Saturday, June 19, 2010

All I Really Need to Know I Learned...While Waiting Tables

Well, I had been shooting for five for five on the blog this week. Alas, life (this time life being my AC unit) catches up and things don't happen. This post is dedicated to all those reliable, friendly, and efficient servers out there. Good service is often an overlooked component of dining experiences. It seems we really never notice, until service is really horrible. Having been there myself, beginning at a resort as a teenager and 'working my way up' through pubs and fine dining restaurants, I can share a few bites of wisdom for those of you out there.

1. Multitask, multitask, multitask: This is really the universal rule because it will help you with all facets of your duties. (In fact, it will help you with all facets of your life). Do not return to the kitchen or service stand for only one thing (unless you have absolutely screwed up and have to fix a situation fast). Check in with a few tables at a time, making each party feel special, and then take care of all of their needs at once. It seems quite simple, but I've seen this mistake made so many times (as a fellow waitress and as a diner).

2. Know your audience: Your service experience will have to vary table by table. So many factors go in to the kind of service you are delivering; cuisine, ambiance, dining time, age of diners, number of diners, personal vs. business, whether the diners have somewhere to be. Universally, you want to be knowledgeable and efficient. Beyond that, you are really going to have to read your customers. A couple with kids - suck up to the youngsters a little bit, and be attentive to their needs (like service of the under-10 set first); the parents are sure to love it. Business luncheon - make sure everything is accurate; no one will take offense if you write things down - they just don't want you stopping by the table unnecessarily - simply be quick and be quiet. Romantic date - make sure the couple has what they need for a nice occasion, love up on them a little, but don't linger and try to make friends. (Perhaps this is a clue - waiting tables is a great way of developing your people skills).

3. Respect your boss (and your bartender): Certain professions are prone to being treated, well, with less than what is deserved. They tend to be in service industries, and table/bar service tends to fall within this category. Part of this may have to do with the fact that waiting tables tends to be a respite for those who are 'on their way somewhere else' - the proverbial struggling actress, student paying for books (that would be me, a few years back), someone 'in between day jobs'. But, we should not forget that they are many professionals in the service industry, bartenders and restaurant managers in particular, who have chosen this as their career. Please don't think I'm judging here; this is dignified and honest work. What I'm trying to communicate is that just because you have not chosen this profession, that does not make you better than those who have. Treating long-term staff members with the respect that experienced colleagues deserve rather than as if they are stops along your journey of life is not only the right thing to do, but also will do wonders for making your current job headache-free.

4. Don't $%*^ where you eat: I'm not insinuating that you shouldn't befriend your wait staff comrades - you should (that should be clear from paragraph 3 - you can learn a lot from these folks). No, you just shouldn't treat your place of employment as your personal bar. Several places at which I worked actually had rules - employees would not be served in the bar, period (that meant on-duty or off, no drinking at work). At the time, I thought it was annoying, but looking back, it was a good policy. Several times as a diner, I've found myself wondering where the heck my server could be, only to glance around and find him or her in the bar with friends who are frequenting the establishment. Even if the server is not running late, it is still distracting as a diner to see your server behaving unprofessionally when he or she steps away from the table. Happy hours are typically off site for a reason waiters.

5. Do not ignore the obvious: Much like this experience, all is not lost once things go down hill, if only someone steps in to put the brakes on a bad situation. It may seem trivial, and you as the server may be thinking, my tip is gone already, but simply apologizing for a bad dining experience goes a long way. Comping a dessert or something small is also often worth your while. A good restaurant manager will appreciate when a server tells him or her what is going on, and will also appreciate the fact that the server made efforts to come up with a solution. Any manager knows that comping a little now increases the odds that a customer will make a return trip and spend more later (or better, won't complain about the experience to others). However, one simple step must be taken before any of this occur - the server must acknowledge the negative.

Ok, that's my waitress wisdom. It's been a number of years since I picked up my apron, but I still have a ton of empathy for all of you out there. Serving tables was truly an educational and enriching job. Every day as an attorney, I apply at least one of the skills I developed as a server. Thank you to all of you who taught me these skills, and to all who serve me now. Please know you are appreciated.

1 comment:

iEatDC said...

Interesting, and seems very obvious (yet also obviously not known by everyone). I never waited tables, but I worked at a bagel store. I basically always had jobs that started at totally ungodly hours. Smelling like stale coffee and bacon/egg/cheese was special.