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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.

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

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