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.2

This is all about the interview. And yes, I managed a restaurant for 4 years.

It’s 4:15 on a Friday night and I’m putting my floor chart together. I’m going to have a pre-shift meeting in about 20 minutes and I’m coordinating with the kitchen to find out what we might be short of and what the nightly specials might be. The phone rings and, instead of the usual request for a reservation, I get someone who asks if we are hiring waiters. Even though I am looking for a new waiter to fill the shoes of a soon-departing waiter, I tell them, “I’m sorry, but we’re all full. Thanks for calling though”.

I desperately need a waiter, so why did I curtly tell them no? Because, if you’re calling me 20 minutes before the start of my busiest night of the week, you probably don’t have much of a brain in your head.

A potential waiter comes in with a resume after making an appointment. I look over the resume, I ask a few questions like, “why do you think you’re a good waiter” or, in the case of someone without any experience as a waiter, “why do you think you’d be a good waiter”. After suffering through the normal, “Well, I’m really good with people”-type answer, I decide to give them an application. They then ask, “Do you have a pen”? At that point, I go through the motions but the applicant immediately drops down in my mind because I’ve always felt that someone should come prepared to fill out an application if they’re going to interview for a job (plus, the pen is one of the essential tools of the trade and it seems odd to me that a potential waiter wouldn’t have one with them for a job interview). I might consider them and I might not. Probably not, though. That resume goes to the bottom of the stack.

A waiter-to-be comes in in shorts, a t-shirt, a bandana and some Chuck Taylors with no socks. As much as I admire a sense of casual style and even though I don’t require even a tie or a nice dress for an interview, unless I’m running a beachside clam shack, my mind is going to go blank for the next 20 minutes. It’s going to take a lot of panache, persuasion and just plain charm to get me to even offer them an application, although if they ask me for one, I’ll certainly let them fill one out. It just won’t rise to the top of the stack.

There are certain ways to increase your chances of a follow-up interview or the offer of a job on the spot. You might get lucky and find a desperate manager who will hire you if you can fog a mirror despite coming into the interview with an attitude or sloppily dressed or overly arrogant and/or unprepared. But why chance it? Why not stack the deck in your favor, especially these days, where managers have scores of applicants to choose from?

Your dress will be determined by the type of restaurant that you are applying for. If you are applying for a casual, mass-market restaurant, you should dress in a casual, yet neat fashion. If you’d like to wear a tie and it makes you feel comfortable, by all means, feel free to. If you want to wear a nice dress, feel free to. Basically, you want to look “put together” in an appropriate fashion. I’m not here to give fashion advice. You should wear something that is professional looking without being overly dressy, fussy, slutty, or high fashion. You can accentuate your assets without flaunting them. If you are applying for a more upscale restaurant, then by all means dress up for the occasion. A suit and tie or designer dress wouldn’t be out of place. You might take your cue by what the clientele and management tends to wear. If you don’t have a nice, dressy outfit, then go with a simple black slacks, new white shirt or top, a nice pair of well-polished shoes. The exception to the above advice is if you are applying to an edgier restaurant. There are “hip” restaurants out there that are looking for servers with an alternative style where tattoos, piercings and the like are part of the image of the restaurant. In that case, you want to adapt your dressing style to suit the restaurant. You don’t want to dress like a Blockbuster toady. You want to try to fit in, although this doesn’t mean that you have to go get a bunch of piercings or tats. Simply try to adopt a hipper sort of vibe. Once again, take your styling cues from the clientele and the management.

When you make your initial approach, be prepared to be interviewed but don’t be surprised if you aren’t immediately given one. If you are asked to drop off a resume, ask if you can go ahead and fill out an application (using your own pen, of course!) Find out the name of the person who does the hiring and write it down.If you haven’t heard from them in a couple of days, call back between the hours of 2pm and 4pm preferably from Tuesday through Thursday (Monday is often a busy day with deliveries and dealing with the consequenses of the weekend, and Friday is just bad in general) and ask for that person. If they have to take a message, tell them that you’re just following up on your application and that you’re available to answer any further questions or clarify anything on your resume. At this point, you might write a followup letter thanking them for considering your application and reinforcing your desire to work for them.

During the interview, just be yourself. Try to stay relaxed. Avoid stock answers to questions like, “Why do you think you’d be a good server”? Don’t say, “I’m good with people”. Please don’t say that. Please. Oh god, please. Come up with something both original and relevant to your abilities (“I’m organized/focused/knowledgeable about food/have good solid work ethics/have significant sales experience/am a sales closer etc. – just make sure that you are what you say you are ). Don’t volunteer information (“I’m really tight with my parole officer”, “I’ve overcome ADD with the help of medication”, “Kicking cocaine has really improved my work ethic” – you know, things like that).

Managers are looking for personable, seemingly well-adjusted people. If you give off this vibe, you will go a long way with getting called back.

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