So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Waiter Extraordinare on taking the order

Steve at Waiter Extraordinare discusses the art of simplifying the order.

I’d only add a couple of other things.

On a side note, one key principle in closing the sale is limiting the choices or offering choices rather than a yes or no answer. Try to avoid yes and no questions if possible. Instead of “Would you like an appetizer”, try “Would you like to enjoy the fried mozzarella sticks or the spinach dip”? Also, suggesting certain items puts a picture in their minds and starts to trigger the hunger gene that we all have. The word appetizer just isn’t a very strong image. “Can I start you out with the grilled calamari steak?” is usually more effective than “Can I start you off with an appetizer?”.

Let’s say that it’s the end of the shift and you don’t really want to spend another 30 minutes with a dessert savoring table for an extra $1 added to your tip, or you are incredibly busy and would like to turn a table. Sure, you’re supposed to upsell desserts and coffees because it will build your check, but it might also mean missing a whole turn of the table or a delay to your checkout and beeline to the nearest bar. One little trick that I employ is “Does anyone still have room for dessert”, or “Can we squeeze in a nice dessert”? The idea is to plant the idea that they are probably too full for dessert. Dessert is sometimes a hard sell to begin with, so you can take the path of least resistance if necessary. Don’t deny your guest the opportunity to order dessert, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do a little mind control over them.

You can also help them make decisions by clarifying their needs. “I’m torn between the sea bass and the cowboy ribeye – I just can’t make up my mind”. My reply? “How hungry are you”? The answer to this will help me guide them. It also helps when they are trying to choose between something that has a heavy sauce vs something that’s simpler, especially if the menu doesn’t make clear that an item has a rich, filling sauce or accompaniment.

Some questions might simply be a guest fishing for validation of a decision that they’ve already made. “How big is the dinner salad?” might very well mean, “I’m looking for an excuse not to get the salad” or it might mean, “I’d sure like an excuse to order this salad without looking like a pig”. You won’t always be able to tell, but try to use your best judgment to guide them to the conclusion that you think will offer them the best experience, whether it’s validating their leaning or moving them off of their decision. For example, if it’s pre-decision A, you either want to validate that by saying that it’s fairly filling if you think that they should skip the salad because it might keep them from ordering a dessert and an after-dinner drink or you might want to counter the objection by saying, “It’s basically a starter sized salad that most people think complements the meal”. Just make sure that you’re describing it accurately. If your dinner salads are huge, then say so.  When you use this technique, the needs of the guest should override the possible financial or personal gain to you, although you never completely lose sight of those considerations. There have been many times where I’ve waved a guest off of an item even though it would have meant a bigger tip because of a fatter check. That’s why restaurant and I get as much repeat business as we do. I did it two nights ago as a matter of fact. 

Thanks to Steve for his nice post.

One response to “Waiter Extraordinare on taking the order

  1. waiterextraordinaire July 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks for that. I guess in summation it is all about the questions that lead to the right meal experience for the guest. Some people just need to be guided.

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