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Daily Archives: February 13, 2010

Valentine’s Day Weekend

Valentine’s Day is a blessing and a curse for waiters.

It’s a blessing because it means a lot of business. It’s a curse because it means a lot of business.

Do to the overwhelming number of deuces, it usually means that you have to do a lot more tables for the same amount of business. Depending on how the kitchen is geared, it can either make it a lot easier for them to crank out food because there aren’t many big tables to create logjams, or it can make it more difficult for waiters to get their food because of the number of small orders that have to go out simultaneously as well as the idea that there could be more tables in play because of the tendency of some restaurants to put tables together for larger groups.

One key in ensuring a good, smooth section for yourself is the ability to identify which kitchen condition you are likely to face. If your kitchen has no problem with the number of orders going out at any time, then you really only have to manage your tables in a normal fashion. But if it (or your chef/expo) tends to lose focus when the checks start piling up, then you have to be proactive and watch the kitchen for signs of meltdown. You might need to order your entrees a little early in the first course if you work in a restaurant that makes you order by course. If you do this, it’s a good idea to ask your guest if it’s OK to do this. You can point around the restaurant and say something like, “Folks, the entree orders are starting to pile up in the kitchen. Would you like for me to put in your entree order now? If I do this, it’s possible that it will come up a little quicker than normal “. You might get the answer, “No, we don’t mind waiting a little longer. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day”. While normally, this isn’t an answer that you like to hear on a churn and burn night, it does prevent disappointment should the kitchen go down in flames right about the time that you’re at the 10 minute mark between courses. By telling you that they’re cool with waiting 20 minutes for their entrees, they’ve let you off the hook. If they tell you to put it in and the kitchen gets it out quickly, even before they’ve finished with their salad, they’ve let you off the hook as well. You can’t be accused of “rushing them” (well, you can still be accused of that, but at least you have a defense – you gave them a choice).

The same thing goes for “firing” food (for civilians, this means that the entree order has been sitting in the kitchen since the beginning of the meal, ready to be called for). If you have any doubt in the ability of the kitchen to get your food out on time, you might ask your guest at the appropriate point if it’s OK for you to call for it. You don’t want to do it as you’re picking up the salad plates because, what if the kitchen is already in the initial stages of meltdown and 5 other servers have fired their entrees first? You need to have a sort of internal clock which sounds about halfway during the salad course. At that point, you need to be evaluating the state of the kitchen. Since you have tables at different points of their meal, this means that you are constantly evaluating. Also, people eat at different speeds, so this could be 3 minutes after you have brought the salad or 10 minutes after you’ve brought the salad. In general, people tend to eat more leisurely on Valentine’s Day because it’s bonding time with the significant other. But this isn’t always the case because, for some, Valentine’s Day is a chore to be disposed of as unobtrusively quickly as possible. 

If you don’t need to ask, obviously you shouldn’t. Great service should be invisible. But there are times when you need to bring the guest into the logistics. Better to throw back the curtain than to have people waiting inordinately long times for their meal. Most people will appreciate your concern and your ability to read the flow of the restaurant to their advantage.

Valentine’s Day on Sunday also means a busy weekend in general because of the people who couldn’t get the actual Valentine’s Day reservation. This means that tonight, you’re going to get more than your share of Valentine’s Day meals. You should go into the evening expecting more deuces and more leisurely dining than on a normal Saturday night. Going in with your eyes open and with an acceptance of reality will reduce disappointment. If you gear your service toward reinforcing the “romantic” angle of obvious Valentine’s Day tables, you increase the chance of a better tip percentage and a higher check. Try not to treat them as he normal “let’s go out Saturday night” tables. Now is the time to suggest champagne, upscale appetizers, chocolate desserts, Bailey’s with coffee, etc. Remember, spouses and SOs are trying to impress their companions, especially if they’re new to the relationship. Use this to your advantage. Just be subtle about it.

Now go out and make lots of money.