So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Prom Season

Every waiter hates prom season. And Easter signals the beginning of it.

Prom kids don’t have the dining experience. Prom kids can’t drink. Prom kids tend to come in in large groups and need separate checks (in couples). Prom kids don’t know how to tip.

We all know the downsides.

So, when prom season comes along, try to concentrate on the positives.

Prom kids don’t stay all that long. Prom kids usually order pretty simply and don’t need a lot of song and dance because no amount of upselling will work because they’re on a fixed budget. Prom kids are usually on better behavior because, a. they’re all dressed up and aren’t going to be really boisterous and b. they’re trying to impress their dates (both the males and the females).

A couple of things to remember – you are serving the guests of the future, especially if you’re in a high-end or high-visibility restaurant. In my restaurant, many of these are actually kids whose parents have been regulars for a long time. They send their kids to their favorite place and these are the kids that will be back in 4 – 8 years as young professionals and continue the family tradition of dining at our restaurant. I know that for most restaurants, it’s a little more random, but remember, we all dined out when we were 15 and `16 as well and we didn’t know shit either. Try to remember the Golden Rule when you dine on them. I suspect that the seeds of unruly, rude and entitled behavior that we see from grown-ups have their seeds at these formulative events.

Waiters should try not to be dismayed with the fact that they have a bunch of prom kids and let it show. You should do your best to treat them with as much respect as they can muster because you want to set the dining standard for them to follow. Be gentle and help guide them through their first, important formulative dining experiences.

A couple of things – if you charge for drink refills, for god’s sake, tell them upfront. If you don’t, they’re just going to take it our of your tip much of the time. Keep it simple – if they don’t know what a food item is, try to steer them away from it – now is not the time to try to do a lot of elaborate description of the flavor profiles or the history of the dish. Don’t assume that they’re going to tip poorly. Sure, you’ll get your share of $2 in quarters and the like. But you’ll be surprised how many of them have been coached by their parents on how to tip. Assume up front that they’re going to be separate checks. Fortunately, it’s usually pretty easy since they like to sit next to their dates. I wouldn’t even ask if they need separate checks – I just automatically do it. If you are dining on college prom kids, be very careful if they order alcohol. ALWAYS check IDs, even if they look like they’ve been going to college for 5 years.

Generally I find that prom kids are pretty polite. It’s interesting to observe them in their natural setting though. It’s fun to pick out the divas, the sports heroes, the cliques, the forced couplings, the shy ones, etc. Sometimes it’s like a real-life “Heathers” (the movie).

So, take a deep breath and grin and bear it. Remember, we were all young once. Except for me, of course. I was born old as dirt.

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4 responses to “Prom Season

  1. nativenapkin April 5, 2010 at 9:17 am

    One negative and one positive more: They always come early and fill seats that might otherwise sit empty until 7pm, but they always come on Saturday nights.

    One year when I was working at a high end steak house, I came in to find a party of 10 set in my station. Five couples, prom kids all, came in and proceeded to study the menu like it was the S.A.T.’s, then ordered nothing but sides. Baked potatoes, creamed spinach, fries and the like. No desserts, and the beverages were 10 Virgin Strawberry Daquiris.

    The next year we instituted set menus at $35 dollars per head: salad, small filet/grilled salmon and cheesecake. The bartender sandbagged pitchers of virgin daiquiris and things were a bit better. This was in Atlanta, so nobody’s mom or dad who was an attorney made a stink about “age discrimination” in making the Tots in Tuxedos order the prixe-fixe menu. Here in California you could never get away with it.

    We used to bet the over/under on how many of the girls would be wearing their hair in Up-Do’s. Gotta make a buck somehow…

    • teleburst April 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

      Always good to try to find the silver lining, even when it’s tissue-thin.

      As you point out, preparation is key to success.

  2. PurpleGirl April 6, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Oh god, thanks for reminding me. I think I’d blocked it out.

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