So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: March 2010

This gives a new meaning to the term “Sonic”

From The Weekly Vice:

December 16, 2009

Cape Girardeau, MO (The Weekly Vice) – Dennie Bratcher, a 27-year-old Sonic shift manager was jailed after he reportedly attempted to manufacture methamphetamine in the restaurant’s kitchen.

According to Cape Girardeau police, deputies responded to a burglar alarm around 2:00 a.m. Thursday and found still-uniformed Bratcher in the kitchen with several meth-making ingredients, trying to produce the drug.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.theweeklyvice.com/2009/12/dennie-bratcher-was-cooking-something.html

Managing the weeds

I’ve discussed this before, but you should have a personal plan for managing the weeds in the back of your mind – a sort of fallback, mindless set of priorities unique to your own restaurant. By mindless, I don’t mean that the priorities are mindless, but that you don’t have to think very hard about them when the weeds come. They should be almost an automatic reaction to the weeds. You shouldn’t have to think very hard about them. They should come naturally.

I can’t list priorities for you because restaurants and even waiter personalities are different. What might work for me might send you further into the weeds. But here’s what I’m thinking when the weeds start climbing.

My first strategy is to start thinking of my section as one big table. I start jettisoning the “unique approach” that I try to give each table. This doesn’t mean that I’m compromising my service, just that I’m not so concerned about giving a unique spiel to each table. I go slightly into “robot mode” without sounding “robotic”. IOW, if each table could hear me at every other table, they might think that I was being ‘canned” with my spiel, but when they hear it only at their table, it still sounds like I’m engaged with them, if this makes any sense. I don’t need to be spending a lot of mental energy tailoring my speech patterns and rhythms to each table. I also have a special that I usually tell my guests, something that the kitchen can always do that’s not on the menu. Nobody else incorporates this in their spiel, but I do it because it’s a $16 side dish where our most expensive side dish is around $11 and most of them are around $8-9. I usually sell between 2 and 5 of them a shift. If I sell one at lunch, it’s almost like adding a cover to my count. One lunch, I sold 5 of them! That’s like an extra 4 top. But that’s the first thing that gets jettisoned when I go in the weeds. It saves me about 30 seconds of verbiage and there’s nothing really lost as far as the guest is concerned.

My next priority is making sure that if I’m seated during this period, that I at least swing by and say, “good evening, I’ll be with you in just a minute”. Normally I do this when I present the menus, but I’m usually scurrying around doing things for other tables and don’t have time to make a trip to grab menus. This accomplishes two things – first, it counts as a greet within the required time limit (we have 1 minute to greet a table). Second, it lets the guest know that they have been noticed and that it will take a minute to return with the menus. If the guest tries to order a drink on the spot, I do everything I can to prevent taking their order. I usually tell them that I’ll be right back with their menus. If they seem annoyed by that, obviously I’ll take their order on the spot. But I won’t bring menus until I bring their drinks. They can wait since apparently they know better than I how to do my job.

We’re discouraged from collecting plates from multiple tables (most restaurants don’t have a problem with that though).  I do sometimes make stops at other tables even if I have a handful of plates, especially if they try to catch my eye. I’ll do this especially if I have a quality check to make (for civilians, a quality check is the 2 minute check back after a dish is delivered). The more that I consolidate tasks within the parameters that my restaurant allows, the more efficient I can be and the more time I’ll have with each table. When the weeds are high, every second is important.

When I’m really weeded, I’m not all that interested in selling dessert. Dessert could mean the difference between getting a turn or not getting a turn. While I am tasked with selling dessert because it’s considered an “upsell”, even the management would rather have that table back than lose it for another 20 minutes for an extra $15. But I don’t not mention dessert. I might ask a loaded question like, “Anyone still have room for dessert”? In a restaurant like mine, one that serves large portions, phrasing it that way has a slightly negative connotation (negative for dessert, that is).

Also, when I’m weeded, I try to “slow time down”. I do this by trying to take an extra couple of seconds when ringing food in. I know that this contradicts my other point about every second being important, but it’s more important to keep a clear head and also to avoid miss-rings and mistakes. Standing at the terminal is the one place where I can get re-centered and catch my breath. Of course, I have to be cognizant of others needing to use the terminal. Sometimes, if I’m the waitee, I’ll use that time to review what I’m going to enter or I’ll try to organize my thoughts while I wait.

These are some strategies that I employ in my restaurant. Feel free to add any that are relevant to your own situation.

Kitchen tool of the day – microwave

Yeah yeah, I know – microwaves are cheating. Good cooks don’t microwave. Microwaves are the devil.

Well, I consider the microwave an essential cooking tool, even if I rarely use it.

First of all, how would I cook popcorn? I’m kidding about this, of course, but I actually do microwave popcorn on occasion. Clean, easy and quick for those lazy moments.

I also use the microwave to revive frozen bread and rolls that I save from the trash at work when we have a lot left over. I freeze them right in their bags. Then, when it’s time, I microwave them for about 30 seconds to get them warmed up from the middle and then toast them. Rolls come out perfect when you use the microwave to preheat them. Frozen sliced bread doesn’t really need to be microwaved first though.

I use the microwave to thaw out frozen stock, which I pack in gallon freezer bags. I don’t fill them up but I pour enough stock in them to freeze flat and not in a thick brick. They look like a 12’X12″ slab. This makes for quick rethawing in the microwave and helps save space in the freezer, where I can stack a bunch of perfectly portioned packages.

My most frequent use for the microwave seems to be reheating frozen pulled pork barbecue. Works great if you don’t just nuke it. I usually cook a bag for about a minute. Then I stop, break it up a bit, add some BBQ sauce and then cook for another minute or so. The goal isn’t to cook it more but to simply bring the temperature back up to where it was when I pulled it initially.

I know some people use it to cook rice, but I’ve never bothered. From what I’ve read, it really doesn’t save that much time and I have my stove top method down to a foolproof method.

Microwaves aren’t very efficient for boiling water either.

I really don’t use it for much cooking, per se. I might use it to reheat frozen food if I had a lot of frozen food that I put away, but BBQ and stock is about the only thing I ever put away that would be appropriate (and I only nuke stock if I’m going to use it for some quick soup).

I’m sure that people have some favorite uses for the microwave. These are mine.

Since I don’t use a microwave very often, I sprung for a cheap one. I got a Goldstar at the local pawn shop for around $25. It looks very similar to this one, only not as tall:

I’m guessing that mine is about 1.5 cubic feet at most. Perfect for the small tasks that I use it for. It sits right under my tabletop convention oven/toaster (previously raved about in this post of mine: https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/kitchen-tool-of-the-day-tabletop-convection-overtoaster/ )

So, if you don’t have a microwave because you’re a foodie snob, you should reevaluate. There are some good uses of the device that don’t compromise cooking quality and, in some cases, might actually be the best solution to a cooking problem. Do yourself a favor, get a no-frills microwave from your local pawn shop. They’re cheap and plentiful. And if you already are using a microwave for things like cooking meat from the raw state, shame on ya! Learn to cook, ya slob!

New York restaurant has an interesting gimmick

New York Bar to Set Menu Prices Like Stocks

New Restaurant Where Prices For Food and Drink Will Fluctuate Like Stocks

NEW YORK (Reuters) – What’s the value of a pint of beer? Let the market decide, says a new restaurant in Manhattan where prices for food and beverages will fluctuate like stock prices in increments according to demand.

The Exchange Bar & Grill, set amid the bustling shops and pubs of the Grammercy Park neighborhood, is replete with a ticker tape flashing menu prices in red lettering as demand forces them to fluctuate.

Customers can move prices for all beverages and bar snacks such as hot wings ($7 for 6 pieces) or fried calamari ($9). The prices will fluctuate in $.25 cent increments, but will most likely plateau at a $2 change in either direction.

A glass of Guinness starts at $6 but could be pushed to a high of $8 or a low of $4, depending on popularity.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wireStory?id=10190154

Interesting gimmick. It would be interesting to see how it affects food costs. It will also be interesting how long they’re able to maintain such a system. Seems a bit unwieldy to me, but what do I know?

Of course, this doesn’t seem to be quite a traditional “supply and demand” situation where the prices go up as the supply dwindles. Doesn’t seem to be the case here. It seems to only be a “demand” system. In fact, a classic supply and demand system would work against a restaurant since you don’t want prices to rise as you exhaust a product. In most cases, it’s better to run out of something than to carry it over, although, in the case of alcohol, you might be able to exploit the diesire to grab a beer before it runs out. You’d need some sort of tote board though. In the case of, say, a daily special, you want to run it out, not have a couple left over that you can’t use the next day. Perhaps you could employ the opposite tactic – as you get down to the final specials, the prices drop, so that you can blow them out.

Anyway, as I said, an interesting gimmick that should be of interest in Manhattan, the home of the world’s largest market. A good example of tailoring a concept to the immediate environment.

100,000!

’nuff said…

So, as I leave for work…

…we’re about 140 hits away from 100,000.

It will probably turn over while I’m at work, so I want to thank everyone again for the milestone.

End of month uniform check

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve reminded all of you waiters to do a monthly uniform check.

For newbies to the blog, I recommend taking a quick look at your uniforms every week or so as you wear them, but to take the end of the month to really examine all of your uniforms at one time and do it with a critical eye to every bit of wear and tear. This means looking at the cuffs of your pants to look for signs of fraying, especially at the rear if they tend to be a little long. I’ve found that the backs of the bottom seam of the legs of my pants can get frayed just from occasional contact with the floor. while you’re checking out the bottom of the legs of your pants, and you wear black pants, look for small bleach spots. They look slightly reddish. You get them because you work in a kitchen where people are spraying cleaning fluids on the floor. You don’t realize that the spray is hitting you with pin drops from 10 feet away, but you’d be surprised how often you’ll find these little spots if you look closely. If they are small, a Sharpie will make them less noticable. The stronger the solution, the better the chance that eventually you’ll end up with a hole there after you’ve washed your pants a few times. So file that away in the back of your mind. The last thing you need is to pull out your only pair of clean pants after washing right before a shift only to find that you now have a hole in them.

Check the cuffs of your sleeves if applicable. You’re looking for stains that won’t come out and early signs of fraying.

Check your tie if you have to wear one. For guys, we have to worry about the whiskers on our neck causing pilling around the knot. We can even wear through the outer lining to expose the white batting on the inside, especially if you keep your tie knotted in the same place so that you don’t have to re-tie it every time you get dressed. And speaking of pilling, check your collars. Not only do they get pilled, especially if you’re wearing an Oxford shirt, they get the dreaded “ring around the collar”. If you don’t treat them regularly, they can become permanent.

Do your aprons still hold starch? After a lot of cleaning, sometimes they look like limp dishrags that are paper-thin. They won’t even hold a middle crease. And you have to check them for black marks that won’t come out. These sometimes occur when you brush past a garbage can or rub against the foot of a chair leg that’s upside down because it’s stacked upside down on another chair in a hallway that’s too narrow to negotiate.

How are your shoes? Do they still hold a shine? If they are tennis shoes, are they showing signs of fading? How about the sloes? Close to cracking?

Do you have spares of all of your tools? An extra winetool? An extra crumber if you use one? Plenty of pens? A couple of lighters? You’d think that since many of us now work in non-smoking places, we wouldn’t need to carry them (hell, I used to have to carry a cigar cutter). However, if you have to put a candle in a dessert, you’re going to still need a lighter.

If you find uniforms that are still “serviceable” but are approaching the end of their functional life, you should “retire” them to the “emergency uniform” category. Separate them from your daily uniforms but keep them in reserve for the day that you got behind on your cleaning or have to pick up a shift at the last moment and you don’t have any clean uniforms. If you’ve got a clean “emergency uniform”, you’re golden.

Why is it important to do this monthly check? First of all, we tend not to look all that closely at our uniforms when we’re working back-to-back doubles and long stretches of work. Second of all, if a manager notices and calls you out on a funky piece of uniform, it’s always at the time when you don’t have the money to replace it. Or you’re stuck with a sub-optimal apron when the district manager comes for a visit.

So, the best thing to do is use the end of the month/beginning of the next month as a window to really get critical with your uniform. Do this regularly and you’ll be golden.

Big milestone likely tomorrow!

Unless something really weird happens, So You Want To Be A Waiter should get its 100,000th hit tomorrow.

Thanks to all for supporting a blog that doesn’t stir up a lot of shit. I’m glad that there are people interested in waiting tables, either as waiters, kitchen people, management and customers. Hopefully we’ve all learned a few things along the way. I know that I have.

For waiters – keep slogging it out day to day. And to guests, I hope that you get a little insight as to why it’s not a brainless job that anyone can do.

Thanks again for the support!

Foodie Rant – The Coupon Tipping Blues

Finally, someone on the other side of the table discussing a thorny issue for waiters:

Foodie Rant – The Coupon Tipping Blues

by Anthony Todd

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the recent debates over Groupon and the other group-deal coupon sites. Some argue they hurt small business, some that they can save a business that is on the rocks. I don’t have a business degree, and I’m hardly un-biased – I love cheap food as much as the next customer. Despite the glitz and glamour of my foodie life (I wish!) meals still cost a lot, and it’s hard for all of us. So, I’m a regular user of many of these sites. But I tip on the entire, original bill.

Read the rest of the most excellent blog post here:

http://chicagoist.com/2010/03/26/foodie_rant_-_the_coupon_tipping_bl.php

What do you mean that he wants his steak recooked?

Next time you complain that your well-done steak is “overcooked”, just remember – this is what we waiters have to face.

Thanks to the website “Picture is Unrelated – WTF pictures and videos”.

Find more like this at http://pictureisunrelated.com/