Top five things I learned working in Frasca Food and Wine's front of the house

Categories: The List

frasca crew.jpg
When I first met Kelly Whitaker, chef-owner of Boulder's Pizzeria Basta, we talked about my possibly helping in the front of the house at the new restaurant he was then planning for Boulder. While I pondered the move, I eventually decided against it: I'd recently started working at Frasca Food and Wine, and I was acutely aware that there were lessons I had yet to learn about the art of service -- and there were few people better to learn them from than Bobby Stuckey, the formidable Master Sommelier who's a co-owner of Frasca.

Stuckey terrified me. He was a veritable service machine who somehow saw absolutely everything that happened in his restaurant -- finishing up a conversation with a guest and then pulling me aside to say that he'd seen me serve from the right while I was on the patio. How did he KNOW that when he was in the dining room? Did he have eyes in the back of his head?

I could have spent a lifetime in the trenches at Frasca and would still not have soaked up everything there was to absorb at that restaurant (although I know I would have gotten more than enough gray hairs). But looking back, I couldn't be more grateful for my experience there. The lessons I learned at Frasca helped me immensely at my next restaurant job -- and gave me invaluable insight into how a fine-dining eatery really has to run.

Here are the top five things I learned:

A strong front-of-the-house presence is crucial to running a top-notch restaurant.
Over the past several years, chef-driven restaurants have become the norm, as Food Network and our tastes propel the back of the house to star status. That's cause for celebration, because it means we're into food. But if you want your restaurant to rock hard, you've got to also have a really good front staff. A gracious host with a strong personality. A maitre d', if your restaurant is that type of place. Most of all, a leader who can direct the rest of the staff and set the tone for service in a restaurant. Because ultimately, a chef's job is to stay behind the swinging doors to cook one hell of a meal -- but a diner's impression of the restaurant is going to be formed by what goes on in the dining room, and that starts with the host, the server and the bartender. This is why good service can make bad food taste better -- but good food can very rarely redeem terrible service. Frasca has this balance down to a science.

The art of service is more like a complicated, well-choreographed ballet.
The reason Frasca's service functions so smoothly is because every member of the staff has very specific, outlined duties. And when everyone performs those duties expediently and gracefully, service is like that moment when the ballerina leaps into the raised arms of her male counterpart, who spins her in a controlled circle, support dancers plie-ing in a ring around them, waving their arms in unison. Delicate, graceful, symmetrical -- practically defying the laws of physics. Choreography creates anticipation, and everyone is expected to perform their duties ahead of the need of the diner, to prevent the metaphorical ballerina from crashing to the floor when she leaps. But service enthusiasts aside, no one really wants to watch this dance -- which is why all members of Frasca's front-of-the-house staff are supposed to perform their parts without being noticed, fading into the background unless a table makes it clear that it wants more.

Just when you thought special requests from guests couldn't get any weirder, they will -- and if you can, you accommodate them.
Vegans, celiacs and finicky kids are nothing. We had regulars who came in and told the kitchen how to cook their entire meals. Picky adults asking for buttered noodles. A VIP who wanted a theme song played when the party entered the building. And Frasca accommodated every single request as best it could without ruining the experience of other guests.

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Frasca Food and Wine

1738 Pearl St., Boulder, CO

Category: Restaurant

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8 comments
db
db

In my humble opinion, a professional restaurant reviewer should be impartial. Not constantly promoting and sucking up to places they used to work

Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke

It's articles like these that shine a positive light on the industry that make "In the weeds" read like a screaching-harpie-of-a-3-year-old, that no doubt, Kyle would deride and mock.

1985dom
1985dom

Serving Food Properly – An Often Misunderstood Practice

Most people in the US think that all food should be served from the left and removed from the right. This is a misconception and stems from the fact that long ago, all food was served in large trays and each guest was served individually tableside from this large tray. If you still do this, then yes, by all means, your guests should be served from the left. But if you are like most people today and have the plates presented to your guests with the food already on it, nicely displayed and decorated, then it should be served from the right, and it is incorrect to serve it from the left. Below is detail of when to serve from the left and when to serve from the right.

From the Left In general, the diner is approached from the left for three purposes and three purposes only: 1. To present platters of food from which the waiter will serve or the diner will help himself.2. To place side dishes such as vegetables or dinner rolls3. To clear the side dishes that were placed from the left.

The reason most often given for this is that most people are right handed. So, for example, when a waiter must use his right hand to serve from a platter, it is least intrusive if he stands to the left. This way, the platter can be held safely away from the guest as the waiter leans forward to reach his/her plate. And, in the case of placing side dishes, it makes most sense to put them to the side that is less in focus, leaving the right side free for the main dish.

From the Right These days it is nearly universal practice, even in very formal circumstances, for food to arrive already arranged on the plate, rather than to be presented on a platter. Preplated food (except for side dishes), as well as empty plates and clean utensils brought in preparation for upcoming courses, are always placed from the guest's right side. At the end of the course, these plates are also cleared from the right.

Wine and all other beverages are presented and poured from the right. This is a logical, since glasses are placed above and to the right of the guest's plate, and trying to pour from the left would force the server to reach in front of the guest.

GFTW
GFTW

Terrified of Bobby????

Claire at CulinaryColorado
Claire at CulinaryColorado

On the rare and wonderful occasions when my husband and I have dined at Frasca, I've been as awed by the flawlessness of the service as everyone else. When Bobby Stuckey is not interacting with guests, he stations himself in the center of the room, his head moving side to side like radar, so that his gaze sweeps the restaurant. He doesn't just notice everything in his own restaurant but elsewhere too. Some months ago, we went to Pizzeria Basta on a Sunday evening. We didn't pay any attention to a couple who came in and sat at the counter with their backs to us. When we got up to leave, Bobby got up and intercepted us to say hello. It was his night off and he was in someone else's restaurant, and yet he spotted us. I was impressed -- and when I think about it, I still am.

Peter
Peter

I took three of my friends last Christmas to Frasca for dinner on a Tuesday night. It was hands down my best meal of the year (despite the fact that I also attended Outstanding in the Field in July, which was outstanding as well, but not the best). They know their wine, food, service. I took the bus to Boulder (I live in Denver) knowing that my two hour meal will comprise at least a bottle of wine. They never rushed us (mind you, it was the holiday season); we never had to ask for water, wine or bread and they make me feel like I am their most important customer, while doing the same to my friends and to every other customer in the house. I really hope the restaurant never shuts its doors and I also hope I can afford to go their more than once a year. The.best.restaurant.in.Colorado.

LaszloLaw
LaszloLaw

There is no question Frasca is the best example of the height of service of any restaurant nationwide. Both Bobby and Lochlan are kings of their art.

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