So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: employment

The book that you have been waiting for is finally out!

No, not my book.

Sorry to get you all excited.

No, it’s Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips by David Hayden of the Hospitality Formula Network.

Let me be blunt – if you are a waiter/server/bartender and you don’t buy this book, then you really don’t care about how much money you make. This book is a multiplier of skills and bank. It’s written in a clear, concise yet comprehensive style. It’s laid out logically and covers just about every topic that a waiter needs to know in terms of maximizing his or her earning potential.

The book is broken down into 10 sections and 41 chapters. With sections like Before Your Shift, Starting Your Shift, Interacting with Your Guests, and The Mechanics of Serving, the book puts lie to Hayden’s statement that “This book is NOT a training manual. Due to the fact that you picked up this book, it is assumed you know how to wait tables”. Those preliminary sections cover much of what the rank amateur waiter needs to know to make his or her descent into the maelstrom of waiting tables a smooth and unbumpy one. This book should be part of the training package of every restaurant who hires people who have never been waiters.

But it doesn’t stop there – with subsequent sections like Selling and Serving Wine, The Pitch, The Key Times, Selling as a Server, Special Guests, and The Intangibles, the main intent of the book becomes clear – waiter make money, guest get good experience, manager get smooth shift – everybody happy.

My blog covers many of the same points. In fact, you’ll get a sense of déjà vu when you read Mr. Hayden’s book if you’ve spent any time with my posts. The main difference is the clarity of vision and training. I tend to ramble, go off-the-cuff, go off on tangents, and generally get parenthetical (sometimes). You’ll find little of that in this book. What you’ll find is  a book full of practical hints, tips and directives that aren’t just theoretical abstracts; they can be applied on a daily basis.

Do I think it’s complete? Hell no! There are valid points that this very blog have made that are left out. Anyone who has waited tables for a long time has had situations that have given them insight that could be valuable to the waiter-at-large. But, all in all, the book is probably the most practical and valuable resource that a waiter could find on any bookshelf (either real or virtual) in North America. I say North America because other restaurant cultures have different standards and practices that might be at odds with the North American restaurant culture.

In a perfect world, this book would be the core of the book that I had intended when I first considered starting a blog on the subject of waiting tables. I wanted a book that was lavishly illustrated with photographs, filled with sidebars of interesting factoids and footnotes, brimming with information about everything from rapini to Calvados. I envisioned parts of the book that would be considered reference material for the ages – a book with the heft of a wine atlas, the look, feel and knowledge of a Thomas Keller book, the practical and accessible wisdom of a “…for Dummies” book. This book would be part of the curriculum at Cornell, would sit on every restaurant book shelf, would grace the coffee tables of the rich and poor alike, and my name would be whispered with a measured awe in the break rooms of restaurants for years to come.

Well, sorry. The bones are there; the framework sitting in the archives of this very blog. Until the storied day when a literary agent looks at my concept, knows just the perfect graphic designer to create the cheap equivalent of the Nathan Myhrvold “Modern Cuisine” $625 cookbook, my dream of the ultimate book on waiting tables is just that – a dream.

Until then, this book by David Hayden does what I hoped to do – make it possible for a newly-minted waiter to avoid the usual pitfalls of “learning on the job”. This is a dual goal; not only does it mean that waiters can share the knowledge necessary to maximize earnings, it means that fewer restaurant guests will have to suffer the fumbling of such “on-the-fly training”.

It’s lean, it’s mean – it’s the opposite of what I intended. And just what the world needs.

BUY THIS BOOK.

Buy my book or I'll make you look like a fool in front of your date.

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Some positive restaurant industry news from Nation’s Restaurant News’ Breaking News

10 trends to watch in 4Q reports

Restaurants expected to outline higher sales, future price hikes

January 21, 2011 | By Mark Brandau

Fourth-quarter earnings season kicks into full swing next week, and many restaurant companies are expected to report improving sales and profit, said restaurant securities analyst Jeffrey Bernstein of Barclays Capital.

Restaurants also are likely to discuss plans to raise menu prices in 2011 to combat increased commodity costs, he said in a research note Friday.

Bernstein listed 10 items to watch as companies report final results for 2010:

Catch those 10 items, several of which bode well for waiters in all niches here: http://www.nrn.com/article/10-trends-watch-4q-reports?ad=news#ixzz1BmLeXd4S

Waitress loses job at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC over Facebook post – from Well Done Fillet

From across the pond, a story about a waitress in a pizza parlor losing her job at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC (not the savviest of operations from a PR standpoint) – thanks to our British War Correspondent Manuel for this one:

http://welldonefillet.com/2010/05/19/facebook-post-costs-waitress-her-job-oh-dear/

Oh dear indeed…

Just a reminder:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/tips-on-dishing-on-guests-and-work-and-co-workers/

Perhaps I should go back and add a section on actually posting comments on Facebook. I talked about promoting your blog on FB, but didn’t cover this specific instance. Until I do, take this lesson to heart. Remember, there is a difference between dissing a guest over drinks after work and dissing them on a network shared by 200 gazillion people. At least you can be comforted by the fact that your new Chinese overlords will probably never see it, plus, for now, you’re safe in Pakistan.

PS, if you haven’t noticed, Well Done Fillet is permalinked in Ye Ole Blogroll. When you go there, you have to click the above graphic as he has recently moved his blog from point A to point B. You should visit him…alot.

PPS, if you live in Charlotte, you might want to consider whether Brixx Pizza is the sort of place that you’d like to patronize.

Disposable

So, I was cutting my grass yesterday with the almost new lawn mower that I purchased from the pawn shop and was thinking about the fact that this is the 4th lawnmower that I’ve owned in 10 years. The other three were stolen. I’ve actually been without a lawnmower for around 4 years, so this tells you a bit about my neighborhood and the fact that I don’t have a lockable storage area. For the past 4 years I’ve had a guy in the neighborhood do it, precisely because of the theft factor, not because of laziness. However, he has turned sick and can’t do it this year. So I trudged out to the pawn shop to find another cheap lawnmower.

I found a really good one that the pawn shop apparently had mispriced and which I got it for around $100. It’s a pretty nice one – a Troy-Bilt with a Honda motor. Normally, $100 lawnmowers from the pawnshop are the cheapest possible generic  movers with rusting decks and sputtering motors. Not this one. It’s a mulcher with the bag and an actual choke that resets itself when the motor gets running. No pushing the little primer rubber nipple and no continual lanyard pulling over and over until it finally starts (or not). Starts up pretty much with a single pull. Yes, there are more expensive and fancier mowers out there, but I was glad to get a mower that wasn’t just a cheap stamped deck and a motor barely strong enough to cut a dandelion (yes, I’ve got them too).

Anyway, I was thinking about how some people treat a lawnmower as almost a disposable item these days.

Perhaps it’s a theft issue like me – you don’t want to spend anything but the bare minimum because you know that there’s a good chance that it will be stolen so you spend the least amount of money possible.

Perhaps it’s because the lifespan of many mowers isn’t all that great. Usually something goes wrong with the motor and it’s cheaper to get a new/used one than to get it fixed.

This last thing is the cause of the disposability of many items in our society, especially electronic ones. TV goes out? Better get a new one because it costs more to get it fixed. Dryer on the fritz? Same thing.

What does this have to do with us waiters?

Sadly, we are one of the most disposable workers on the planet. And part of it is our part.

When we treat it as a disposable job, we undercut our longevity. How do we do that, you might ask?

Many of us simply chase the dollar. When a hot new restaurant opens we migrate there, like Bedouins wandering the desert.

Some of us treat the responsibilities cavalierly by showing up whenever we want to, sleepwalking through shifts, not being team players.

Some of us don’t take our training seriously and just learn enough to be dangerous. Then, our only concern is where we’re going to meet after work to spend the money that we’ve made on booze and drugs.

Some of us look at the job as “something to do until I find real work”.

Management can be to blame as well, having been burned by waiters who have taken the above work attitudes.

Plus, there’s the whole “less than minimum wage” thing. It’s easy to get rid of a less productive or little-caring employee because they’ve got a stack of resumes “this high”. There’s a certain amount of culling that gets done in any staff over time. The weak sisters either get fired or get squeezed out of the prime shifts and sections. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to retrain someone else, although management would prefer to keep experienced waiters whenever they can because it takes a while for someone off of the street to “get it”. Once the training period for an experienced waiter ends, the real training begins, if you catch my drift. This last part is the saving grace for us waiters – this isn’t a job where you can hire a temp to come in to save some payroll and benefits dollars.

It’s also easy for a waiter to have a bad encounter with a guest. The law of averages dictates that this will happen eventually due to the extremely personal and varied encounters we have with a wide variety of guests that forms the core of our work experience.

If you’ve read this far, then you have the answers to the solutions to the problem of the disposable nature of your job.

Don’t be that guy. (guy used in a non-sexist way because that’s just the expression these days, just as I use waiter in a non-gender fashion).

Don’t do the things that I’ve outlined.

Don’t think of your job as disposable.

Don’t think of it as a placeholder until you get the job of your dreams. It’s your job now. Do it to the best of your abilities.

Don’t show up late just because you can (because you want to save those rare occasions for the times when you have a  legitimate reason to be late). 

Don’t slack on the training. Hit it head on.

Don’t come into work firing on only 3 cylinders. If you come in constantly hung over or tired, it’s time to take a good look at yourself, because you aren’t doing your body and mind any favors. I’m not saying that you have to abstain or that you won’t come in with the occasional hangover, but if it’s a constant state of affairs, you’ve got problems that you need to address before you kill yourself, either metaphorically or literally. You can’t stay in college mode forever.

Do be a team player. Often, it’s the opinions of your fellow workers that influence how disposable management sees you.

Do be productive. Be seen doing things like cleaning, not hanging out on the back dock smoking and joking. Don’t be constantly ducking running food for your co-workers.

Do be thankful that you have a job in this economy and remember that there are 10 people who want to take your place. And act like it.

If you do all of these things, you will make yourself seem indisposable when you have an unfortunate experience with a guest or you have a bad day/week. Don’t let something like that make it easy for management to get rid of you.

Managers are fond of saying that everyone is disposable, including themselves. This is true.

The key is in the degree that you can be tossed in the rubbish bin. Make yourself as hard as possible to be tossed away.

PS, I just cut my grass for the third time with this mower. Wish me luck.

Why waiting tables isn’t like your job…

One of the things that anti-tip trolls always trot out is, “I don’t get tips for the job that I do – why should you”?

Well, let’s compare your job.

Are you paid minimum wage or less for your job?

Are you required to read the mind and mood of your customer? Do you even have a customer or are you simply beholden to a boss in an office? If so, is your day to day income dependent on the the mood of your boss? Obviously the job itself could be be dependent on that, but very few jobs are in jeopardy if you piss off the boss on any particular day.

Are you sometimes told that you aren’t needed that particular day and you should just stay home and not make any money? Or are you told halfway through your shift that you aren’t going to be needed anymore that day and you should just go home and not get paid?

Does your product have the cost of your employment folded into the price of the product? Or is the customer expected to make up the difference between the selling price and the raw cost of manufacturing, shipping and warehousing and are they expected to pay you directly for your service to the company?

Could you go to jail for selling your product to the wrong customer?

Could you accidentally kill someone by simply selling them your product?

Do you serve your customer the entire time that they use your product? In other words, if you sell someone a TV, are you available a year later when something goes wrong with the product? Are you held personally responsible when your product doesn’t satisfy the customer?

Are you required to serve 20 customers simultaneously? Or do you get to serve them one at a time?

Do you get a paid vacation? Is it paid at your full salary or is it paid at minimum wage for only a portion of a normal 40 hour week?

Does your job require standing, walking, and carrying during the entire shift? Or are you allowed to sit down and take breaks?

Do you get enough tax withheld from your check so that you don’t have to pay the IRS large amounts of money out of your own pocket either quarterly or at tax time?

The answer to these questions, and even more, will tell you why you don’t get tipped at your office, retail, engineering or other “conventional” job.

Another thing that people trot out (but it’s a funny thing – you never hear these questions in real life, only on the internet) is”You are already paid to do your job. Why should I pay you for doing your job”?

Well, no, we aren’t “already paid for doing our job”. Actually we are paid just about enough to cover some of our tax burden, but only a portion of it – for instance, I only get about 1/5th of my Federal income taxes covered by my “paycheck” (which, in my state is ZERO). The hardest thing for “civilians” to understand is that the cost of their meal doesn’t cover very much of the actual payroll. It’s this fact that keeps menu prices where they are. If restaurants had to pay a full wage, the price of your food would skyrocket.

Additionally, we aren’t given a certain number of hours a week like the majority of workers are. We aren’t “40 hours a week workers”. We work according to the level of business.

Don’t get me wrong – waiting tables is satisfying and rewarding and one can earn a better than average wage. But it’s an often challenging job. It’s not a job that “a monkey could do”. Many people aren’t suited for it for a variety of reasons. 

There’s a reason why waiters generally make more money than other service jobs. We earn it. Every day. 

For those who say that it’s insane for a waiter to make $15 – 25 an hour while other “service jobs” might only make up to $15 an hour, don’t forget – the market has spoken. This is what the very consumers of our services have determined that we are worth. the fact that there are a tiny fraction of lamebrains who let others subsidize their dining shouldn’t deny the effectiveness of an employment tradition that has lasted for many many decades.

And finally, there’s something interesting about people who write things like, ” Why? Who cares? EVERYONE’S job is hard! EVERYONE has to deal with crappy customers… no special treatment!”

or “Tipping is just another example of the uneducated working classs trying to rip off the public because they’re too dumb to have a job that contributes in a meaningful way to society. Having to serve a
meal to someone for a living is obviously a low class way to get by, so servers desparitly try to appeal to our sense of empathy to solicit as much money from us as possible. It’s like they are
trying to take revenge upon us for they’re own shortcomings.If you ask me, I say if it’s going to be like that then two can play at that game. I recommend that all of you out the who are tired of
being victimized by greedy servers do the following:

Go out to the nicest restaurant in town and run up a huge bill.

When you are finished, leave without paying. Most “fine dining”
establishments don’t watch for this kind of thing, so it should be relatively easy to slip out unnoticed.

Servers are required to pay for “walk-outs” at most places” 

or

“uh, what? the waiters are already being paid!
more like, you don’t tip your
doctor or your mechanic do you”?

…yes, these are verbatim anti-tipping trolls…there’s also the classic generic, “If you don’t like making 2.13 an hour, get another job”.

What’s the interesting thing, you ask? Well, eventually, you’ll get something like:

i took my Girl out for a nice supper, steaks, wine…the whole shabang! i noticed the waiter was slightly irritated and not keeping tabs on our table (not really doing his job) he only had about 6
tables to keep tabs on!

i gave him the benefit of my doubt and left him 10% on a $200.00 bill…

So, here was a guy who was expecting a special dinner with his “Girl”. He dropped a couple of bills on it. Seems like dining out is more important that even the trolls think it is. Who do they expect to serve them dinner if we all take a powder and “get another job”. Do they really want their special dinner or their “lunch in 30 minutes so that I can get back to work without being late” served by someone making $7 an hour? How easy do they think it is to wait on “only 6 other tables” while trying to provide a $200 dinner to a deuce? What do they really think “keeping tabs on a table” means, especially in a place where you can spend $200 on  “steaks, wine…the whole shabang”? I’m not dissing the last commentator for leaving 10% on the bill because, perhaps the waiter deserved it. But he “gave him the benefit of the doubt”? Nah. If he had “given him the benefit of the doubt”, he would have tipped 15% (or more). Leaving 10% on a table where you didn’t get reasonably good service is what you should do.

So, boys and girls, before you make boneheaded statements on the Internet, think before you do so. If you are just trying to get a rise out of someone, that’s one thing. But if you really believe some of the stuff that I’ve quoted, then, shame on you. Walk a mile in our shoes before you make judgments like that (that will be about the first hour of a typical waiter’s shift, BTW). And think about the unintended consequences of eliminating tipping in the US. You think you’re unhappy now?

You ain’t seen nothing yet…

vs

6th largest group of employees in the US

Yes, that would be “waiters and waitresses”. Here are the top 6:

Occupation Employment Percent of U.S. Employment Mean Wage
  Hourly Annual
Retail salespersons 4,426,280 3.27 $9.86 $20,510
Cashiers 3,545,610 2.62 8.49 17,660
Office clerks, general 2,906,600 2.15 12.17 25,320
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 2,708,840 2.00 7.90 16,430
Registered nurses 2,542,760 1.88 30.03 62,450
Waiters and waitresses 2,371,750 1.75 8.01 16,660

 

This is taken from The Bureau of labor Statistics:

http://www.bls.gov/oes/2008/may/chartbook_occupation_focus.htm#figure2

The National Restaurant Association predicts this:

Restaurants to add 1.3 million jobs

The National Restaurant Association’s 2010 Restaurant Industry Forecast projects that restaurants will employ 14 million people by 2010, 1.3 million more than today. Read our 2010 Forecast to learn more about the fastest-growing occupations and the states with the strongest job growth over the next decade.

Keep in mind that this is all restaurant workers. The restaurant industry employs around 5,000,000 people, not including management.

Food for thought.

And speaking of O’Charley’s

Jeffrey Warne, recently named CEO of Nashville-based O’Charley’s Inc. and The Tennessean, the Nashville newspaper, did a Q&A with him in today’s Sunday edition.

Here is just one question, as answered by Warne:

How has the company controlled margins?

If you go back to 2008, we made the tough decision to reduce support staff. We eliminated some positions and through attrition we did significantly reduce the staff by about 20 percent. We also set up in 2008 a labor model that would predict when guests are in the building.

Using eight years of historical data, we mapped when guests were in our restaurants in 15-minute increments. The labor model was very effective at controlling labor costs. When we matched our labor as best as we could to when (guests) were in the building, our guest satisfaction scores took off, as well.

It is an informative series of questions and answers with a “numbers guy” and you can read the entire interview here:

http://tinyurl.com/Warne-interview

But you might want to hurry, as this article could be archived pretty quickly and might not be available for long.

More positive financial news for restaurants in 2010

From Nation’s Restaurant News:

Restaurant industry sees signs of light

by Sarah Lockyer

NEW YORK (Jan. 6, 2010) Two recent surveys forecast a slightly sunnier picture for the year ahead among both consumers and franchise business leaders, providing a glimpse of clearer skies for the restaurant industry.

Last week, a key consumer barometer, The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, showed its second straight gain in two months, with the consumer outlook for the months ahead reaching a two-year high.

The Conference Board, a New York-based research group, said the index rose in December to 52.9, from 50.6 in November. The index is based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, and readings above 90 indicate a stable economy and above 100 indicate economic growth. Tracking consumer confidence is key for many restaurant operators, as consumer sentiment is tied so closely to consumer spending, which drives the engine of the restaurant industry.

Read the rest of the article here:

New link added – Chef’s Blade

http://chefsblade.monster.com/

This is Monster.com’s “specialty site” for chefs and cooks.

There has a always been a bit of a gulf between front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house (commonly abbreviated as FoH and BoH). Waiters should make the effort to learn more about the people who bust their asses in hot and dangerous conditions in order for the guest to get top quality food.

This site can help in that regard, or at least it’s a good starting point.

It’s also good for guests, who sometimes think that the food magically appears from inside a black box.

For any cooks or chefs that might read my blog from time to time, it’s a sueful site because, let’s face it, it’s a Monster.com site and it’s geared toward networking and career information. Every kitchen person should become a member of this site.

I’ll be adding more kitchen specific links in the future as well.

Experts cautiously optimistic about the “restaurant industry’s fortune” in 2010