So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: October 30, 2009

Your waiter could be a lawyer

So remember, not only can you be served by your waiter, you could be served by your waiter.

Where are the snarky Top Chef posts?

I know that some of you have been overwhelmed with grief over the screeching halt to my awesomely awesome and semi-acclaimed recaps of this season’s Top Chef episodes. It’s a long and torturous story of benign neglect, natural selection, Mother Nature’s revenge, and a horrible sense of ennui.

Well, basically what happened was we had a huge storm two (now three) episodes ago that overwhelmed my Dish Network satellite dish. I came home to find that nothing had been recorded due to some pretty nasty weather. So I had to wait a few days before it was re-broadcast. I got that recording and started my recap. This was a day or two before the “Restaurant Wars” episode was aired. I got about a third of the way through when I watched last week’s episode and got sort of tied up in that one. Then, stupid me almost reflexively erased the last episode at the end of the show, something I did almost out of habit, as I seem to always be less than 10 hours from being maxed out on my available storage.

In any case, now we have yet ANOTHER episode unaccounted for.

I seem to have lost the plot, as our British friends would say (they might also say that it’s all gone pear shaped, but that’s a different kettle of fruit).

I have the partial recap from three weeks ago, but it’s still up in the air as to whether I’m going to finish it. I have all three episodes saved for review purposes, but I’m not sure that I can recapture the lightning in a bottle of the early recaps. Perhaps I should consult the metaphor judges to see if I’ve exceeded the recommended daily requirement of poorly constructed metaphors.

So, bear with me. If I find a flood of pitchfork-raised posts demanding that I put my two cents worth in, I might be persuaded to do my duty and provide the commentary that you are all lusting for.

Failing that, I might just raise my glass to the finalists.

I can sum up the last episode in one word though – hubris.

Gotta love you some hubris, that’s for sure.

Top 100 things that a guest should try to avoid doing

This is a list of things that a guest should consider not doing (in no particular order). Note that these aren’t intended as absolutes – there are always exceptions to the rule depending on the type of restaurant that you are patronizing or special circumstances. Here are the first 25. Who knows? I might not even make to 100 because I’ll try not to be too petty.

1. Don’t make multiple reservations at multiple restaurants for the same night just so you guarantee yourself a table somewhere. I don’t care if it’s Valentine’s Day. If you absolutely must do this because you don’t know your fellow guests’ preferences, at least have the courtesy to call the losing restaurants to cancel your reservations.

2. Don’t lie about having made a reservation. Man up and accept the consequences. Even if you’re a woman.

3.  Don’t demand a different table than the one that you have been assigned. You are free to ask politely if you can be moved, but keep in mind that there might be a very good reason why you are being seated where you are. If you are moved, keep in mind that your service might very well suffer, but it’s not spite – you might have just caused a waiter to be triple-seated.

4. Leave your cell phone on vibrate for the first 10 minutes after you’re sat and avoid the temptation to answer it (unless your wife is about to give birth or something). If you violate this, I’m likely to let you sit drinkless and uninformed about the specials until you deign to give me your undivided attention.

5.  If something isn’t cooked properly, tell your waiter as soon as possible so that they can fix it. Try not to be mean, rude or take it personally that your food wasn’t quite right. Kitchen people are human, you know. And I can’t use my x-ray vision to tell that your steak is medium instead of medium rare.  I only use it to see through clothes and wallets.

6. Don’t snap your fingers at me.

7. Don’t dismissively wave me off.

8. Don’t call me baby, honey, sweetie, stud muffin, buddy, hey you, dickwad, gorgeous, or other terms of endearment unless you know me. However, if you have a southern accent, “hon” is fine.

9. Don’t automatically assume that my intentions are impure. I might have to ask you about bottled water. I might be required to offer dessert. I might have to ask you if you want bread instead of just automatically bringing it. And don’t assume that my sales techniques are evil. I am in sales, you know.

10. Don’t take out your bad day on me. Let me fix your bad day.

11. Don’t avoid my eye contact, especially when giving me an order. It makes it hard to hear you and get your order right. Display a courteous public manner.

12. Don’t grab me, especially if I’m at a neighboring table. If I am an attractive male or female, don’t touch me without my prior consent. Hell, even if your waiter looks like me, don’t touch them or get grabby.

13. Don’t assume anything about my intelligence or educational background just because I’m waiting tables.

14. Please don’t say “I want…”. I know that it’s common parlance these days, but “I’d like” is so much nicer and polite.

15. Please don’t ask me what the soup of the day or what the special is before I’ve had a chance to give you the menu or the rest of your guests have arrived. Don’t worry – I’ll tell you when I tell you about the specials. You’ll have plenty of time to decide.

16. Don’t ask me for my phone number unless I’ve indicated that I’m interested in giving it to you. Don’t confuse friendliness for wanting to sleep with you.

17. Don’t mind if I ask you what kind of change you’d like. It’s my polite way of asking you if you want me to “keep the change”. I’m not trying to manipulate you, I”m just not a mind-reader. The best thing is to tell me directly “the rest is for you” or some variant of this before I have to ask. Believe or not, there is a small minority of people who seem to be annoyed if you bring the change back. I’d rather save the trouble of trying to scrounge up your change and this will help me avoid an unecessary trip or time away from my section. Help me help you get the best service possible.

18. If you really need separate checks, please tell me upfront.  If you are ordering almost the same thing, please just split the check down the middle. Don’t worry about paying a buck more than your fellow diner. If you dine out enough together, it will all even out in the end.

19. Don’t just “double the tax” for the tip. It’s not hard to mentally calculate the correct tip.

20. If you are dining with a large group that has requested separate checks, don’t be “that guy”. Don’t let the others pick up your slack when it comes to the tip. 

21. Don’t be afraid to lower your tip if the service is lacking. You’re not doing the waiter, the restaurant or yourself any favors by rewarding bad service. However, understand that in the modern dining world, 10% or less is considered an “insult tip”. You should reserve the dreaded penny or no tip for the absolute worst service. If the service is really bad (but not horrific, insulting or totally abysmal without any redeeming value), 5% is appropriate. Remember the standard is 15% for average service. You should tip more when it’s obvious that the waiter has really cared about your experience and has hit all of the right notes.

22. Don’t lie about allergies. If you don’t like garlic, just say so.

23. Don’t put your gum on the bottom of the table. That’s nasty. You’d be surprised how many people do this. I know because I’ve had to scrape off dozens of multi-colored hardened globs of Dentyne Ice from tables while being paid 2.13 an hour to do it.

24. Don’t be rude or demanding if you can’t be sat at the exact time of your reservation. Allow at least a 10 minute variance because, let’s face it, some diners stay longer than expected.

25. Be on time for your reservation. If you’re going to be later than 10 minutes, please call the restaurant and let them know. Understand that if you’re more than 20 minutes late, your table might have been given away.

Yes, there will be more later…

100 things that a restaurant staffer should never do (first 50) – from the New York Times


From The New York Times Small Business Section:

October 29, 2009, 12:39 pm

<!– — Updated: 2:09 pm –>One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1)

By Bruce Buschel

Start-Up Chronicle

Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building. Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows. They will claim it homogenizes them or stifles their true nature. And yet, if 100 different actors play Hamlet, hitting all the same marks, reciting all the same lines, cannot each one bring something unique to that role?

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting

To read the remaining 49, go here:

This is a fairly reasonable list on the whole, but I would like to comment on a few of them:

“3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived”.

This depends on the flow of the restaurant. There might be a very good reason from a logistics standpoint why you might not want to seat a four top until everyone has arrived.  I would add – never seat three guests when the party is expecting eight. Unless the logistics of the restaurant demands it.

“6. Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral”.

No. My job is to suggest upgrades/upsells to your dinner. You as a guest need to understand this from the outset. If you refuse to be manipulated, that’s fine.  But my job is to sell you stuff and also try to improve your dining experience.

“7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness”.

Only if you as the guest don’t want it. It’s my job to determine this from your demeanor by reading you when you begin your meal. I joke with a lot of my guests because they indicate that this is what they’re looking for. Don’t assume that this commandment is what all diners want.

“8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment”.

I agree with this (and I sometimes fall short). However, don’t get pissed and claim that you’re being ignored because you’re suddenly ready to continue but you haven’t given me the opportunity to “break in”.

“9. Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition”.

And yet, this doesn’t give much indication as to how you want the specials recited. BTW, since you’re in NYC, perhaps it IS an audition.

“10. Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials”.

OK. I won’t advise you about what’s particularly good tonight. But, please reciprocate and don’t ask me what my favorite is, especially if you’re going to pointedly ignore my recommendation and order something completely different.

“11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left”.

I will especially tell you if there are only two lobsters left because, by the time you’re ready to order one of them, there are likely to be exactly zero lobsters left. And then you’re going to be mad at me for not warning you. But I agree that using a fraudulent sales technique like saying that there are only 2 lobsters left when there are actually 10 isn’t what we call cricket. There are sales techniques and there are sales techniques.

“14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right”.

That’s fine. Just tell me if something isn’t right instead of passive-aggressively stewing for the rest of the meal, only to speak up when there are three bites left on the plate. Most of us would like the chance to make something right, which is virtually impossible if you don’t tell us. sometimes we have to be mind-readers, body language experts or verbal interpreters to figure out that your mumbled “It’s OK” means, “It’s just OK…no really, it sucks but I don’t have the stones to tell you”.

“17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait”.

There are exceptions to this. One is when the guest pushed the plate to the side. another is when the plate is filled with empty Splenda packets. Another is when you see an expensive coat sleeve dancing dangerously close to a sauce-filled plate, especially if when the plate has been there for 10 minutes or more. In this case, it is proper to ask if the patron would like you to remove the plate. In fact, we as waiters should always ask before removing plates. Finally, there are some casual restaurants where the policy is to clear dead plates as they occur. Yes, this is a departure from the standards of etiquette but it’s also a nod to the modern American diner, who often times sees a dead plate sitting in front of them as a lack of timely service (believe it or not).

“23. If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill. It has the year, the vintner, the importer, etc.”

I’m confused. This is a “don’t”? This seems to me to be a suggestion for going above and beyond the call of duty. Obviously if the guest asks for the label, a server should so their best to make it happen. But it should be neither routine or happen without consulting the guest. After all, what if they wanted to save the bottle intact as a keepsake?

“26. Never assume people want their white wine in an ice bucket. Inquire”.

I actually second this one. I always ask. It shows that I know about wine, especially since most white wine is over-chilled out of the cooler. Plus, it allows the guest to show that they know about wine (or don’t, as the case may be).

“27. For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour”.

I’d suggest that it’s my job to serve all food and beverage. I’m happy to let the guest pour their own wine if they speak up. Therefore, I think it’s incumbent on the guest to make this request first. However, I generally ask the guest if they’d like to pour the last half of a bottle because I work in a state that allows wine to be corked and taken with the guest. This allows them to decide whether they want to take any home with them instead of me pouring wine that they’re not going to drink.

“29. Do not pop a champagne cork. Remove it quietly, gracefully. The less noise the better”.

Unless it’s obvious that the guests are looking for a show/celebratory POP.

“32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them”.

Depends on the guest. I wait on many regulars who like a little contact. This falls under the category of not being a “never”.

“37. Do not drink alcohol on the job, even if invited by the guests. “Not when I’m on duty” will suffice”.

Once again, this is situational. I’m not going to offend a guest who wants to offer me a taste of their wine, especially if I’ve admitted that I haven’t tried it. And if a guest wants to buy me a drink, I’m not going to turn them down because I’m not going to offend their sense of generosity. However, I’ll ask them to order it and let me drink it when my shift is over if they don’t mind.

“40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad”.

This is an “eye of the beholder” thing. I might say it to validate their choice.

“42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else”.

But it’s OK to do so if you know the guest, especially if there’s been a major change. However, you always have to use discretion.

“43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant”.

It’s not irrelevant. It’s information that can be useful. Yes, it could just be a sales tactic, but if I’m sincere, I’m not going to be forbidden from doing my job and advising a guest about something that I find especially good.

“46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal”.

All guests are not equal. Regulars are more equal than others. They deserve special recognition. If you want the same, then become a regular.

“50. Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout”.

Agreed. But, as a diner, don’t turn suddenly sour at tip time either.

Oh yes, you can bet I’ll be posting my own list shortly. And I can hardly wait for next week’s final 50…

PS, I realize that this is a list that is being built as a house service steps policy, but it can be read as universal, so I’m taking issue with that aspect. Any restauranteur has the right to establish policies that are appropriate to the culture that they want to embody, even if they are somewhat separate from how others might do it.

End of the month nag post

Yep kiddies, it’s that time again. Time to look over the old uniform with a critical eye. Tennis shoes just about split at the seams? Pants frayed at the cuffs? Shirts irrevocably stained?

If so, replace them and get into some fresh duds. With business picking up, you’re going to be needing to look good, plus, you should have a little money now to take care of the things that you’ve been needing to replace.

Here’s to a great and profitable weekend. Watch out for low-tipping ghouls.