So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Sidework Pt. 1

This is mostly for people who are either considering getting into waiting tables or who are new at it (and guests who don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes). 

Sidework is defined as everything you have to do to get the restaurant ready for service; all of the tasks that have to be done during service and all of the duties necessary to present a clean and organized restaurant at close of business.

Oddly enough, the sidework that must be done before you begin service is called “opening sidework”. Weird, eh? If a restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and yes, pilgrim, there are restaurants that are open only for lunch or dinner, then you might have extra sidework on both ends of the shift. It would be a good idea to figure out which kind of restaurant you work in if you haven’t already, because you’re going to look pretty stupid showing up for lunch only to find the door locked and a bleary-eyed prep cook out back smoking a cigarette of some sort.

Every restaurant has a different laundry list of tasks that must be performed before opening and they usually break it down so that every waiter participates. Usually this is done by section number/letter, so this means, unless you’re in the same section every day, which is unlikely, you’ll be rotated through the tasks. If the restaurant has server assistants (SAs, bus people, back waiters, they’re all pretty much the same thing in most restaurants), they probably have their own opening sidework as well.

Then you have “running sidework”. It’s called that because you’re usually running your ass off while you perform these tasks. These are jobs that have to be done while you’re waiting on tables. Do you think that the ice bin is going to magically refill itself? Is the silverware that comes out of the dishwasher going to polish and sort itself? Who’s going restock all of those wine glasses that you need? Why is it that when you’re the busiest, you can’t find a demitasse spoon for the espresso that your guest just ordered?

And finally, you have “closing sidework”. Once service starts winding down and sections start getting closed, it’s time to put the restaurant back in shape from the total disaster that serving a couple of hundred people has caused. Stainless steel counters have to be wiped. Ice bins have to be emptied. Floors have to be swept, garbage cans emptied, printer paper rolls restocked, etc There are two different types of closing sidework – there’s the closing sidework that you might do at the end of a shift, whether it be lunch or.dinner and there’s the type of closing sidework that you do when the restaurant itself is going to be closed until the next day. In the case of a restaurant open for lunch or dinner, the lunch closing sidework is intended to restock and organize the restaurant so that there’s an orderly transition for dinner. The end of the night closing, or the end of a lunch-only restaurant’s lunch shift concentrates on deep-cleaning and organization so that the restaurant presents a “ready-state” for opening the next days. It’s imperative that cleaning is done thoroughly so that pests can be prevented.

Usually, there’s a closing waiter who is responsible for checking out other waiter’s sidework. At the end of the night, the floor manager will do a “walk-through” with the closing waiter, who has to do any work that the other waiters missed. This can make a closing waiter quite grumpy.

Ironically, the toughest sidework is generally after an exhausting shift, so you have to be prepared to save a little energy for the close. The best idea for waiters is to start their sidework as their final tables are winding down so that they can “shrink the restaurant”. What I mean by this phrase is that there are parts of the restaurant that cease being heavily used once the rush is over and certain tasks can be done at that time as well (things like restocking condiments, polishing most of the silver, etc.) Somehow, it doesn’t seem that bad if you pick at the closing sidework as you’re finishing your last tables. Of course, you might be the type of person who likes to knock everything out at once. More power to you. Whichever methods works best for you, I say “Go for it!” Just be aware that closing sidework is really important to prevent problems the next day as many opening managers look for things that haven’t been done or are out of place and will find out whose responsibility it was to do them. And since the GM is often the opening manager and the less senior managers often are closers, they catch the grief first. That means you now have two people mad at you (three if the management blames the closing waiter for not catching the undone work).

The problem with doing an incomplete job with closing can become an albatross around your neck if you persist in doing it. Most managers or closing waiters understand that we are human and will forgive a transgression or two. But if you make it a habit, well…your ass is on the line.  

To be continued…

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2 responses to “Sidework Pt. 1

  1. mimi December 11, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Very good article! I was a waitress for 4 years and I’m thinking of going back to the restaurant industry part-time. This has helped me remember what the after-math of a mad busy shift looks like. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pingback: #76 – Closing Sidework | Sock Puppet Army

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