So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Monthly Archives: November 2010

End of month uniform check

Yep, it’s that time again.

Time to inspect your uniform from top to bottom. Look at each item with a critical eye. If you have any unserviceable item, time to wastecan it. If you have any “marginal” items, put them in your emergency pile.

You’re going to be busy for the next 30 days, but the next 3 or 4 days are usually the calm before the storm. Now’s the time to buy new shoes, stock up on socks, ties, aprons, or anything uniform associated.

Your uniform affects your mojo. Don’t let it suck the mojo out from under you.

“Hi, I’m Rusty and I’ll be your waiter. Can I bring you a nice Chardonnay”?

(Actually, Emmitt Kelly Jr. at the New York World Fair – 1964)

Review of The Deluxe Waiter Caddy

First of all, a disclaimer – I got this free. However:

First of all, it wasn’t solicited. The powers-that-be at the Waiter’s Depot, of which I have no connection, nor any prior communication with, liked my mention of their site and of the Waiter Caddy a few months back, so they offered to send me a Deluxe Waiter Caddy as a thank you. I graciously accepted and it arrived just a couple of days later. I’ll bet the timing wasn’t accidental, as we are going into prime gift-giving season, but that’s OK. That’s just good business strategy.

They didn’t ask me for a review and I wrote them back that once I got it, I’d possibly review it and they sent it anyway. There was no quid pro quo whatsoever.

When I looked at it upon taking it from the box, I was hit by a bit of an optical illusion. Being used to using check presenters, it looked wider than a standard check presenter because of its dimensions. You see, it’s almost exactly the same shape as a bistro apron or jacket pocket. In other words, it’s shorter. So, it looked wider on first glance because of its squat appearance.  But it’s not. It’s the size of a cut-down check presenter. It fits exactly in a bistro  apron pocket, except that it sticks out a millimeter or two. This is actually an advantage since it doesn’t get lost in the pocket. You’ve got something to grip as you remove it from the pocket. Nice.

This is also nice because it doesn’t dig into your waist when you bend over.

However, for me, there’s a downside with the height. I use POS tape to write my orders on and I’ve gotten used to a long, “check presenter tall” piece of register tape. I can get three to 6 tables on such a piece before I have to turn it over. Rarely do I have to go to a second piece during the night, and there are plenty of shifts where I only use one side. So, that was an initial stumbling (mental) block for me. I simply said to myself, “Self, you’re just going to normally have to cut 3 pieces of tape, ‘k”? Since the shift I was going to try it out on was slow, I only cut one piece (I only ended up with a couple of tables).

One other adaptation that I had to make was due to two factors – the first is that I prefer to write with the tape in my open book and I keep a piece of cardboard in the book to make for a nice writing surface.  And, being left-handed, I keep both the backing and the tape in the right side of the pocket and rest my writing hand sort of on the left side of the check presenter. I can’t do this with the Waiter’s Caddy for two reasons – first, as you know, most check presenters have triangle pockets on both sides, so it’s easy to choose either side to use as a writing surface and you have a lot of tape to write on before you actually have to take it out of the pocket. The Waiter Caddy is exclusively a right-handed device for this purpose because it only has a triangle pocket on the left side. And second, you’ll end up hiding two of the pockets if you put a cardboard insert under your tape. I don’t see writing without an insert because, if I put the tape on the right side and try to write on it, I’ll be writing over the back pocket and that will be uncomfortable, even though the pockets are quite thin.

UPDATE: I talked to my friend after he had a couple of more shifts under his belt and he said that it was just fine to write directly on top of the backing. He said that all he does is slide the tape up and down as needed and write on the portion that is still “in the book”. There’s enough room to write enough information for a 6 top. He said that any larger table would require moving the tape up during the order-writing process. He also said that long closed checks need to be folded over to avoid sticking out of the top of the Caddy. He also said that if you have a lot of closed checks, it gets a little difficult to add more closed checks to the bundle due to the tight-fitting nature of the pockets. He thinks that continued use will loosen them up a little, but since they aren’t gusseted or accordioned, there isn’t a lot of give. He says that the best way to deal with it is to pull the whole bundle out, add the new closed check and then reinsert the entire bundle rather than trying to squeeze another closed check in by itself. When I get the book back, I’ll check this for myself. He also said that he’s ordered one for himself, so I should be getting the book back sometime next week.

What does this mean? Not a big deal, really. I’ll adapt. I’ll be pulling the tape out and writing on the outside of the Caddy. The slight problem for me is that I won’t really have anything to rest my wrist/hand on. Depending on how annoying I find it day in and day out, this could be a deal-breaker for me.

Now that I’ve got the slightly negative stuff out of the way (well, there’s the $24.99 price tag for the Deluxe model, but a little more about that later), how about the positive?

First of all, the workmanship is top-notch. The cover will almost fool you into thinking that it’s leather. It’s embossed with The Waiter Depot logo, a tuxedo-clad penguin. The cover is stitched and the corners reinforced with brass-toned metal corners.

When you open it up, you are confronted with a red and black color scheme. The pockets are black and clear and the backing is a non-slip sort of red plastic. Here’s a picture, courtesy of Tip20!.com (the pics on the Waiter Depot site are transparent GIFs so I can’t use them:

http://www.tip20.com/

Here’s is the “standard” model ($12.99) for comparison purposes:

http://www.tip20.com/

As far as I can tell, there are three main differences, there is a pen pocket in the deluxe model (more about this in a minute), a bright red non-slip surface, and  a molded, heat-sealed outside instead of a stitched one (the cover material might be of a lesser quality, but I don’t know this for a fact).

The difference between the two is like the difference between a Cadillac and a Chevrolet. Get it? Caddy vs. Chevy?

The pocket configuration for both is the same. The left side features three pockets, the top pocket is a transparent triangle (corner) pocket. The middle pocket is also transparent and is square and the back pocket is black, curved and about three-quarters of the height of the Caddy. On the right side, it’s the same, only you don’t have the triangle front pocket. However, there is a third pocket that the left side doesn’t have – it’s a pocket at the very top of the caddy that extends the length and width of the Caddy. This is designed to hold an order pad or memo pad if you use one. Since I don’t use one, I can use it as an additional money pocket if I want.

An “additional money pocket” you ask?

Keep your shirt on, pal, I haven’t gotten to the money pocket yet. Yes, there’s a money pocket that runs on the left side of the spine. You can see it clearly in the photo of the Deluxe model.

User notes:

You get a disclaimer with the instructions. First of all, the pen pocket itself is designed for slender pens like Bics. Thick pens need not apply. Also, you aren’t intended to jam the pen all the way into the pocket. Remember what I said about the backing material being non-slip? Well, the pocket is deliberately designed to be a little small. You insert the pen only an inch or two into the pocket and it will grip the pen. This means that the first few times you use it, it’s a little bit difficult. But once you’ve taken the pen in and out a few times, it will open wide enough to be easy. What if you use fatter pens? Well, no biggie. You just put it in the spine, which is wide enough to accommodate just about any pen. It will stay put unless you open the book upside down. In fact, you might just forgo using the pen pocket, even for slender pens. Many “fat” pens have a non-slip grip themselves, so you can actually turn the book almost 75° before such a pen will slide out (I tried it with such a pen). The non-slip grip “sticks” to the non-slip red backing.

The wide spine also accommodates thick order pads and spiral memo pads.

The pockets are made from the type of plastic which appears to stay flexible, even over time. You know how some plastic gets hard and brittle? This doesn’t appear to be that sort of plastic. It’s almost “supple”. The heat-sealing on the pockets is precise and is very “high-tech” looking. The main pocket has a very elegant “embossed” edge. In fact, everything about the Deluxe Waiter Caddy screams elegance and well-crafted from a manufacturer’s standpoint. There are no corners cut or cheap materials or short cuts employed in the Deluxe Caddy, hence the price.

There are many ways that a clever waiter can configure this device. You can put multiple cheat sheets in the various pockets. If you have a clock-in card, there’s a place for it. If you have a picture of your dog, there’s a place for it. Keep copies of great tip checks? Go for it. Keep a list of your call parties or great tippers? Why not? This book will hold an inch thick worth of paperwork if you want it to, although I wouldn’t recommend jamming the pockets that thick. After all, they are plastic and they will stretch over time and become less ‘grippy” if you take out some of the paperwork. They will certainly hold dozens of slips, pics, business cards, notes, etc. If you don’t use an order pad, you’ve even got an additional full pocket, as I alluded to earlier.

About that money pocket. Put your money almost exactly as you see it in the display picture. You want to have access to it and it’s even easier if you fan it out slightly. You see, the red surface is so grippy that it makes it hard for you to get to your money if you fall for the natural tendency to put the money out of sight. It’s really hard to get to the bills and even harder to get them out once they’re in. So leave some of each of the bills showing so that you have access to them. Since I don’t use an order pad, I’ll be using the big pocket on the right to put any excess shift paper money (100 dollar bills or cash in excess of around $75) in it and just keep enough in the “money pocket” to be a bank.

At the moment, I’m not using any cheat sheets or sales aids, but I’ll probably fix that in the future.

I loaned the book to an acquaintance of mine who works at an expensive place. I wanted to get his thoughts on it.

He reported back to me that he was impressed with the look and feel. He actually thought that it was a leather cover at first! He had some of the same problems that I had in getting used to it in that, it turns out that he’s left-handed as well and also uses a POS tape. He showed it to a couple of his co-workers, both of which thought that it was pretty cool (I haven’t shown it to any co-workers myself). I asked him about how he used the book and he said that he wasn’t using any sort of cheat sheets at the moment, but that he thought that the various pockets would be useful for those, as they occasionally get printed wine lists and seasonal menu ingredient lists that are designed to go into a check presenter. I asked him if he was going to buy one and he said that he probably was.

Would I buy one? Well, I’m a cheap sumbitch so I would probably keep using check presenters. If the Deluxe model were the price of the standard model, I absolutely would, but $24.99 is a bit dear to replace something that I have about 6 of floating around the house, no matter how cool the engineering and the thought process is.

However:

I would definitely consider buying one now because The Waiter’s Depot is selling some gift combinations of the Caddies:

http://www.thewaiterdepot.com/Home.html

For the normal price of the Deluxe model ($24.99), you now get a nice Pulltap corkscrew and an aluminum crumber included. since Pulltap corkscrews usually run between $7 – 10 and crumbers are hard for some people to find, I’d definitely jump on this bargain. They have a special for the standard Caddy, but it’s not nearly as good of a deal since they add $5 to the price of the standard Caddy, which makes it only $4 cheaper. The Pulltap corkscrew is the narrow-bodied, double-hinged type that lucky waiters get for free embossed with the name of a famous winery (I have one myself), but that’s only if you happen to be friends with a wine rep, win a sales contest, or find one that another waiter has lost. And who can’t use another nice winetool?  I would definitely jump on this “Deluxe” deal while it lasts.

If you have a waiter in your life, this bundle would make a great gift. If your waiter is a significant other, make this your stocking stuffer (get him or her something really nice as your primary gift, you bonehead). Otherwise, this makes a great primary gift or Secret Santa gift for waiter friends of all stripes.

If you are the manager of a restaurant, you might want to look into buying these in bulk and either selling them to the staff or giving them to the staff as a holiday present or as a sales contest prize if your promotional budget allows. I don’t know this for a fact, but you might even be able to get your company logo embossed on the front. I’d check with The Waiter’s Depot on that. Plus, I’m sure that bulk orders get a discount. If you don’t have such a generous management, you might find out if there’s a small enough bulk order for you and your fellow waiters to get together and buy for a discount. If there’s a discount for 10 or more, maybe it’s worth getting together and buying 10 of them. I don’t know – that’s something you might check on.

There is a web site for the Caddy itself. They have a page on how to use it, which I’m sure they’ll be adding to in the future as you send in your own configuration ideas. Find the page here:

http://waitercaddy.com/Home.html

There’s even a blog and they promise bi-weekly contests and prizes.There’s also a newsletter, which I haven’t signed up for yet.

If you decide to buy one of these, please let them know that you read about it here. I have no connection with them, nor am I getting any sort of commission, but it would be nice to know that I helped someone decide to buy one.

I’m letting my friend use this book until he decides whether he’s going to order one. I’m giving him a week because I’m really interested in putting it through its paces.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the old check presenter for me. Suddenly, I don’t feel so “professional”. I want my Caddy back. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s hoping that you and yours have a great Thanksgiving.

For those of you working tonight through this weekend, don’t let your guard down. The night before Thanksgiving can be deceptively busy (at least busier than you might expect). If it doesn’t pan out, at least you’ll have been prepared.

And you’d be surprised how many people eat out the weekend after Thanksgiving. You wouldn’t expect people to want to eat a bite for days or to be living off of leftovers, but many people just want a break from the usual Thanksgiving prep work and table fare.

Also, be on the alert for overdrinkers. Know the signs for cutting someone off. You don’t want to be responsible for someone getting themself or others hurt or killed.

So keep your game faces on.

Review of How To Be A Better Restaurant Customer

How to be a better restaurant customer –  stop sabotaging your own dining experiences. 

A simple compound sentence that forms the title of a provocative eBook by Marta Daniels, who began this project as a blog. Daniels, who has been in the business for over 10 years, has seen it all and has a great storytelling sense.  Using examples that waiters everywhere have experienced time and time again, Daniels’ goal is to educate the dining public about the ways that they make waiters’ jobs far more difficult than they need to be.

Everyone complains about bad service, but they don’t realize how much of the experience they hold in their own hands. Waiters aren’t robots  that automatically turn a diner’s presence in the restaurant into a super experience.  They are bound not only by the circumstance of the restaurant but also by the behavior of the guest. I think that the average diner would be amazed about how often waiters must deal with diners who come in with chips on their shoulder. Sometimes it’s because they’ve had a bad day, sometimes it’s because they have always sabotaged their own dining experience because of the way that they were taught by their parents or by unreasonable expectations that they’ve held for one reason or the other. We as a modern American country have become a “have to have it now”, “want to change the product to suit my needs”, “the customer is always right” and”I am entitled to have things ‘my way’ ” society.

Daniels challenges that paradigm by showing ways to actually turn dining from a zero sum game into a win/win proposition. It doesn’t have to be a “I only win if you lose” or “I have to rank you lower than me to raise myself up” sort of deal. she does this through concrete examples of self-destructive psychoses that we sometimes see with the dining public. She starts at the host stand and works her way through the ceremonial paying of the check and the leaving of the restaurant.

She covers the importance of reading the menu, the abusing of free stuff like bread, the sense of entitlement that some guests have, the modifying of the menu, the coming into for dinner moments before the restaurant closes, the wage structure and tipout responsibilities of the waiter, cell phones, unattended kids, would-be comedians, delusional types (like the people who have to ask you multiple times if the kitchen can do something that you have clearly said that they can’t do) separate checks, pen stealing, and numerous other behaviors that tend to drive waiters of all stripes crazy.

I’m hoping that some people recognize some of these behaviors and gain a new understanding about how these behaviors can impact the dining experience.

I do have a couple of quibbles.

The first is that a reader can get the idea that waiters don’t have any control of their circumstances and the second is that they aren’t psychic.

 To the first, great waiters can triumph even through double-seats, kitchen going down in flames, bad management (up to a point, that is), being so weeded that they can’t see straight, kitchen meltdowns, etc. I realize that this isn’t the purview of this book, but I would have liked to see some acknowledgment that waiters have some responsibility in service, even when faced with obstacles. After all, it’s true to a certain extent that these problems aren’t the guest’s concern, that they are there just to eat and have a great experience. I’m not sure how you would fold this into the theme of the book, but I wish that Marta had tried. After all, if you read my own blog, you know that waiters have strategies that they can employ to turn a potentially distasteful dining experience into an uplifting one.

To the second point, we might not be psychic, but great waiters are mind readers to a certain extent. We read body and facial language and we have to read between the lines sometimes.  I understand Marta’s point in that, if something is important to you as a diner, then you need to be specific about it and not leave it to waiters to figure it out for themselves. If you have a certain quirk or a hot button issue about dining out that really ticks you off if it occurs, it’s best to address it with your waiter, not assume that they should know about it. I guess that I would like an acknowledgment that great waiters are psychic to a certain degree and this is one way that a guest can judge the competency of a waiter, i.e. if they ask the perfect questions in order to determine the exact nature of comments that you make. For example, if Mary M. Q. Contrary asks, “How hot is Rattlesnake Pasta?”, she might be asking for one of two reasons – she either doesn’t like hot food (the usual reason), or she loves hot food. It’s up to the waiter to ask, “What is your heat tolerance”? If the waiter assumes that’s she’s scared of hot food but it turns out that she actually loves hot food and the waiter says, “It’s quite spicy” because most people find it pretty spicy, she might very well be disappointed in the Rattlesnake Pasta that the chef has been careful to season to give the semblance of heat while being able to be enjoyed by the greatest number of people possible.

Another slightly anal quibble is the discussion of t-bone vs. porterhouse. Porterhouse is a t-bone. As she rightly goes on to discuss, it’s just a larger version of the t-bone, with the size of the filet portion of the cut and the thickness of the cut being the determining factors. Yes, it’s a “different cut” with a different name, but she misses an opportunity by making it sound like they are completely different cuts (well, technically they are, but not really, if you get my drift). Where she misses her opportunity is by not telling the guest, “We offer the Porterhouse, which is a large t-bone” and then going on to explain the difference. Instead of scolding the guest  for not wanting the Porterhouse because they want the t-bone (after all, not everyone has experienced a Porterhouse or knows what one is), she should let them know that the Porterhouse is a t-bone, a “super t-bone”, if you will. If they are annoyed that they can’t get a Porterhouse for the price of a t-bone, that’s their problem (I suspect that this might be the cause of any problems that she might have with this) They can’t get a 15 oz filet for the price of a 10 oz filet either. I don’t think that there’s enough responsibility placed on the waiter in this book, but it is written to educate the diner, so perhaps my quibble isn’t really fair when it comes to this point.

I hope that restaurant diners read this book with an open mind. The tone is one of tough love, of chiding and scolding done to emphasize the points that she’s making. that can be off-putting to some people, especially people who don’t recognize their own dining behavior. But much of this is stuff that needs to be said. There are already plenty of complaints, some richly deserved, about the level of service in the US. This book, through outlining situations that every one of us waiters have been through over and over, shows the other side of the coin.

I think that the idea is a novel one. Most of the time, when you read about restaurant service, it’s either from the aspect of improving service from the service end (like my blog), a waiter’s rant sort of blog, or critical comments from diners about the horrible experiences that they’ve had or complaining about the tipping system that has developed in the US. Daniels has found a unique angle to dining and this should be required reading for anyone who dines out in restaurants. Just understand that there is plenty of waiter ranting, but it’s done to help you, the diner, have a better experience and become a more understanding consumer.

Here’s another, possibly better, review of her book:

http://technorati.com/entertainment/article/how-to-be-a-better-restaurant/

You can get the book here:

http://howrc.com/

As of this writing, it’s available for $2.99. It’s a steal at twice the price.

                                                                                               Marta Daniels.

PS Marta, it’s tomatoes, not tomatos. But I’m not one to talk, considering how many typos and misspellings escape my careful editing of my own blog.

What accessory is the stylish waiter wearing this season?

No, not multi-colored loincloths.

Microfiber polishing cloths.

Any waiter who has had to polish crystal wine glasses using cloth napkins can attest to the iffy nature of the method. If you were lucky, you got a napkin that didn’t shed any lint. but more often than not, wiping a glass meant getting it clean first and then finding a way to get the last bits of lint off of the glass. There was an additional factor – how moist do you get the cloth? You usually have to keep a part of the napkin dry for preventing streaking because if you get it too wet, you can’t ever get the glass dry.

So this is where the microfiber cloth comes in. It usually doesn’t shed much, if any lint. It’s textured, so it seems to prevent streaking. You still have to manage the moisture, but it’s a lot easier to do. You can get a pack of pocketsized cloths for less than a buck for each cloth. If you buy a pack of ten, you can use a different cloth each day and wash the used ones together once or twice a week.

If you are really sophisticated, you can buy lens-cleaning cloths (you know, the kind that you clean glasses or camera lenses with). Like here:

These cloths are shiny and very smooth. They don’t have any texture to speak of. You can’t get them very wet or they won’t really work. but they won’t shed any lint whatsoever and they don’t streak. They won’t get really gnarly glasses clean – you know, like when the dishwashing machine is acting up and you get all sorts of baked on grit on the glasses. but with just a hair of moisture, they will eliminate those pesky water spots and they actually impart a little shine to the glasses that just can’t be beat.

They are more expensive than the “terry cloth” style microfiber cloths. and you have to make sure that you buy large enough pieces because most are cut very small to be used for glasses or camera lenses. but once you use one of these, you probably won’t ever want to go back to any other type of polishing cloth. But you won’t be unhappy with the first type of polishing cloth either.

Just make sure that you keep any polishing cloths reserved for silverware or glass polishing and don’t ever use them with actua polishing compound (or if you do, only use that cloth when using a chemical). You shouldn’t use them with Windex or anything other than straight water when polishing eating utensels. Don’t detail your car with them and then bring them into the restaurant, even if you wash them. You don’t want the aftertase to a nice glass of wine to be 2-Butoxethanol or silicone emulsions.

In the words of John Hodgman, “You’re welcome”.

Holiday season

Even though the holiday season doesn’t “officially” get started until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, many of you are already starting to feel the rumblings. Every community and restaurant has a different “biorhythm”, but typically, Halloween and cooler weather triggers an uptick in business.

The real fun of course is in December.

This is just my way of reminding you that you have to shake off the shackles of the slow season and get prepared for the crush.

How do you do this?

First off all, make sure that you don’t have any frivolous distractions. Do you have enough pens? Do you have a couple of extra corkscrews, lighters or crumbers? How is your uniform looking? You don’t need to be running to Office Max in a panic because you’ve just realized that you don’t have any working pens. Now’s the time to buy a bunch of pens. I like to keep an extra corkscrew in my car and an extra one at home. I have two spare ties, one in a locker at work and one in my car. When you’re loaded for bear, you eat the bear – the bear doesn’t eat you.

Now’s the time to get your head right. You might have gotten used to a slower pace and getting cut early. If I were you, I’d dispel any such notions from here on out. Just think of that fat wallet and it will be easy.

Stamina is key as well. Now’s not the time to get all run down, which make you susceptible to getting sick during sick season. You are in close contact with a lot of the public so you are already in a vulnerable position. Wash your hands more often then you normally would. I know better than to tell you to stop partying after work, but you might take it a little easier, or cut down on the frequency.

Make sure that you’ve got your A-game mental attitude. Employ all of your wiles to manage the weeds that you know are coming. Efficiency is the key. If you struggle with the weeds, you might go into the archives of this very blog and search for weeds. I’ve got a few posts that deal with specific strategies that you can employ.

Now is the time to salt away some money for the IRS. If you haven’t been “paying as you go” and you normally get a pretty big bill at tax time, now is the time to send them some money for 2010. You can do this by making a quarterly payment. I have a post or two that deals with taxes. do it now while you’re flush with money. Also, you can use a little of the extra money that you will surely make in November and December to pay down your debt and add to your savings. That doesn’t mean that you can’t save up for that big flat-screen TV that you’ve been pining over, but for god’s sake, think about the big financial picture. Did you know that you can reduce a 30 year mortgage by something like 12 years by only make one extra mortgage payment a year? You don’t even have to make a whole payment – anything extra that you pay will reduce the time of your mortgage if you have one. what better time to do it than when you’ve got some extra joss?

For many waiters, holiday money is 40% or more of their income for the entire year. That is crammed into around a 2-3 month period. In order to exploit this, you’ve got to be able to shoot, move and execute. this blog has some of the resources that can help you flourish.

Tell a friend.

Oh yeah, I’ve been pretty busy myself the past month or tow. This is obvious from the lack of posting, a lack that I’ve already warned you about. I haven’t had much time to read other blogs or research the restaurant industry. and I want to apologize to Marta Daniels, whose book, How To Be A Better Restaurant Customer, I promised to review about two months ago. I’m going to try to get around to it shortly. You can find it at http://howrc.com/