So You Want To Be A Waiter

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“Close to open”

This is a philosophy that turns sidework somewhat on its head.

Basically, what is does is push the “restocking” part of sidework to the end of the shift instead of the beginning. In other words, instead of refilling ketchup and restocking sugar caddies and doing the things to replenish the stocks need to run a restaurant at the beginning of the shift (opening sidework) as many restaurants do, the burden is shifted to the end of the shift. This is done in some restaurants, but many restaurants do this sort of thing during the pre-opening, especially for the lunch shift, when the restaurant isn’t open to the public.

The advantage to this is pretty clear – for instance, if you refill all of the ketchup at the end of the dinner shift instead of at the beginning of the day, if you have someone call in sick for the next day’s next shift, it’s easier to get the restaurant open because you’re already “ready to open”. The disadvantage of the system is that it’s harder to get people motivated to do things when they’re ready to walk out the door and waiters would prefer to do these things at their leisure, not when they’re finishing up their last tables and trying to leave. Some waiters even come in early so that they don’t have to be rushed. 

Most restaurants are more concerned with tidying things up at the end of the shift, not restocking, but there’s a certain logic in doing things this way. The thing is, we waiters have to perform a mind shift and remember that this makes our opening duties easier and not concentrate on the annoyance of having to restock at the end of the shift when we’re also having to finish up our tables, run their reports, get our money and tidy up.

One way that management can help if they change their sidework structure from the old system to a “close to open” system is to let waiters arrive in the morning or afternoon a little later, since sidework will be less intensive at the beginning of the shift. Let’s say that the restaurant opens for lunch at 11:30am. Perhaps the restaurant has always required waiters to come in at 10:30 in order to get the restaurant open for lunch. If a lot of the restocking is done the night before, now the management can have an in-time of 10:45 or even 11:00 (the latter if it’s found that the other work and preshift can be done in 30 minutes). Of course, the closing waiter has to be more responsible for checking out closing sidework, especially in the weeks following a changeover. It can be hard to institutionalize such a change, and it’s important that everyone gets on board.

This system doesn’t benefit every type of restaurant, so it’s not a perfect system for everyone. It can be especially nettlesome if a new manager comes in having done it at his or her previous restaurant and doesn’t lay the groundwork for a smooth transition, or hasn’t considered that it’s really not a “one size fits all” sort of system and changes it before he or she discovers that it just doesn’t work so well in the new restaurant. A good GM will take a little time to evaluate how the new restaurant runs before making such a basic institutional change.

If you are confronted with such a change, try to be open to the positive aspects instead of grousing about the new burden. It’s not necessarily a bad thing…


One response to ““Close to open”

  1. Jeremy March 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I understand the wanting to get out as soon as I’m done aspect of the end of shift. The main reason I prefer stocking and sidework after shift is then I only have to cover my stuff. If I have a dead night not much has to be done at the end. If you have the sidework before shift and lunch was busy and dinner is dead you get double screwed. Plus it allows management to easily keep track of who is pulling there own weight and more.

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