So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

It’s the little things

Managers are funny beasts.

In order to stay sane, they tend to have certain things that they focus on in order to do things like doing the closing or maintaining the operation of the restaurant because you can’t check 100% of everything in the restaurant. I know that I was a bit of a freak when I managed because I looked at some small things or insisted on certain procedures.

My rationale was that it was often the little things that mattered. It’s just impossible to check every little detail, so each manager has their little quirks about what pushes their hot button or gets them looking closer at the waiter’s work.

Closing is a good example. The next to last thing a manager wants to do is do a thorough intense inspection at the end of a hard shift.  The last thing a manager wants to do is sit through a bitch session with his or her general manager or restaurant staff the day after the restaurant has been closed sloppily. So, most managers have things that they focus on from night to night to give them a general indication of the quality of the closing sidework. However, depending on their closing waiter or what they know about certain members of the staff, they will poke around, especially if they don’t have confidence in the work of certain people. You can burn a manager or a closing waiter once or twice, but after that, they will stay on top of you until you regain their confidence. They’ll check your work with a fine-toothed comb.

As a server, there are little things that you can do to keep your manager or closing waiter from picking apart your sidework (especially if you’re the closer) as well as making your own job easier.  When I’m a closer, I use a technique that I call “shrinking the restaurant”, something I did when I was a manager as well. I try to reduce the amount of area getting used to a minimum. At a certain point, you don’t need all three server stations, or you don’t need all of the side items that you normally need when the restaurant is bustling. I try to limit what I use to a minimum. If it’s been cleaned or refilled (such as sugar caddies), I either don’t use it, or I try to keep what I use or touch to a minimum. If I have three wait stations available, and two of them have already been cleaned and I’ve checked out a server on those two stations, I make sure that nobody uses it from that point on unless absolutely necessary. As I check out the various servers, I’m able to reduce what I’m going to have to check at the very end of the night because I’ve gradually “shrunk” the restaurant over the last hour or two. At the very end, I really only have to give a cursory look.

This was my approach as a manager as well. In the last couple of hours, I’d try to be aware of anything that was “out of joint” in the early stages of slowdown and I’d sort of keep my eye on it and see if it were taken care of. Of particular importance was anything that was visible to the guest. This gave me an idea of how well the closing was going. If something didn’t get done right by my walk-through, then I started poking around, and you never want a manager poking around in dark corners at 11:30pm because they will always find things. Suddenly, dust in the corner of drawers becomes important. That little unwiped bit of stainless steel that is barely noticable to man or beast becomes something that has to be corrected NOW.  

The same goes for the closing waiter responsible for checking sidework. If the first thing they check hasn’t been done correctly, then they are more likely to check everything closely.

There is one main thing you can do to keep your manager’s or your closing waiter’s walk-thorough cursory, other than doing your job correctly, of course.

Make sure everthing lines up. In the Army, we called this “dress right dress”. For example, most restaurants have a lot of sugar caddies. If you leave gaps in their arrangement, or leave some crooked here and there, it gives the impression of a job half done. It only takes a second to line everything up. If you’re in a hurry to get to that post-shift drink, it’s easy to do a sloppy job of arranging everything. Just take a half a second and line everything up. Make sure that labels face the same way. Let’s say that you have to restock ketchup and condiment bottles. It’s easy to just stick them on the shelf, but if you take a moment and have the labels facing the same direction, it looks like you’ve done your work correctly. And managers and closing waiters kep a mental inventory of those that leave their work looking good and those who simply do the minimum to barely get things in order.

This is a convoluted and wordy way of telling you that the better the outward appearance of your work is, the easier your job will be. And it doesn’t take all that much longer and can actually save you time when you’re trying to get out for that post-shift get-together with your compatriots. One little trick I used to do (and still do) was to line up my sugar caddies so that the same color sugar packet was in front. It only took me an extra couple of seconds to do this. As a manager, I was always impressed when certain closing waiters did this themselves (yes, I can be easily impressed). I knew that they were looking at the small things and I could pretty much give them the OK without doing an intensive walkthrough. But I had some waiters who didn’t care that much about how things looked in general and I took extra time with those waiters until they got the idea that there were certain things that I might be looking for. It was a Pavlovian response, I guess. Eventually, they’d get the idea that the neater things looked, the less actual work they had to do at the end of the night. And they’d work backwards from there and start insisting that their fellow servers also showed the same sort of eye for detail.

Develop your eye for detail and you’ll find your job getting easier and easier.

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