So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Serving the business dinner pt. 1

I’ve discussed this before, but it seems appropriate to delve into it again.

There are a couple of variations on the business dinner.

The first is the small non-business business dinner. This would be your standard table of business types (up to about 6 – 8 people). This is a gathering of people with shared business dinners just getting together for a social dinner. There will be some business discussed, but mostly in the context of work-related conversation, much like we as waiters do when we gather for post-shift drinks. Lots of shop talk, but little actual business done.

This table is treated just like any other table. while they might all be dressed in Armani suits, they aren’t needing any special consideration. However, it can be helpful to identify the “host” or the alpha male/female. They might be the one to either order the wine or identify the person who’s considered the “wine geek” of the table. However, you shouldn’t play to this person to the exclusion of the others because you’d be surprised how many times someone who you didn’t expect actually pays the check.

This brings up an important point about every table. You should give everyone equal attention. You never know if someone who you don’t suspect ends up paying the check after all. I can’t tell you how many times it’s an administrative assistant or other diner who ends up paying because they have the corporate card and perform the task of paying the bill in lieu of “The Boss”. It’s almost like “The Boss” isn’t bothered with such mundane things like paying the bill.

How do you find out if the event is a social one? Simple. You ask up front. If it appears to be business-related, you ask someone who appears to be in control if it’s a business dinner and if you need to serve them in a particular way. If they say, “We’re just getting together; we don’t have any special needs”,  then it’s full speed ahead with the normal service steps. If they say, “We’re going to discuss some business, so we’re not in any big hurry”, or “Yes, we’re going to need some time before/after the entrée to discuss some things”, then you proceed to:

The small business dinner.

This requires restraint on your part. Interrupting conversations to inquire how everything is is not a good thing. You almost have to throw out the service steps book and rewrite it. the main thing is to make sure that they get cocktails/drinks quickly. Once you do that, take a step back and observe them. If the menus remain untouched and they seem into heavy conversation, simple cruise them periodically to look for signs that they are starting to lose interest in business/cocktail hour behavior and getting interested in food. This could mean a couple of them picking up menus, snatches of conversation about the cuisine, looking around, etc. Many times, business colleagues like to discuss business over cocktails and this is where some important business sometimes gets done,  so it’s not as important to sell apps or script specials. Wait until the time is right.

Hopefully, you got an idea about how they want the pacing of the meal to go when you asked them your initial question. Just remember that you have to be flexible and intuitive. If you notice them shifting from business to hunger, be ready to suggest an appetizer. If they go for it and don’t ask about the specials, the best thing to do is to get an appetizer order, ring it in and then return to the table to talk about the specials. Try not to do it all at once if you can. Reciting the specials gives you the chance to fill some time while you’re waiting for the appetizers to arrive. However, if you tell them about the specials and then ring in the appetizer because they’ve asked about them, you can always fall back on taking the entrée order while you’re waiting.

One optional thing that you can do, which requires an additional step on your part is to suggest that you take the menus away and bring them back after the appetizer. Juggling menus while trying to eat appetizers can be awkward, especially when they’re wearing thousand dollar suits. of course, this holds true for any table, but it’s especially true in this instance.

One key thing to remember is that people talking business can be incredibly focused. We waiters can feel uncomfortable when we are excluded from interacting with the table. Try to repress this by remembering that they don’t need your “entertainment” or “service”. They are focused on themselves. If they spend 20 minutes over drinks, it’s not like a normal table being stuck with drinks for 20 minutes while they’re waiting for you to return to talk about appetizers. However, you do need to continue to monitor them because these sorts of folks can shift quickly from business to dinner.  Just watch for the signs that I mentioned.

You need to give business tables their time and space. If you are in a restaurant where you are concerned about turning tables quickly, you should simply write them off as a candidate for flipping. Normally, business tables spend more money anyway, so don’t begrudge them their time. They usually aren’t concerned with the cost of the meal and some business tables spend a lot of money because a. it’s not their personal money to begin with and b. sometimes they are expected to spend a lot of money to achieve a business goal.

This brings up a good point. Now is not the time to worry about suggesting a big wine or upscale liquors. I wouldn’t pick the most expensive bottle on the list, but I’d definitely start at the upper end. It’s always good to have a go-to pricey wine in the major varietal categories. make it something that you know well and are comfortable in selling, and would be comfortable in buying yourself if money is no object. It’s easier to sell something that you believe in.

Finally, don’t necessarily expect 20% even in the face of flawless service, even if you usually get it. It’s probably not you, it’s probably a company guideline.

In part two, we’ll talk about the large business function (Christmas party, awards dinner, pharmaceutical dinner, etc.).

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