So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Daily Archives: March 29, 2010

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: )

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:

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.