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Should a diner be entitled to tour the kitchen?

ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 03:29 PM

A table next to ours had a diner that asked for a tour of the kitchen, but was politiely told that it was against restaurant policy.

Putting aside why a diner would want such a tour (personally, I can think of alot of good reason, none of which are necessarily health dept related), I am curious what fellow chowhounds stand on this issue.

Should a diner be entitled to visit the back-of-the-house?

Is there any reason (non-OSHA related) why the kitchen should be off-limits?

Sure, some restaurants do offer tours of the kitchen, but this is by far the minority practice. And, of course, there "open kitchens" but this is more of a peek-a-boo than anything else. Sushi bars, of course, are "open" but then they really aren't "kitchens" in the truest sense.

Maybe it's a practical consideration. With all the hustle and bustle going on, having an extra person or two walking around would be too disruptive, maybe?

I must admit, there are times when I'm at a steakhouse where I'd be really intrigued to see the salamander at work.

Your thoughts?

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  1. steve h. RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 03:55 PM

    i took my mother/father-in-law to south korea years back. when waiters/chefs found out he was in the restaurant supply business, they all asked him to see their kitchen. i tagged along.

    at the end of the day, if you express an interest, you may be pleasantly surprised with a kitchen tour (think per se). being related in some way to the business enhances your chances.

    hey, you never know.

    1. thew RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 04:02 PM

      kitchens are busy, with lots of sharp and hot things moving around. it si barely controlled chaos, adn a visitor can break the flow, low the kitchen, cause problems , and get hurt. besides.. better you don't know

      2 Replies
      1. re: thew
        rednyellow RE: thew Sep 11, 2008 04:50 PM

        this was my exact first thought. Kitchens are hectic and often cramped

        1. re: thew
          s
          SharaMcG RE: thew Sep 11, 2008 04:57 PM

          This was also my first thought: there are perfectly legitimate safety reasons why a given resto would not want diners touring the kitchen. I think if they can allow diners to tour safely, sure, why not? But many restaurant kitchens simply don't have that luxury. I certainly wouldn't jump to conclude that a restaurant had anything to hide if they turned down such a request--not that the OP suggested that at all, but some might interpret a turn-down that way.

        2. ccbweb RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 04:06 PM

          No, the diner shouldn't be entitled to visit the back of the house.

          Yes, many reasons: safety, the kitchen may be small and there simply isn't space, they may get numerous requests for some reason and can't accommodate them all and so don't bring anyone in...and so on. You hit it on the head later in your post: "practical considerations."

          No harm in asking, though. That is, I don't think its at all an unreasonable request on the part of the diner, they should simply be prepared to accept a polite "no" as an answer.

          1. f
            FriedClamFanatic RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 04:06 PM

            I think it should be a privilege, not a right. A housekeeper on vacation (?) doesn't get to view a hotel's laundry. A plane owner doesn't get to visit the pilots or pilots lounge on a commercial flight. And to the absurd- a patient doesn't get to visit an operating room or a morgue!

            Those of us who HAVE been behind the swinging doors know that sometimes it is a mad house in there and the tempers could be flaring in such an environment. I'd leave it to the owner to decide. After all, some places actually have settings in the kitchen. Frankly, I find the whole thing pretentious on the part of the diner - and some of the restaurants that offer beind the scenes dining

            3 Replies
            1. re: FriedClamFanatic
              nummanumma RE: FriedClamFanatic Sep 9, 2008 05:26 PM

              just wondering what it is that you find pretentious about a chef's table?

              1. re: nummanumma
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                FriedClamFanatic RE: nummanumma Sep 10, 2008 07:59 PM

                I guess I'm old school. I run a restaurant. All my diners are important to me. My kitchen is important to me. I try and keep the 2 separate to make sure both sides are happy

                1. re: FriedClamFanatic
                  f
                  FriedClamFanatic RE: FriedClamFanatic Sep 10, 2008 08:12 PM

                  Sorry, I think you got my dander up a bit. However, when I take my car into be serviced, I don't expect to be hovering over the mechanic's shoulder. If my repair shop owner wants to set up learning days for customers, and they're willing to pay for it, that's one thing. But when you are trying to do good work and do it as fast as possible to keep costs down, a table in the kitchen or a table in the car-bay is going to cause problems IMHO

            2. n
              nosh RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 05:38 PM

              I have found that we are much more likely to be invited back into the kitchen after or near the end of a service. Things are just too busy and crazy, not to mention hot, during the frenzy at the height of the rush.

              1. n
                nc213 RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 06:06 PM

                entitled? absolutely not. people are hard at work in the kitchen and usually dont' have time or space for visitors. servers, bussers, and hosts need to be "on" the whole time they're on the floor. occasionally they need a place of refuge.

                does everyone who does business with you deserve access to your office?

                that said, it's nice when restaurants will honor such a request. most will when asked, and they should be lauded for that. and if you're interested, have your server ask a manager. I've rarely seen the request turned down, except in times of extreme busyness. (but I think there's a big different between happy to oblige and entitlement)

                4 Replies
                1. re: nc213
                  manraysky RE: nc213 Sep 10, 2008 03:26 PM

                  >>does everyone who does business with you deserve access to your office?

                  That's exactly how I felt when I worked at a place with an open kitchen. Look in, but please don't park yourself in front of the line and stare the whole time your meal is being made. It's really unnerving.

                  1. re: manraysky
                    m
                    Morticia RE: manraysky Sep 10, 2008 08:05 PM

                    This reminds me of a story from a friend of mine, who was a cook at a restaurant whose kitchen had a big glass wall facing the sidewalk outside - she and her fellow cooks would try to do interesting things to deliberately freak out the gawkers who stood outside staring at them...my favorite was when they cut a piece of vanilla ice cream into the shape of a stick of butter, and wrapped it in an empty butter wrapper. Then when the looky-loos came by they would unwrap the "butter" and devour the entire stick while the gawkers stood there, open-mouthed...good fun!

                    1. re: Morticia
                      k
                      KTinNYC RE: Morticia Sep 11, 2008 05:00 AM

                      This is a clever story but if cooks have the time to put on a show for gawkers there are probably too many cooks in that kitchen.

                      1. re: KTinNYC
                        n
                        nc213 RE: KTinNYC Sep 12, 2008 05:10 PM

                        well, any shift has busier and slower times. it's a cycle. After the flurry of prep, there's often a lull as the first few tables arrive and before the restaurant is full. You will need x number of staff at 7, but not everyone is always busy at 5:30.

                2. s
                  Sisyphus RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 07:55 PM

                  I hope not. If I'm eating at a restaurant, I would expect that hygiene is something accounted for and random patrons of the restaurant are not "entitled" to share their germs, hair and debris through the kitchen in which my food will be prepared.

                  1. Richard 16 RE: ipsedixit Sep 9, 2008 10:07 PM

                    Add me to the "no" column. Kitchens are, as thew says, barely controlled chaos. Everyone is focused on the multiple jobs at hand, and whether they're "in the zone" or "weeded", The last thing they need is a huge distraction. And kitchens can be dangerous, from knives to water and/or oil on the floor, etc. People who never have worked the BOH don't want to see are like things like spills, aprons with stuff all over them, many hands all over their food, constant cursing, etc.

                    That being said, when I was a chef and now as a former chef I occasionally visit the kitchen; often between shifts or extremely slow. I remember one one Indian chef proudly showing me his saffron stash -- in a beautifully decorated metal box. There must have been a thousand dollars worth in there...

                    1. s
                      Stillwater Girl RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 06:27 AM

                      ABSOLUTELY NOT. That's all I have to say about that.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Stillwater Girl
                        m
                        MattInNJ RE: Stillwater Girl Sep 10, 2008 06:33 AM

                        I agree, if the chef/owner invites you to tour the kitchen that is one thing, but you should not feel entitled to do so. When I go to a movie theater, do I feel entitled to your the projector room. If I go to a zoo, should I feel entitled to jump in the penguin tank? I didn't think so.

                      2. s
                        swsidejim RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 06:43 AM

                        I dont think a diner is entitled to a tour of the kitchen, or should demand one.

                        I have been invited into the kitchen of a couple of places after chatting with their owner, to see their coal fired pizza oven, or their smokers.

                        1. Veggo RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 06:47 AM

                          Bern's Steak House in Tampa still does cellar and kitchen tours. I enjoyed the cellar, but the kitchen tour was frightfully chaotic in close quarters and I'm surprised it's still done.

                          1. Karl S RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 07:28 AM

                            No.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Karl S
                              b
                              bubbles4me RE: Karl S Sep 10, 2008 07:42 AM

                              Another no here

                              1. re: Karl S
                                LindaWhit RE: Karl S Sep 10, 2008 08:33 AM

                                And yet another "no". Why in the world would *anyone* feel entitled to have a tour of a restaurant's kitchen? The subject line surprised me, although it shouldn't in this "it's all about me" era.

                                1. re: LindaWhit
                                  b
                                  brendastarlet RE: LindaWhit Sep 10, 2008 08:47 AM

                                  You're not entitled, at all. It's like going to a department store and asking to see the store room. On the other hand, sometimes the owner is proud to offer a tour, and if you're interested, by all means, accept. We were allowed to see the kitchen in a restaurant in Mexico, and it was absolutely spotless. The cooks and busboys seemed very proud to have us there.

                                  1. re: brendastarlet
                                    LindaWhit RE: brendastarlet Sep 10, 2008 09:01 AM

                                    Brenda, I *know* no one's entitled. I was commenting on the OP's thread title - "Should a diner be entitled to tour the kitchen?" was her query.

                                    If offered a tour, I would accept. But I would never, ever think I was entitled to a tour of any restaurant's kitchen.

                              2. Scargod RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 08:53 AM

                                I would say no for the average customer. I had a business, with a shop, and I was always concerned about tours and somebody doing something stupid.
                                I was offered a stint in the kitchen of a friend's cafe and I seriously thought about it, then declined, realizing it was fast-paced, hard and somewhat dangerous work. If things were slow or winding down, I I could see a tour for a good customer, if the owner or manager, were so inclined.
                                I've had a few peeks, but I never saw a salamander, or a gecko, working in there!

                                1. Sam Fujisaka RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 09:16 AM

                                  No diner is entitled. I wouldn't even ask in the US. I've been in a lot of restaurant kitchens in developing countries, however. Have learned a lot because I usually go in not to see the kitchen per se, but to learn how somehing is done.

                                  1. just_ducky RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 02:47 PM

                                    As much as I'd love to do a quick tour of any kitchen, I know I don't belong there and won't ask. For those that haven't read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, I highly recommend the book - it's a fun read and introduces the reader to what really happens in the kitchen, and after reading it I promise you'll agree spectators don't belong back there.

                                    1. r
                                      RGC1982 RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 03:50 PM

                                      No. Only the health department has that right.

                                      Diners can drag in loose hair, dirt and other unsavory microscopic critters with them. They may touch things that they shouldn't, or sneeze where there isn't a sneeze guard. Personally, I would rather not have other diners in the kitchen where my food was being prepared for this very reason.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: RGC1982
                                        Scargod RE: RGC1982 Sep 10, 2008 06:31 PM

                                        There are suggestions that customers are unclean (and should stay out of the kitchen), and suggestions that "you don't want to know or see what goes on in there", thus you should stay out. I think all these are over the top.

                                      2. jfood RE: ipsedixit Sep 10, 2008 07:42 PM

                                        Entitled? Absolutely Not.

                                        Although if done properly a tour is a wonderful time. Jfood was fortunate after eating many times at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Chef Dean invited jfood for a tour. Way back in the mid 1980's. The catch was it was the next day at 3 in the afternoon before the chaos began. What a great 60 minutes. He saw all kinds of fun stuff and learned a ton from a great chef. The end of the event was Chef Dean preparing a tasting menu beyond jfood's wildest dreams.

                                        Did jfood feel entitled, nope; but the tour was priceless.

                                        1. im_nomad RE: ipsedixit Sep 11, 2008 10:38 AM

                                          I'm not sure it's proper to ask to go back there...by all means take the opportunity if offered, why not.

                                          but my first thought on reading this was that perhaps they previously let someone back there who slipped or something and probably slapped a lawsuit or something.

                                          1. MC Slim JB RE: ipsedixit Sep 11, 2008 12:58 PM

                                            I've been invited to tour kitchens, and requested a tour on behalf of a guest who was celeb-chef struck. They're fun. But what dining customer on earth thinks they're *entitled* to tour a kitchen?

                                            Oh wait, I read the book "Waiter Rant", where the server endlessly documents his customers' "entitlement issues". That's his polite way of saying, "You're a childish, self-centered, egomaniacal douchebag who needs to be slapped into showing basic common sense, human decency, and good manners."

                                            1. f
                                              FrankieSandals RE: ipsedixit Sep 11, 2008 01:45 PM

                                              Make sure if you do go into the kitchen you bring a 12-pack or a bottle of tequila for the team, or at least send them a round.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: FrankieSandals
                                                LindaWhit RE: FrankieSandals Sep 11, 2008 07:51 PM

                                                Ummm, who is going to be going into a restaurant to eat a meal and just happen to have a 12-pack or a bottle of tequila on them?

                                                1. re: LindaWhit
                                                  ccbweb RE: LindaWhit Sep 12, 2008 05:02 AM

                                                  You don't always have those on hand?

                                                  I keep them in a rolling board suitcase along with a gallon bottle of Tabasco, a pan-full of brownies, a plate of chocolate chip cookies, vegan peanut butter, jumper cables and a box of Black Box Cabernet Merlot.

                                                  One must be prepared for emergencies at all times.

                                                  1. re: ccbweb
                                                    LindaWhit RE: ccbweb Sep 12, 2008 05:31 AM

                                                    I'm woefully unprepared, I guess. I do like having the pan-full of brownies....a little chocolate fix never hurt anyone...and just in case the restaurant doesn't have a chocolate dessert on the menu that night!

                                                    1. re: ccbweb
                                                      c
                                                      chefbeth RE: ccbweb Sep 12, 2008 08:05 AM

                                                      I want to hang with YOU, cc!

                                                    2. re: LindaWhit
                                                      f
                                                      FrankieSandals RE: LindaWhit Sep 12, 2008 07:19 AM

                                                      You know what they say about prior proper planning...

                                                  2. oldbaycupcake RE: ipsedixit Sep 11, 2008 04:03 PM

                                                    This reminds me of when the curtain was pulled back to expose that the Great & Powerful Oz was really just an average guy. Not sure what people think is going on in the BOH, but they are certainly not "entitled" to tour the kitchen. I think most people would actually be underwhelmed by the experience.

                                                    IMO to accomodate this diners request would actually be negligent. Why would you want to mess with the BOH when they are in the zone? Yes it would be disruptive to have people walking around. Why would you want to affect the experience of all of the other Guests? And worst case scenario, the pretentitous visitor not only could be hurt (burned, slip & fall) but what if they got something on their pretentious clothes? They'd call their attorney. Good policy. Cheers!

                                                    1. s
                                                      soupkitten RE: ipsedixit Sep 12, 2008 05:26 PM

                                                      imo no. it's one thing to make arrangements in advance and schedule a proper tour during non-busy times, but people can be astoundingly stupid in unfamiliar environments, even when they don't mean to be. i've seen folks stick their fingers into cooking pots etc. hey dummy, not only are you burned now, but we have to throw that out. . . and it's generally worse post meal when the civilian folks may have had a cocktail or glass of wine or two, yet the kitchen's still going gangbusters. hot things and sharp things. . . talking about my temper, and my tongue, now ;-) but kitchens are dangerous places for the well-dressed and uninitiated. it's a liability nightmare in most cases. i love my customers, which is why i tell them no.

                                                      1. BamiaWruz RE: ipsedixit Sep 17, 2008 06:37 PM

                                                        As much as I would LOVE to see the kitchens of places I dine at, I wouldn't dare. If I got a chance to peep I wouldn't hesitate but I don't think it's right to ask.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: BamiaWruz
                                                          steve h. RE: BamiaWruz Sep 17, 2008 07:26 PM

                                                          per se, keller's outpost in manhattan, is very happy to escort diners through the kitchen.

                                                        2. k
                                                          KTBearW RE: ipsedixit Sep 18, 2008 07:07 AM

                                                          At Commander's Palace in NO, they frequently walk you through the kitchen as you are being seated. Freaked me out the first time, I must admit. On one occasion when we had to wait for our table, we were offered a tour of the wine "cellar". I love Commanders!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: KTBearW
                                                            Fred19 RE: KTBearW Sep 23, 2008 03:32 PM

                                                            Commanders Palace was the most expensive lunch that I ever had and by far the best. It is a restaurant of true professionals. In the past our waiter worked for both Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

                                                            ~Fred19

                                                          2. Fred19 RE: ipsedixit Sep 23, 2008 03:30 PM

                                                            If you go to any of the restaurants of the Buca di Bepo chain, it is quite common for the hostess to walk you through the edge of the kitchen and you can see what is happening. You go through a path where there is no danger and no contact with the staff. If you are really into restaurant kitchens, they maintain one large table in the kitchen, that is mostly unoccupied, and is available for any guest that chooses it.

                                                            The food is family style and is excellent corporate Italian. Wine is ridiculously reasonable.

                                                            ~Fred19

                                                            1. w
                                                              wayne keyser RE: ipsedixit Sep 23, 2008 06:09 PM

                                                              I'm always suspicious when anybody thinks they're "entitled."

                                                              And if the kitchen is anything like the ones Tony Bourdain has described, you'll be very much in the way and in danger of physical harm.

                                                              Eat your dinner, pay up and go home.,

                                                              1. m
                                                                maxie RE: ipsedixit Sep 25, 2008 01:12 PM

                                                                Walking through the kitchen during service can be potentially very dangerous. Guests who don't understand the rhythm in the kitchen could really disrupt the flow, especially in a tight working situation, and consequently become seriously injured. I would think it depends on the setup of each kitchen. You definitely shouldn't be walking behind the line during service, but maybe you can view the prep area. Every kitchen is different. I don't think they are trying to hide anything.

                                                                1. rebs RE: ipsedixit Sep 25, 2008 05:52 PM

                                                                  i was told at a restaurant i used to work at a long time ago that it if a guest asked to see the kitchen, by law the restaurant had to show it to them (this in Boston). i'm not sure if it's entirely true though.

                                                                  anytime a guest asked for a tour of the ktichen, the chef usually granted their request, but told them that they would have to wait until it was safe to go up (i.e. not during dinner rush and not during a time when the chef was crazy stressed out). sometimes people would wait and sometimes not.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: rebs
                                                                    l
                                                                    Leonardo RE: rebs Sep 25, 2008 07:39 PM

                                                                    I find that really hard to believe! The law requires them, on demand, to allow guests in? No way.

                                                                  2. l
                                                                    Le Den RE: ipsedixit Sep 25, 2008 09:55 PM

                                                                    No. Unless the restaurant offers, you should not expect a visit to the kitchen.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: Le Den
                                                                      Whosyerkitty RE: Le Den Sep 26, 2008 03:39 PM

                                                                      I can see how, once again, there can be an issue of liability. Commercial kitchens can be dangerous, slippery and scary places. Most kitchen personnel wear steel-toed, oil resistant shoes (or they should). And they're usually crazy-busy. The resto's insurance company would NOT be happy if you fell and broke something and sued (many would). America is Litigation Land. Some don't even allow non kitchen personnel in certain areas.

                                                                    2. a
                                                                      Al_Pal RE: ipsedixit Sep 27, 2008 03:46 PM

                                                                      Unequivocally no.

                                                                      Putting aside every other possible reason, servers are required to wear special non-slip footwear because it is so dangerous to walk through a kitchen without it. Kitchens are chaotic places - spills occur often; if something has to be mopped up, the floors will be wet; mats laying out are easy to trip on if you're not used to navigating the terrain; and broken plates and glassware can be lurking where you would never expect.

                                                                      In addition, kitchens are difficult areas in which to move around, even as a server who's used to doing it on a daily basis. Plates are heavy, people are in a hurry, and they aren't always careful with hot food. Heaven forbid a server bumped into a guest in the middle of a tour and spilled hot food, burning or otherwise injuring the guest. Because the restaurant has essentially "invited" the guest onto its premises, it assumes the responsibility of not unreasonably endangering the guest. It is highly foreseeable that a serious accident involving a guest could occur in the kitchen, and the restaurant would absolutely be held responsible. Furthermore, if you offered one guest a tour, you would have to oblige all others (even if the requests are few), which opens the door for a LOT of potential liability.

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