Many people involved in the food industry may know about the kitchen brigade system, but few realize that there is a corresponding classic brigade system used for the dining room, or front of the house (FOH).
In fact, modern restaurants are more likely to closely follow the classic dining room brigade than they do the classic kitchen brigade, especially since there are fewer positions overall. Still, some of the positions will be combined.
Just like the kitchen brigade, it was the famous French chef Escoffier who instituted the dining room brigade. Dining rooms are busy places which will descend into chaos without proper organization. There would be no use organizing an efficient kitchen, with a chain of command in place, without also seeing to the dining room!
It would actually be difficult to define one dining room brigade system, just as it would be for the kitchen brigade. There are endless different interpretations used by restaurants depending on the size and needs of the particular establishments, and the experience and preferences of the owner or manager. Some of the classic positions may be combined, and others may be included that were not a part of the original organization.
Although if you attend culinary school you will probably learn about the dining room brigade, it is more important to know what everyone’s job title entails at the particular restaurant where you work, regardless of how it emulates the classic system. Some of the different positions may seem to overlap or combine duties, resulting in a confusing hodgepodge of responsibilities if you dwell overlong on what Escoffier had in mind.
You’ll notice that the word chef is used in the name of some of these classic positions, further underscoring the fact that the culinary industry was not so very precious about the world once upon a time, since it just meant “chief” or “person in charge.” As such, it was just a word to define the head-honcho of a particular section.
Maître d’hôtel or General Manager
The Maître d’hôtel was originally the house manager, the position to which we refer to today was general manager. The word hôtel and hôte both came from the French word for “host” and this was traditionally what the Maître d’hôtel was, the host of the establishment.
Today, this position is sometimes called dining room manager and it is the person who manages the entire dining room operation. Often called the “maître d,” for short, he or she is the head-honcho of the dining room. The dining room manager oversees all the dining room staff, helps oversees wine selection and service, organizes the seating, and will even sometimes confer with the chef on the menu.
Floor Manager or Floor Supervisor
This is a confusing one since it would seem to be similar, if not the same as head waiter (head service, chef de salle) below. You may have heard “floor manager” being referred to on Food TV and wondered what the difference between this manager and any other manager was. In some restaurants, a floor manager is basically like an assistant maître d, who lightens the load of the dining room boss by directly supervising the dining room staff. You may hear this position, in fact, being called assistant dining room manager.
Chef de Salle Head Waiter, or Head Waiter
The chef de salle was traditionally the dining room manager, working under the Maître d’hôtel, above, who was, again, more like today’s general manager. The term chef de salle is rarely used today, and the term head waiter is more likely to be used.
If you read this article on the term waiter, you will see why I have no personal problem with a “head server” being called a head waiter, whether male or female.
Chef de rang, Chef d’etage, or Captain
The term chef d’etage hasn’t really been used for a long time, although you’ll still see this title being referred to in some explanations. It mean’t “chief of the floor stage.” In hotels, this was a room service waiter. Chef de rang, means chief of the station, on the other hand. This position, otherwise known as the captain, is in charge of a particular set of tables or station. This position is sometimes called the front waiter. More commonly, its just called waiter or sever since individual waiters are assigned to particular stations for each shift.
Demi-chef de rang or commis de rang
This is a position otherwise known as busboy, bus person, or back waiter. Duties will vary depending on the establishment. A bus person might clear dishes between courses (the waiter may as well), fill water glasses, and ‘buses’ tables, which means to clear and clean tables after guests have vacated to get ready for the next seating.
Chef de Vin, Sommelier, or Wine Steward
In restaurants who have this as a dedicated position, the sommelier or chef de vin is the person who is responsible for everything to do with the wine service. He or she chooses which wines to purchase, including considerations of what wines will pair well with menu items; prepares the wine list, and helps guest choose a wine for their dinner. The wine steward then serves the wine.
If there is not a dedicated sommelier position then these duties will generally fall to the maître d (but, again, organization varies).