So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Quick tip – shiny shoes

If you have black shoes that are supposed to be highly shined, you can make them really shiny by rubbing on some olive oil. Extra virgin is the best (just kidding!)

Personally, I would only do this in a pinch as olive oil is organic and could be become rancid over time.

Army people know about cheating with Future floor wax. It mimics a really deep mirror shine. The downside to it is that it builds up and cracks over time.

The only way to get a really good mirror shine that holds up over time that I know of is the time-tested spit shine. A great spit shine looks like patent leather. While some military people love doing it, for most, it’s the bane of military life, mainly because it takes some practice and a lot of time.

Basically, what you do is get an all-cotton diaper and wrap it around the tips of your fingers. You get some Kiwi black shoe polish in the can and spit into the lid. You dip your diaper-covered fingers into the spit (very lightly) and rub the moistened tips of your fingers on the surface of the wax. You then swirl the damp wax on the shoe in a circular motion until the color on the diaper goes from black to gray. I like to huff on the shoe as a last step and give it a light buff with a clean part of the diaper. You repeat this as many times as necessary until you can see your face in the surface. For a new shoe, it can take 15 or 20 light coats to get this sort of reflectivity (hence, a lot of elbow grease and time). One you get the mirror shine, all it takes is a pass or two every day to maintain it.

As an alternative, I sometimes spit on the surface of the wax. It’s important not to use too much “water”. Once again, this is a “feel thing”.

It takes some practice to get the ratio of wax/spit/pressure. If you rub too hard, it doesn’t work very well. Too light and the layers don’t seem to build. Fortunately for us waiters, we don’t have a Drill Sergeant or Company Commander ragging us on the depth and level of our shine. Even a half-assed spit shine will put you heads and shoulders above everyone else (unless they cheat and wear patent leather shoes).

For a more detailed look at this process, here’s a good tutorial, designed to help a cadet achieve shiny goodness:

http://www.cadetstuff.org/how_to/200201_elliott_bulling.htm

One takeaway from this tutorial is that you start with a lot of polish and gradually cut back. With an unshined shoe, the first few layers can be pretty crude. You’re just trying to get a good base of black. As you start to see the shine develop, you use less and less polish and less and less pressure until you are almost just kissing the shoe with the tips of your fingers. One other piece of advice that I didn’t know is that you should use regular Kiwi instead of the more expensive and cool sounding “Parade Gloss”. Even though it sounds like you’ll get a better shine, apparently it builds up paraffin over time.

If you want a mirror shine on your shoes, it will take hours of time. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all at once since you don’t have a 6am uniform inspection tomorrow morning to worry about. If you spend about 10 minutes a day, by the end of the week, you’ll have a pretty deep shine that you can be proud of. After a couple of weeks, you’ll be shaving yourself using your shoes as a mirror. The neat thing is that maintaining a shine that has gotten to that point only takes about a minute or two a day once you get all of the layers set.

Do my shoes look like that? Are you fucking nuts? But it’s got me wanting to get them there so I”m going to start tomorrow. I promise.

Photo courtesy of http://secretlifeofletisha.com/2010/05/27/spit-shine/

You know you’re a foodie when…

…you’re watching Tony Bourdain in Vienna and you say, “He’s drinking out of a Spiegelau wine glass! It’s an “Authentis” Burgundy glass! Why is he drinking white wine out of it? And hey, I’ve even got one of those glasses”!

That’s when you say to yourself, “Have I’ve gone too far? Am I a lost boy”?

That’s on top of me going to a new Vietnamese restaurant this afternoon and being disappointed with the  Bánh mì sandwich and the vermicelli dish that you find in most Viet restaurants (you know the one – it’s got cut up pieces of spring roll, cilantro, grated carrots, “BBQ pork”, ground peanuts and a side bowl of sweetened fish sauce. First of all, the Bánh mì barely had any crunchy bits like cucumber and carrots, and had some very stalky cilantro stuck in the middle. The pork was the requisite reddish color but had hardly any flavor. Plus, it wasn’t even cut in the middle. Sad. Then, the vermicelli dish had some sad bits of cilantro and a sprinkling of carrots and almost indiscernable cucumber, the fish sauce tasted more vinegary than sweet, and the spring rolls were basically Chinese spring rolls (I don’t know what makes them different, but the Vietnamese spring rolls you usually find in the dish are far more succulent and tasty). But the final insult was the fact that the vermicelli was overcooked and comprised most of the bowl instead of having a good ratio of noodles to “good bits”. Oh wait, I forgot – I had to send back the lemonade because it was a commercial mix  instead of that really good “homemade lemonade” that you find in a good US Vietnamese restaurant. Hell, it even said “homemade lemonade” on the menu. I told my waiter that it tasted like Countrytime and she told me that it was actually Minutemaid.

I turned into one of those passive-aggressive diners that we waiters all hate, only I dropped the “aggressive”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the very nice, accommodating waiter that it wasn’t her fault but her restaurant’s cuisine sucked eggs. I was hard enough for me to send the flipping lemonade back ($2.75 – are you kidding me??!!??)

I feel badly because I won’t be going back, especially since there are three good Vietnamese restaurants within 3 blocks of there. I feel especially bad because I didn’t have the heart to tell my waiter. I’m a baaaaddd diner.  But even worse, I feel weird that I had such emotions over a $10 lunch. I guess that makes me a foodie of sorts – a foodie on a budget.

God, somebody please help me…

Pet Peeve

Unnecessary doubleseats.

Don’t get me wrong – doubleseats are part of the routine. Waiters should be able to handle them when they occur. Hell, I’ve posted quite a few strategies about handling them.

What annoys me is when managers or hosts or hostesses doubleseat when they don’t have to. The mindset is that waiters should be able to handle any doubleseat and that’s true enough.

However…

…a doubleseat should actually be a last resort.

Why, you might ask. Well, it’s simple. It’s automatically offering worse service than if you didn’t get doublesat. Even though it goes smoothly most of the time, you can’t give your full attention to each table, especially at the beginning of the meal. Plus, it sets you up for getting doublesat all night long.

What happens if one (or both for that matter) table is especially talkative? What happens if one of your tables needs special attention such as helping with wine selection or having to serve two or more wines?

And imagine if you get a third or, god forbid a fourth table on top of the doubleseat before you even get the first two’s orders taken?

Despite the fact that waiters should be able to handle double-and-tripleseats, managers need to change their mindsets and stop thinking that “it doesn’t matter”. Managers should avoid doubleseat until there is no other clear choice. About a month ago, I actually got doublesat as the first two tables in the entire restaurant at the beginning of a shift. While it was no big deal in terms of service, that meant that there was no real sense of rotation. Our restaurant doesn’t get sat in any sort of real rotation since we have more than our share of call parties and regulars who have to sit at a particular tables. But really guys – can’t you think a little bit before you seat the first two tables in the same sections? Really?

Sometimes hosts and hostesses and other seating authorities have to move someone who doesn’t like their table. This can throw off the rotation, but the seater should be flexible and be able to figure out how to get the rotation back.

Most of the time, it’s just laziness. As I said, it’s the manager’s mindset that waiters should be able to handle doubleseats so they don’t bother to demand that their hosts and hostesses or they themselves prevent it from happening. When it gets busy, you don’t have much of a choice. But when you have 10 waiters and three of them get doublesat before the restaurant is even half full, you’re just setting people up for failure and you’re being slack in your responsibility to provide the best service that you can.

Managers, are you listening?

For waiters, here is an archive post about handling multiple tables:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/managing-the-weeds/

And this post has a description of the sort of paces that you get put through when getting double-and-triplesat and some more strategies about handling such situations:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/skills-a-server-needs-pt-1/

Picture: http://magnitudemedia.net/2010/04/bringing-social-media-into-a-restaurant-time-grid/

Article on tipping out from The Orlando Sentinel

Waiters can keep the change – but not all of it

By Sandra Pedicini, Orlando Sentinel

12:28 a.m. EDT, March 14, 2011

When you leave your waiter or waitress a tip, chances are they don’t keep all of it.

It’s common in the restaurant industry for servers to share part of their tips with other workers, sometimes voluntarily, but often because they have to.

But many workers have balked at what they describe as unfair tip-sharing policies, and some have sued. Starbucks, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse and Orlando-based Hard Rock Café International are among companies that have faced lawsuits.

Restaurant workers often depend heavily on tips because in many states, employers can take “tip credits” and pay regularly tipped employees less than minimum wage — in Florida, as little as $4.23 per hour.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-law-and-you-tip-sharing-20110313,0,1299262.story

Tipping out is something that most waiters grudgingly tolerate. Afterall, we are told upfront what we are required to tip out. Problems generally occur when tipout policies change, and several companies who have changed their policies are discussed in the article, mainly because their staff went to court against them.

In states where there is no “tip credit”, i.e. hourly wage is at least minimum wage such as Oregon, there really aren’t too many restrictions that can be made to the tipout. Kitchen personnel are often part of the tip pool in those states. In states that have a tip credit, or allow sub-minimum wage, tipouts are restricted to personnel who directly serve the public.

As much as I respect the work that line cooks and dishwashers do, I’m against the mandatory sharing of tips with them. Their positions are production positions and they are paid a commensurate hourly wage. While they generally make less than waiters overall, they also get raises periodically and have the benefit of a steady and predictable income. And, while generosity is a good thing, I also don’t like the idea of voluntarily sharing tips with them, only because it sets up the possibility of unfair delivery of the food. It’s only human nature to wash the hand that feeds you and it feels a bit like extortion to be forced to pay to get your food in the order that it was sent to the kitchen, or to have someone who’s greasing the kitchen get a better plate than someone who isn’t.  Having said that, if a waiter ever goes out for drinks with a kitchen person, I feel like they should buy at least a couple of drinks for the kitchen person, if not pick up their tab. After all, it’s a fact that waiters generally make more money than kitchen personnel. And they work very hard under hot and dirty conditions. Of course, they are doing what they want to be doing and many of them are working toward the goal of being a chef one day. Waiters really don’t have any upward mobility in their profession, except to work at another restaurant that offers a higher tip income.

Most tipouts take between 15 – 40% of a waiter’s tips. The average that I’ve seen is more like 25 – 35%. Many waiters, including myself, usually grease our backwaiters a little extra as well.

Tipouts can be done two ways – they can be based on sales or they can be based on tips. My current job is the first that I’ve had that has based it on tips, and I definitely prefer that way. That way, everyone benefits or suffers from how well the guest pool has tipped. With sales, you’re stuck at a percentage regardless of how great or poor the overall tip percentage has been. I guess I understand the idea behind tipping on sales. You don’t want the possibility of a waiter hiding cash tips from his or her support staff. But I highly encourage restaurants to consider basing the tipout percentage on tips, not sales. It’s a much fairer system. A waiter can’t complain that they’re tipping out on a stiff.

Anyway, I’ve discussed tipout in the past. If you want to revisit the topic, go here:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/15/tipout-pt-1/

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/tipout-pt-2/

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/tipout-pt-3/

One bit of disturbing “news”, if you will; something that was discussed in pt. 2. The Department of Labor used to have “fact sheets” on how tipped employees are treated. Those fact sheets have disappeared from the DoL website. Here is what it said about tipping out:

“Tip Pooling: The requirement that an employee must retain all tips does not preclude a valid tip pooling or sharing arrangement among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls and service bartenders. Tipped employees may not be required to share their tips with employees who have not customarily and regularly participated in tip pooling arrangements, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors. Only those tips that are in excess of tips used for the tip credit may be taken for a pool. Tipped employees cannot be required to contribute a greater percentage of their tips than is customary and reasonable”.

I don’t know if they have just changed the website and haven’t added the old worksheets back in, or whether because of states like Oregon that specifically allow kitchen employees to share in the tip pool, they can no longer make that statement. And, with other court rulings that have impacted on tipouts, perhaps the governance of tipouts is in flux now. Therefore, it’s best to discuss with your local Wage and Hour people or with a local attorney that specializes in labor law what the current thinking on tipouts is if you have concerns about how your tipouts are being handled.

Article on tipping pre or post-tax from The L.A. Times

Tip suggestions on receipts usually are after-tax, but is that fair?

Even some restaurant owners are surprised to find the recommendation is typically calculated based on the total including tax. That flies in the face of etiquette advice.

August 03, 2010|David Lazarus
Glendale resident Lee Lanselle ate breakfast the other day at the Hill Street Cafe in La Cañada Flintridge. As he waited for his credit card receipt, he worked out the tip in his head.

The receipt arrived and Lanselle was surprised that his estimate of a 15% tip was less than the “suggested gratuity” printed on the form. A closer look revealed that the recommended tip on the receipt included the full amount of the meal, including taxes.

<snip>

Read the rest of the article here:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/03/business/la-fi-lazarus-20100803

Basically, the article goes on to cite etiquette books as saying that tips should be pre-tax.

I’m probably going to piss off fellow waiters by saying that I understand this sort of thinking. If a tip is clearly tipped on pre-tax (by clearly I mean an “exact” percentage like 15 – 20%), it doesn’t bother me at all. As a matter of fact, years ago, my mom asked me, “Why should I tip on the tax”? I answered, “I don’t know, but it’s not very much difference, and your son is a waiter, so why don’t you just tip on the final amount”? After that, she always tipped on the final total.

Not everyone has a son or daughter who is a tipped employee, so I understand the reluctance in tipping on tax. If you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for a large bill. However…

…one advantage of tipping on the post-tax total is that it’s a little easier to tip on the final total, since that’s the total that’s reflected on the credit card bill (when paying with a credit card, of course). Also, not every restaurants shows all of the taxes that are paid, because some of the tax is included in the price of alcohol (my restaurant actually breaks it out, but it’s the exception, not the rule). Considering that the tax usually only adds between $.50 – 2.00 to the tip, it seems to me to be easier to simply use the bottom total. Of course, there is self-interest involved, so I can’t claim to be a neutral observer.

There’s another factor as well – believe it or not, I’ve found that the majority of people actually tip on the final total. When the bill is, say $60, generally I’ll get a $12 tip, assuming that the service has been fault-free. Sometimes I’ll get $9 even if the service has been impeccable, because some people only tip 15% regardless of how stellar the service has been. I rarely get $11 or $8.25.  I think that people are just used to looking at the total on the credit card. Obviously, I’m just fine with that. Having said that, it doesn’t bother me when I get one of the latter tips, since people sometimes find a way to “round down” as well. Every waiter knows all too well that if you have a check for $59, sometimes people will tip as if the bill was $50 instead of $60. So, I might get $10, with the guest thinking that they still tipped 20%.

So the waters get muddied if you aren’t tipping on the total amount.

Is that a reason to tip on post-tax? I’m not convinced that it is. However, if you really want your waiter to know the exact percentage that you’re tipping, tipping on the final total is a good way to ensure that, and it usually doesn’t cost that much to insure it.

So…tip pre-tax or post-tax. However, at least try to tip something other than a random amount like, say, 13% of either total (unless of course, you’re trying to send a message that service was sub-standard). Obviously, the amount of tax that your community charges affects this, but rarely does a 13% tip on post-tax equals a 15% tip on pre-tax. Try to make it easy for your server to figure out whether your tip is truly reflective of the service that you’ve received.

I still say that any waiter will very much appreciate the generosity and lack of “saving a few pennies” if you tip on post-tax. It’s a nice thing to do, and don’t we need more of that these days? Besides, it’s positive reinforcement for a job well done.

Finally, in every restaurant that I’ve worked in, any auto-grat is based on pre-tax. That may not be the case in every restaurant.

From "How Stuff Works"

Serving the business dinner pt.3 – The Host

Business dinners invariably have a host. He or she might not be called The Host, but there is always someone “in charge”.

It might not be the boss, it might be the boss’s administrative assistant. It might not be the boss’s administrative assistant, it might be the head of HR. It might not be the head of HR, it might be the “party planner”. It might not be any of them; it might be the “on-site contact”.

In any event,  it’s always helpful to find the person with the power. The power might actually be shared by more than one person. One person might have the power of the purse while deferring to the “wine geek of the company”. Or The Boss might be the center of power but is merely the person that everyone is deferring to (read “sucking up to”), while someone else is making all of the critical decisions (bottled water vs. tap, drinks by the glass or wine by the bottle, cheap wine vs. expensive wine, etc.).

If you work off of some sort of written contract, and there’s a person designated as on-site contact, it’s important to find them as soon as possible. As people arrive, I usually ask the first people if they will tell me who it is when they arrive. Sometimes it’s the first person to arrive but it isn’t always the case.

I try to find out a couple of things.

First, is this a formal business meeting or is it just colleagues just getting together socially? If it’s a formal business dinner, is there going to be a presentation, lecture, Q&A, or any sort of structured timetable? If there is a presentation, should service cease until it’s over or does the service staff serve through it? If it’s the former, I always like to find out if that means no presentation of food but continuation of refilling glasses, taking drink orders etc. Sometimes they’ll even ask the service staff to not reënter the room until the presentation is over. You don’t want to teach the person all of the nuances of service, but you should try to find out as much information as you can without making the contact’s head spin.

Next, you’ll want to ask if they want to offer bottled water to their guests. If so, do yourself a favor and just offer flat water. Try not to say “sparkling or still or both”. Make it easy. If someone prefers sparkling as you pour around, just get them sparkling water. You don’t want yourself or your server assistants to have to keep track of who’s having what.

If you have no “on-site contact” name, don’t be shy about asking who’s in charge as soon as people start arriving. Identify the person in charge and go through the previous sequence.

The next thing you’ll want to find out is whether they want to choose wine for the group (if it isn’t already known). Sometimes they’ll defer to someone else. Before you talk to anyone around wine, have a couple of “go-to” red and white wines in the budget, mid-priced and expensive category. You don’t want to fumble around if they ask you on the spot what you’d recommend. My strategy is to lead with wines in the $50 – 70 range unless it looks like they’ll want something expensive (this is a matter of feel – sometimes you can just sense that this is an important function where they’ll want to impress their attendees). But I generally don’t offer suggestions immediately. I like to hand them the opened wine list and point out the various categories. By doing that, I can sometimes tell what price range they are focusing on by following their eyes and their fingers. If they are only looking at budget wines, that tells me that I need to avoid talking about more expensive wines because I don’t want them thinking that I’m trying to gouge them.

Next, I want to find out if I can provide appetizer assortments for the group.  I try to imply that sharing some appetizers can make it a smoother dinner since there’s one less decision that each attendee has to make.

While the “power person” in the room might not be paying or even making any decisions about food and drink, they are still the Alpha of the group. You always want to be cognizant of their mood. However, you never want to give them extra attention. The same goes for the person who ordered the wine or the person who’s paying. You don’t want them to think that you’re grassing for the tip or avoiding their guests to concentrate on them. Just always be aware of them throughout the meal.

These are just some general guidelines for working with the host of the party. Feel free to flesh out the subject by commenting.

Dr. House and the waitress

OK, I admit it…I’m behind on my DVR watching. To be precise, I’m 4 episodes behind on House M.D.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m just behind on everything. I used to post, what, like 2 or 3 times a day, whereas now, I’m posting about 2 or 3 times every 2 weeks, if I’m lucky.

Hey, get off my back, will ya?

Just kidding. Back to the subject at hand.

Three episodes ago, Dr. Gregory House treated a waitress after she crashed and burned during a shift, right after she accidentally gave away some information that made one of her guests very uncomfortable. You see, she outed a lady who had actually come in to the restaurant “last August”, her boyfriend/husband/significant other not knowing that she had come in. The waitress proceeded to describe the exact date, what she was wearing and the fact that her eyes were puffy from crying. This allowed Joe Cuckhold to realize that this was the exact date of Darren’s birthday (his brother/best friend/proctologist/whatever) and that was the day that Darren was all upset because his ex-girlfriend “showed up and he had to cancel his party”. Braniac then puts two and two together and says that “Dammit, I knew it…ever since you two of you left the ski trip…”. Waitress realizes that she’s just lost any possibility of a tip and volunteers to go get their water and then turns and falls on her tray and broken glasses.

Paging Dr. House…paging Dr. House.

Apparently, this waitress is afflicted with hyperthymesia, a condition which he describes as “perfect memory” and which Google and Wikipedia confirm as a “superior autobiographical memory”. Apparently, according to Greg, this is a condition that only 5 people have been diagnosed with (Wikipedia claims 6) that allows the victim to remember everything that has ever happened to them. It’s like photographic memory times 100. She can remember exactly how many times she fell down in a year, she remembers what breakfast she had on Oct. 15th 1994 and the fact that her patron was excessively generous with a 25% tip the last time she came in because she was all flushed with the excitement of cheating on her man (well, I made up the last two).

After going though watching the credits and being nonplussed by the fact that apparently there are about a dozen “producers” and “assistant producers” on a typical television production (apparently everyone who isn’t a grip or a best boy is a producer these days), I found out that the episode was written by Kat(herine) Lingenfelter.

Thank you Kat, because it allows me to highlight an object lesson about waiting tables.

It’s a very well-known principle in country clubs that you never, I repeat never, acknowledge a previous visit of a patron. Why not, you might ask? It’s because of this very situation. Sure, it might not be a dalliance; it might be an important business meeting that shouldn’t be disclosed to the current dinner companion. You could screw up someone’s life in a big way. And country clubs are just filled with people who are super regulars, using the facilities over and over again.

For the rest of us, you might have the best memory in the world and you might use it as a parlor trick to build your tips; after all, everyone is impressed by your ability to remember an 8 top’s entire order without writing it down (but only if you get it right, of course). But you have to be very careful about mentioning previous visits.

I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to mention a previous visit. After all, that’s one of the ways that we establish a bond with our guests. We are constantly told that remembering a guest is the way to build call parties and regulars. But we should limit that to favorite drinks and other preferences, not the intimate details of their visits. And, occasionally, as in this fictional case, even the mention of a previous visit can out someone, so you have to be very careful about where and when and to whom you do this to.

Sure, there are situations where you can talk about previous visits. But you have to be very sure that you aren’t betraying a confidence. A “nice to see you again, Mr. Highroller” can convey the sense that you remember them, especially if you remember their drink. You don’t have to be very specific, especially if you don’t know them well.

You might ask, “Why is it my responsibility to cover for my guest”? Well, strictly it isn’t. If someone wants to be a sleazebag and bring his mistress to the restaurant on every other Wednesday, it’s they who are running the risk. It isn’t your place to be their alibi. But it’s also not your responsiblity to be private dick either. You are waiting on them. That’s it. Be neutral.

I know a guest who used to have a girlfriend who gave him blowjobs in return for rent. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. After all, I only knew that as a rumor. It wasn’t my place to inform his wife. After all, for all I know, she already knows. I only have a business relationship with him. If I were his or his wife’s friend, that would be a different moral dilemma.

So I hope you see where I’m going with this. Be very careful about what you say to a table about previous visits. You don’t want to be the subject of an ABC Afternoon Special.

Or an episode of House M.D.

PS, I stopped the viewing about 15 minutes into the episode. Please don’t spoil the rest of it or the next two episodes for me. Otherwise, I’ll have to come over to your house (pun intended) and kick your ass.

Gotta love it when Hugh Laurie plays air cane.

“Waiter, there’s a watch in my salad.”

From Access Atlanta, this nice guide about how to deal with sending food back, and a glimpse into the scam that waiters all over have experienced at one point or another – the slimebag who deliberately eats most of the meal only to send it back in order to get free food.

Normally, I only quote the first paragraph and then send you to the site, but in this case, I’m going to quote some of the middle of the article because it best embodies the spirit of the piece:

5. You just don’t like the food. The sauce is a little salty. The chicken lacks flavor. There’s a spice in there you don’t appreciate. Should you return any dishes for these reasons?

No, but if the waiter asks how you like the food, be honest.

I recently ate at the restaurant John Dory Oyster Bar in New York. I started with two small plates and ended with a soup called “lobster panade” for my entree.

The waiter had warned me the soup was thin and didn’t have any lobster meat, and the dish proved him a man of his word.

It was a russet broth made from the deeply roasted shells, with a caramelized — almost burnt — flavor lurking inside. I didn’t find it appealing.

When the waiter came to ask how it was, I responded, “Fine.” I wasn’t going to lie and praise it, but I wasn’t going to make a fuss and complain. Fine was an honest response.

“Just fine?” he asked, astutely picking up the clues. “We can always get you something else.”

I insisted I was copacetic. Then he said something really smart. “Just flag me down if you change your mind.”

After five minutes of pushing the soup around, I called the waiter over and ordered chorizo-stuffed squid. I loved this dish. “Are you going to finish the soup?” he asked. When I said “no,” he quietly cleared it away.

The bill came, and the waiter told me he didn’t charge me for the soup. “You didn’t like it, so you shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he insisted.

This, people, is the definition of good service.

That said, I was ready to pay for the soup.

All you can expect a restaurant to do is replace a dish you return. Do not expect them to take it off the bill, or offer free dessert or drinks. If that happens, then appreciate the hospitality and reward the restaurant with your continued business.

This passage is great not only because it shows the spirit of cooperation that should exist between the diner and the waiter, but it also points out the importance of reading the guest and acting appropriately when it seems that the guest is struggling with a dish.

Sometimes, it’s the inflection of the voice when the guest says “Fine”. They can say it with a big smile and a twinkle in their eye, but this is rare. Usually, when a guest says “Fine”, there’s a downward lilt to the word. The eyes don’t quite meet yours and the wise waiter will take the cue and dig deeper.

There can also be an awkward moment when the guest has expressed some measure of dissatisfaction, but doesn’t want something for free or cause a scene. I have actually had a guest or two take offense when the item is taken off of the bill. The best way to forestall this is to withhold that you are taking the item off of the bill until the actual presentation of the bill, unless you sense that you need to immediately let them know that they aren’t going to pay for the meal. I’m referring to someone who is clearly uncomfortable with sending something back. Sometimes you can make them defensive for the rest of the meal if you go back and forth with them about taking the item off of the bill – “I’ve taken this off of the bill”. “Please don’t. I’m not looking for a freebie”. “But it’s our policy to do it”. “I don’t want you to do that”….and so on. This can go on so long that you’ve now made a dicey situation worse by doing the right thing.

Instead, as you present the bill, you thank them for being honest, saying something like, “Most people don’t bother to tell us when we fall short of our standards. Thank you for being honest. I’ve taken the dish off of the bill because we don’t want you to pay for something that you didn’t like and didn’t even finish”. Most of the time, they’ve mellowed out in the time it took to get to the bill and they won’t protest too strongly. When they say, “I don’t want something for free”, I’ve said something like, “I know that, but this is a thank you for helping us identify a problem that needs to be addressed”. Usually, at this stage, they’ll thank you, being glad that you didn’t put them on the spot before the meal was over.

When do you let them know immediately that you are taking a dish off of the menu and when do you wait? There’s no one answer; you’ll have to rely on your instincts. Go with the flow and try to factor in the diner’s mood throughout the dinner.

To read the rest of this great article, go here:

http://blogs.ajc.com/food-and-more/2011/02/21/waiter-theres-a-watch-in-my-salad/?cxntfid=blogs_food_and_more

If you are a diner, this is a must read.

From The Food Network

http://foodnetworkhumor.com/2010/05/40-unfortunate-food-and-beverage-names/

BTW, there are some hilarious actual food products pictured there. Everyone is advised to check it out!

Serving the business dinner pt. 2

A couple of weeks ago, I covered waiting on the small business dinner. Today, I complete my discussion of business dinner service by talking about the dynamics of the large business gathering.

I’m really not going to get into the large catered affairs since that’s a different animal entirely. Those are structured differently and the service aspects are different. I was going to say more limited, but that’s not exactly correct. While most of the service is choreographed, there is plenty of service going on.

What I’m going to discuss is the large business dinner that you find in quite a few restaurants that have private dining rooms or who occasionally do buy-outs of the restaurant for large groups. These are basically extensions of any normal table in the sense that most of the same service steps that you have to employ for a table of four have to be applied to the larger group.

Restaurants manage the large party in different ways. Most restaurants that do substantial private party business have a dedicated banquet manager, whose responsibilities include not only managing the functions through contracts and setup instructions to the staff but also selling the restaurant’s availability to the business community as well as working with the client to nail down the best menu, beverage choices and service needs. There are a few restaurants who actually manage this function as part of the management team’s responsibilities instead of having a dedicated banquet manager.

Before I get any further, I don’t want to you to confuse the term “banquet manager” with that position in a large hotel or country club. That position is really a department position roughly equivalent to a GM in a restaurant, except that the banquet manager answers directly to other on-site personnel instead of a regional manager. They deal with some different issues of service and personnel that the restaurant “banquet manager” doesn’t.

I’m really not going to go into the different ways that a restaurant manages the larger parties except to discuss certain facets of service that can vary.

Also, under the rubrik of “business dinner”, I’ll also touch on the non-business larger dinner as well (the rehearsal dinner, the big birthday party, etc.

A waiter serving such parties has to apply different strategies depending on the circumstances of the different parties. Some of those circumstances are predetermined (pre-set menu, restricted beverage choices, etc.). Sometimes the flexibility is required based on the flow of the party (party arrives via bus vs. trickles in, award presentations and discussions, etc.) We’ll try to address these in a free-flowing fashion ourselves.

Let’s start with the first challenge – dealing with the party as it arrives.

If everyone arrives at once, it can be a challenge to get everyone either settled in their place or settled with a drink. Sometimes, the party order includes a “cocktail hour”. This means that they will stand around and visit before sitting down. This may or may not entail hors d’oeuvres, passed or set. The key to a successful cocktail hour is blanketing the arrivees with drinks. If they all arrive at once, this can be a challenge. The key is to try to get drink orders from 4 – 6 people at a time max. If you try to get more than that, it can take more time distributing the drinks and the chance for error is greater. There are some waiters who can easily memorize names and drinks and if you are one of them, that’s great. But for many waiters, it’s easy to get confused, especially if there are a lot of dark business suits mingling around. Try not to extend your capabilities past their limits. It could be that you are foced by a lack of manpower to push the envelope and that’s just part of being flexible. But try to make it as quick and easy to get drinks in the hands of partygoers as quickly as possible. Remember, you’ll get 4 drinks quicker from the bar than 8 and you can distribute them quicker that way. It could actually take longer to get 8 drinks to drinkers than to make two trips to get 4 drinks a trip. You might have to tell someone that you’ll be right back, but remember that they don’t know how many drinks you’re wrangling. Just give them the idea that you’re maxed out and most people will be patient. You might also signal one of your fellow waiters to get their order first. Teamwork is key in this situation.

The better situation is if the attendees come separately. The quicker you hit them up for a drink, the better. If they come in in knots of two to four, it’s easy to get their orders quickly. This also applies to people arriving for the large lunch where alcohol isn’t going to be served. Let’s say that they go straight to the table – best that you get them their tea or coke as soon as possible. This means that you won’t have to deal with this when taking orders.

When it comes to actual food service, there are a couple of considerations. The smart restaurant will require a fixed menu for parties of over a certain number (varies according to restaurant and kitchen capacities). If it’s a fixed menu, you can actually take orders before each table fills up, but it’s best to wait until most of them are sat. Obviously, if your house service policy forbids this, ignore this advice. But if you are allowed to do this, it can save you a lot of time and you can get your order to the kitchen a lot quicker if you take the orders as the tables fill up. It’s essential that you leave pivot point spaces open on your order pad so that you can fill in the missing spots properly. Also, even if the host says that everyone has arrived, leave any open seats blank in case a straggler arrives. If you don’t, you can screw up delivery of the food to the table. If they never show, you can tell your food runner to skip that spot. Some people like to get rid of the empty spaces, but I prefer to leave them where they are. You can decide for yourself. While I will eventually get rid of the place setting, I try to leave the chair to keep the position in place. That way, there’s no confusion. they might want you to remove the chair so that the table can spread out. If you do that, make sure you re-number your positions in order to make sure that there’s no confusion when handing out the food.

If you have a fixed menu and it includes salads, try to resist the temptation of presetting salads unless it’s part of the event order. while it would appear to make your job easier, there’s a drawback that inexperienced waiters fail to consider – the gap between the sald course and the entree. some diners will start nibbling at their salad when they first sit down. They might very well be almost finished with their salad before you even put in the entree order. The entire party will surely be finished with their salads quickly and then they’ll have to wait and wait and wait for their entrees. Best to deliver the salads after you’ve taken the entree order. That way, the gap is lessened. Also, even the dressing on the salad is set, there will be the inevitable dry salad requests or requests for different dressings.

In our next installment, we’ll discuss dealing with the host.