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.