So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: service skills

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

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.

Trust pt. 1

Obviously, trust is something that’s important in any business transaction,  human interaction, or relationship.

It’s especially important in the waiter/guest relationship. The guest is entrusting the waiter to provide them a great experience and the waiter is trusting the guest to pay them for their service in the generally accepted way. There’s an implied contract between the two and the best way to assure that both ends are taken care of is by the waiter establishing the trust of the diner.

There are several ways to do this. The one that we will discuss in this installment is the display of an aura of competence. This is done by being quick to answer food and beverage questions and to keep a professional bearing around the table. As I always say, you’ve got to know your menu and bar offerings. You’ve got be able to be proactive in guiding the guest when they need or request help. If you see a guest struggling over the wine list, jump in and start asking questions like, “What kind of wine are you looking for – white or red? Red? Good. Do you like a full-bodied chewy wine or would you like something softer and more approachable? What’s chewy, you ask? You know that sort of sandy feeling you get with some wines? That’s the tannins in the wine and that’s part of chewy. You don’t like that? Well, why don’t you try a good pinot noir. It’s lighter and softer Oh, you don’t like pinots? Would you like something fruity then? We have a nice merlot that’s pretty big but not harsh. It’s kind of bright and zingy”. Good, I’ll bring it right out”. This sort of exchange shows that you know your job. Here’s the thing though – there are some merlots that are done in a style similar to a cabernet, so if you bring one of them, you risk the carefully built image that you have constructed. So you have to know your product and know what you are recommending.

Another way to establish competence is by using culinary terms judiciously. When you talk about the fine brunoise of red pepper that laces the red pepper coulis, you sell yourself as someone who knows their stuff. That sounds better than saying that the chef has added cut up red peppers to the red pepper purée. Most people won’t even ask you what a brunoise is (a very small perfectly cut cube approximately 3mm on a side). However, they will ask you what a coulis is (and hopefully you’ve pronounced it as the chef did – cool-E) and you should have a ready answer tailored to your audience – if it’s a seemingly unsophisticated diner, you can put them at ease by saying, “It’s just a fancy term for a smooth sauce”. If the table is obviously somewhat well versed, you can leave out “a fancy term” and substitute purée for sauce.

Stay tuned for part two on trust.