So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

A few tips if you’re looking for a job as a waiter, but have never waited tables pt.1

These days, it’s getting harder to get a job as a waiter, just like any other type of job. When you’ve been in the industry awhile, you have your ear to the ground. You’ve developed industry contacts, you and/or your restaurant has a rep, you have some standing in the restaurant community. It’s easier for you to find the cracks and crevices, although unless you’re just getting burned out on your current situation, you’re probably not even looking.

But what if you’re someone who has lost their job as a retail associate or even as a car worker and is looking for a job in the restaurant business? Believe it or not, jobs still open up in the biz, they just aren’t as prevalent and ubiquitous as they used to be and they are quickly filled. You can help your search by following a few principles.

When making a short list of possible restaurants, think about what kind of cuisine you’d like to work with. If you have a weekly free paper, they usually have substantial ads of restaurants that can give you an idea of newly opened places (which always have a lot of turnover, for reasons both good and bad) as well as more established places that you might haven’t thought about in a while.

Want ads are virtually useless. Of course, it’s not much of an issue these days, as most “food service” want ad sections are about the size of a postage stamp. But even in better times, they are fairly useless. Restaurants normally don’t advertise for waiters and if they do, they are either in trouble or are what an old manager of mine used to call “shaking the tree” (he just wanted to see the talent out there and wanted to build a resume pile in case of an emergency). Restaurants are the ultimate “hire from the inside” type places, although their “inside” is the local restaurant community, which makes it harder to break in from the outside.

If cuisine doesn’t matter to you in the least, start with restaurants with a short commute closer to your neighborhood. This seems like a no-brainer, but many people take jobs across town when they could find a similar restaurant nearby, plus, by hitting up restaurants nearby, you’ll be able to follow up with them better. It will also allow you to pick up shifts with short notice once you snag the job. Plus, who likes to sit in traffic for 45 minutes?

 Once you narrow your choices, try to do some scouting. Check out the restaurant during the busy period. If you can afford it, have lunch or dinner there and observe the staff. Do they look harried? Does the FoH (Front of the House) staff seem to glide through the dining room effortlessly or are they chaotic and like pinballs careening through a pinball machine? Does the on-the-floor management seem to be poised and certain or do they seem to be putting out fires? Does it look like a fun and profitable place to work? Do you like the atmosphere?

 Once you narrow down the list of potential restaurants, you should gather menus from each one. You can do this by requesting to-go menus from the restaurants, or you can see if they have their menus posted on-line. Most of the restaurants that you have targeted will have them posted. You should then get a good overview of each restaurant before you schedule an interview. You don’t have to memorize the whole thing, but it’s good to have a working knowledge so that you can insert knowing comments about the food at appropriate times during the interview.

For example, I, as a manager, ask you, “Why do you want to work at this restaurant”? You might then reply, “I love the way that you combine flavors here. That chicken quesadilla with the mango salsa sounds really delicious”. This isn’t your cue to go overboard and prove that you have memorized the menu. You simply want to show familiarity and preparation – most hiring managers will recognize it as out-of-the-ordinary first interview behavior. But we’ll get more into the interview in part 2.

Meanwhile, you should be tweaking your resume, making sure that you have eliminated all typos. Resumes should be pretty simple and straightforward. Don’t go wild with fancy colors, wild mixes of typefaces, multiple pages of references from your scoutmaster or 3rd-grade teacher. A nice touch is putting the resume in a plastic binder.

We’ll talk about approaching,  meeting and handling the interview with your potential boss in part 2. But one piece of advice – don’t waste your time shooting for the top – high end restaurants only hire experienced waiters 99% of the time, even as server assistants. Even experienced waiters usually have to do their time as server assistants when they are first hired at a high end joint.


One response to “A few tips if you’re looking for a job as a waiter, but have never waited tables pt.1

  1. Pingback: » A few tips if you're looking for a job as a waiter, but have never … Wordpress Jobs: Coding, themes and hacks

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