So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: getting hired

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

From Restaurant Report – what’s wrong with kids these days?

From The Great Debates” series at “Restaurant Report”:

The State of Service in our Restaurants

Original Article:

By Jack Mauro

A man I worked for, a maitre’d/restaurant owner of the Old School, once told me that he always ignored resumes and applications when hiring servers. He’d nod, make polite noises as the applicant presented himself, and then he’d ask the person to bring a folder or a sheet of meaningless paper over to the bar. He would watch how the person walked, moved, and generally performed this relatively simple task. And he would base his decision to hire primarily on that.

On first sight, this is a pretty flimsy, if not downright pompous, sort of interview procedure. But there’s wisdom to it, and it’s at least as sound as the stats listed on any application which can tell you nothing of how this person carries himself; which, in turn, is pivotal in getting a sense of what this character is all about.

That man has since retired, although “retreated” might be the better word. It seems he was hiring fewer and fewer people towards the end. The walks he witnessed had become struts, and badly dressed kids, who swore they needed a job, regarded the request he would make to carry over the paper as burdensome.

Read the rest of the article here:

Yes, the article is a bit curmudgeonly. And there are plenty of young servers that I’ve worked with who have a great work ethic and a great attitude, just as there are old grumps such as myself who are always yelling for those kids to “get off my yard”! (at least the workplace equivalent of it.)

The one thing that I take issue with is this:

“…any waiter who approaches his table consciously anticipating a tip amount is no waiter. And this is precisely what you encourage when you tell these kids that they’re salespeople”.

Frankly, I am one of those who consciously anticipates a tip. and I am a waiter. The tip is my rationale for working. And face it, we are salespeople. But here’s what I don’t do. Even though I’m human and I’ll do a little prejudging regarding the tipping abilities of the guest based on their demeanor, I don’t tailor my service to them unless I know for a fact that they are poor tippers (we have more than our share of regulars and yes, some of them are not very good tippers). No, I’m not going to spit in their food or sabotage their meal, but I’m not going to give them the priority that I give the rest of my diners.  I’m not going to give them my best recommendations, I’m not going to sweat if their food is running a little behind; basically they’re going to get the service that they pay for.

And I’m a seller. But here’s the difference – I only sell to enhance the meal, not to raise the check, although it’s a byproduct of my selling efforts. Sometimes, rather than upselling, I’ll actually downsell if it’s in the benefit of the guest. It’s all about The Experience. Greed is never the goal. Great money will be harvested if you work in the interest of the guest at all times.

Sorry for the strange formatting in the first quoted paragraph – that’s how it came along for the ride.

When you go to this page, you’ll find links to other interesting articles, so click on them and have some fun!

Yeah, I’m your waiter. What the fuck do you want?

And speaking of the term waiter and Hooters Girls

From the “Hair Balls” section of The Houston Press:

Man Wants To Lick Hooters (In The Courtroom)

By Paul Knight
Fri., Jan. 9 2009 @ 3:44PM
Nikolai Grushevski, a man from Corpus Christi, has filed a lawsuit because Hooters wouldn’t let him work as a waiter, which we guess would be called a Hooters Boy.

“Hooters tries to circumvent the law by referring to its waiters as ‘Hooters Girls.’ Hooters is wrong,” claims the lawsuit, filed yesterday in federal court in Corpus. “Just as Southwest Airlines attempted nearly three decades ago with stewardesses, the waiter’s position addressed herein is being limited to females by an employer ‘…who merely wishes to exploit female sexuality as a marketing tool to attract customers and insure profitability.'”

Read the rest of the article here:

From The Wall Street Journal – Financial trader moves to waiter

A Finance Executive Walks Away to Work His Way Up From Waiter

By Dawn Falik

“Scott Gould went from trader to waiter—by choice.

Growing up in Florida, Mr. Gould enjoyed working in restaurants as a waiter and bartender. But he also liked working with numbers, and after graduating from the University of Florida, he went into finance. He got a job in New York as a fixed-income trader in 2000, and later raised money to invest in new markets and help develop avenues for investments.

He learned to do research and listen to customers. Every client wanted something a little different. One might want something aggressive; another, lower risks.

Life-Altering Moment

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Gould was working in his office near the World Trade Center. He evacuated after the first plane hit. As he walked down 36 flights of stairs, he saw the second plane fly into the tower.

It made him re-evaluate his career. “I had to think, ‘Do I love what I’m doing?’ and I couldn’t answer yes,” he says. “It’s not like I hated going to work, but we spend so much time working and it wasn’t exciting and I wasn’t running to the office on Monday morning.”

He kept thinking back to how he had liked working in restaurants. As a trader, he had taken clients regularly to Del Frisco’s, a steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. On a whim, he called a manager he knew. He asked for a job.

Behind the Bar

There was an opening—as a server. He handed in his notice the next day, took two weeks off and started at Del Frisco’s in August 2002″.

Read the exciting conclusion to the article here:

Burning bridges

One of the realities of working in a restaurant is the often transitory nature of working in a restaurant.

There is a myriad of reasons that this is true.

One is the fact that workers themselves see the job as transitory. They don’t consider it a “career”.  They consider it something to do while pursuing their education. They consider it a job worth jettisoning if another hot new restaurant comes around. They don’t consider it “full-time” because they don’t work 40 hours a week and they don’t work consistent hours. They might not feel like they are an essential part of the “team” or that they are unappreciated. Part of it is burnout, pure and simple.

Another part of the equation is the fact that restaurants often consider their workers “disposable”. Part of this is based on the attitudes of the service staff itself. Part of this is based on the high turnover and the fact that not everyone is suited for the job. Part of this is the wage structure. Part of this is the low cost of job entry and training.  Part of this is turnover in management itself. And part of this based on the burnout factor that I’ve previously noted. Management is often burned by waiters who simply no-show because they’ve found another “better paying job” or they’ve simply “had enough”. The proliferation of waiter bitch sites highlights the challenges that waiters face when trying to feed a picky and demanding public.

One of the goals of this blog is to get both management and staff to consider waiting tables in a different light – i.e. a worthy career instead of a “placeholding” type job.

And yet, despite the best efforts of staff and management, a waiter might find him or herself in the position of deciding to leave. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going assume that the waiter is voluntarily leaving.

If you decide to leave, think long and hard about just quitting and pulling a no-show. Burning bridges is never a good idea, for several reasons. First of all, the “greener pastures” that you think you are departing to might actually be a barren field. Second of all, you want to get a good job recommendation from your current employer in the future. And third, you should consider yourself a professional. The restaurant community is often tightly knit. Managers know each other; waiters hang out together. Your rep is an important thing to preserve. It might mean the difference in getting that prestigious job that you are trying to move up to.

There are a couple of obstacles to leaving on good terms. Management might feel “betrayed” by your leaving. They might also not want to keep you on during a two week notice because of a lack of confidence that you will complete your shifts or because of security reasons based on previous experience with other waiters who haven’t been professional in their dealings with the company. They might not let you give a two weeks notice. If this is the case, there’s not much you can do except to offer a written two weeks notice and ask them to reciprocate. If you have been a responsible and reliable waiter during your term of employment, they might actually let you stay. By providing a written two week notice, you preserve your reputation as a professional even if they refuse to let you stay on. If they waive this two weeks notice and let you move on, then they have made that choice themselves and aren’t forced into it by you. This will look better in the future if they are called upon to give you a recommendation.

Your new job might want you to start immediately. If this is the case, you might want to point out to them that you are a professional and you need to give your current employer two weeks notice. This puts them on notice that you are a professional at the very beginning of your employment. You might point out to them that you expect to give them the same consideration should you leave. This will help you jump-start your rep with the new management. If they don’t understand this, it should give you pause as to their own professionalism.

An employer is constrained legally by what they can tell a prospective employer. If you use your current employer as a future reference, about the only thing they can say is whether or not you are eligible for rehire or not (at least on the record). You want to preserve your eligibility for rehire and you do this by offering a written two week notice. This doesn’t mean that they would rehire you, just that you left on good terms. By doing this, you avoid gaps in your resume. Many waiters don’t look at the long-term implications of changing jobs and burning bridges. Three years from now when you are up for that great job, you don’t want a year long gap in your employment history because you know you screwed a restaurant by not showing up for that Friday night shift. Plus, you don’t want a manager going “off-the-record” and telling a prospective employer that you didn’t even bother giving notice and you simply no-showed. This sort of thing is done all of the time and is hard to prove, especially when managers know each other. They know how to preserve confidences and realize the ramifications of disclosing what they have found out about you. They’ll simply tell you that they don’t have a place for you at the moment. 

Giving a two weeks notice doesn’t mean that you can’t try to schedule some training shifts at your new place of employment. One of the great things about working in a restaurant is the fact that you have a flexible schedule and you should be able to work around your existing schedule. Sure, it will make your training at the new job more protracted, but at least you will continue to earn a regular income during the low-paying training phase.

If you do give a two weeks notice, make sure you either show up for all of your shifts or you get your shifts covered. Make sure you talk to your GM and get his or her assurance that you will be given a good recommendation. Doing these simple steps will help assure that you will get a good recommendation, plus, if you find that you shouldn’t have left for any reason, it will help you get rehired. You might want to come back because management has changed. You might want to return because the new restaurant wasn’t the money-printing machine that you thought it would be or the working conditions aren’t to your liking.

The important thing is to not burn bridges. By avoiding this syndrome, you rise another rung on the professionalism ladder. Even if you aren’t going to stay in the restaurant business, this can only help you in whichever career you decide to make. Take the long view – it will benefit you far more than you might realize.


Be careful during the initial interview

My buddy Steve, from the informative blog, “Waiter Extraordinaire”, wrote the following post:

A very good point, Steve.

And that got me thinking of things that you should either take with a massive grain of salt when interviewing for a new restaurant:

When the interviewer says the following, you should either disregard, or be very cynical about it:

“I don’t schedule according to tenure. I only schedule according to performance”.

Yeah, right. What are you – borg? To be fair, some managers actually believe this. And a smaller percentage of those might actually put this into practice.

“Our PPA is $75 per person”.

It might very well be. But, unless they are willing to show you monthly sales reports, take this with a grain of salt.

“We don’t want salespeople, we want people people”.

If you fall for this, shame on you. They all want salespeople. Unless they have a strict prix fixe menu. And, even then, they’d still like you to sell wine and alcohol.

“I can accomodate your school schedule/other work schedule/certain days off that you need/weekends off/lunches off/religious holidays off/etc. off.

Seasoned waiters take this with a grain of salt. Non-seasoned waiters fall for it every time. I don’t care if you are the lead singer of Styx and you need your summers off so that you can go on the “Grand Illusion Reunion Tour” – you have to always watch your schedule because someone (GM/AGM/schedule flunkie) is going to forget when Fleetwood Mac comes to town and your GM needs an extra body and forgets his promise from 4 years ago (speaking from personal experience here, although I’m certainly not the lead singer of Styx).

“We don’t do Sunday brunch”.

Maybe not now.

“We don’t play favorites here”.

A variation of statement #1. Unless your interviewer has glowing eyes and is issuing little wisps of steam from around his artificial gills, beware. As Depeche Mode once sagely said, “People are people”.

The main thing that you should do when going into an interview is to have done your homework first. If you are trying to get a job at Chili’s or Applebee’s, the only thing you need to know is “Am I willing to be more aggressive that anyone else? – Because I’m willing to stay late and pick up the tables that no one else is willing to” or “I hope I can slide out early because I want to go get fucked up with my friends”. Or, in the case of a restaurant that has a serious rep – see if your initial impression of the joint matches what you’ve been told. Are the carpets a bit ragged? Does everything shine? How are the bathrooms? Does the manager have the bearing that you expected? Is she just a little too glib? Is he just a little too green? Is she a little too jaded/faded/distracted?

If you are pretty green, unfortunately, you’ll have to take some things on faith. If  you’ve been around the block a little, trust your instincts.

You won’t be sorry.

Once you’ve got the job, what should you expect? Pt. 2

Hopefully, you’ll be given an employee training manual that includes basic waiting tables stuff like pivot points, Steps of Service, standard procedures, etc. Even more importantly, it will usually include ingredients for all food items and many popular alcohol beverages. Don’t just put this book aside and think, “I’ll get into this during training”. Be proactive and start learning the food and beverages now. You’ll show yourself to be ahead of the curve and everything you can do to get an advantage over the typical trainee will benefit you in the future.

At this point, you’ll be told when to return for your first training shift and the uniform that’s required. Most of the time, you’ll be given any specialized uniform items that you’ll need such as monogrammed shirts or caps, nametags, aprons, vests, specialized ties, etc. You’ll usually have to supply certain items yourself – things like slacks, shoes, black ties. You might have to supply a certain type of shirt yourself. If they give you any uniform items, make sure that you prep them properly for your first shift. Bistro aprons need to be starched and tightly creased. If you are wearing a dress shirt, make sure that it’s new, and also well-pressed. I suggest that for the first week, you have these items professionally done, even if you’re accustomed to doing your own laundry. You’re still making a “first impression” as you’re training. Plus, if you get the creases started professionally, it’s easier to maintain those crisp edges later on yourself.

It seems stupid for me to point this out because I’m not your mother, but make sure you’re a little early for your first training day. Leave extra early so that you don’t get stuck in traffic. This is the time where you’re going to be timing your commute, so give yourself at least an extra 15 minutes. If you get there 20 minutes early, then that gives you more time to poke around and start getting your sea legs. In any case, you should always plan your commute so that you arrive 10 minutes before the start of your shift. This gives you some wiggle room in case you get caught in traffic. Start getting in the habit right now.  Too many waiters try to cut it so close that they end up being habitually late. You don’t want to be one of those waiters because those waiters are always on their managers’ shit lists.

During your training, you won’t earn any tips. You’ll follow (shadow) a trainer each day and you’ll get increasing responsibility until the trainer is following you. The more you know early in your training, the more responsibility you’ll be given. If you’ve done a lot of your homework and are able to quickly answer any menu questions that your trainer has, the quicker your training will go. Many trainees need an extra day or two of training, so don’t be one of those.

Things will seem strange to you because waiting tables is a bit different than other service-type jobs. Just pay attention and soak in as much as you can. You can’t be trained on every situation that you’re going to find yourself in, so the more you take note of, the better you’ll be. and, as you read this blog, I’ll try to give you practical, real-world tips garnered from years of actually doing it. If you’ve just started reading this blog, I suggest going back and reading some of the earlier posts. It certainly won’t hurt you.

Good luck, and knock ’em dead!

Once you’ve got the job, what should you expect? Pt. 1

The transition to any new job can be unnerving and confusing. If you have never worked in a restaurant and have just been hired, here’s what you might expect:

They’ll usually ask you to come back for orientation. When you do, make sure you bring the items that they say you need, things like driver’s licenses, green cards, alcohol serving certifications when necessary, etc. It doesn’t make a good second impression for you to come unprepared.  And bring your own pen. As a manager, I was always dismayed when a server-to-be didn’t bring their own pen. Maybe that was my own pet peeve, but why take a chance? As a server, you will need to be prepared and you should show your new employer that you are prepared.

You should already have part of the menu memorized because you should have asked/insisted on at least a copy of the food menu, and preferably also the wine list. The more initiative you show, the better off you’re going to be. Plus, this gives you a few days extra study time, because you are surely going to be tested on your menu and bar knowledge before you are allowed to go on the floor. Everyone’s got a different way to memorize boring lists of ingredients, but I certainly recommend the flash card method. Another good way is to visualize the total dish because a picture is worth a thousand words, so pay particular attention when you’re given the opportunity to see the food. It will make it easier. Some restaurants want you to know every single ingredient in every dish and others are more concerned with the main ingredients and type of preparation, paying particular attention to possible allergy-inducing components. After all, you don’t want to clean the walls after someone’s head explodes after eating shellfish.

Your first day will generally be an administrative day. You’ll go through an orientation process that will require filling out a few requisite forms. You’ll probably be given an orientation packet which will outline the restaurant’s personnel and operational policies. There might be a training checklist which will give you an overview of the day by day training that you can expect. You might sit through the dreaded orientation video. You’ll probably be briefed on any benefits such as health insurance and 401(k) plans (if any). You’ll be briefed on the uniform if you haven’t already. You might get your employee number assigned to you and be shown how to clock in and out. Pretty basic stuff really. However, now is the time to ask any questions that you might have regarding policies and procedures, things like parking, family meals, employee discounts, uniform policies, tipout policies, etc. You should also use this day to evaluate the type of corporate environment that you’ve gotten yourself into. You might find that everything is tightly structured and run like clockwork. Alternately, you might find orientation to be more informal.

In part two, we’ll discuss the employee manual and other niceties.

Hopefully, I can help you from looking like this:


A few tips if you’re looking for a job as a waiter, but have never waited tables pt.2

This is all about the interview. And yes, I managed a restaurant for 4 years.

It’s 4:15 on a Friday night and I’m putting my floor chart together. I’m going to have a pre-shift meeting in about 20 minutes and I’m coordinating with the kitchen to find out what we might be short of and what the nightly specials might be. The phone rings and, instead of the usual request for a reservation, I get someone who asks if we are hiring waiters. Even though I am looking for a new waiter to fill the shoes of a soon-departing waiter, I tell them, “I’m sorry, but we’re all full. Thanks for calling though”.

I desperately need a waiter, so why did I curtly tell them no? Because, if you’re calling me 20 minutes before the start of my busiest night of the week, you probably don’t have much of a brain in your head.

A potential waiter comes in with a resume after making an appointment. I look over the resume, I ask a few questions like, “why do you think you’re a good waiter” or, in the case of someone without any experience as a waiter, “why do you think you’d be a good waiter”. After suffering through the normal, “Well, I’m really good with people”-type answer, I decide to give them an application. They then ask, “Do you have a pen”? At that point, I go through the motions but the applicant immediately drops down in my mind because I’ve always felt that someone should come prepared to fill out an application if they’re going to interview for a job (plus, the pen is one of the essential tools of the trade and it seems odd to me that a potential waiter wouldn’t have one with them for a job interview). I might consider them and I might not. Probably not, though. That resume goes to the bottom of the stack.

A waiter-to-be comes in in shorts, a t-shirt, a bandana and some Chuck Taylors with no socks. As much as I admire a sense of casual style and even though I don’t require even a tie or a nice dress for an interview, unless I’m running a beachside clam shack, my mind is going to go blank for the next 20 minutes. It’s going to take a lot of panache, persuasion and just plain charm to get me to even offer them an application, although if they ask me for one, I’ll certainly let them fill one out. It just won’t rise to the top of the stack.

There are certain ways to increase your chances of a follow-up interview or the offer of a job on the spot. You might get lucky and find a desperate manager who will hire you if you can fog a mirror despite coming into the interview with an attitude or sloppily dressed or overly arrogant and/or unprepared. But why chance it? Why not stack the deck in your favor, especially these days, where managers have scores of applicants to choose from?

Your dress will be determined by the type of restaurant that you are applying for. If you are applying for a casual, mass-market restaurant, you should dress in a casual, yet neat fashion. If you’d like to wear a tie and it makes you feel comfortable, by all means, feel free to. If you want to wear a nice dress, feel free to. Basically, you want to look “put together” in an appropriate fashion. I’m not here to give fashion advice. You should wear something that is professional looking without being overly dressy, fussy, slutty, or high fashion. You can accentuate your assets without flaunting them. If you are applying for a more upscale restaurant, then by all means dress up for the occasion. A suit and tie or designer dress wouldn’t be out of place. You might take your cue by what the clientele and management tends to wear. If you don’t have a nice, dressy outfit, then go with a simple black slacks, new white shirt or top, a nice pair of well-polished shoes. The exception to the above advice is if you are applying to an edgier restaurant. There are “hip” restaurants out there that are looking for servers with an alternative style where tattoos, piercings and the like are part of the image of the restaurant. In that case, you want to adapt your dressing style to suit the restaurant. You don’t want to dress like a Blockbuster toady. You want to try to fit in, although this doesn’t mean that you have to go get a bunch of piercings or tats. Simply try to adopt a hipper sort of vibe. Once again, take your styling cues from the clientele and the management.

When you make your initial approach, be prepared to be interviewed but don’t be surprised if you aren’t immediately given one. If you are asked to drop off a resume, ask if you can go ahead and fill out an application (using your own pen, of course!) Find out the name of the person who does the hiring and write it down.If you haven’t heard from them in a couple of days, call back between the hours of 2pm and 4pm preferably from Tuesday through Thursday (Monday is often a busy day with deliveries and dealing with the consequenses of the weekend, and Friday is just bad in general) and ask for that person. If they have to take a message, tell them that you’re just following up on your application and that you’re available to answer any further questions or clarify anything on your resume. At this point, you might write a followup letter thanking them for considering your application and reinforcing your desire to work for them.

During the interview, just be yourself. Try to stay relaxed. Avoid stock answers to questions like, “Why do you think you’d be a good server”? Don’t say, “I’m good with people”. Please don’t say that. Please. Oh god, please. Come up with something both original and relevant to your abilities (“I’m organized/focused/knowledgeable about food/have good solid work ethics/have significant sales experience/am a sales closer etc. – just make sure that you are what you say you are ). Don’t volunteer information (“I’m really tight with my parole officer”, “I’ve overcome ADD with the help of medication”, “Kicking cocaine has really improved my work ethic” – you know, things like that).

Managers are looking for personable, seemingly well-adjusted people. If you give off this vibe, you will go a long way with getting called back.


A few tips if you’re looking for a job as a waiter, but have never waited tables pt.1

These days, it’s getting harder to get a job as a waiter, just like any other type of job. When you’ve been in the industry awhile, you have your ear to the ground. You’ve developed industry contacts, you and/or your restaurant has a rep, you have some standing in the restaurant community. It’s easier for you to find the cracks and crevices, although unless you’re just getting burned out on your current situation, you’re probably not even looking.

But what if you’re someone who has lost their job as a retail associate or even as a car worker and is looking for a job in the restaurant business? Believe it or not, jobs still open up in the biz, they just aren’t as prevalent and ubiquitous as they used to be and they are quickly filled. You can help your search by following a few principles.

When making a short list of possible restaurants, think about what kind of cuisine you’d like to work with. If you have a weekly free paper, they usually have substantial ads of restaurants that can give you an idea of newly opened places (which always have a lot of turnover, for reasons both good and bad) as well as more established places that you might haven’t thought about in a while.

Want ads are virtually useless. Of course, it’s not much of an issue these days, as most “food service” want ad sections are about the size of a postage stamp. But even in better times, they are fairly useless. Restaurants normally don’t advertise for waiters and if they do, they are either in trouble or are what an old manager of mine used to call “shaking the tree” (he just wanted to see the talent out there and wanted to build a resume pile in case of an emergency). Restaurants are the ultimate “hire from the inside” type places, although their “inside” is the local restaurant community, which makes it harder to break in from the outside.

If cuisine doesn’t matter to you in the least, start with restaurants with a short commute closer to your neighborhood. This seems like a no-brainer, but many people take jobs across town when they could find a similar restaurant nearby, plus, by hitting up restaurants nearby, you’ll be able to follow up with them better. It will also allow you to pick up shifts with short notice once you snag the job. Plus, who likes to sit in traffic for 45 minutes?

 Once you narrow your choices, try to do some scouting. Check out the restaurant during the busy period. If you can afford it, have lunch or dinner there and observe the staff. Do they look harried? Does the FoH (Front of the House) staff seem to glide through the dining room effortlessly or are they chaotic and like pinballs careening through a pinball machine? Does the on-the-floor management seem to be poised and certain or do they seem to be putting out fires? Does it look like a fun and profitable place to work? Do you like the atmosphere?

 Once you narrow down the list of potential restaurants, you should gather menus from each one. You can do this by requesting to-go menus from the restaurants, or you can see if they have their menus posted on-line. Most of the restaurants that you have targeted will have them posted. You should then get a good overview of each restaurant before you schedule an interview. You don’t have to memorize the whole thing, but it’s good to have a working knowledge so that you can insert knowing comments about the food at appropriate times during the interview.

For example, I, as a manager, ask you, “Why do you want to work at this restaurant”? You might then reply, “I love the way that you combine flavors here. That chicken quesadilla with the mango salsa sounds really delicious”. This isn’t your cue to go overboard and prove that you have memorized the menu. You simply want to show familiarity and preparation – most hiring managers will recognize it as out-of-the-ordinary first interview behavior. But we’ll get more into the interview in part 2.

Meanwhile, you should be tweaking your resume, making sure that you have eliminated all typos. Resumes should be pretty simple and straightforward. Don’t go wild with fancy colors, wild mixes of typefaces, multiple pages of references from your scoutmaster or 3rd-grade teacher. A nice touch is putting the resume in a plastic binder.

We’ll talk about approaching,  meeting and handling the interview with your potential boss in part 2. But one piece of advice – don’t waste your time shooting for the top – high end restaurants only hire experienced waiters 99% of the time, even as server assistants. Even experienced waiters usually have to do their time as server assistants when they are first hired at a high end joint.