How To Be a Good Expo: Helpful Hints and Tried Tricks

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Published: June 25, 2020  

If you’re a veteran in the restaurant industry, the expo needs no introduction. The expo is a complex and challenging role; it’s not a job for the weak or faint of heart. But if you’re new to restaurants or kitchens, this diplomatic and important role is one you’ll one want to bookmark for later.

What is a kitchen expo?

The kitchen expo (expediter) is the liaison between the front-of-house (FOH) employees and back-of-house (BOH) employees. The expo’s duties include ensuring that plates are presented cleanly and according to house specs and guest modifications, ensuring the proper temperature of the food, communicating tickets to line cooks, and alerting the culinary team of allergies, re-fires (when a cook must re-cook or re-prepare an item that was sent back), and special guest requests. The exact job varies widely depending on the establishment and how it operates.

If you want to skip to the good stuff (and miss out how I started on my expo journey), just click below!

If expo’ing (forgive me, but this is a real term for us F&B folks) is your thing, don’t expect every kitchen to be the same. I went from verbally expo’ing an entire line with four stations to only communicating with the Chef who was back expo and while I was only calling for hands. Before then, I had no idea a back expo was even a thing! 

Back when I had an entire line of men to handle—most native to the southside of Chicago—using only my voice, I learned and researched techniques on how to be a good expo. During the rush we’d use only one ticket for the whole order, apps to dessert.

With the cooks relying on my voice alone, a girl had to gain some knowledge. If I was playing The Sims, I’d be reading and watching the cooking channel! But we’re not in a simulation video game, so for you to improve in your kitchen expo position, it will help to know the following tried tricks.

Photo by Avi Richards

A kitchen expo is the liaison between front-of-house and back-of-house. 

My Kitchen Expo Position

Falling (no tripping, stumbling!) into the abyss of expo, I actually became quite good at it. I asked culinary veterans, even my line cooks, what they usually do or saw in the industry. After my research, I picked up methods and dropped others.

I was fortunate enough to work for a large corporation, so my opportunity for networking was one conference away. However, use your resources, dude! Post on forums, look up hashtags, watch tutorials, or I don’t know … read this blog! I learned the most useful methods from culinary forums (DM for credit!).

Eventually, I expedited shifts upward of $7,000 in food revenue during Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Every night at this beautiful restaurant on the Magnificent Mile, here I was, a 5’2, 97-pound girl managing the FOH and expo’ing the kitchen. At. The. Same. Damn. Time.

Did I cry? Hell yeah. It was stressful, but fun. Looking back with full 20/20 vision, I had an awesome time with all the cooks and my servers. Most of the cooks and food runners also spoke Spanish (and more quickly), so I picked up Spanish along the way! 

 I’ll cover the following tried and true kitchen expo hints:

  • Use Names

  • Stock Your Line

  • Master Stations

  • Hire, Train, or Use a Dream Food Runner

  • Find Your Flow

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis

Use Names

If you’re looking for an instant trick, here’s one: Use the person’s name! When the cooks are weeded in the rush and have eight hundred things bouncing around in their heads, sometimes your voice gets drowned out.

I was sad to hear this, too, you guys. Until this moment, I thought everyone listened to every word I said! Anyway, say their names loud and clear (maybe like a parent?) and you’ve got their attention. 

Example time. Crazy rush, and it’s been a long one. Your sauté cook, Mark, is like, done. You just got a ticket for three more salmons, but he’s weeded. You know you’ve got to call this out or else he won’t get them started and the ticket time will suffer. Say his name loudly and clearly first, and then the ticket items.

“Mark, walking in three salmons, five all day!” Saying a person’s name trips a wire in the person’s brain to pay attention to what’s coming next. Like your smart home system!

Stock Your Line

Another super quick tip is to make sure your line is stocked fat. Stock plate wipes for days. Grab extra pesky items you always run out of. Communicate to your team what items you always run out of so that they can pre-bus and polish these first! Don’t forget your marking flatware, sauces, or any other materials you use such as fry cups or garnishes. Work with your BOH staff and food runner, too, to see if they need anything from you.

Remember your role is one of cohesion. The expo makes sure the food coming out of the kitchen is pristine and goes to the right table, hot and delicious. By harnessing an openness to work with your BOH and FOH team, your role will be smooth as creamy peanut butter. 

Master Stations

Knowing what stations each menu item comes from is almost as critical as knowing the cook’s name. The expo needs to keep an eye on each station while being in control of ticket times. 

If a ticket time is running long, quickly identify which station is dragging. Oh look! It’s our friend Mark.

Tell Mark he’s approaching caution. Time moves at a different pace behind the line, as it does for the FOH staff during a rush! Sometimes Mark doesn’t know he’s sneaking into a long ticket time.

Hire, Train, or Use Food Runner of Dreams

While I learned all these tips on how to be a good expo by reading and researching, my true success lay in the hands of the world’s best food runner. Yes, the renowned Alfredo who could run the entire restaurant if he wanted. 

The key to your success is having an efficient food runner (and busser!). Learn how to communicate with this person, and treat this person the best of anyone! You want to be fun to work for so that your food runner actually wants to do a good job for you.

A good food runner will quickly come when you call for hands (a restaurant term for food runners). A good food runner will make sure sauces are stocked and silverware is there when you need it. A good food runner will let you know what phase in the meal a table is in and won’t send food out too soon! Alfredo even let me know when I could fire entrées and desserts. This guy was good, like crème de la crème good. Having a harmonious relationship with your food runner relationship will also make you look better to your boss! But give credit where it’s due.

Find a Flow

Find a rhythm with your team members; it’ll be fun. Use their names, let them know when they’re dragging, and be open to their feedback. Do you have any weird quirks that make your feel better? For some reason, I can think more clearly if I hold my hand over my head and rock back and forth. Weird, right? But don’t forget to stock the essentials and find an amazing food runner so you can rock it out.

Yes, these tried tips on how to be a good expo can help you level up your expo game. I’ve cried while expo’ing but also built some of the most significant friendships while doing it. And I even learned another language. Beautiful things happen when you step outside of your comfort zone.

If you have any questions or need extra tips, drop a comment so I know you’re interested! I’m always up to answer any questions or chat about the industry. 

Cheers!

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