So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Daily Archives: January 10, 2010

Life lessons for waiters

With much of the US suffering from abnormally cold temperatures (other parts of the globe like the UK also feeling the effects of a pretty brutal winter), waiters can use life itself as a prompt for tailoring their approach to presenting their product.

The cold reminded me of the seasonal nature of food and beverage, specifically recommendations on wine, but it can be expanded to the menu as well.

Now is not the time to be drinking Pinot Grigio and light California Pinot Noirs. Now is the time to be drinking more robust wines like full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, Shirazes, big Chardonnays (as much as you can call them “big”, of course). We should be using our positions of trust to advise guests to drink more seasonally. Obviously if someone is stuck on Pinot Grigio, it’s not wise to directly challenge them. But if we have a more full-bodied white in our back pocket that won’t freak them out (even something like a lighter, less oaked Chardonnay), we should make gentle suggestions like, “Have you tried Brand X? I think it has the drinkability of Pinot Grigio but has a little more body to stand up to this cold weather”. 

Of course, you reverse this in summer. Instead of a big, tannic Cabernet, you might suggest a Petite Sirah that has the dark rich color of a Cabernet but is actually lighter in body and not nearly as chewy and heavy.

This means that the more the waiter knows about the specific bottles on the wine list, the more successful they’ll be. Even heavier wines often have vintners who produce lighter or heavier versions of a varietal than the bulk of their competitors. The more you know about this, the more flexibility you’ll have in advising the patron in an appropriate wine choice and the more authority you’ll project.

The same can be said for food. It’s not a coincidence that restaurants that employ a seasonal strategy don’t offer osso bucco in the middle of summer. For those waiters who work with static menus, it’s important to find narrow focus in relation to the seasons in the menu. Corporate chefs who are constrained by a fixed menu try to cover all of their bases in terms of seasonality and the guest isn’t always savvy enough to choose season appropriate items so the experienced waiter will assist them in choosing a season appropriate meal by using such phrases as “You should try our hardy beef and vegetable soup. It really cuts through the cold”. Or, “I had the fruit sald the other day and it really was a relief from this hot weather we’ve been having”. Patrons are creatures of habit and sometimes eat what they eat regardless of season. There’s nothing wrong with that, but readers of this blog know that, to me, the main part of selling and serving is to add value, not simply at the expense of a guest’s pocketbook, but to enhance the dining experience.

If you help guide the guest without being pedantic or preachy, you move from simply being an order-taker to an active participant in the guest experience.

This is just one example how real life often offers guidance to waiters, if they only tune their anntenas a little more closely to the signals that real life is sending out.