What Is The Expo In Fine Dining Kitchens?

Think you're pretty familiar with culinary lingo? Try working in a restaurant kitchen and knowing exactly what your coworkers mean by "86," "dying on the pass," or "expo." The latter term refers to the food expediting station, the area where customers' order tickets are posted, as well as the person in charge of that area of the kitchen. This unassuming but vital part of the food prep area can make or break a customer's experience.

The "expo" on a kitchen staff is typically the executive chef, chef de cuisine, or sous chef. They are  responsible for communicating what's written on order tickets to the line cooks that make the food. A busy cook should only have to focus on the task at their station — grilling, frying, sauteéing, salads, desserts, etc. Having to leave their station to look at order tickets, then communicating that to their fellow cooks, will waste time. Thus, the expo system expedites or speeds up the meal-making process.

Timing is also a critical part of an expo's job. Most restaurant dishes made of components from individual stations. If a guest orders steak frites, the steak and fries are prepared in separate areas, and take different amounts of time to finish cooking. The expo person communicates with the cooks so that these items are done at the same time. A well-run expo station is what makes it possible for every table to receive the right dish, at the right temperature, at the right time.

How the expo station works, from ordering to cooking

The process of making a restaurant meal is more complicated than it seems. When a server takes your order, they go to the kitchen and "ring in" your items. If the restaurant serves food in courses, the server will also indicate the order in which the dishes should be completed. Once they ring it in, a ticket will print out of a machine located in the expo station.

The expo person attends to and organizes "the wheel," the area where order tickets are posted. Proper organization ensures that food comes out in a timely manner and the guest gets everything they ordered. The expo will read the ticket and decide what parts of an order to be made right away, and what can be made later. They might call out something like, "Order fire, arugula salad. Order in, pork chop." This means an arugula salad needs to be made right away, and a pork chop was also ordered.

Once the expo requests the items, line cooks will call back, "Heard." The cook responsible for the pork chop might start searing it, since it will take a while to cook, and the meat needs to rest after grilling. When the server sends a ticket to the kitchen noting that the table is ready for its next course, the expo person might say, "Fire pork chop." Now the cook knows they need to finish the pork chop and get it ready to serve.

How the expo finishes off an order

The expo station also typically stocks garnishes so the expo staff member can finish off dishes. The station might have clean towelettes to make sure the edge of serving dishes are free of splatters or crumbs. The expo person inspects the order to make sure the plate has all the right components, looks its best, and matches any special requests or allergy accommodations.

Finally, the expo communicates with the front-of-house servers by saying something like "order up," calling for a food runner, or ringing a bell so that someone can take dishes from the pass — the place where finished plates are set. The expo is also the first to be told when a customer is unhappy or a missing an item that now needs to be made on the fly, or ASAP. When a server tells you they will go ask the kitchen, what they really mean is that they're going to talk to the expo.

Now, multiply this whole process by the number of tables in the restaurant, and consider how many things could go wrong. The expo person needs to be super calm and organized to make sure everything runs smoothly. They're like an orchestra conductor, front-of-house liaison, strategist, and problem solver all at once. Without them, the whole flow of the kitchen comes to a grinding halt. Next time you're enjoying an excellent meal, thank the expo in your head, or better yet, send your compliments to the kitchen.