all of the things that can prevent a guest from enjoying a meal are under your control.  While you cannot control the rate at which the kitchen completes the order, you can however anticipate most of the needs that will prevent your tables from being able to instantly enjoy their meals.  Learning to spot these potential barriers will keep your guests happy while allowing them to enjoy the meal as it was intended to be served.  This is a vital skill for a great server.

Here are some strategies for preventing your guests from receiving food they cannot immediately enjoy.

Time Your Courses: I know that not all restaurants advocate ringing in multiple courses individually.  As a server, it is often up to you to do this on your own.  By ringing all of your courses at once, you leave the timing of your guest’s meal to a line cook who cannot even see the table.  Monitoring your tables and staggering the time at which you order each course will allow you to give your guests adequate time to complete each course before delivering the next.

Count Silverware: Asking a guest to “hold onto” a piece of silverware is tacky and rude.  If you expect an exceptional tip from your guest, they should be able to expect clean silverware for each course.  As you remove a fork from a table, replace it on the very next trip. 

Anticipate Needs: A guest who orders a steak will need a steak knife.  A hamburger or french fries will almost always necessitate ketchup.  Food that is intended to be eaten without silverware, will require extra napkins. 

Ask In Advance:  Inquire of your guests about any sauces they will want their meal when it is served.  Steak sauce, mustard, extra dressing, and a number of other items will maintain their quality at the table far longer than hot food will.  Having these things waiting on the table before the hot food arrives will prevent the hot food from waiting on the sauces arrival.

Running hot food should always be a priority.  Delivering the items necessary to enjoy the hot food should be a greater priority.  A guest will show greater patience with a steak knife in front of them while waiting for their steak than they will of those items are delivered in reverse order.  Anticipate the needs of your guests in advance and deliver them prior to the foods arrival.  This sets you up to keep your guests happy while serving their meals at the highest quality possible.

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