So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Business dinners redux redux

In part one, we discussed the beginning of the business dinner.

We’re going to wrap up the discussing in this post.

After presenting and serving the wine, it became clear that they weren’t going to need a lot of entertaining, as people kept talking about this and that to each other. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason or any particular direction that the various conversations were going in.

So, this was my cue to ask if they wanted me to order some appetizers. Which they did. And I did.

 This gave me another clue as to how to wait on them. I suspected that they wouldn’t even need me to give them a song and dance about “The Specials”. Sometimes you can just tell that they are simply going to order directly off the menu. When this happens, the best thing to do (especially with a group of 6 or more) is to simply start going around the table and quietly ask each person if they’ve decided. This accomplishes two things. First, it establishes that the meal is going forward and, it gets the menus out of their hands. Menus can be a real distraction if you have appetizers coming.

So I started around the table and, sure enough, I got an order pretty quickly.

The rest of the meal was pretty standard. Appetizers were served and eaten, app plates bussed and new silverwear marked, salads dropped, salad plates bussed, silver marked and entrees delivered.

Finally, about 3/4ths through the entrees, one of the principals started making a low-key pitch. Apparently, they were trying to entice a couple of potential new account managers. At this point, I made myself scarce, although I stayed within eyesight most of the time. Whenever I had to refill a glass or remove a plate, I did it as silently as I could. I was like a Ninja!

As is the custom with a lot of this type of group, when they finished their meal, they were pretty much ready to wrap up the eating.  I gave them a cursory “W0uld you like to see a dessert menu”, knowing that they wouldn’t be interested. I did have a couple of coffee and espresso orders though.

At the end of the meal, I presented the check and the guy said, “Great service as usual”. I was pretty sure that this wasn’t the kiss ‘o death that it usually was. The bill ended up $1150. I thanked him and shook his hand and them proceeded to shake each of the other guests’ hands one by one.

The tip?

$240.

Nice.

I guess the thing that I’m trying to get across is that the business dinner can be lucrative if you follow the cues that your guests are giving you. Not every business dinner is going to go this smoothly or have a huge payoff.  The key is to go where they lead you, establish yourself with the table, and try not to step all over whatever business that they might be conducting. Just remember this as well – they don’t have to be overtly discussing business to be conducting business. Sometimes, the dinner IS the business.

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From Tip20! – The right to do your own server accounting…

An interesting “Dear Tip20! question was posed to the blog. I’m going to reproduce the question and answer and then give my own viewpoint:

Tip20! User Question:

“Hi,
I’m a server at a breakfast place and some really shady stuff has been going on! I’ve always worked in places where I have my own bank and we have POS systems. This place is not like that! They have a cash register and we hand right tickets, ring it in to an ancient register, staple it and turn it into the kitchen. Anyhow, my concern is all tickets are cashed out as cash.. even when that ticket is paid for on credit card. So me and my fellow servers started noticing we weren’t making as much on the day’s we have a particular hostess aka asst. manager! Therefore, I started making copies of every ticket I printed out for that day! At the end of the day I look at my end of the day checkout to see how much sales, togo’s, and housed items I have! Well, management does not like this and has stopped letting me look at my checkout slip! My question is, Isn’t it my right to see MY checkout? At other places i’ve work I actually had to print my own checkout and sign it! very curious what you think…”

Dear “What are my rights”,

As always, I must state that I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to give legal advice…

It does seem obvious that there are shenanigans going on at your work place. But whether you have “rights” or not is a fuzzy grey area.

Not knowing your exact work environment – and/or owner involvement it seems that you are in a pickle. If the Managers have final say in everything that happens in the restaurant, then in my opinion you are screwed. There is a conspiracy of some sort that you are fighting against and are unlikely to win. You really have no “rights” to speak of, as you are employed at their whim. If you feel you are being stolen from, then it seems only fair to yourself to confront the issue with management. Is the owner a player in this? If so, I would definitely let them know that you feel you are being taken advantage of. Often the problem with smaller mom-and-pop operations is that you can end up with uncomfortable situations and inappropriate work conditions.

I believe you should be able to review your slips and keep good accounting. But if they don’t let you, I believe that is their prerogative. having said that, I would not work very long under those conditions personally. Is there anyone in the company that you can go to, to air your concerns?

Tip20!

I will also say that I’m not a lawyer. I’m also going to assume that the writer is in the US.

One thing that Tip20! doesn’t address is the fact that, according to US current labor law interpretation by the Department of Labor, tips are considered the sole property of the employee and must be allowed to retain all tips, with the exception of tip pooling to other “normally tipped employees”. This precludes tipouts to others not normally tipped, such as managers, kitchen employees, custodial employees, etc. – more about this in a moment.

In order to assure that you aren’t participating in a “tipout” that you didn’t agree to (a tipout to the hostess/assistant manager could be allowed as a tipout since the assistant manager is “technically” a hostess, which can be a tipped position), you should have the right to have access to your own daily sales report.

There are some wrinkles to what I’ve written above though.

First of all, there are states that don’t allow a tip credit, states that already mandate full minimum wage for all employees. Oregon is a such a state, as are California and Washington, all of which mandate a higher minimum wage than the Federal minimum wage for all employees. Here’s some insight about how Oregon treats tips:

Oregon law fails to address tips and tip pools and, therefore, BOLI does not enforce any standards regarding tips.  While the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) establishes regulations regarding tips based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the DOL and the courts interpret the law differently.  Recent cases within the United States District Court for the District of Oregon have held that the FLSA does not regulate tips if the employer does not claim a tip credit (and Oregon prohibits employers taking a tip credit).  Employers are also free to make the tip pooling arrangements they dictate a condition of employment. As a result, even though the Department of Labor regulations grant restaurant workers control over their tips, those workers cannot currently assert those rights in Oregon courts.

They go on to describe the Federal standard quite succinctly:

Below are the standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor on the topic of tips.  Be aware, these interpretations are specific to DOL and the FLSA and are not meant to be confused for Oregon employment law.

Tips:

All tips that an employee receives are his or her property.  The law forbids any arrangement between the employer and the tipped employee whereby any part of the tip received becomes the property of the employer.

Tip Pools:

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.

Tip Pool Criteria:

  • consists of traditionally tipped employees: waiters, waitresses, servers, bartenders, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls, and hosts
  • cannot include owners or managers in the tip pool
  • cannot take more than a “customary and reasonable” amount of each employee’s tips (15% of tips or 2% of sales is customary and reasonable according to the Department of Labor)

When non-traditionally tipped employees are included in a tip pool, that is when the system has to be entirely voluntary—each employee can decide how much (if any) of her tips to share with anyone else.

Here is the whole blog page:

http://pdxrwa.org/category/know-your-rights-a-restaurant-workers-survival-guide/introduction/tip-pooling-tip-out/

This is the reason why kitchen employees in Oregon are tipped out in quite a few restaurants. In my state, tipping out kitchen employees wouldn’t be allowed because I live in a $2.13/hr state.

The other wrinkle is whole “hostess/assistant manager” thing. If she is acting as a hostess, then she falls under the “traditionally tipped” category and is entitled to a tipout if she is part of a tip pooling arrangement that everyone has agreed to.

What’s interesting is that the DoL used to have “interpretations” of the US Code that apply to tipped employees on their website. These no longer exist. It’s possible that, with certain court rulings in certain states like California, they no longer offer these “interpretations” because of uncertainty in some areas. Or they might just have revamped the web site.

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.

I’m baaaaaaaack!

Well, sorta.

I’ve got internet access for more than just once a week for the time being, so I’m hoping to get back into the semi-swing of things while it lasts. Previously, I had access but only through my phone. Let me tell you that it was a pain in the ass to post the simplest missive, not being the texting type of person. From crazy auto-corrects by way of the keyboard to being almost impossible to edit on the fly from the tiny comments box, it was just annoying.

I generally just posted on the one day that I had unfettered access to a full-sized computer. hopefully, I’ll be posting more often as I get the inspiration bug back. I haven’t really been in the teaching/sharing mode for a while so I might have to goose the muse a little. Consider this post “getting my feet wet”, if you will.

Anyway, my lovelies, I hope to be connecting again in a more regular fashion.

Over and out.

New link added : The Waiters Today

As you cats and kittens know, I’ve been a bit of an absentee landlord lately. It’s not due to a lack of interest, but, as I’ve noted in the past, it’s because I’m down to just internet access through my phone. I do have regular internet access once a week on Fridays but I usually don’t have time to do my usual posting or research or deep ruminations on the art of waiting tables.

There’s a new place for waiters of all stripes to hang out and it’s called The Waiters Today. Not having a lot of time to dig deep into it (this I can do on my phone later), I can’t comment too much on the content, but what I see looks really good. It looks like both social hangout and informational source. I hope that everyone goes to check it out. Feel free to report back on what you find by using the comment section.

Feels good to post anything these days. There’s a chance that I might be able to really  get back on-line soon, but until then, keep it clean and earn those 20% tips, my lovelies.

I’ll be adding it in the Links section but until then, go here:

http://waiterstoday.com/

Storm over abusive comment written on credit card slip

Sort of News Victoria Liss VS. the Receipt Creep: Capitol Hill Debacle

Posted by on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 9:38 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE, OCT 12: Because we haven’t been able to talk to the person who left the receipt to get his side of the story, we’ve deleted certain details and identifying information from this post.

Over the weekend while bar tending at Bimbo’s Cantina, Victoria Liss received a less than generous tip after serving a man and woman chips & salsa with guacamole and one double decker pork taco. Not only was the gratuity 0%, the customer added a personal message that has a number of Seattle area service industry workers infuriated. Here’s what Victoria had to say:

You’ll have to go here to read the rest of the article:

http://lineout.thestranger.com/lineout/archives/2011/10/10/victoria-liss-vs-the-receipt-creep-capitol-hill-debacle

Just a couple of words on this…

First of all, if you’re such an idiot that you’re going to write an abusive message on a credit card slip where you maliciously tip ZERO, you deserve whatever treatment going forward (short of food adulteration). The restaurant community, as large as it seems to be, is a pretty tight-knit community. However, if you are a waiter or bartender, it should give you pause to use social media to exact revenge. First of all, there could be collateral damage to innocent people with the same name, as was the case here. Additionally, you risk losing your job and you invite harassment back.

To the guy who did this, sounds like you could stand to gain some weight…in da brain.

Oh yeah, here’s one account of the background on this story:

http://tinyurl.com/3e53ou8

And please, gentle readers, don’t go on any witchhunts of the fellow names in the above story. That’s an order!

 

Seasonal

As we face the waning days of summer, it’s time to remember that  cuisine is seasonal, regardless of how homogenized North American chain restaurants try to make it.

As we start the slow transition into cooler weather, you should start to adjust your view of your menu. Even the most ordinary restaurant menu can be adapted to the various seasons through your knowledge of the various dishes. Hopefully, during the summer, you’ve been quick to recommended some of the lighter fare and pair it with lighter wines, if applicable to your restaurant.

Now’s the time to consider dishes with more substance, especially as we approach the end of October and the beginning of November. Heartier sauces, more substantial cuts of meat, bigger, chewier wines.

It’s important for you to recognize this in order to guide your guests but your guests will start instinctively choosing more autumnal food and drink. If you’re ahead of the curve, you’ll flow right along with it.

I always say, “The fewer surprises, the better…”

Quick tip

Always read the name on the credit card and always look at the signature block.

Why?

No, you’re not going to bust them if they haven’t signed it or compare their signature on the chit.

The first thing that you are going to do is see if it’s the wife’s name (assuming that it’s not a unisexual name like Leslie, of course). Occasionally, the husband will present the spouse’s card, or you’ll see him take the check presenter but not see him pass it to his wife. You will probably get brownie points if you notice and give the presenter directly to the wife and say Mrs. So-and-So, assuming that it’s clear that they’re married.

Which brings me to the next part. By all means, use the name. You have it right on the card. It adds a personal touch at the very moment that the tip is going to be assigned. If the name is difficult, use your disgression as to whether to say it. Most people will forgive a mispronunciation if you say, “Is it Mr. Unpronouncable”? If you’re wrong, they’ll correct you. If you nail it, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. Remember, people love to hear their own names.

You’d be surprised what else the card can tell you. For instance, the other night, I saw the corporate name under the guest’s
name. I realized that it was the name of our main purveyor. I said, “So you’re responsible for our (fill in the blank). His mouth dropped and he exclaimed, “How did you know”? I chuckled and said, “A little bird told me”. He said, “Really, how did you know”? I said, “It’s on your card”. He and his guests were really impressed that I knew and he said, “I’m going to text the owner of your company tomorrow and tell him” (whether or not he did is irrelevant). He wrote an $50 tip (on a $400 check) and left me a $100 bill on top of it. So you never know. Let’s say that you notice that the card indicates that the guy works for your bank because it’s a Great Bank of the US corporate card and that’s your bank. You might pull out your checkbook or debit card and say, “Nice bank you work at. I’m a loyal customer”. That HAS to increase your chances of a good tip.

Finally, by looking at the signature block, you might see the phrase “Check ID”. If you see that, ask for his/her ID. You can’t imagine how grateful they’ll be for you protecting them or being the 1 in 20 that doesn’t notice.

Remember, it’s the little things, especially at tip time!

New York Chef/Restaurateur David Bouley on Charlie Rose

An interesting conversation with David Bouley.

On his time learning about Japanese cooking – “We made dashi for three days”.

There are some interesting things said about the importance of nutrition and the use of artisan ingredients.

Definitely worth a view.

I presume that this will show up on Rose’s website shortly.

“A sin would be to mistreat the dishwasher” – Ferran Adria…

image

…from the latest episode of “No Reservations”, Anthony Bourdain’s  TV series. The show focuses on the closing of Adria’s famed 3 Michelin starred restaurant, El Bulli.

This is so true. There is no more integral cog in the wheel of the restaurant, and the least paid, than the dishwasher. I’ve said as much in previous posts and reaffirm that through the auspices of Mr. Bourdain.

Think about it – a restaurant can actually do without an Executive Chef, but it can’t do without a dishwasher.

It’s incumbent on all waiters to give the requisite respect to the lynchpin of the restaurant, the dishwasher.

PS, the dishwasher in the picture is a future restaurant owner, Peter Demos of Demos Restaurant of the Nashville area. Perhaps it would help every waiter to think of each dishwasher as his or her potential employer.