So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: customer service

An interesting statistic on delivery and to-go food

Fittingly, just as I post my tomes on tipping on to-go food, Nation’s Restaurant News’ Breaking News page has a just published article about “convenience” being a big factor that restaurants must consider in these challenging times. So, while value has been a big new counter to the challenges faced in this economic environment, restaurants need to consider convenience as well, at least according to this article.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the study that is quoted – 20% of all consumers picked up food at a restaurant last year, while 30% of 18 – 25 year olds did the same.

What I found interesting is something unexpected – this phrase – “While the Mintel survey indicated that consumers overall are spending less on takeout and delivery,” :snip:

Perhaps the to-go boom has reached its peak.

This could certainly have implications down the road. Restaurants have retrofitted some restaurants to have whole areas dedicated to to-go. Could these become dusty caves where office supplies get stored? And what happens if a restaurant that does a lot of to-go orders loses just enough business to only justify having one person process orders but it means that the one person actually has more customers to personally deal with? Or that they lose just enough business where they have to keep two people on but both take a big hit in terms of volume since the pie that they’re splitting is smaller than ever?

Anyway, if you want to read the article at Nation’s Restaurant News, go here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=378782

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Book of the day – Lessons In Service from Charlie Trotter

Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter

by Edmund Lawler

Publisher: Ten Speed Press (November 28, 2001)  

ISBN 10: 1580083153

ISBN 13: 978-1580083157

Value-added service. Attention to detail. anticipating the guests’ needs. Staff support. Intense quality control.

These are the lynchpins of the dinner service that is offered at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.

This book drills down on these concepts and more as it combines an overview, an inner view and a biographical look at what makes Charlie Trotter’s one of American’s premiere restaurants. After each chapter, there’s a page of “service points” from the preceeding chapter.

Charlie Trotter’s is different from the restaurants that most of us will work in.

There’s an attention to detail that rivals a NASA clean room. If it’s chipped, broken, scuffed, slightly frayed, or otherwise less than perfect, it’s fixed or discarded. Most of us work in restaurants that have budgetary constraints that require management to push back replacement or refurbishment. How many times have we told management about rickety chairs or worn carpet or holes in tiles, only to see it pushed back to the next quarter. That sort of thing doesn’t happen at Trotter’s, at least according to this 2001 book.

Waiters are on a form of salary there. Tips are pooled and doles out as a form of salary. They structured the pool to be close to what servers were making before tips were pooled. This is possible through the high cost of dining at Charlie’s place (in 2001 it averaged about $150 per person). It’s also possible because the staff is highly trained and waits on a limited number of guests per night. there is also intense scrutiny which precludes slackers to be allowed to stick around. This doesn’t mean that everyone makes the same amount of money. They’ve factored in current sales and sales of previous years, experience and customer feedback. A longstanding server might very well make close to double what a new server does. A 401(k) and health plan are standard, at least according to this 2001 book (certainly, all of these are somethings that might have been modified or changed at the time of this review). In fact, when you view the current menus at Charlie Trotter’s website, you’ll see that an 18% mandatory service charge is now being added.

Waiters in more mainstream restaurants might not have the empowerment that are given them at Charlie Trotter’s. They are trained to accomodate the guest as far as possible and to never say no to any request (I’m sure that there are limits to this because, let’s face it, there are some requests that could not be honored, although it’s doubtful that there many patrons of Trotter’s that would push the envelope of what’s acceptable).

Few of us work in restaurants that have breakage costs of $40,000 a year due to the use of fragile Riedel glassware and fine Wedgewood china.

Few of us work in restaurants will work in a restaurant with 2 sommeliers and a massive wine cellar that offers bottles costing thousands.

And few of us will work in a restaurant that doesn’t even have a service manual. All service is taught directly one-on-one and can last for months.  The standards are much more formal than many waiters experience in their careers. No “folks”, it’s always “ladies and gentlemen”. No touching the backs of the chairs or tables. Obviously, no kneeling and not even bending down to hear the guest better. Rather than a short list of “service commandments”, there are a myriad of service points that must be fulfilled at every table and these are addressed through direct management contact and training. Preshifts are more than a perfunctory recitation of the daily specials. Role-playing and wine tasting could be part of the agenda. Suggestions from the staff might be entertained. Past service issues might be dissected and discussed.

Yes, there are many things in the way that Charlie Trotter’s staff choreographs the restaurant experience there are impractical for most waiters and their restaurants, and, as such, a waiter or manager reading this book must be cautioned not to necessarily read it as a “how-to” guide, but there are many principles that waiters can absorb that will raise their game.

It’s not an expensive book and it can be read in a short time. It’s a fascinating “inside look” at one of American’s premiere restaurants, one which undoubtably would sport at least a Michelin star if it weren’t in Chicago (Michelin, which rates the best restaurants from one to three stars, doesn’t go to Chicago). Trotter’s restaurant in Las Vegas received its first star just last year, which sadly won’t be repeated in 2010 because, due to the economy, Michelin won’t be rating restaurants in Las Vegas this year.

I’ve only scratched the surface about what you will learn about the restaurant and its service philosophy of value-added service and the exceeding of expectations. There are quotes from busboys to dining room managers, from Charlie Trotter to Ray Harris, “Wall Street financier who has eaten at Charlie Trotter’s over 300 times”. There are stories of the occasional glitches and the way those glitches were addressed and solved.

Read this book and you can’t help elevate your career, even if you work at the most mainstream strip mall grill and bar. And if you are in any facet of the service industry, you would be well-served to pick up this book.

Photo of Charlie Trotter’s dining rooms taken from official website.

Service horror story

From the blog On the Edge The Albany (NY) Times Union website:

Things your waiter whould never say/do

December 21, 2009 at 11:28 am

by Kristi Gustafson

R and I went to dinner Friday night and had what may have been the, um, quirkiest (and annoying) waiter either of us have ever experienced. In fact, at one point, we joked that maybe we were on candid camera.

Some of the highlights:

  • After being seated in a near-empty restaurant around 8:45 our waiter took so long to greet up the host even came over and apologized — twice — without us saying anything.
  • When our waiter did appear — around 10 minutes after we sat down — he moseyed on over, and didn’t apologize for the delay (despite us making a (light) remark about the wait).
  • The bread he set down in front of us was so dry you needed two pats of butter on each piece just to take it in without feeling like you were inhaling sand patties. Funny enough he said “I brought you plenty of fresh bread.” There were three pieces.
  • Instead of butter, maybe we could’ve dunked the bread in our water (kidding, sort of)– if we had any. After he argued with us that there was “no such thing as red Zinfandel” (despite it being on the menu, which he then relented and said “well, I don’t drink, so I didn’t know, but you taught me something, so now I know”. He proceeded to give us a 3 or 4 min. explanation of just why he didn’t drink. This involved his kids, beer cans on the counter and a small town in western NY), he disappeared for nearly 15 minutes.

Read rest of the horrible experience here:

http://blog.timesunion.com/kristi/21341/things-your-waiter-should-never-saydo/

Oldie but goodie

I thought that one of my earliest posts was worthy of reprinting. Not because I have no ideas about waiting tables (I’m in this hopefully for the long  haul so I don’t want to shoot all of my ammo at once), but because newer readers to this blog might not have taken the time to explore the archives. I know that when I check out a new blog, it sometimes take awhile to get around to catching up. So I thought that I’d repost some of the early posts that go to the heart of waiting tables. Perhaps it will get a few of you checking out some of the earlier material and it will give some exposure to those of you who simply don’t have the time or inclination to wade through months of posts.

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/12-tips-on-making-your-dining-experience-better/

This is advice to guests about the part that you play in making your own dining experience better.

Quick tip

Yesterday’s quick tip was about being careful to reprint checks. I can hear some of you newbies ask, “Why would you have to reprint a check up to three times if you print a check right before dessert? Wouldn’t the most you would have to reprint it is one time, assuming that they got dessert”?

Well, a good waiter never assumes that they’re finished. Yeah, yeah, I know that most of the time, you’re hoping that they’re going to leave quickly so that you can get another table. And it’s true, in the middle of the rush, sometimes rather than up-selling, you downplay dessert.

However, there are plenty of times when the “dessert course” can mean a significantly bigger check, especially if you’re in a more upscale establishment (I know that most newbies won’t be in such a place, but you should still understand that there are times when what you sell post-entree can raise your check significantly).

There have been times when I’ve asked before they order dessert whether they want coffee and they say no. Then I bring the dessert and halfway into dessert, they realize that they need coffee. So I ring up coffee (printing the check and discarding the previous check that I’ve already printed) and go get it for them. Then, because I had already previously asked them if they wanted Bailey’s with their coffee or port, one or two of them decides that Bailey’s would be nice when the coffee hits the table. So I bring the Bailey’s, having to reprint the check and discarding the old one while I do it. Then I get back to the table and someone decides that port would be nice. So the reprinting check thing happens again. And, as I think I’m finished for sure, two of them decide to cap off the meal with cognac.

Of course, I don’t mind all of this grand desserting because they’re one of my later tables and the bill has just risen by an extra $60.

When I get a table that starts doing this, I get back into the selling mode, even if it’s in the middle of a rush, depending on how I’ve read the table during the meal. That’s because, in my current restaurant, you never know where it’s going to end. One of my fellow servers thought they were finished with a deuce when the two businessmen decided to have two glasses of Louis XIII, or as we like to call it in the business, Louis Trey. Those two glasses of cognac are $150 a piece. His deuce, an already nice deuce at $300, doubled instantly. And they never would have done it had he not suggested it and sold it as an experience, even though he thought they were through. He just had a feeling about them based on their demeanor and how they had been ordering through the meal and he rolled the dice. He never gave up on them. and he got a great $120 tip instead of a really nice $60 one.

I realize that many of you don’t have those kind of selling opportunities. But most of you can upsell things like Bailey’s and Frangelico with coffee. This should be SOP for you. If a table has been drinking any type of alcohol, you should always solicit at least Bailey’s when you solicit coffee. It can mean an extra $20 on your check if you sell two or three of them. and hell, they’re going to have coffee anyway, right? Might as well  make it a $10 coffee instead of a $3 one.

Obviously, you don’t want to build your check by $20 and lose a turn, because that can cost you another $60 table. So you should be aware when you should and shouldn’t be somewhat aggressive about up-selling the dessert course. Just don’t get in the habit of automatically going into down-selling mode when you pick up the entree plates because you want to get them on their way so that you can get your next table. You just never know. Pick your times and places and then go for it. Don’t forget that a grand dessert finish to a meal will leave the guest with the ultimate dining experience and might very well be reflected in your tip percentage.

Louis XIII

Louis Trey, baby.

Just to prove that waiters aren’t the only ones…

…to deal with “interesting” customers, clients and other members of the public.

Exhibit A: From the oft-hilarious”(The customer is) not always right” website:

“(Note: I worked in a resort over the summer as a concierge.)

Tourist: “Can we see any wildlife in the area, you know, by the side of the road?”

Me: “Sure, we routinely see elk, deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. I’ve seen a couple wolves too, and we get a lot of bears.”

Tourist: “Oh! Can we feed the bears?”

Me: “No, sir, the bears are wild bears. They are extremely dangerous and you should never approach any wild animal. Just stay in your car, with the windows up, and you’ll be fine.”

Tourist: “Oh… can we send our kids to play with the bears?”

Me: “That would be ‘feeding the bears,’ sir…””

:insert editorial comment from yours truly:

Feeding the bears indeed…he he

http://notalwaysright.com/

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