So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

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Muscle memory

Muscle memory is a big deal in sports. Muscle memory allows you to play relatively unconsciously, which frees you from making mental errors or second-guessing yourself. It is only attained through repetition and practice.

You can apply the same concept to waiting tables, except you should think about developing the biggest “muscle” of all – the brain.

I recently wrote about focus and consistency.  That’s what the corollary of muscle memory is all about.

The quicker you can achieve almost a Zen state when you get busy, the quicker you’ll be able to deal with the weeds and not be thrown into panic.

If you can do many of your tasks almost automatically and with little thought, you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll get through the rush. But this is almost a contradictory thing – a Zen puzzle, if you will. Aren’t you supposed to be super focused? Aren’t you supposed to be constantly evaluating, balancing, prioritizing? How can you do this if the advice is to not think – simply to do, to be?

The key is honing your skills during slower times so that you eliminate distractions. Get your abbreviations rock-solid consistent. Get your notational skill fixed so that you always write things in the same order and in the same way every time. Start seeing the section as a whole (start with two tables and work your way up from there). Work on speeding up ringing orders without compromising accuracy. Work on consolidating tasks so that you reduce your trips by half and then by thirds. Learn to glance at a table and see the table as it should be, not as it is. Should there be a little flash of pink on the table? Nope – that’s a Sweet ‘n Low packet that needs to be removed. Should there be a third glass in front of position 3, especially since the third glass is finally empty (they had wanted to nurse their previous cocktail while they enjoyed their new one, but now it’s empty).

As you develop these skills, you’ll find that you’re thinking less and less about them and doing them almost unconsciously. Hopefully, you’ll get to the point where you’ll be able to scan a 4 table section while getting double-seated at 8pm on the night where there’s an hour wait for tables and you’ll be able to see the whole picture. You’ll know where your other two tables are in a glance and automatically be able to prioritize your service in a flash – almost in a no-brain mode. You’ll glide through the next two hours instead of stumble. And you’ll appear to be totally controlled instead of two steps behind.

That’s because you’ve developed “muscle memory” in your brain. You’ll be relaxed and focused at the same time.

And that’s the sound of one hand clapping.

Picture courtesy of DogsLoL

On wine Pt. 1

Wine. The ultimate expression of the synergy between food and alcohol. Wine. A product designed to appeal to the noblest and the basest natures of humankind. Wine. Can mean the difference between you eking out a living and prospering. Wine. Can be the cause of elation and frustration for a server. Wine. It’s that important.

Some of you might be tempted to skip this post because you work in a restaurant in which wine is either non-existent or unimportant. Well, don’t. No, seriously. Don’t.

Remember what I said about one of the great pros of waiting tables – that it’s a portable skill? Well, the fact that you work in a restaurant that doesn’t offer wine or have a great wine list now doesn’t mean that in the coming years you might find yourself working in a restaurant where you might be able to offer a $300 bottle of Sassacaia to a willing victi…I mean guest.

You can never start too early to develop your wine knowledge. The wine world is so broad that you will never learn everything there is to know about wine. Even Masters of Wine, the highest level of certification that one can receive in the wine profession, are constantly refining their knowledge. So why shouldn’t you?

Before we talk about the generalities of wine that every server should know, let’s set up some guidelines. I’m not going to attempt to go into depth about wine. That’s your homework assignment for the next 20 years. There are many great books on wine, some of which I have already reviewed (and there are more coming). There’s enough to cover just in the basics of wine to fill volumes. What I’d like to communicate to you is the necessity of a good basic and practical wine knowledge. Why you need it, when you need it, how you need to employ it – the basic things that will set you apart from your slacker competitors who only want to know when they can get cut and go party.

First of all, let’s cover wine service itself. Wine service can be as simple as grabbing a bottle and pouring it at the table to the most intricate, fussy and arcane wine service imaginable. I’m going to assume that since you are letting me train you, that you aren’t going to even consider the simplest and easiest wine service as something that you are personally going to settle for.

Basically I’m going to describe a reasonably upscale wine service that can be applied to just about any restaurant situation. However, you should always follow any guidelines and policies that your particular restaurant demands. Don’t go telling your manager, “But, my Sensei told me to do it this way”. Guess what? I’m not going to be there to bail you out. As with any advice that I give you in this blog, my advice is superceded by any house policies. Got it?

When the guest orders a specific bottle of wine, you will order it from your bar/wine cellar. In a few instances, you might actually get to pull it yourself. While this is rare, I have actually worked for such a restaurant, so it’s not as unlikely as you might think. As you order, you should immediately note the vintner (“brand name”), the varietal (type of grape), the proprietary name (such as Franciscan’s “Magnificat’), the region (for instance, Silver Oak sells a Napa and an Alexander Valley cabernet with the Napa selling at a substantial premium)  and the year. All five things are important because your list might offer different wines from the same vintner and the prices might vary considerably (you’d hate to open a $300 bottle of wine when the guest only wanted a $75 bottle, wouldn’t you?). Some vintners have specific names for the same type of grape as well. Examples of this would be single vineyard bottlings, some of which with exotic names, or marketing names like Meritage (pronounced mer’-i-tige, not mer-i-tazge’ as some people pronounce it). A single vineyard wine might be a 20% more than the “normal” bottle, so you want to make sure you get what the guest orders. Also, distributors are notorious for shipping new vintage years without notification, and restaurants are notorious for not upgrading their wine lists in a timely fashion. So, while the guest might have ordered an ’04 chardonnay, you might only have ’05’s in stock because your wine manager didn’t notice that the vintage has changed. It’s a bit embarrassing to you for a guest to notice that you are offering a different year, partially because there can be significant differences in prices and quality between different vintages. Some guests are acutely aware of those quality issues, so you want to avoid that particular situation if you can help it.

So, what’s a poor server to do? Memorize the whole damn list? Well, no. Unless you are Super Waiter. Then, feel free to know all of the bin numbers, review the wine list everyday as you start your shift, taste every bottle on the list, even if you have to buy them.

For the rest of us, there are strategies that you can employ. First of all, unless you restaurant has a bug up its ass about this, don’t worry about bin numbers. What’s a bin number, you ask? It’s a specific number used for categorizing and organizing bottles of wine in a wine cellar. Some restaurants use bin numbers but many probably don’t. If the guest orders by the bin number, then it’s incumbent on you to be particularly careful when you present the bottle. Make sure you point out each element of the label because, chances are, the guest didn’t bother to confirm the name with you when he or she ordered. So you want to give them every opportunity to say, “No, that’s not the wine I wanted”. It’s possible that they might not have gotten the bin number correct.

Ok, in Part 2, we’ll discuss the way to deliver the bottle to the guest.


Photo from

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:


Waiter Extraordinare on taking the order

Steve at Waiter Extraordinare discusses the art of simplifying the order.

I’d only add a couple of other things.

On a side note, one key principle in closing the sale is limiting the choices or offering choices rather than a yes or no answer. Try to avoid yes and no questions if possible. Instead of “Would you like an appetizer”, try “Would you like to enjoy the fried mozzarella sticks or the spinach dip”? Also, suggesting certain items puts a picture in their minds and starts to trigger the hunger gene that we all have. The word appetizer just isn’t a very strong image. “Can I start you out with the grilled calamari steak?” is usually more effective than “Can I start you off with an appetizer?”.

Let’s say that it’s the end of the shift and you don’t really want to spend another 30 minutes with a dessert savoring table for an extra $1 added to your tip, or you are incredibly busy and would like to turn a table. Sure, you’re supposed to upsell desserts and coffees because it will build your check, but it might also mean missing a whole turn of the table or a delay to your checkout and beeline to the nearest bar. One little trick that I employ is “Does anyone still have room for dessert”, or “Can we squeeze in a nice dessert”? The idea is to plant the idea that they are probably too full for dessert. Dessert is sometimes a hard sell to begin with, so you can take the path of least resistance if necessary. Don’t deny your guest the opportunity to order dessert, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do a little mind control over them.

You can also help them make decisions by clarifying their needs. “I’m torn between the sea bass and the cowboy ribeye – I just can’t make up my mind”. My reply? “How hungry are you”? The answer to this will help me guide them. It also helps when they are trying to choose between something that has a heavy sauce vs something that’s simpler, especially if the menu doesn’t make clear that an item has a rich, filling sauce or accompaniment.

Some questions might simply be a guest fishing for validation of a decision that they’ve already made. “How big is the dinner salad?” might very well mean, “I’m looking for an excuse not to get the salad” or it might mean, “I’d sure like an excuse to order this salad without looking like a pig”. You won’t always be able to tell, but try to use your best judgment to guide them to the conclusion that you think will offer them the best experience, whether it’s validating their leaning or moving them off of their decision. For example, if it’s pre-decision A, you either want to validate that by saying that it’s fairly filling if you think that they should skip the salad because it might keep them from ordering a dessert and an after-dinner drink or you might want to counter the objection by saying, “It’s basically a starter sized salad that most people think complements the meal”. Just make sure that you’re describing it accurately. If your dinner salads are huge, then say so.  When you use this technique, the needs of the guest should override the possible financial or personal gain to you, although you never completely lose sight of those considerations. There have been many times where I’ve waved a guest off of an item even though it would have meant a bigger tip because of a fatter check. That’s why restaurant and I get as much repeat business as we do. I did it two nights ago as a matter of fact. 

Thanks to Steve for his nice post.

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.

New blog link added

She’s only slightly  cranky. Most of the time it’s slightly. Some of the time she’s peaches and sunshine. And sometimes she’s a fire-breather.

Experience the Purple Girl in all of her glory here:

You know she’s a smart gal when you see that she’s added my blog to her blogroll, so of course I’m going to reciprocate. I have a quid pro quo going – you add my link and I’ll add yours. Of course, I might give you a mention without the quid pro quo, so you don’t have to add me for me to add you.

I especially like this post of hers:

That’s a theme that I’ve been planning to cover – so you should read this…


How to make an extra thousand a year

There’s one thing certain about most servers (yours truly included) – it’s really frustrating to get a table at 9pm, especially when your last table closed out 30 minutes ago but the management hasn’t cut sections yet. The tendency is to say “Gee, I have to stay an extra hour and a half for a deuce that might only pay me $10”. And that’s a reasonable thing to think, believe me. Sometimes, if we get the chance, we’ll dish the table off to a closer or someone who already still has some tables working.

It’s hard to get out of this mindset, especially if you’re one of those people who likes to go out after your shift, or you have a turnaround lunch shift the next day. And I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable – that you should be glad to stay late and never think about dishing the table off.


…you can shift your thinking a little and get a payoff by hanging in there. There are several ways that this can pay off. First, dishing off even a $10 table a couple of times a week can add up. If you hang in there, now you have another thousand dollars in your pocket at the end of the year. Yes, it means another hundred hours of work a year, so that’s worth thinking about. 

You might also try to think of it as paying for a lot of your tipout for the night.

And if you work in a high-end restaurant, you certainly risk losing a lot more than $10 on a deuce. As anyone who works in such a restaurant knows, any table any time can be the one that makes your night and changes it from a $100 night to a $150 -$200 night, even with a small table. I can certainly testify to that. One thing to consider is that some of the heavy hitters in your restaurant like to come in after the rush.

This is a quality-of-life issue that everyone has to make for themselves. I’ve certainly been a serial table-dropper offender in the past myself. But I do it less and less. I find myself changing my mindset in subtle ways. I look at it as a way to do my closing sidework at a leisurely pace. I look at it as paying for my tipout. I look at it as “well, it’s only an extra hour or two and, who knows, I might pick up an extra table or two from people who are bustin’ to get out on the town”. 

This is just another way to look at getting by during these times of shrinking business. Remember, there’s almost always someone who is thinking of getting the hell out, so, if you can come to an accommodation with yourself, you could definitely profit from someone else’s “lifestyle choice”.

It’s another option that you have available to you; one that you might not have considered from all angles.

Oh yeah, one final thing to consider – management will come to depend on you as someone who doesn’t mind staying and doesn’t bitch about getting that last table. This can subtly influence their seating habits and you might start getting a higher quality of table in general.

Quick hint

I’ll be occasionally be posting some quick hit quick hints. Things that you might not think of but can help you solve a problem, streamline service or increase your tips. Some of them might be common sense or obvious for those of us who have been in the business, so, those of you who are more experienced, bear with me.

Today’s quick hint is regarding the problem of the guest taking both copies of the credit card or putting the tip on one copy but taking it and leaving the other copy, which they might have either not signed or put in the tip.

First of all, if you are working in a place where they sign both copies simultaneously (a carbon sits below the original), dog-ear the top copy so that it’s clear that there are two copies. I even used to separate them and put them back together so they weren’t plastered together. To be on the safe side, tell them “Sign here and make sure you leave the bottom copy”.  Yes, some guests will accidentally take both copies, thinking that they only have to sign one copy and that you mysterious will know by incredible mental powers how much they are tipping and that management will also take your word for this. I wouldn’t doubt that there are a very tiny percentage of this already admitedly small percentage of guests who might even do this deliberately in order to get out of paying the tip because they know that without a copy, most restaurants won’t allow anything to be put in for the tip and the waiter gets screwed in the process.

For those of you who get two copies which the guest has to sign, here’s a little trick. When you open your check presenter, put the copy marked merchant copy in the left cover of the book and put the customer copy in the right. Put the check over the customer copy. This forces the guest to deal immediately with the merchant copy, at least at first. You see, it doesn’t matter what he or she does with the guest copy. I’d say about 30% of guests don’t do anything with it at all – they leave it unsigned for you to throw away.

This doesn’t guarantee that they won’t take the merchant copy with them, so you still have to be quick to retrieve you book. All it does, in my experience,  is make it less likely that they will accidentally take your copy, the one with the tip on it. There’s still the danger that they sign it, put the tip on it, put it in their pocket and ignore the one hidden under the check. But if you’ve been having trouble with the guest signing both copies but only putting the tip on one and taking that while leaving the other, try this little tip and see if it doesn’t help.

The ultimate solution to this of course is to retrieve the check before the guest leaves and verify that you have a credit card slip signed and with the tip. Just between you and me, and I’m not saying that you do the same, if the guest hasn’t signed the slip, I don’t go back and have them sign, as long as they’ve put the tip in it and totalled it. I really don’t want to confront them about this at the end of the meal because it’s a slightly negative thing in the sense that you’re asking them to do something that they forgot to do and it could be slightly embarrassing to them in front of fellow diners. Of course, your management might be very strict about signatures, so you might have to have them do it. However, if they’ve left me the blank guest copy instead of the copy that they signed, I absolutely will go back and ask them if they took the wrong copy. This has actually happened to me a couple of time. Hell, it’s my tip at stake!

BTW, some people don’t realize this, but a signature isn’t even absolutely necessary. The money is captured as soon as it’s approved by the credit card company. However, a signature is important should the charge be challenged down the road. Without the signature, there is no evidence that the person who owns the credit card is the one who actually presented it. Frankly, I can really only see this happening in the case of a crooked guest, because who’s going to challenge a charge that they actually made, unless the total is different because the either the tip got changed or they grossly miss-added the total themselves and the waiter corrected it. But this is a topic for another day, a topic that I believe I’ve even addressed in the past.

Damn, that was longer than I expected.

Some terms that a new waiter needs to know pt.1

Bank – a stated amount of a server’s own money required  by a restaurant used to make change when a guest pays cash. It’s usually $20 or $25, broken down into tens, fives, ones and a dollar’s worth of pocket change. This money isn’t given to the restaurant – it stays with the server and is simply on top of the tips that the server ends up with.

Deuce – As implied by the name, a table where two people are dining. It can refer to the size of a table, i.e. a table that can only fit two people, or it can refer to the size of the party, i.e. “That deuce is chewing up my six-top”.

X-top – “X” refers to a specific number, top refers to the table or party. Refers to either the size of a table (two-top or deuce, 4-top, 6-top, etc.), or, as in deuce can refer to the number of people in the dining party. Usually refers to the size of the party.

Crumber – As the name implies, a curved piece of metal used to remove crumbs from a cloth-topped tabletop (doesn’t work very well on glass or wood). One of the server’s tools in restaurants with tablecloths. It looks like a small tongue depressor with the sides curled up.

The Pass – this is where you’ll get your food delivered from the kitchen. Also known as “the window”, “the line”, or, in the case where everyone helps run food, “the place to avoid” (obviously I’m kidding here, newbie.)

Expo the person who acts as the go-between between the front of the house and the kitchen. Calls the tickets to the kitchen and assures that the order is put up in the window for pickup. Coordinates any special requests or changes to the food. Calls for a food runner.  Basically is responsible for coordinating the smooth operation of the kitchen. Is sometimes the chef, sous-chef or manager. Short for expediter.

Rollup – in restaurants that employ them, this is the silverware wrapped in either a paper or cloth napkin. One of the bits of sidework that most servers and server assistants hate. If you work in such a restaurant, you’ll learn this term very quickly.

On the fly – often times caused by a server screw up, this means, “Cook this item as quickly as possible because other food is on the table and jump it to the front of the queue”. This is a phrase that a server hopes he or she only hears in the case of a kitchen screwup, but sadly, that’s not usually the case. Also said as on the rail.

Captain’s pad –  No, you haven’t been promoted. This is the usual term for whatever you write your order down on. It’s usually only used in the case where restaurants provide such a pad to the server. This is becoming rarer, so it’s  a term that you might not encounter.

B&B – bread and butter plate. It’s also a liqueur, but you’ll hear it most often referred to a 5 in. or 6 in. plate often times used as a place setting item on a set table or also used as an underliner for a monkey dish (see monkey dish later on). Guests use it oddly enough to put their bread on. Is found to the left of the forks in a place setting.

Monkey dish – the smallest bowl in the restaurant. Usually used to put butter in or side sauces. Can be used for grated cheeses, pepper flakes or any sort of dry ingredient that the guests requires in small amounts. Is always placed on a B&B  plate with a bev nap to keep it from sliding. The only exception is if it’s being used as a butter dish with a bread basket. Most restaurants don’t require it to be on an underliner for that use. Note the use of the word “most”.

Bev Nap – short for beverage napkin. Also sometimes called bar nap. These are the square paper napkins, sometimes with the logo of the establishment printed on them, that are placed under a beverage glass. Normally, you don’t use them on tables that have tablecloths or with stemmed glasses. Stemmed glasses don’t sweat at the base so there’s no need for an absorbent napkin. Some restaurants require them for wine glasses as well, which I think is foolish, but if it’s required by your restaurant, always follow the house policies. These are also used to underline plates that hold bowls.

Underliner –any plate used to hold a bowl. You always use a bev nap to keep the bowl from sliding.

Dupe – The printed ticket hanging in the kitchen that the cooks read to prepare an order. For restaurants in the stone age, can also refer to a carbon copy of a hand-written check. short for duplicate.

Pop-up – a table that has folding leaves that turn it from a square table to a round. Also refers to the act of making said table larger, i.e. make table 14 a pop-up and set for 8, or “Pop-up table 12 and make it an 8-top”.

Pivot Point – this is the first position at any table. It’s where you start numbering your guests. It’s usually determined in advance by concensus (closest seat to the door, the left seat on a banquette, the position to your left as you naturally approach the table, etc.). In some restaurants, it’s up to the server to determine the pivot point and the communicate that point to anyone helping them run food. In classical serving, numbering is done in a counter-clockwise fashion. However, you’ll find that most modern restaurants assume a clockwise fashion. You should always follow the convention because it’s very important that each guest is presented with the proper plate. It’s an imperative if you don’t run your own food,

Cap – the rounded end of a long table. If the long table looks like a long cigar, the cap would be either rounded end, although most servers use the one on the right hand side as you face the table. It’s sometimes the designated pivot point.

Head –the position immediately to the left of the cap. For a long table, either the cap or the head might be used as a pivot point (guest number 1). This is either determined by the server heading the party or by house policy.

Fire –the point where a server is ready for his or her food. Used in kitchen systems where you preorder your courses but the kitchen doesn’t deliver it until you’re ready. Sometimes this is done verbally and sometimes it’s a command sent through the computer. Old-style Italian restaurants call this via. A server should never fire their food unless they’re ready to run it.