So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: service points

“Waiter, there’s a watch in my salad.”

From Access Atlanta, this nice guide about how to deal with sending food back, and a glimpse into the scam that waiters all over have experienced at one point or another – the slimebag who deliberately eats most of the meal only to send it back in order to get free food.

Normally, I only quote the first paragraph and then send you to the site, but in this case, I’m going to quote some of the middle of the article because it best embodies the spirit of the piece:

5. You just don’t like the food. The sauce is a little salty. The chicken lacks flavor. There’s a spice in there you don’t appreciate. Should you return any dishes for these reasons?

No, but if the waiter asks how you like the food, be honest.

I recently ate at the restaurant John Dory Oyster Bar in New York. I started with two small plates and ended with a soup called “lobster panade” for my entree.

The waiter had warned me the soup was thin and didn’t have any lobster meat, and the dish proved him a man of his word.

It was a russet broth made from the deeply roasted shells, with a caramelized — almost burnt — flavor lurking inside. I didn’t find it appealing.

When the waiter came to ask how it was, I responded, “Fine.” I wasn’t going to lie and praise it, but I wasn’t going to make a fuss and complain. Fine was an honest response.

“Just fine?” he asked, astutely picking up the clues. “We can always get you something else.”

I insisted I was copacetic. Then he said something really smart. “Just flag me down if you change your mind.”

After five minutes of pushing the soup around, I called the waiter over and ordered chorizo-stuffed squid. I loved this dish. “Are you going to finish the soup?” he asked. When I said “no,” he quietly cleared it away.

The bill came, and the waiter told me he didn’t charge me for the soup. “You didn’t like it, so you shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he insisted.

This, people, is the definition of good service.

That said, I was ready to pay for the soup.

All you can expect a restaurant to do is replace a dish you return. Do not expect them to take it off the bill, or offer free dessert or drinks. If that happens, then appreciate the hospitality and reward the restaurant with your continued business.

This passage is great not only because it shows the spirit of cooperation that should exist between the diner and the waiter, but it also points out the importance of reading the guest and acting appropriately when it seems that the guest is struggling with a dish.

Sometimes, it’s the inflection of the voice when the guest says “Fine”. They can say it with a big smile and a twinkle in their eye, but this is rare. Usually, when a guest says “Fine”, there’s a downward lilt to the word. The eyes don’t quite meet yours and the wise waiter will take the cue and dig deeper.

There can also be an awkward moment when the guest has expressed some measure of dissatisfaction, but doesn’t want something for free or cause a scene. I have actually had a guest or two take offense when the item is taken off of the bill. The best way to forestall this is to withhold that you are taking the item off of the bill until the actual presentation of the bill, unless you sense that you need to immediately let them know that they aren’t going to pay for the meal. I’m referring to someone who is clearly uncomfortable with sending something back. Sometimes you can make them defensive for the rest of the meal if you go back and forth with them about taking the item off of the bill – “I’ve taken this off of the bill”. “Please don’t. I’m not looking for a freebie”. “But it’s our policy to do it”. “I don’t want you to do that”….and so on. This can go on so long that you’ve now made a dicey situation worse by doing the right thing.

Instead, as you present the bill, you thank them for being honest, saying something like, “Most people don’t bother to tell us when we fall short of our standards. Thank you for being honest. I’ve taken the dish off of the bill because we don’t want you to pay for something that you didn’t like and didn’t even finish”. Most of the time, they’ve mellowed out in the time it took to get to the bill and they won’t protest too strongly. When they say, “I don’t want something for free”, I’ve said something like, “I know that, but this is a thank you for helping us identify a problem that needs to be addressed”. Usually, at this stage, they’ll thank you, being glad that you didn’t put them on the spot before the meal was over.

When do you let them know immediately that you are taking a dish off of the menu and when do you wait? There’s no one answer; you’ll have to rely on your instincts. Go with the flow and try to factor in the diner’s mood throughout the dinner.

To read the rest of this great article, go here:

http://blogs.ajc.com/food-and-more/2011/02/21/waiter-theres-a-watch-in-my-salad/?cxntfid=blogs_food_and_more

If you are a diner, this is a must read.

From The Food Network

http://foodnetworkhumor.com/2010/05/40-unfortunate-food-and-beverage-names/

BTW, there are some hilarious actual food products pictured there. Everyone is advised to check it out!

Book of the day – Lessons In Service from Charlie Trotter

Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter

by Edmund Lawler

Publisher: Ten Speed Press (November 28, 2001)  

ISBN 10: 1580083153

ISBN 13: 978-1580083157

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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