So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Handling inconsistencies in the restaurant

One thing about restaurants – it’s constantly changing. Most restaurants have an SOP (standard operating procedure), but it’s the nature of the business that doing things one way one day often don’t work in a different situation. And everyone has a bright idea about how things work better.

Sometimes it’s a new manager who’s come in from a different system which had a “better” way, or sometimes it’s a lightbulb that goes on over the head of a server during preshift and they just have to share with the class. Sometimes it’s corporate which feels the need to justify their salary by “doing something”. And sometimes, it’s a guest or a co-worker that does something so outrageous that it justifies changing a policy.

All a server can do is go with the flow. Even if you think it’s a stupid idea, you need to follow the new policy, directive or request. After all, guess what? You might be wrong. It might be a great idea after all. But more importantly, you don’t want management to give you an excuse for writing you up.

There are times where you might need to stand up for your rights, i.e. in the case where they make a major change like paying the servers on a weekly check instead of letting them take home their tips, or changing the tipout structure, or deciding to charge you for the credit card fee. Just keep in mind that if you persist in challenging them on things like this, you should have an escape hatch, especially if you push it. If you threaten to quit, you should have a place to go. Even if you don’t, they can make you want to quit by shafting you on shifts or seating if you continue to vocalize your displeasure.

The most maddening thing is when a policy changes and then 6 months later it changes back. Things like this often happen on the spur of the moment in a preshift when everyone thinks it’s a good idea but then someone in power who wasn’t at the meeting has to deal with the fallout 4 months later. Then, suddenly, even though you remember, you can’t get anyone to back you up because they’ve already forgotten about that meeting months ago. If that happens, just sigh and give in. Unless it was supported by something in writing, it’s unlikely that you will win the day.

Which brings me to this – keep a folder. Why shouldn’t you – they keep one on you, right? You should keep anything that’s handed out to you, especially if it’s a directive from corporate. You’ll never know when it might come in handy. This happened to me a while back. We had a new manager (promoted from server) who was big on structure and order.  (S)he started doing monthly notes where (s)he consolidated directives from our corporate training office (which corporate seemed to be doing almost daily) and local house policies (which seemed to be evolving hourly) and gave us monthly “service notes” which specifically outlined things that we needed to do. One of them was something that our national corporate trainer had decreed – the giant wedges of cake that we served would now have a steak knife in the cake for presentation.

About a month later, the chef saw me going out with the knife stuck in the top of the cake (I like to make a joke about “It was Col. Mustard…in the dining room…with a knife” to my tables and most of them find it funny, but only if they’ve played the game Clue in the past). He stopped me andasked me what in the hell I thought I was doing. You see, the new training directive only went to the front of the house because training of FOH and BOH is split between two people at the corporate level. We did the “I was told that this is what we were supposed to do” – “Who told you that” dance for a minute and I let it drop. I then went to my folder and produced the August “Service Notes”. I said, “Here it is in black and white”. I wouldn’t have had to do that if others had backed me up. But nobody seemed to know about this directive as it was one note out of about 40 on a 3 page outline of our “service policies”. It was buried among the “tablecloth seam sides down” and “black napkins will be folded during preshift and provided to the guest upon request” type entries. I guess I was the only one who noticed. 

So, always keep anything that’s passed out to you in writing. Rarely do they give you something in writing when something changes on the fly. If you happened to be off that day, you might not “get the memo” on it. If you’ve got it in writing, at least you can say, “This is what we were told and here it is in writing – is there a handout that I didn’t get”? It’s like a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.

PS, most of the time, you’re not going to get something in writing. Most changes in restaurants happen almost on a whim.


Photo by doublewinky from Flickr. All rights reserved.


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