So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: December 30, 2009

End of month, end of year, end of decade

Well, this is my last exhortation about uniforms this decade.

Now’s the time to take a close look at your uniforms from head to toe.

Shoes intact and non-skid? Check.

Pants not frayed at the cuff and in the back? Check.

Pants have oil stain that won’t come out? Put in emergency inventory. Use only when all else fails.

Shirt collars not pilled and stained? Check.

Hell, you know the drill. At the end of every month, you do what you don’t normally do day to day – give a close look to the uniform. Not only do you look with more of a critical eye than when you’re grabbing and going, you get a heads-up about uniform items that you are close to having to replace. It’s really bad when you’re broke and suddenly your shoes rip on the side and you’re forced to spend money that you don’t have. Better to buy new uniform items on your own schedule, not the waiting god’s vengeful wrath. 

No, you don’t have to be THIS put-together, but it’s something worth shooting for, I suppose. Just can the haughty look.

Muscle memory

Muscle memory is a big deal in sports. Muscle memory allows you to play relatively unconsciously, which frees you from making mental errors or second-guessing yourself. It is only attained through repetition and practice.

You can apply the same concept to waiting tables, except you should think about developing the biggest “muscle” of all – the brain.

I recently wrote about focus and consistency.  That’s what the corollary of muscle memory is all about.

The quicker you can achieve almost a Zen state when you get busy, the quicker you’ll be able to deal with the weeds and not be thrown into panic.

If you can do many of your tasks almost automatically and with little thought, you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll get through the rush. But this is almost a contradictory thing – a Zen puzzle, if you will. Aren’t you supposed to be super focused? Aren’t you supposed to be constantly evaluating, balancing, prioritizing? How can you do this if the advice is to not think – simply to do, to be?

The key is honing your skills during slower times so that you eliminate distractions. Get your abbreviations rock-solid consistent. Get your notational skill fixed so that you always write things in the same order and in the same way every time. Start seeing the section as a whole (start with two tables and work your way up from there). Work on speeding up ringing orders without compromising accuracy. Work on consolidating tasks so that you reduce your trips by half and then by thirds. Learn to glance at a table and see the table as it should be, not as it is. Should there be a little flash of pink on the table? Nope – that’s a Sweet ‘n Low packet that needs to be removed. Should there be a third glass in front of position 3, especially since the third glass is finally empty (they had wanted to nurse their previous cocktail while they enjoyed their new one, but now it’s empty).

As you develop these skills, you’ll find that you’re thinking less and less about them and doing them almost unconsciously. Hopefully, you’ll get to the point where you’ll be able to scan a 4 table section while getting double-seated at 8pm on the night where there’s an hour wait for tables and you’ll be able to see the whole picture. You’ll know where your other two tables are in a glance and automatically be able to prioritize your service in a flash – almost in a no-brain mode. You’ll glide through the next two hours instead of stumble. And you’ll appear to be totally controlled instead of two steps behind.

That’s because you’ve developed “muscle memory” in your brain. You’ll be relaxed and focused at the same time.

And that’s the sound of one hand clapping.

Picture courtesy of DogsLoL