So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

The other side of the tipping equation – some tips from a former waiter

From “The Mountain Murmur”

This is an article that wisely outlines some dos and don’ts for waiters. I love this part:

It’s not that I’m stiffing good waiters. I always tip good waiters, at the going rate plus. (If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out.) But the grouchy, the indifferent and the glassy-eyed, whom I used to tip because I too was once a waiter — well, they still get tipped. A bit. More leftover coin, less paper.

Also, something that takes new waiters a while to learn:

Another trait of the self-narrating waiter is to ask too many times, “Is everything okay?” Often, an honest response would be, “Everything is okay except for the waiter who keeps interrupting our conversation.” Rather than pester your diners, go Zen. If all your customers are jabbering, eating, laughing and generally having a good night out, you’re golden. Examine faces from a distance. You’ll eventually spot one neck craning. Zoop, you hustle up on her blind side as if by magic: “May I help you?” The mind-reading servant is most treasured.

This is soooooo true. If a table is entertaining themselves, there is no need for you to interfere with that. You should rejoice – they are making your job easier. However, you still have to be observant, especially if the food is taking longer than usual. If they are engrossed in conversation, you’ve just bought more time without having to give them updates. But observe one of them glance at their watch? That’s the time to let them know what’s going on, and not a second before.

I still occasionally find myself interrupting conversation. I used to do it without considering what I was doing. Most of the time now, it’s just because I thought that there was a lull in the conversation and I could break in, only to have the conversation resume at just the wrong time. It’s almost like that moment when you are getting ready to go through the intersection and the light turns yellow at exactly the point where you have no choice but to run a red light.

If you are a newbie, try to be extra careful when you have to interrupt a conversation. You should do it only in the case of a service emergency.

All waiters should read this short primer.

3 responses to “The other side of the tipping equation – some tips from a former waiter

  1. SkippyMom December 10, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    So I am supposed to sit sullenly until my waiter notices my disdain for a screw up on my pasta or steak instead of engaging my husband in conversation? I should look displeased so they notice? Bull.

    I will happily chat away with my dining partner and wait for a waiter to come “interupt” my conversation. I am not going to stop chatting with my companion because my steak is overcooked, but the waiter should check back to make sure everything is okay.

    I don’t normally ask for extra anything, but I find many times that my sides are cold – I will eat the main course while being engaged with my partner, but please come back and ask, whether I am talking or not.

    I am not going to pout until you notice. Your job is to make sure my meal came the way I expected it to [according to menu specs].

    And yes. I have waited tables for many years.

  2. teleburst December 11, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Obviously we have to do a checkback on courses. That’s a given. There’s a fine line that’s there when you break into someone’s conversation. It’s generally considered rude by most people. You might be the exception. There are conversations and there are conversations. I doubt that you are locked eye to eye intently when you are discussing your day with your spouse. Hopefully, you aren’t *contantly* talking without a break. I wait on a lot of business people who do a lot of intense business. I had three guys the other night who didn’t stop talking for almost 2 hours. Never acknowledged my presence when I was tableside or when I cruised by. So yes, I actually had to interrupt them almost every time I interacted with them, but I made sure it was absolutely necessary. for instance, just offering the specials was tough. I couldn’t do it for about 15 minutes because it was obvious that they had another agenda.

    I sympathize with what you’re saying, but as a guest, you’ve also got to give some subtle signs of acknowledging your waiter if there’s something wrong because a good waiter won’t interrupt a conversation unless they absolutely need to. sometimes we’ll standthere and wait for a break in the conversation, but we don’t always have the time to do that. And, as you know because you’ve done the work, we’re not mindreaders. If we have checked on each course after you’ve had a chance to taste it (at least a couple of minutes), then we’ve done our job. If we’re crusing by your table and we give you the chance to catch our eye to indicate that you need something, then we’ve done our job. If you find out that your sides are cold because you’ve been talking and not eating them, that’s a different issue which, if you catch my eye as I come by your table, I’ll be happy to rectify. But you have to help out. A good waiter doesn’t do a bunch of verbal checkbacks during each course because that’s too intrusive. It annoys most people. If a table has been eating their main course for a while, and there’s a break in the conversation as I approach their table, I’ll insert a simple “Are you still enjoying your meal?” or “How is everything”? Never, “Are you OK”?

    I find that most tables have enough pauses in the conversation or more relaxed body language in that they aren’t locked in eye contact with their dining partner to the exclusion of everyone else. But I’ve seen waiters, myself included) interrupt conversations even on those tables, and that’s pretty much what I’m talking about. sometimes we just have to wait for the natural flow of the conversation, and sadly, sometimes we don’t even have time for that. that’s why there’s a little responsibiility on the side of the guest to be aware of their waiter’s presence.

    Hope this has made sense.

  3. Waitersfriend December 13, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    I think our job is to be invisible until needed – and that involves being able to read all types of people and know through experience the different nuances that may give off a signal of ‘everything is not alright’, and that is when we are there before the customer has to look around for us.

    If we can’t be there then, we have to at least make good eye contact with perhaps a little nod to confirm that we see them and will be over asap. When the eye contact and nod thing happens just once, the customer immediately knows that you can be trusted as a waiter and it is something that they ‘will not have to worry about tonight.’

    I agree with teleburst that most tables do not want the waiter interrupting, until it is appropriate. We need to remember that the guests are not there to see the waiter.

    It is a tough skill to master and every good waiter will have had the awkward moments when they have interrupted at the wrong time.

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