So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Splitting checks…

…is up there with hot tea as the waiter’s “Public Enemy Number One”.

But it doesn’t have to be angst-producing.

There’s little that you can do when the guest makes it unusually complicated. For instance, sometimes everyone shares appetizers but wants separate checks. Or, people want to pay 2/3rd of the bill and want to pay part of it in cash and part with a credit card. You just have to deal with these things as they come along. Because of Murphy’s law, these situations almost always arise when you don’t have time to deal with them.

But sometimes, we make it difficult on ourselves. This usually happens when we haven’t been organized.

So, the key to a successful check split is keeping things in order from the outset. Here are some ways that you can do this.

1. Keep each individual’s entire meal listed together in some form or fashion. Don’t write courses in separate areas. In other words, try to keep the entire meal grouped together for each table. I write each persons order on a single line, from appetizers to dessert (sometimes I have to use two lines, but I keep them together before going to the next position.

2. Speaking of positions, seat numbers are your friends. Use your seat positions consistently when writing orders. For some, it’s even helpful to number each position, although, for parties of 6 or less, it’s usually not necessary.

3. If you take the ladies’ orders first, leave space for the men when writing the order. I use a little tick mark to the left to give me room for their orders. It also clears a space in which to insert an order.

4. If you have people sharing dishes and they aren’t sitting adjacent to each other (for instance, they might be sitting across the table from each other), use an asterisk or a number system to tie them together. I’ve even drawn lines to connect two different positions.

5. Don’t overcomplicate things. when splitting, try to move each person’s order over completely. Try not to move everyone’s salads, everyone’s entrees, then everyone’s drinks. Different POS systems have different ways of splitting a check, so try to stick with that system instead of trying to out-think the computer.

6. Begin each table with the assumption that they’re going to split checks.

7. Use a mental trick of telling yourself that it’s a simple process. Sometimes we psyche ourselves out. Many times, splitting checks is just a mundane task, not rocket science.

8. If it turns out to be difficult, keep your head. Ask management to help you. Have a colleague take care of your tables. Let your other tables know what’s going on, if possible.

9. Ignore the fact that one of your guests has a very good chance of screwing you out of the rightful tip percentage. Sometimes, focusing on this can be a distraction, and it can certainly put a cloud over the rest of the shift. Just accept that this is a definite possibility and go on with life.

10. Suggest splitting the check evenly, especially if people have been sharing things like appetizers and wine, or it’s clear that spending has been close. The best way to do this is to say something like, “Should I split this right down the middle”? If you can get them to split the check evenly, most POS systems will let you take two payments without even splitting the check on the computer. If you don’t have to, don’t “physically” split the check. Just get a calculator and divide the final total by the number of payments, then authorize each credit card for that amount. An added advantage to this method is the reduction of closed checks that you’ll have to deal with during close-out. A couple of things to consider – first, the guests might need itemized receipts. In this case, you have no choice – you’ll have to actually split the checks. Also, you might have different types of credit cards on the check. If you are required to separate by credit card at the end of the night, you might have to reprint the check to staple the correct type of credit card to the check and if you have different types of credit cards piled up stapled to the check, your house might not allow this. Also, it can slow down your check-out procedures if you forget that you have an AMEX in the middle of a bunch of Visa receipts and you are required to total your credit card receipts by type.

11. Know the limitations of your system. If there are things that you can’t split, like coupons or comps, finding out in the middle of a split can really throw things into chaos, especially if you’re in the middle of a split. If you can’t recombine items that you’ve split back together once you’ve completed the split, this can be a distraction. For instance, you’ve split the apps 6 ways. now you have 1/6th of spinach dip on each check. You take the checks back and some bozo says, “I meant to tell you that I want to pay for the appetizer myself”. now you have to go back and move 5 items back on his or her check and reprint every check. Not cool. Obviously, there’s nothing that you can do at this point, but by knowing that you have this system restriction will remind you to try to make sure you know exactly how the guests want their check split.

12. Keep your check presenters in pivot point order. This way you can just go around the table and place the checks without having to try to figure out who gets which presenter.

13. With larger parties, ask any guests paying with cash if they need change. If they don’t, just collect their check presenters first. This reduces the number of checks that you have to juggle. If some people have their credit cards ready, go ahead and take care of them right away. It means more trips to the register, but it makes it easier to deal with a couple of credit cards at a time. Also make sure that you have a system for running the cards. If you try to wing it, you run the risk of charging the same credit card for two different charges, which means that you might be liable for the check that you didn’t apply the proper credit card to. I usually open the check presenters one by one and not move to the next one until I’ve completed the previous one, put the credit chits in the book, returned the card to the presenter, closed the presenter and set it aside. If you try to do them without having a system, an error is just lurking for you.

14. If you have a quick task to perform to another table such as getting a refill on a glass of wine, try to do it before splitting checks if possible. Try to let the table that you’re splitting know that you need to take care of that first.

15. If you know it’s going to be an easy split, tell your table, “Sure, I can split your check. It will only take a minute or two. No problem”, or words to that effect. Guests are so used to sour faces, grumbling and the like that this will make them more inclined to reward you. Conversely, if you know it’s going to be a little while, be honest with them. Tell them that it’s going to take a few minutes and ask them if there’s anything they need in the meantime.

If you follow these guidelines and adapt them to your particular situation, house policies and POS system, you’ll see splitting checks in a whole new light.

Doesn’t mean that you ever have to like it though.

There’s an app for that! Only .99 for the discerning restaurant patron.

http://www.berkoeffect.com/?p=25

Housekeeping note

The use of the term waiter on this blog is non-gender specific. It refers to both male and female food servers.

If you have a hard time thinking of a waitress as a waiter, just mentally add the -ess suffix on the end.

That is all.

Regulars

I’ve talked about regulars and call parties in the past.

They are the bread and butter of the restaurant business and waiters. They can get you through lean times and they can make your job easier (most of the time).

There is a minority of waiters that don’t care for call parties or regulars. They’d rather just wait on the regular clientele. This isn’t right or wrong, just a different viewpoint. And god help you if you get a pain-in-the-ass regular. You’re stuck with them for life. Fortunately, they are the extreme minority. Almost by definition, a regular or a call party wants you as their waiter and so, unless they are masochists or sadists, the reason that they repeat as your guest is that they like your service. Normally, this takes a lot of the pressure off of you to perform.

One thing that occurred to me as a reason for actively cultivating call parties besides the obvious ones is the shortcuts that you can take with them. Here are a couple:

1. You can usually forgo some of the corporate or management demands that you are required to do every time. Things like scripting every special. Some call parties don’t even need to hear the specials because they know what they want, or they understand what a chore it is for you (and them) to recite every special and use enticing language in order to tempt them to buy those specials. And you already know their food tendencies. If they don’t like steak, then you don’t normally have to mention the steak special. Another example of this is the stricture that you must make the attempt to sell bottled water. If you know that they never order bottled water, you can simply ask “Tap water as usual?” without worrying that they’re going to turn you in on some secret shopper report for not mentioning bottled water by brand. You have just saved a little time and Mickey Mouse requirements to hit a service point demanded by management. In fact, you’re giving them a better dining experience by not asking them every time that standard question that you are required to ask every other guest. Only an idiotic management would demand that you ignore their known wishes (this isn’t discounting the possibility that you work for such a brain-dead, anal management system though).

2. There’s a certain shorthand that you can use that you can’t use with strangers. The water and specials thing are two examples, but there are others. For instance, if they normally turn down bread, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. Once you get to know that they don’t want well vodka and they prefer Belvedere, it’s one less thing to have to fuss about (and who doesn’t like their waiter remembering their favorite drink?) You do have to be careful about this though because they might just want something different or have read about some hot new vodka in Cosmopolitan magazine. It’s always good to confirm that Belvedere is what they have their heart set on.

3. Regulars tend to tip better without you having to jump through hoops. The good tip is part of the price that they pay to have a familiar and comforting waiter serving them. You are a known quantity and so they don’t have to worry whether they are going to get decent service. They already know how well you perform.

4. And this segues into regulars generally being more understanding when you’re having a bad night (as well all do from time to time) or when the kitchen might not be performing up to snuff. This doesn’t mean that you get an automatic pass to be lackadaisical or slipshod, but they will generally be more patient when you explain that the bar is getting slammed and it’s taking longer than usual to get their drinks. This is because they can believe you and know that you’re not just making excuses because they’ve seen your normal time standards. With a waiter that they’ve never dealt with before, they don’t know whether the waiter is just blowing smoke up their asses or not.

To sum up, the more seamless and personal you can make the service without having to perform the normal server manual song-and-dance, the better opinion the regular will have of you and your establishment.

The regular is your friend, in more ways than one.  Unless you are one of those minority who’s just uncomfortable with waiting on the same people over and over, you should try to cultivate every reasonable table to ask for you when they dine.

I know one waiter who literally makes around $10k a year from a diner he waits on once or twice a week.

Not bad.

My Labor Day observations backed up by “More Bread, Please”

http://morebreadplz.blogspot.com/2010/09/asshats-rated-pg-13.html#more

Yes, another restaurant slammed the Sunday night before Labor Day. Here’s where most people get it wrong:

“Started off SLLLOOWWW, which was to be expected as it is the night before labor day and we have been having some AWESOME weather lately, so we all figured that people would be out at the lake rather than sitting in the restaurant trying to shove fish down their mouths.  We figured wrong”.

“By 7pm, we were wall to wall.  Not a wait, but a steady stream of folks that would be come in right as you thought you were done for the night”.

It’s logical, but fallacious. I discussed the realities that undermine that assumption in this post from last year:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/labor-day/

“But don’t get fooled. Remember what I said about the day before a major vacation – it’s often times busier than you might expect. As the day before Labor Day always falls on a Sunday, a day that is traditionally already a bit slower than most, it’s easy to get lulled into a sense of false security. One thing about the Sunday before Labor Day, it can surprise you. This is because some people have family and friends who travel in to participate in the hallowed Labor Day Cookout. Because the grand feast happens the next day, some of these folks will go out the night before because they want someone else cook for them and they want to start their Labor Day in an institutional social setting. And the hosts like to be distracted from all of the prep work that they’ve done prior to The Cookout.”

I was going to post again about this subject before Labor Day this year, but forgot. I’ll try not to make the same mistake next year. I always go into the Sunday night before Labor Day expecting to be busy. Last year, it was busier than anyone expected (except me, of course) and yet, due to a vindictive manager who isn’t around anymore because he was caught stealing, I only made around $90 while all around me made good money. I’ve never talked about this particular manager on the blog, a manager who admitted privately to others that he deliberately screwed me over whenever he could, but, guess what? He’s gone, disgraced, and I’m still standing. He cost me literally thousands of dollars, but sometimes waiting out a situation like that can be rewarding.

Finally, I would have commented about my Labor Day post at More Bread, Please, but there’s a problem – if you want to comment, you’re automatically logged in under your Facebook name. As I choose to be anonymous, that’s a non-starter.

Anyway, I think I’m going to post one of my “change of seasons” posts quarterly because I think that waiters need to be mentally prepared for those times where the restaurant gets kick-started out of its routine.

Viognier

It’s French., It’s sexy. It’s a rising star. It’s Viognier.

Pronounced “vee own yay”. it’s a white varietal that has long been famous in Europe, especially for it’s use in Condreau, one of the more exotic French whites. I say “exotic” because it’s flavor profile is different from the typical Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio-based wines that Americans have become accustomed to. If there’s a white grape that most closely resembles it in terms of flavor notes, I’d say that it’s Riesling, although Riesling is sweeter than Viognier. Viognier is usually described as “perfumey”.

Viognier at its best produces a floral, rich-tasting wine. It’s not done as often in an oaky style because oak can deaden the wonderful floral, tropical fruit and spice notes, but there are Viogniers that feature oak flavors.

Due to the increasing US consumer’s expanding interest in wine and a desire to get away from the usual suspects, Viognier is on the upswing here in the States. This is a good thing since Viognier almost vanished from the wine world back in the 60s. Not only has it made a bit of a comeback in France, where only a relative handful of acres were devoted to Viognier plantings, it’s starting to make a foothold in California.

Like Pinot Noir, it’s a fussy and hard-to-grow grape. If proper care isn’t taken, it can produce a flat, somewhat flabby wine. But when it’s done correctly, it produces a full-bodied white with such floral notes as apple blossoms, violets, honey, honeysuckle, jasmine and roses, spicy notes such as mint, tobacco (!), anise and vanilla, and unctuous fruits like guava, earthy fruits like pears and apricots and tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. As you can see, it shares some of the flavor characteristics of Riesling, but without the sweetness. There are two other things that it shares with Riesling and those are it’s luscious, oily mouthfeel and nose. When oak is employed, it’s often of the more “buttery” kind.  These characteristics can move a guest who likes the “fruitiness” of Riesling to the drier and more food-friendly Viognier.

So, what do you pair with Viognier?

They go well with salad-based dishes.  They are one of the few wines that pairs well with Oriental food, especially spicy Thai dishes, and they pair well with coconut spicy curries (I don’t find it as good of a match with Indian-style curries, but that’s a personal choice). They go well with fatty white fish like sea bass and halibut. And they are marvelous with fruits and fruit sauces.

We’re starting to see dessert wines made from Viognier. Since Viognier isn’t particularly susceptible to boytritis, growers usually rely on late-harvesting and manipulation in order to produce a sweet product.

Viognier doesn’t produce a wine conducive to aging. It should usually be drunk within 3 to 5 years because it tends to lose it’s “perfumey” character.

We’re increasingly seeing Viognier used in blending with Chardonnay because it brings a lot of freshness to the sometimes overbearing qualities of Chardonnay. It’s also used in exotic blends like Conundrum (I only suspect this since they don’t really list their varietals).

I’m not going to recommend any particular wines since it’s likely that if you’re even lucky enough to have Viognier on your wine list, you’ll only have one or two to choose from. The best thing to do is to buy a couple of them from your local wine store and get familiar with the flavor profiles. Or perhaps you could convince management to do a tasting.

It’s time for you to add Vigonier to your wine palette.

Image courtesy of http://wine.appellationamerica.com/

A waiter joke

Q: How many waiters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. We’ll never know. You can never find them because they’re out back having a smoke.

Yeah yeah, I know…my day job is safe (for the moment). At least it’s original…

Change of seasons

We are now on the cusp of a new season. This has implications on several levels for waiters.

The main one is the effect of seasons on the guest. This drives everything from eating habits to dining patterns to mood.

Eating habits change. This drives culinary offerings in restaurants that have seasonal menus as well as altering the ordering patters of the guest. The restaurant might have a consistent menu mix but even those restaurants find diners choosing different items and some of this is location dependent. If a location is in a place that has an oppressive summer weather, the guest naturally chooses lighter fare like fruit based dishes, fish instead of steak, lighter wines. As the weather starts to cool down, they start choosing heartier fare, which culminates in lots of rich, comfort food by mid-winter. Wines gradually move from things like crisp sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs to big, oaky chardonnays and chewy dense cabernets and rustic, spicy and bold zinfandels.

The change of seasons also changes dining patterns. Each change of season is accompanied by big holidays or events that change the frequency of dining. Whether it’s parents dealing with sending kids back to school around the time of the big blowout farewell to summer, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving signalling the true beginning of fall, or Memorial Day triggering the desire to cook out or hit the lake, the change of seasons is the kick in the butt to the complacency that the day to day drudgery of waiting tables engenders. The change of seasons also falls in line with the start of various pro sports seasons and this can impact reservations both positively and negatively, especially for those cities lucky enough to have sports franchises. 

So what’s a waiter to do?

Now’s the time to acknowledge that change is coming. Some of you have already noticed it. This isn’t the time to let your guard down or rely on the status quo. If you are counting on a certain level of income and the guests stop coming for a week or two while they get their kids in school, you’ll be for a big shock.

Now is also the time to use your menu knowledge to your advantage. If you can get in sync with the guest’s internal rhythms, you can show yourself almost on an unconscious level that you are creating the perfect dining experience for the guest. You’ll find your suggestions flowing instead of fighting the impression that you are just trying to sell the guest something. You are trying to sell the guest something – the perfect culinary experience. You start using your wine and alcohol knowledge to the advantage of both you and the guest. For instance, when someone asks you for a beer suggestion in the middle of a humid summer, instead of randomly picking a beer or your own personal favorite, you steer the guest toward a summertime perennial, wheat beer instead of a Guinness. Of you discuss the advantages of choosing that violet-scented viognier that you have never been able to sell in the past. It’s all about matching food and drink to the climate.

See the change of seasons as an opportunity and a challenge. By staying in tune with the seasons, you force yourself to stay current on your menu and alcohol knowledge. You fine-tune your knowledge of the flow of your restaurant. Most restaurants are fairly predictable in terms of ebb and flow. It might not be totally congruent year day to year day, but patterns emerge over time. It’s almost like the restaurant has a unique biorhythm. This is one argument for staying with one restaurant instead of bouncing around, trying to find the new hot restaurant. The longer you stay with a restaurant, the more you can deal with the natural ups and downs of a particular place.

The seasons are your friend, but only if you embrace them.

 http://verydemotivational.com/category/motivated-photos/?id=60941

Happy Labor Day!

For those of you who are lucky enough to have restaurants that close for Labor Day, enjoy the fruits of your labor. For those of you who still have to work, I hope that you have been lucky enough to be compensated with an extra day off sometime during this Labor Day weekend.

I meant to post about having to work the Sunday night before Labor Day because it’s such a tricky night, but I forgot. Even managers get sucked into a false sense that it’s going to be slow, but waiters can be lulled to sleep thinking it’s going to be slow. Logic dictates that if Sunday is normally slow, the day before Labor Day will certainly be even slower. After all, everyone’s going to be cooking out and partying on Monday. Who wants to eat out when they’re having to prep for a full day of stuffing faces?

Well, dear reader, logic fails if you don’t consider that Labor Day is a big travel weekend. People fly in to rejoin their friends from far-off places. Who wants to cook for them the night before the big cookout? People who travel are hungry and a restaurant is a good stopping off point on the way home from the airport. Parents fly in to visit their kids off at school and they enjoy the opportunity to take the spawn out to dinner. People like to turn the cooking duties over to the pros to give them some relief from all of the pre-cookout prep and concerns. And finally, this is the time when people make last-minute, spur-of-the-moment decisions to “grab a bite to eat”. So, restaurants which get most of their covers from reservations don’t see a lot of early names on their books.

When you take all of these factors into account, the Sunday prior to Labor Day often comes as a big surprise to novices as well as seasoned vets.

That’s why I wish I had posted a caution before last night.

I hear you saying, “Well, big boy, you sound smart now“. I’ll bet you got rocked last night and now you’re pretending to be really smart. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Well, you’re right. We did get rocked last night. We started with about 35 covers at the end of Saturday night and ended up with 140 by the end of the night! Normally, we’d finish with about 60 – 80 if we started with 35. We even had one less than our normal Sunday crew of 7 servers, so you can imagine that we were relatively very busy. Of course, I knew that we were going to be busy, so I wasn’t blindsided, but the manager that did the schedule didn’t look at historical figures, I guess. The MOD realized that it was going to be busier than usual since we had gone from 35 to about 70 during the afternoon leading up to pre-shift. But even he was surprised at what we ended up with. We doubled that figure by the end of the night.

But you would be wrong if you think that I’m just posting this info based on hindsight.

For evidence, I give you this post from last year:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/labor-day/

While you should read the whole post, and the other post that references the coming last quarter of the year,

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/getting-into-holiday-mode/

here is the part that should make me look like a genius:”

“But don’t get fooled. Remember what I said about the day before a major vacation – it’s often times busier than you might expect. As the day before Labor Day always falls on a Sunday, a day that is traditionally already a bit slower than most, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. One thing about the Sunday before Labor Day, it can surprise you. This is because some people have family and friends who travel in to participate in the hallowed Labor Day Cookout. Because the grand feast happens the next day, some of these folks will go out the night before because they want someone else cook for them and they want to start their Labor Day in an institutional social setting. And the hosts like to be distracted from all of the prep work that they’ve done prior to The Cookout.

So, if you’re working Sunday, don’t assume that it will be dead. It might very well be, but if you go in anticipating better, you won’t be caught flat-footed”.

So, note to self, “Make sure that you post this warning next year to warn your fellow waiters that might have to work pre-Labor Day Sunday night”.

BTW, I walked with $325.

And didn’t get out of the restaurant until after midnight. We normally close at 10pm and do our last seating around 9:30. I got three tables at 9:45, only one of which was on the books (for 9pm).

So that reminds me of something that I failed to mention – be ready for uncharacteristic late tables. I’ve noticed that in the past as well. I think it might be related to travel.

And speaking of The Waiter’s Depot…

…we’re adding them to our blogroll. They have some well-chosen items for sale and I suspect that they’ll be adding more as time goes on.

Tell a friend about them and let’s welcome them to Ye Olde Blog Roll with a hearty, “Can I get that delivered overnight”?

I wanted to use their penguin waiter logo to represent them here, but it’s just a transparent GIF. So I give you this slightly scary penguin restaurant image (from Freakingnews.com):

Waiter’s Caddy

Our friends at Tip20! have just highlighted the new Waiter’s Caddy, in Deluxe or Standard version (the main difference that I can see is that the Deluxe has a spot for your pen). The Waiter’s Caddy is an exclusive product of the Waiter Depot. The folks at Tip20! have a thorough description and photos, so, to read about it and see it, go here:

http://www.tip20.com/waiter-caddy-table-side-innovation-that-every-server-should-have/1195

It’s a bit pricey, but many of you will find it invaluable. I’ve seen some “solutions” that are unwieldy, such as mni accordion holders (miniature versions of the accordion file folders that many of us use for our household documents. Some waiters like them, but I find them fussy and bulky.  The Waiter’s Caddy follows the form of a check presenter. If you go to Tip20!, you’ll get several shots of it as well as a link to The Waiter’s Depot.

When you pair it with this belt-clipped $2.99 “Lighter Leash”, also available carbabiner style for an extra buck:

and add this cool Corkscrew Holster, currently marked down almost 50% to $5.95 from $11.95:

you’ll be the envy of all of the other waiter kids on the block. Imagine, no more digging around in pockets for winetools. No more wads of cash just ready to be lost. Imagine being able to zip a lighter off of your belt for instant birthday candle action! You’d be like a gunslinger! Now, all you need is a Bluetooth link to the kitchen and an iPad ordering system and you’ll be a Bladerunning cyborg waiter.

Just so you know, I have no connection with The Waiter Depot, either personally or financially. Of course, feel free to tell ’em who sent ya!

Now here’s the kind of Waiter’s Caddy that I really like:

If you like this, go here:

http://www.ebuyheaven.com/home-and-garden/housewares.php

I especially like the kitschey waiter salt and pepper set further down the page.