So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Reading tables pt.2

A continuation of my post, “Reading tables, pt. 1”.

The business table. These folks are doing business first and having dinner second. Dinner is just a conduit to The Deal. Generally, people are dressed in sharp business suits. Overwhelmingly, I’d say this type of table is male. Sure, there might be a female, but I’m not being sexist to say that males like to do business at the dinner table more than women (as a group). Some of this is the continuing disparity toward males in the corporate world, but some of it is just conditioning. I’ve seen a lot of business tables in my time, but rarely have I seen four businesswomen doing deals at the table, whereas I’ve seen plenty of 4 top males at a power table. Increasingly, you’ll see more casual dress as well. The attire usually features a polo shirt with a company logo, especially if the table is in town at a convention. Some of the more hip industries like the music business or internet concerns can be quite casual in attire and demeanor but don’t be fooled. They can be just as “businesslike” as any other. Just because one of them has a fauxhawk or a tattoo sleeve or earrings, don’t make the mistake that they want to be treated like any old table. A lot of it is just trying to follow the conversation as the table gets settled. If they seem to be doing business, just mentally dress them in power suits and expensive hairdos.

There are several keys to the business table.

The first is to determine the ratio of business to simple social or networking  interaction. If it’s purely business, then you should be strictly business. They aren’t there to be entertained, they’re there to do business. If you can, sometimes it’s a good idea to ask the host “Is this strictly business or are you socializing as well”?  They might tell you, “No, this is just a get-together. It’s casual. We’ll probably talk a little business”. If this is the case, you can be more informal. Treat it like any other table, but be aware that if they shift into business talk, best to hang back. Try not to interrupt. Now is the time to make a little drinking motion with your hand and point to an almost empty drink instead of asking “Would you like another drink”? If they nod, get them another. Otherwise, feel free to conduct your service normally.

If it’s strictly business, your service should be as unobtrusive as possible. As with any even remotely business table, movements should not be flamboyant. Quiet and reserved is the best policy. Serve and remove tableware, plates, entrees and detritus with as little fuss as possible. Interrupt a conversation only whenever not interrupting would severely impact service. Always do it as low-key as possible.

Courses should follow with a reasonable pace – not too quickly or too slowly unless they tell you that they want time between courses or they want the dinner to flow quickly.

Which brings me to another suggestion. Whenever possible, ask the host how they’d like the flow of service to proceed. They’ll tell you. Also, if you’re waiting on a group that has a presentation or a mini-award presentation, be sure to ask the host if they want you to serve through any talk, presentation or other obvious business talk such as working over reports. If you are asked to serve through, try not to rattle plates, drop silverware or otherwise be a distraction.

Don’t be overly disappointed if you’ve given them outstanding service but they only tip 15%. Some of them have strict constraints from the corporate bean counters to only tip 15%. However, you’d be surprised how many 20% tips you’ll get if you do your job professionally and efficiently.

I’ve waited on tables where literally millions of dollars were being discussed. I know someone who worked at a restaurant where Bill Gates was dining with Warren Buffett (I kid you not, both were in town for a bridge convention!) According to this person (told through a third party), it was simple two people with shared interests enjoying dinner at the end of some serious bridge. Gates didn’t drink Lafite, he drank Diet Coke.  I have waited on CEOs of multibillion dollar corporations where you couldn’t tell that any business was being done at all. It might have been simply networking with others, but I never let my guard down no matter how friendly or casual it seemed. You never know what coded messages or strategizing might be going down. 

Business tables are usually good for the PPA (per person average) especially when people are in town for conventions using company plastic. They are expected to be a bit extravagant when it comes to food and drink, especially if they’re courting business. As I said, it doesn’t always translate to a nice tip percentage, but when a 4 top spends $200 at a restaurant that normally has a 4 top spending $100, a 15% tip is better than a 20% tip on the smaller bill. Try looking at it that way.

I was going to start writing about another type of table, but it’s getting late and I’m winding down after a Saturday night shift, so I guess there’s be a pat. 3 in the next day or two.


One response to “Reading tables pt.2

  1. servingyou79 July 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I just want to say that I appreciate your blog. I have been working in restaurants for many years, and have become frustrated with all of the negativity there is online regarding my chosen profession. It’s nice to see a page that isn’t filled with anger and disgust. Thanks! I’ll be adding you to my blogroll!

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