So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Monthly Archives: June 2010

New milestone

Yesterday, we topped the 2,000 post/day mark for the first time.

It’s a bit of a hollow milestone, and hopefully it won’t end up being a Pyrrhic victory.

That’s because most of the increase has been due to a single post – “Apparently some people just aren’t being raised right”.

From watching my stats over the past year, I think I’ve got about 300 – 400 regular or semi-regular readers. It’s been growing a little bit at a time, which works for me. I’m really not into manipulation to snare readers – I’d rather that it be in an organic fashion and that people stick around to get something from the blog.

So, I don’t know how much stickiness I’m going to get from Perez Hilton’s or Robert Pattinson’s readership and fan base, nor do I think that this blog is the best thing sinced sliced bread because of the recent bump in readership. I do hope that those who read the post out of curiousity will sift through the caustic nature of my commentary and realize that not understanding about the traditional way that people pay for their full-service meals has a significant impact on those who serve them and is a case of being culturally ignorant.

As the base of people that I’m criticizing  prizes being culturally aware, I hope that perhaps a few of them will stick around this blog and maybe do some back-reading in order to get a sense of the job that those of us do in order for you to have an enjoyable night out.

“Another such victory and I am undone”.

First 10% tip in a while

Today at lunch, I got the first 10% tip all month. In fact, I can’t remember the last one that I’ve gotten. In fact, it was my only table.

$10 on $107.

So I walked with $7. That means I made about $6/hr for lunch. Including my $2.13/hr wage.

But before you accuse me of whining, I should note that I made $218 last night. That’s about $50 an hour.

Lesson?

It all evens out in the end.

If it doesn’t, you’re working in the wrong place. Or you’re working in the wrong job.

I guess my real bitch with the 10% tip is that I definitely went out of my way to go the extra mile. One person had to be out by a certain time and wanted to order early. I was able to time the table’s meal so that they could all eat together instead of ordering her entree so that sh got it with everyone else’s salad course (which is what she wanted).  She actually ordered her entree before the 4th person showed up. By looking at the order and watching the clock, I could tell it wasn’t necessary, but I spent a lot of nervous energy watching one of the others nibbling on her salad. Had she frittered away more time, I was prepared to bring out the early orderer’s entree before everyone else’s.

But it was timed perfectly.

Of course, had I known that I was going to only get 10%, which is basically an insult tip in the face of great service, I would have simply ordered the first lady’s entree and plopped it down as soon as it was ready.

I did get a slight measure of revenge though. The lady who paid ordered coffee. I made sure that I didn’t come back to offer her a refill. I made sure that I could be seen in case she wanted to call me over, but she never did, so I got to bus a dead empty coffee cup that never saw fresh coffee after the first cup.

Lesson for you potential diners. In the US, 15% is the minimum that you should tip for good service. 10% is considered an insult tip unless it’s warranted by poor service.

A few more waiter’s terms

Comp - an item taken off of the bill because of some service issue. This item has been served to the guest; therefore it counts against food costs.

Void - this is an item taken off of the bill that was never prepared or served (for instance, a mis-ring that’s caught before the kitchen prepares it, or a double-ring). This type of “comp” doesn’t count against food costs.

Double Ring - no, it’s not a wedding band and engagement ring. It’s an item that’s accidentally rung in twice.

Re-ring - just like it sounds. It’s an item that has already been rung in that has to be rung in again for some reason. The most common reason for this is if an item needs to be comped because of some service issue.  You have to ring in the new item as “Don’t Make” if you’ve already verbally told the kitchen to start making the item. This keeps the inventory count correct because, even though you’ve replaced one filet of fish for another (even if it’s exactly the same), the kitchen has “consumed” 2 pieces. You don’t want them to be making a third piece. This can happen if the line cook isn’t paying close attention. For all he or she knows, you need another fish made for another guest. They are cooking food from tickets and, unless they are following along, they might not realize that this is the same fish that the chef asked them to make a couple of minutes ago.

Don’t Make - as described above, this is a modifier that is added to an item when ordering. It obviously tells the kitchen not to make the item, that it’s only being rung in for inventory purposes.

Close To Open - a management philosophy whereby most of the main sidework is done at the end of the shift instead of at the beginning. By doing most of the sidework at close of shift, the restaurant can be more easily opened in the event of multiple callouts by staff. Many restaurants operate in reverse, front loading  the sidework at the beginning of the shift. Both methods have their pluses and minues.

Callout - calling to inform the restaurant that a waiter won’t be making a scheduled shift.

No Call No Show - as it sounds, the situation when a waiter forgets to callout or forgets that they have a scheduled shift. Or perhaps they’ve slept through their alarm. A callout can be acceptable if it’s done for health or legitimate transportation issues such as a dead battery, the latter can be cause for dismissal.

Here are some previous glossaries:

http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/some-terms-that-a-new-waiter-needs-to-know-pt-1/

http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/some-terms-that-a-new-waiter-needs-to-know-pt-2/

http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/a-few-more-waiters-terms/

Restaurants sued over music copyrights

From Nation’s Restaurant News:

Restaurants sued over music copyrights
June 23, 2010 | By Elissa Elan

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, filed 21 separate copyright infringement lawsuits against restaurants, bars and nightclubs in 13 states, officials for the music society said this week.

ASCAP alleged that each of the businesses it filed suit against either publicly performed the copyrighted music of ASCAP songwriters, composers and publishers without obtaining a license to do so, or did not pay the required licensing fees.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nrn.com/article/restaurants-sued-over-music-copyrights

This isn’t a story that directly impacts waiters, but I thought it would be interesting background.

Most people don’t realize that if you play music in a public setting for commercial purposes, either prerecorded or live, royalties must be paid to both the artists and the songwriters.

Many restaurants use a canned music service and in those cases, the royalties are covered by the fee that the restaurant pays. But some restaurants either have live music or play music from their own sound systems. In those cases, royalties must be paid to organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC.

And, trust me, those organizations send out representatives to make sure that royalties are paid.

So, if any bar or restaurant owners are reading this blog, you may want to make sure that you’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Royalty organizations are tightening the screws.

By the way, the same thing is true for broadcasting professional sports on TV.

Small is beautiful

I had to drop into the local WalMart Supercenter to pick something up the other day. I don’t shop at WalMart very often, mainly because of ideological reasons, so I was surprised to see that the store was changing drastically. They were still renovating but much of the work seemed to have been done.

I was surprised to see that the display aisles were now only around 6 feet high, whereas before they were at least 8 feet tall.

There seemed to be less merchandise as well, although this could be a function of the unfinished nature of of the redo. Not only did there seem to be less of each item, there seemed to be less total items. I wondered if this was a concrete manifestation of the economic crisis that we’ve been going through. It looked like a fairly drastic downsizing of the Supercenter.

This seems to be borne out by this CNN article:

http://money.cnn.com/2010/02/15/news/companies/walmart_dropping_brands/

When I left the store, I noticed that the Superstore signage had even been removed. Perhaps they’re just changing the signage and it will continue to be considered a “Supercenter”, but I wonder if it’s being “demoted”. They certainly don’t seem to be shrinking the square footage.

Doing some superficial browsing, it looks like WalMart is contracting a bit. In one case, they actually cut the size of the store in half. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case here, but it does look like there’s going to be a much smaller inventory and assortment.

I think that we’ll see the same forces at work in restaurants as well. I wonder how long it will be before we see restaurants that used to open units with 200 seats start redesigning their new units to be 150 seats (just to use a random example). I wonder how long it will be until menus start contracting the number of items on their menus. And I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing smaller staff (larger sections, fewer hosts/hostesses/fewer managers stretched with more hours, fewer kitchen employees consolidating more and more tasks, etc.)  In many states, there’s not much savings in cutting waiters that make $2.13 – $4/hr, but there could be some savings in reducing the number of server assistants, putting more burden on waiters in general.

I saw this happen at P.F. Chang’s about 3 years ago when they went from one Server Assistant for every two servers to a couple of SAs for the whole restaurant. They did it the right way though and shrunk each server’s section by 1 table and added an additional server (that’s 1 more server and 2 less SAs).. SAs made 4.50 an hour, so this was a net gain against payroll and probably didn’t affect service too much. but I can see some big corporate entity with less savvy trying to trim staff without taking the impact on service into consideration (Darden, I’m looking at you!).

This trend could trigger some realignment of a large chain’s strategy and could also impact the gross number of jobs available to waiters in general. It could have a benefit of making it more feasable for smaller independent restaurants to make a go of it. If restaurants in general get smaller, then, in the eyes of the average consumer, a smaller indie restaurant might be on more of an equal footing with the larger chains due to the general perception in the US that “bigger is better”. On the downside, it could make waiters’ jobs more difficult and it might make great service harder to give and get.

These are just some random thoughts triggered by a mundane shopping experience. If anyone has seen some manifestations of this trend, feel free to comment. Or if you have any thoughts on the matter, please weigh in.

Yes, that’s a restaurant under the striped blue awning.

Photo is from “Rene G” at the “lthforum” at  http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=24958

It’s a “Chicago-based culinary chat site”.

Clarification on Robert Pattinson

Well, my view count has gone through the roof.

And the main reason is the renewed interest in one Robert Pattinson, whom I assume is some sort of BP official or something.

Nah, only kidding…I know who young Rob is.

A few months back, it was reported by Perez Hilton that R. Pattinson didn’t really tip very good. I commented on the article by saying that he didn’t exactly stiff his waiter, but he was a little short of 15%. Not really a hanging offense.

One of my points was that, as a rich celebrity, it’s probably better to be more generous than less generous when dining out. It’s probably harder for a Brit to learn that lesson, since tipping is less important to a waiter’s salary in the UK due to service charges being added to the check a lot of the time. When the British come to the States, they are notorious for not grasping the economic model that the American dining scene is built on (we see mostly 5 – 10% tips from British tourists, some of whom I’m sure know better). BTW, Brits, treat your own waiters better. C’mon, can’t you prise out a few extra bob for your waiter?

So, in that respect,  young Bob did better than the average.

No, my issue wasn’t so much with RP but with the legions of the clueless that decided to weigh in. I was astounded that so many young people here in the US really didn’t know how to tip, or made up their own rules, or were hostile to the idea that tipping is part of dining out, and has been since long before I was a young fanboy of people like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Joey Heatherton and Emma Peel.

In the past few days, I have hit new highs in page views. Off the chart highs in fact. So high that the chart has had to be redrawn.

Oddly enough, for all of those thousands and thousands of views, I’ve only had one comment (I had a couple when the post first appeared). so I have no idea what the takeaway from the post was, other than one dude thinks I was being mean.

So, I just want to make sure that all of the hyperheated Robert P. fans understand that the title of the post, “Apparently, some people just aren’t being raised right” doesn’t refer to Count Dreamy.

If you want to see what all of the fuss is about, go here:

http://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/apparently-people-just-arent-being-raised-right-these-days/

Ironically, when I did a search of “Robert Pattinson”, my post doesn’t come up in the first few pages, either as a web search or a blog search.  So that’s odd that I’m getting so much play from Robert Pattinson as a search term.

Anyway, I thought that it was interesting.

Change of seasons

As we head into summer, one of two things will happen to most waiters.

First, if you wait tables in a place that doesn’t have a lot of tourism, it’s likely that business will slow down dramatically. People go on vacation, they tend to BBQ, go to the lake for the weekend…you know, that sort of thing. If you don’t have a patio, you are also competing with those restaurants that offer al fresco dining.

However, if you work in a touristy location, this is the season that makes or breaks your year.

In any case, you need to make adjustments to your mental attitude.

If you know that business is slow during the summer, it’s important to be sure that you can ride out the slow season. If you’ve prepared properly during the Christmas season and forward, you can rest easier. In fact, this is the time when you can actually take some time off without severely impacting your budget since you won’t be losing as much income. Many waiters plan for this, taking their time off during the slowest weeks of the year.

If you are in the second category, now is the time to squirrel away as much money as you can in order to get you through the lean fall and winter. It’s also the time to get yourself prepared for heavy business.

Another thing to realize is that, as the sun sets later and later, people tend to dine out later. If you’re used to the rush being over at 8pm, you can be blindsided when you discover that business is just getting started at 8. You need to adjust your mindset because, especially in restaurants that depend heavily on reservation traffic, you might be idle for the first couple of hours. This can be hard to adjust to. You should start preparing around Memorial Day. This is the day when people get the message that summer is here. There’s usually a bit of a dropoff around the first part of June as parents get their kids back for the summer, the picnic basket gets filled and bathing suits are unearthed from the bowels of the closet.

The lesson is that the restaurant business follows certain seasonal cycles. If you can recognize your restaurant’s “biorhythms”, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the change of pace.

While this advice might be a little late this year, file it away for future reference. After all, it will only be 3 months before the next shift if guests’ dining behaviors changes. Labor Day is your next touchstone. When August rolls around, start preparing yourself or pay the consequences.

Using Facebook

If your restaurant has a Facebook account, you might want to become a fan because sometimes you can find out what’s going on in your restaurant  quicker than you can find out through the grapevine or preshifts. This is possible especially with larger chains that might do regional promotions or test promotions that haven’t hit all of the stores. It can also give you a sense of the corporate culture. Are the powers-that-be dinosaurs that don’t understand social media and the internet and have just started a Facebook account because they’ve heard about this social media thing and don’t want to be left behind? Or are they überfreaky nerds who have decided that the operation can’t survive without social media? Perhaps they are “scientists” who decide to use Facebook as their own little chemistry lab, trying this and that little micro-promotion in order to see if they can get 50 people in their bar at 7:30 on a Monday night through the use of “shooters for a penny”.  

In any case, if you haven’t checked out your restaurant’s Facebook page, perhaps it’s time you started.

You might not want to become a fan though. First of all, it gives your corporate office a direct link to your own Facebook account. As I’ve written in the past, an impulsive status message after getting stiffed by a prominent actor could cost you your job. Plus, do you really want Corporate to know that you are a fan of The Dead Kennedys, that your political affiliation is anarcho-syndicalism and that the last book you read was  The Phantom Tollbooth? Do you really want them to know that you’ve linked to this blog as well as Waiter Rant, Crazy Waiter, and Serving Trash (What, you haven’t linked to us yet? What in the hell are you waiting for)?

There are plus sides to becoming a fan. One is that you get updates through your newsfeed. Perhaps you have nothing worrying on your profile – perhaps it might be a plus that you are proud enough of your restaurant to participate in its social media methods. You might even be able to draw attention to yourself to potential call parties my marketing yourself through notes or status updates. For instance, you might do some micro-micromarketing  by offering to buy a free appetizer for any guests that “mention this note” between June 1st and June 15th. This is a very sketchy sort of thing because first, you have to find a way to drive your potential guests to your own newsfeed. Of course, you need to make sure that this sort of offer is OK with your GM/corporate office and you also should be careful not to abuse this by surreptitiously having the restaurant buy those appetizers because, “They waited a long time for their entrees – can we buy their appetizer” sort of scam. Keep in mind that this sort of thing could cost you some money and only you can decide whether it’s generating more business for you personally.  While it seems unlikely to make a big impact right now, as the fanbase for your restaurant grows, the possibilities could increase geometrically. I have actually seen restaurants be successful in driving a “Facebook only” event. Perhaps you could find a way to do this for your own section. Think outside the box. However, you should always vet something like this through your GM (who can do the checking with Corporate to make sure that it’s allowed).

This idea of using the restaurant’s own Facebook page is a function of thinking outside the box because, unless you have authorization to use the restaurant’s Facebook account, you really have no way to identify yourself as a waiter. You’re just one of a thousand fans of a Facebook account. But I mention it because perhaps one of you is clever enough to figure out a way to make it happen. Obviously, the simple solution is simply to write on their wall…but this doesn’t give you the ability to write a more interesting “note”.

A more likely strategy is marketing through your own network. This is really no different from telling someone who you met at the bowling alley that “I work at Pedro’s Tex-Mex Emporium. You should check us out – our food is great and if you ask for me, I’ll take care of you”. Doing it through Facebook leverages this sort of personal networking. Once again, you should weigh carefully whether you want to out yourself as a waiter in a particular restaurant. First of all, it makes it more likely that your own restaurant could find out that you are on Facebook. Second of all, if you have a wacky stalker, it’s like giving them crack. You’ll never know if they might come in and stalk you in the restaurant.

Obviously, this all applies to other social media such as Twitter.

Just remember, posting on social sites is “forever”, even if you delete a particular posting.

Here’s an example of a posting that might or might not work for you:

TITLE

Special offer for my friends!

BODY

If you come into Pedro’s this month, ask for me and mention this note, you will get a free upgrade from well to topshelf on up to 4 drinks per meal.

Pedro’s is also offering a free appetizer with the purchase of two entrees and is also rolling out the new “Chef’s Specials” portion of the menu this month. One of the new highlights is our brand new Chicken Chocolate Chimmichanga with raspberry mole sauce. It’s delicious!

I look forward to serving you in June!

<insert cute photo here>

Note that you have to be careful offering any type of drink modification due to local regulations. In some places, it’s actually illegal to “give away alcohol” and the above posting could be interpreted as contravening said statute. You also obviously have to make sure that this is OK with your GM and that you can actually follow through with it (in other words, you have to make sure that the Assistant GM is in on it because if only the GM knows, other managers might not be prepared to do any discounts for you). You might even be able to get the restaurant to fund this if they are interested in seeing how much effect it might have to have an individual server drum up business on Facebook. But even if they aren’t willing to fund it, they might OK it for you to do as long as you pay for it out of your own pocket. You’ll need to make sure that they have a way to allow you to pay for the difference in price, which could be difficult.

I hope I’ve given you food for thought here. Better minds than mine are reading this post. Get your thinking caps on! This applies to managers as well as waiters, especially managers in restaurants that rely on four-walls marketing:

http://teleburst.wordpress.com/?s=four-walls+marketing

PS, I take no responsibility for any outcomes should you decide to use Facebook or any other social media outlet. All readers should do their own due dilligence and are responsible for their own actions.

Sage advice

If you happen to find that your bottle of “Da Bomb – Ground Zero”, a chile pepper extract with over 600,000 Scoville units, has fallen over and you pick it up to sit it back upright,  make sure that you wash your hands carefully before you rub your eye because you just woke up.

I’m typing this with one eye swollen shut.

Uniform check

Well kids, it’s been a month or two since I reminded you to check your uniforms.

For newcomers, I suggest that you do a complete uniform check once a month.

You can either do it at the end of the month or at the beginning, since it’s pretty much the same thing. Whichever way is easier to remember is the way that you should do it.

Obviously, during the month, you should be spot-checking your uniforms as you wear them, but the monthly uniform check is more complete. You want to look closely at all of your pants, shirts, shoes, ties, jackets, hats and aprons. You’re looking for frayed edges, spots that refuse to come out, faded colors, etc. If you have some items that are still serviceable but on their last legs, you should consign them to your “emergency” stash. These are items that don’t get used during your normal work week. You’ll use these items in a pinch; for instance, if you’ve neglected your washing and find out that you need a piece of uniform that day or maybe you’re about to do all of your laundry but you get called in. This way, you have something clean that hasn’t been used.

This is the time that you make sure that you have all of your tools as well as backups for those tools. Check your lighters, corkscrew, crumbers, pens, check presenters, captain’s pads, etc. There’s nothing more annoying than to find out that you bent your last crumber. Crumbers aren’t something that you can pick up at the drugstore on your way to work. You should always have at least two of them, one of them kept in reserve in a safe place.

Why do I suggest doing this? Is this just bowing to The Man?

Not exactly.

It’s more for you.

Eventually all uniforms get worn out or trashed. We tend to keep using them until the day that The Man notices that the uniform item isn’t serviceable and then they say something to you and require you to replace it. Due to Murphy’s Law, this always happens when you’ve had a light week and you don’t even have enough money to pay your rent.

It’s much better to buy new shoes when you can afford them yourself. If you are checking those shoes every month, you’ll get a heads-up that you need to buy shoes shortly. This gives you a week or two to do it at your own leisure. Also, you might actually have to order restaurant specific items through the restaurant and this can take time if they don’t keep them in stock in your size. So, instead of only having two logo shirts instead of three for the next week, you’ll have some extra time if you catch the shirt before it gets noticeably trashed.

What are you looking for?

Aprons that don’t hold starch anymore or have a stain that just won’t come out.

Shoes that are looking threadbare, don’t hold a shine, have a cracked sole, etc.

Pants that have frayed cuffs in the back where they contact the floor, are faded, don’t hold a crease, have tiny starch spots from being around kitchen cleaning, etc.

Shirts that have a perpetual ring around the color that has creeped over the top and is visible, collars that are pilled from contact with whiskers, collar points that roll and don’t stay flat, white shirts that have yellowed or dark polo shirts that are faded, etc.

Ties that are pilled at the knot or have permanent creases near the knot.

Hats that are all greased up or have bills that have lost their shape.

If you do the monthly uniform check, you won’t be caught with your pants down, so to speak.

You might want to live in a Norman Rockwell painting – just don’t be this guy.

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