So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Daily Archives: October 17, 2009

Burning bridges

One of the realities of working in a restaurant is the often transitory nature of working in a restaurant.

There is a myriad of reasons that this is true.

One is the fact that workers themselves see the job as transitory. They don’t consider it a “career”.  They consider it something to do while pursuing their education. They consider it a job worth jettisoning if another hot new restaurant comes around. They don’t consider it “full-time” because they don’t work 40 hours a week and they don’t work consistent hours. They might not feel like they are an essential part of the “team” or that they are unappreciated. Part of it is burnout, pure and simple.

Another part of the equation is the fact that restaurants often consider their workers “disposable”. Part of this is based on the attitudes of the service staff itself. Part of this is based on the high turnover and the fact that not everyone is suited for the job. Part of this is the wage structure. Part of this is the low cost of job entry and training.  Part of this is turnover in management itself. And part of this based on the burnout factor that I’ve previously noted. Management is often burned by waiters who simply no-show because they’ve found another “better paying job” or they’ve simply “had enough”. The proliferation of waiter bitch sites highlights the challenges that waiters face when trying to feed a picky and demanding public.

One of the goals of this blog is to get both management and staff to consider waiting tables in a different light – i.e. a worthy career instead of a “placeholding” type job.

And yet, despite the best efforts of staff and management, a waiter might find him or herself in the position of deciding to leave. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going assume that the waiter is voluntarily leaving.

If you decide to leave, think long and hard about just quitting and pulling a no-show. Burning bridges is never a good idea, for several reasons. First of all, the “greener pastures” that you think you are departing to might actually be a barren field. Second of all, you want to get a good job recommendation from your current employer in the future. And third, you should consider yourself a professional. The restaurant community is often tightly knit. Managers know each other; waiters hang out together. Your rep is an important thing to preserve. It might mean the difference in getting that prestigious job that you are trying to move up to.

There are a couple of obstacles to leaving on good terms. Management might feel “betrayed” by your leaving. They might also not want to keep you on during a two week notice because of a lack of confidence that you will complete your shifts or because of security reasons based on previous experience with other waiters who haven’t been professional in their dealings with the company. They might not let you give a two weeks notice. If this is the case, there’s not much you can do except to offer a written two weeks notice and ask them to reciprocate. If you have been a responsible and reliable waiter during your term of employment, they might actually let you stay. By providing a written two week notice, you preserve your reputation as a professional even if they refuse to let you stay on. If they waive this two weeks notice and let you move on, then they have made that choice themselves and aren’t forced into it by you. This will look better in the future if they are called upon to give you a recommendation.

Your new job might want you to start immediately. If this is the case, you might want to point out to them that you are a professional and you need to give your current employer two weeks notice. This puts them on notice that you are a professional at the very beginning of your employment. You might point out to them that you expect to give them the same consideration should you leave. This will help you jump-start your rep with the new management. If they don’t understand this, it should give you pause as to their own professionalism.

An employer is constrained legally by what they can tell a prospective employer. If you use your current employer as a future reference, about the only thing they can say is whether or not you are eligible for rehire or not (at least on the record). You want to preserve your eligibility for rehire and you do this by offering a written two week notice. This doesn’t mean that they would rehire you, just that you left on good terms. By doing this, you avoid gaps in your resume. Many waiters don’t look at the long-term implications of changing jobs and burning bridges. Three years from now when you are up for that great job, you don’t want a year long gap in your employment history because you know you screwed a restaurant by not showing up for that Friday night shift. Plus, you don’t want a manager going “off-the-record” and telling a prospective employer that you didn’t even bother giving notice and you simply no-showed. This sort of thing is done all of the time and is hard to prove, especially when managers know each other. They know how to preserve confidences and realize the ramifications of disclosing what they have found out about you. They’ll simply tell you that they don’t have a place for you at the moment. 

Giving a two weeks notice doesn’t mean that you can’t try to schedule some training shifts at your new place of employment. One of the great things about working in a restaurant is the fact that you have a flexible schedule and you should be able to work around your existing schedule. Sure, it will make your training at the new job more protracted, but at least you will continue to earn a regular income during the low-paying training phase.

If you do give a two weeks notice, make sure you either show up for all of your shifts or you get your shifts covered. Make sure you talk to your GM and get his or her assurance that you will be given a good recommendation. Doing these simple steps will help assure that you will get a good recommendation, plus, if you find that you shouldn’t have left for any reason, it will help you get rehired. You might want to come back because management has changed. You might want to return because the new restaurant wasn’t the money-printing machine that you thought it would be or the working conditions aren’t to your liking.

The important thing is to not burn bridges. By avoiding this syndrome, you rise another rung on the professionalism ladder. Even if you aren’t going to stay in the restaurant business, this can only help you in whichever career you decide to make. Take the long view – it will benefit you far more than you might realize.