So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Mindset adjustment – pt. 2

As, let’s see, where were we?

Oh yeah, I jhad just gotten rid of annoying gym rat Doctor bitch.

Anyway, it was a very quiet night. I only had another two tables for the first seating. One was a regular who only tips 15% but usually spends over a couple of hundred bucks for his wife and himself and he’s also a very pleasant character who’s getting ready to do a major project here in town and he and his wife are very easy to wait on. So, I knew that I’d end up with about $40 with not many more rezzies on the books. Even though I was next to closers, this wasn’t going to be a barn burner of a night. 

As it turned out, my third table was three businesspeople who were fun to wait on, liked to joke around, bought a $100 bottle of wine and spend about $400.  So, at least I got another $80. Now my night was at least salvageable instead of a total flop. I’m going to walk with a bill regardless of what happens. I was looking at a possible $50 or $60 dollar night.

Now we get to the mini-epiphany.

It’s about 8:15. All reservations are in and everyone is closed but closers and myself. Each closer has 2 tables open (out of 4). Each of them has one of their existing tables winding down. Normally, this would signal pretty much going to closers. Normally, this would mean that as I wrapped up the businesspeople, I’d be finishing my closing sidework and I’d be ready to walk out the door about 15 minutes after they left.

Every waiter knows that feeling of sweet release. You’ve had a slow night, you’re winding up your 1st table and the stars are aligning to allow you to walk out the door early (whether or not you’ve had a good night or not, although it’s sweeter when you are cutting your losses).

The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you get seated as your last table is finishing their desserts, especially if you’ve basically waited on one table at a time the whole night. Heck, it’s almost 8:30 and this means that you will there until close of business (in busier churn and burn restaurants, change the time until 9;30 or 10pm). It especially hurts when you perceive that it’s not really necessary and you suspect that the manger just wants to keep you hanging on as insurance.

Well, this is exactly what happened to me. They sat a walk-in deuce in my section. And to make matters worse, they said that they were having 2 joiners who “would probably only be having cocktails”. This is sometimes code for, “We want to hang out and talk for a long time because we haven’t seen each other for a while”.

Anyway, I noticed that I didn’t get that vindictive impulse to throttle my manager with a piano wire after luring him into the walk-in. I didn’t think, “Damn! Screwed AGAIN!” I didn’t get that nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was going to be stuck there for another two to three hours for a $20 tip. There was a strange calm and acceptance that seemed alien to me. What is this unnatural waiter’s response to such a chain of events? Have I indeed been neutered?

I didn’t really have a lot of time to focus on this unsettling sense of well-being as I waited on this table. They were pretty savvy and hip younger folks – the two first guests ordered full meals and the “cocktail only” people ordered over $30 worth of appetizers (a dozen oysters at $24 and another $10 appetizer).  Most of the “visiting” was done during the meal proper. They didn’t get dessert, but ordered another round of drinks, so I figured that I was going to be around for a while anyway, which strangely enough didn’t bother me. But when they gpt their drinks, they asked for the check. Told you they were savvy. And they only stuck around long enough to finish their round of drinks. Time out? 9:50. Not bad at all. And the bill was $275, which meant a $55 tip for yours truly.

And that’s when I had the mini-epiphany.

It started with the idea that my financial struggles dictated my reaction to the new table. In more flush times, I would have found a way to convince the manager to let me give the table away, and they probably would have let me. But that thought never even crossed my mind. I often put aside the fact that any table in this restaurant can pop at any time and I “cut my losses”. I’ve probably given away thousand of dollars “cutting my losses”. 

So I’m going to try to “think poor” more often, even if I’m flush. I’m going to try to pretend that I need to stay as long as possible, especially if  I’ve had a weak night. What’s another 2 or 3 hours if it turns a bad night into at least an acceptable one? I’m sure there will be times when it only means another $20. But I’ll bet that the odds are in favor of it paying off more often than not.

One positive side effect of this that might even be more important than the financial aspect is the reduction of stress and negative feelings that can occur. There’s a certain peace in accepting that last table after everything is done. Sometimes you might ascribe evil intent to the manager and you might very well be right. they might be using you to make their job easier. But they might also be trying to make up for the lack of business that you’ve had in the earlier part of the night. Once you make this part of your strategy instead of theirs, this consideration goes out the window.

This new outlook works particularly well for those of us who toil in higher-end restaurants, especially those where any guest could drop serious money at any time. It’s less useful if you’re working at Applebee’s or TGIFridays. But it still could be useful to squeeze out as much money as possible and actually reduce those natural feelings of exploitation that many churn ‘ n burn waiters feel at times.

I’m under no delusions that I am going to stay til the bitter end every night. A lot of it is going to depend on the station that I’m in. If I’m in a station that normally is one of the first closed, I’m not going labor under the impression that I’m going to be stretched out until the end. There will be times when I’m still going to “cut my losses”. There are times when I’m going to feel like a sacrificial pawn in management’s chess match with the night. 

But I’m going to turn the old say “think rich, be rich” axiom on its head. I’m going to “think poor, get rich”. 

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3 responses to “Mindset adjustment – pt. 2

  1. waiterextraordinaire February 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I work with a guy who switches with someone lower every night. He just wants to make money. Grant it he is single and only does the gym when he is off but that is a great attitude. The other night I gave the campers away cause I had to get up at 5 the next morning. As it turned out they were not your big tippers and were the last to leave. But I say go for it and switch down and make some extra bucks. You will make more money. One thing I never do is switch up.lol And I probably close 2-3 times a week anyway.

  2. nativenapkin February 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    The general rule is the table you give away always leaves before you do, spends huge and tips huge. The table you pick up, meh…but being willing to pick up that one extra deuce per night, at even an average of $20 gross, times approx. 250 shifts per year, well, as they say, “You do the math.” I always looked at it as “That’s 2 or 3 car payments, or a house payment, or a dozen riding lessons for my daughter”, etc. Putting it in real terms makes the “$$ value vs. convenience” equation pretty simple. We had a saying at one very high-end place I worked: “Never under-estimate any of your guests’ need or ability to spend money…” so any table had the potential to be “The Table” that night, if you took it…

    My philosophy as a server was always “I work from X o’clock to X o’clock every night. If I get out early, it’s a bonus.” When I had no tables I was making minimum wage; when I had tables going, even the “clean-up deuce”, I was in the $25 to $30 per hour range. So, with that mindset, I was always willing to stay.

    The sign of a true professional (and they are indeed rare) is that they have gotten past the standard Waiter Whiner philosophy of “Why don’t I have any tables?…Why did you give me so many tables!!?” and are just there to serve. It’s not who they are, just what they do.

    They put the money somewhat out of their head completely; and at the end of the year their W-2’s (don’t know what they’re called in Canada) always looked pretty good. At one place I worked in Atlanta, the real pros would even come in on their night off, dressed and ready for work, and “Shark.” They would troll through the line-up meeting, looking for someone who wanted the night off. They were willing to work “off the clock,” just for tips. And they always drew blood, ususally from the Rookies. A shift is a shift, and if you work enough of them, you will always make money.

    Sounds like you just got a little mental re-enforcement of what you already knew to be true.

    Nice post(s). And I think I have actually waited on the Doctor you were talking about; or at least her clone here in California.

  3. teleburst February 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Yeah, the great thing about a restaurant from a logistics standpoint is that there’s always someone who doesn’t mind going home early and someone who is always on the money trail.

    I tend toward the former, so I always need a little bit of incentive. For me, staying an extra 2 hours for another $20 isn’t all that enticing and it’s easy for me to forget that, in the case of my current restaurant, more often than not, late opportunites crop up unexpectedly. We don’t get a lot of rezzies after 8 or so, but we can still get a lot of walk-up trade between 9 and 11.

    I’m sure that there are some waiters who have read these two parts who can’t even relate to the idea of leaving money on the table. They’re going to get as much as they can for as long as they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t cheat to get there. That’s a mindset that I’m trying to cultivate a little more, although I don’t want to get all sharky or money-grubbing or greedy about it.

    I’m also not one of those people who does a lot of shift-trading. Our restaurant has a lot of that, with some waiters having “contracts” with others, waiters who are always shuffling their schedules or sections. My schedule is fairly fixed and I rarely pickup or give away shifts. I tend to take the shifts that I’ve been given because I have the same two days off a week. I also tend to keep the sections that I’m given (they are fixed on the weekly schedule). I’ve found that if you try to micromange this, it’s like deciding which drive-through lane at the bank you’re going to choose – a lot of times, you choose the wrong one.

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