So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Business dinners redux

I know I’ve discussed the concepts around serving business dinners but I recently waited on one the other night and, well, I need to get back in the swing of things, so I thought I’d dissect  this particular one.

It was a 7 top. They were all late 30s – mid 40s. Dark suits. Well groomed but not stuffy. They were all talking with each other as they sat down. As they settled in, they were all engaged in conversation, joking a bit and smiling.

At this point, as I brought them their menus, I scanned the table and saw that every one of them was either laughing of smiling and they seemed to be in the mood to enjoy their time together. As I passed out the menus, I asked them if they wanted the wine list. One pointed to the other, who pointed to another and two of them pointed to another guy. So I said,  “Guess you’re elected by popular vote”, which elicited some chuckles.

At this point, I knew that they were going to be a pleasure to wait on.

I’m going to stop here to say that it’s the initial impressions of a business table (or any table for that matter) that will determine what your service strategies are going to be. They were all dressed very formally but their demeanor was one of relaxation. Had they conveyed seriousness when they sat down, I would have been more formal. Or, had they been dressed more casually but seemed to be “all business”, I would have been similarly more reserved. I think what I’m trying to say is that you have to be sensitive to all aspects of the table, from their dress to their mood, to their body language.

So, rather than wait for a wine choice, I immediately asked first for their water choice and if they wanted cocktails. Which they did.

For those of you who haven’t waited on a lot of business people, take note – a lot of the time, the first thing they want to do is have a round of cocktails, even if they’re going to have wine. So don’t try to jump the gun and force a wine choice out of them. A cocktail round helps you as well –  it gets them settled. Usually cocktails are accompanied by either idle chitchat or work discussion or both. In this case, it was both.

After delivering the cocktails, I went to the guy with the wine list and we discussed wine. He was discussing some wines in the $100 category so I mentioned a particular wine that is a real sleeper at about $115 and he thought it sounded good. I might have been able to move him to $150 but, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, with a table like this, greed should be the last thing on your mind. Especially when he orders a Pinot Noir as well. The fact that he ordered a Pinot as well as taking my advice showed me that he knew wine, was looking out for the welfare of the others at the table,and was also confident enough in himself to trust the waiter.

So, I ordered two each of the bottles. Did I ask him? Nope. First of all, in my restaurant, I can return an unused bottle. Second of all, I have no idea how many are going to drink Pinot and how many are going to drink Cabernet. And third, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to sell at least a second bottle of one or the other and what happens if the bartender forgot to tell me that I was buying the last bottle or that there was only one left and another table orders it before I can. Always hedge your bets whenever you can. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m going to pour the entire bottle of either on the spot. However, I don’t know how many people are going to want Pinot or the Cabernet. So, I asked how many people would be drinking the Pinot (guessing correctly that there would be fewer people drinking it). Now I know that up to 5 people will be drinking the Cabernet. So, after I present the bottle, I go around to the Pinot abstainers and pour about 4 oz for each person (turns out that all 5 guests wanted wine, which might not have been the case). This left about 5 oz in the decanter. Why didn’t I pour the whole thing? Because I knew that we’d be into a second bottle pretty quicker. Basically, I’m telegraphing that I’m not out to gouge them or drain every single penny out of their wallets.

I poured a little more for the two people who wanted the Pinot, but it was still less than a full glass. With two people, I figured that I probably wouldn’t get a second bottle unless I really manipulated them and I wasn’t about to kill the goose that might lay the golden egg. Yeah, I could have probably forced a second bottle, but they probably wouldn’t drink a lot of it. I would have another $70 on the check, but heck, it was going to be a pretty good check to start with. And I’m firmly convinced that some guests are able to tell when you’re trying to get the last penny out of them and will penalize you for it when the time comes.

The main lesson that you should take away is that you should NEVER pour the whole bottle on the first go-round. You should always leave a little in the bottle. If you are pouring a bottle for 8 people, then only pour a couple of ounces per person.  Obviously, in that extreme case, you would ask if you can bring two bottles because you know that there’s no way that anyone’s going to get more than a sip or two. And if they say that you can pour from two bottles, then by all means, pour 5 ounces. But make sure you leave some in the second bottle.. Don’t try to force a third bottle.

OK, I’m going turn this into a multi-part page turner. This has officially turned into part one.

It might be a day or two before I do part two, but I’ll be continuing the lesson shortly.

One response to “Business dinners redux

  1. Yuet July 16, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Just stumbled upon this blog. Hope you’ll post more of your experiences like this post. Well-written and illustrative. Thanks.

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