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Daily Archives: October 8, 2009

Comments about Waiternotes “Pro” article

I hope everyone went immediately to the Waiternotes’ fine article that I quoted from yesterday.

I had a few comments to expand on the theme a little.

One of the points that he made is:

  1. Your waiter unleashes a torrent of descriptors of the daily specials, down to preparation details and the components of the homemade sauces. She is similarly fluent on any menu item you’d care to ask about. She knows the ingredients in every cocktail. She can name 20 different single malt scotches, including their specific producing region.
  2. There’s a good chance this person took 7 years to get her college degree – or else she’s still ‘working’ on it, just taking a couple years off to find out where her head is at. She is taking so long not because she’s unintelligent. Rather, she’s very smart, and she’s applied those wiles to her job. She just likes waiting tables better than the idea of getting a ‘Real Job,’ working 9 to 5 (or more realistically 9 to 7), and taking the effective cut in hourly pay.
  3. Again, this can effectively be a bit of a parlor trick, albeit a useful one for the guest. But it comes to bear mainly on the selection part of the dining experience. What do you order? After that question is answered, there’s so much that product knowledge does not affect.

This is a good point, and he continues to make it regarding wine as well. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I like to insist that a good waiter knows massive amounts of stuff and I try to go into excessive detail about things that I think a waiter should know. This doesn’t imply using that knowledge as a cudgel though. Just because you know each ingredient in every dish on your menu, that doesn’t mean that you need to go into incredible detail – you just need to be prepared in case someone has an allergy or is a foodie and likes to talk about flavor profiles or can’t decide between a couple of dishes (perhaps they’d be interested that dish A has cilantro for instance).  Use your knowledge to stimulate a dialog, not impress someone with how much minutae you have stored away in your cranial real estate.

It’s the same with wine – most of the time, the fact that you know that only 400 cases of a certain boutique wine is irrelevant. However, should the occasion ever come up when that fact might actually result in you closing the sale, it’s there for you to use. The worst thing you can do is become a wine Nazi. No, the worst thing that can happen is that you serve a wine Nazi who knows more about wine than you do.

Knowledge is power, but it’s also a dangerous weapon that needs to be used surgically and strategically. Nobody likes a showoff.

He also talks about control being the most important thing. I pretty much agree.

Right . . . It’s part of control. Problems are like a dike springing leaks. If you don’t acknowledge them with that little verbal ‘finger,’ (no jokes, please) they keep leaking. Isn’t it irritating when a waiter pretends nothing is wrong? Yet, when something is wrong and it is noted and promised to be attended to, guests quit worrying.

That’s the key to Control. The guest knows you’re in control and they don’t have to worry about how their meal experience comes out. That’s why they’ve come out to eat instead of doing it themselves at home. Who wants to fret about that junk when you’re paying $30-100 a head? Why should they?

If you lose control at the beginning, you’re dead. You’re like the wounded antelope waiting for the death blow from the lion. You’re chum in shark-infested waters. You’re every bad “wounded animal” metaphor. I see getting run and bossed around in your future.

You have to establish control quickly and firmly. I’ve even gone so far as to tell large groups in a mock-serious tone, “And there’s be no seat-swapping  if you want separate checks. Visit all you want, but I want butts back in chairs for the entrees – got it? Otherwise, you’re (pointing to one person) are going to be eating her (pointing to another) food and paying her check”!  That, coupled with a playful nod and a wink, got the message across about who’s running this show.  Keep in mind that there’s a line that you have to learn that you can and can’t cross. I would use that sort of approach with a happy, up group, whereas I would never use it for 10 businesspeople. They require a different sort of Alpha dog technique. You simply have to establish who’s pack leader, which is a lot tougher with people who are used to being the Alpha dog.

Confidence breeds confidence. However, occasionally you’ll get in a power struggle with someone who doesn’t want to relinquish control.  That’s a fight that you can rarely win. You can, in fact, win the battle but lose the war if you take a war of wills too far. Best to recognize when someone simply must retain control and try to work around it. If you get a jab or two in, so much the better, but you have to be pretty savvy to get away with it. Some people have it and others don’t. If you don’t know which type of person you are, you don’t. Have it, that is.

So, I’ll continue to feed lots of culinary info your way and continue to exhort you to learn as much as possible. but just remember Waiternotes’ post and my caveats regarding how to use that information. Use your knowledge for good, not evil.

Here’s the link to the original post by Waiternotes again:

pack leader

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