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Been a while…

This is the longest lapse of posting since I started this blog.

It wasn’t intentional, but I’ve had a dearth of inspiration for writing about the art of waiting tables, or even writing about the restaurant business.

Last year was a return to the earnings of years before the great financial crisis, at least in my restaurant. We had a banner year and it trickled down to the staff.  So, no complaints there. In fact, just the other night, I walked with the most money I’ve ever walked with for a double.

No, probably just needed to not obsess on the mechanics of waiting tables. Try to get recharged.

I’m not there yet, but I’m on a trickle charge at the moment. Seems like I’ve covered most of what can be covered from an “aha moment” sort of perspective.  Hopefully, some of you have taken this pause in the action to check out some of my earlier posts and hopefully, they’ve given you food for thought.

In the meantime, I suggest that you check out The Hospitality Formula at: http://hospitalityformula.com/

This is an evolution of the great blog, Tips For Improving Your Tips, the link of which can still be found in Ye Olde Blogroll. I’ll be adding the above link to the blogroll shortly and I’ll probably keep the old link there as well as long as it takes you to the earlier version of the blog.

This blog covers a lot of the same waiter territory as I have in the past, only it’s not as rambling, convoluted  or “personal” as some of my posts can be. And, with the expansion of the blog to cover all aspects of the hospitality industry, it’s a great go-to inspirational and instructional resource for everyone in the industry, especially waiters.

I hope you check it out and spend some time there as you wait for my battery to load.

Hospitality Formula

It’s the little things redux

A while back, I wrote a post on “the little things”.  Detail things. Things that aren’t often taught in the employee manual or aren’t necessarily “house policy”.

You can find that post here:

 https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/its-the-little-things-2/

I have a few things to add to that list.

When placing a ribeye or any steak with a bone on one side of the steak (i.e. not a t-bone or porterhouse), make sure you put the bone away from the guest.

If appetizer plates have just come out of the dishwasher and are still hot, and you are serving a cold appetizer like shrimp cocktail on it, make sure you quick chill the plates. There’s nothing worse than serving chilled food on hot plates. Unless…

…it’s serving hot food on a chilled plate. It’s not very good to serve a hot soup bowl on a chilled underliner (many restaurants use 8 inch chilled plates for both underliners and salad plates and sometimes they are the only plates available during the rush).

When presenting the wine bottle cork, place it so that you can read the winery name, if it’s printed on the cork. In fact, I make a visile effort to turn it so that they notice that I’m doing it. Now I know that corks aren’t really supposed to hit the table. In formal wine service, you either have a small trivet to put the cork on or you hand the cork to the guest. But most modern restaurants have no prohibition on the practice of putting the cork on the table. I find that many times, the guest isn’t ready to have the cork handed to them, so I usually just put the cork on the table. Remember, house policy trumps any advice that I give.

Some waiters actually carry reading glasses for their guests, and themselves. If you see a guest squinting at their menu, offer reading glasses if they are available (many restaurants keep them on hand for just this occurence).

If a guest asks for sauce on the side, offer to sauce their dish.

When marking a table (the act of replacing cutlery), don’t get lazy and give everyone a steak knife if a couple of them are having steak. If someone is eating deboned chicken such as a breast, or fish, please give them a regular knife.

If someone is having a burger, you should give them a steak knife in case they want to cut it in half. However, if someone is having chopped steak or Salisbury steak, give them a regular knife.

If you can avoid it, try not to give a table butter directly out of a reach-in cooler. Try to give them butter at room temperature. This isn’t always possible, but just think about how hard it is to butter a non-heated roll or slice of bread with a rock-hard piece of butter.

When pouring beer, try to create a nice 1 1/2 inch head. Some beers like many lite beers don’t generate much head on their own. Find out which beers don’t give much of a head and pour them more vigorously in order to get a good head on the beer. There are some beers, like Heineken, that build a good head on their own, so be more careful pouring them. For Heineken, a good plan of attack is to tilt the glass, pour fairly hard against the side and build the head in the first half glass and then straighten the glass and pour slowly, keeping the head about the same. For Bud Lite, you might want to pour into a glass held straight and force a head to be built. However, always watch the glass in case the head gets out of hand. The last thing you want to do is have half a glass of head. It’s all about practice.

If a beer glass has a logo, place the glass with the logo facing the guest. This goes for any logo on any glass or plate.

When skewering an olive for a drink, place the opening up facing the guest (the hole with the pimento or blue cheese showing).

Some of these things are very subtle. But the more subtle things you do, the greater the cumulative effect.

It’s all about details in our business.

Change of seasons

We are now on the cusp of a new season. This has implications on several levels for waiters.

The main one is the effect of seasons on the guest. This drives everything from eating habits to dining patterns to mood.

Eating habits change. This drives culinary offerings in restaurants that have seasonal menus as well as altering the ordering patters of the guest. The restaurant might have a consistent menu mix but even those restaurants find diners choosing different items and some of this is location dependent. If a location is in a place that has an oppressive summer weather, the guest naturally chooses lighter fare like fruit based dishes, fish instead of steak, lighter wines. As the weather starts to cool down, they start choosing heartier fare, which culminates in lots of rich, comfort food by mid-winter. Wines gradually move from things like crisp sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs to big, oaky chardonnays and chewy dense cabernets and rustic, spicy and bold zinfandels.

The change of seasons also changes dining patterns. Each change of season is accompanied by big holidays or events that change the frequency of dining. Whether it’s parents dealing with sending kids back to school around the time of the big blowout farewell to summer, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving signalling the true beginning of fall, or Memorial Day triggering the desire to cook out or hit the lake, the change of seasons is the kick in the butt to the complacency that the day to day drudgery of waiting tables engenders. The change of seasons also falls in line with the start of various pro sports seasons and this can impact reservations both positively and negatively, especially for those cities lucky enough to have sports franchises. 

So what’s a waiter to do?

Now’s the time to acknowledge that change is coming. Some of you have already noticed it. This isn’t the time to let your guard down or rely on the status quo. If you are counting on a certain level of income and the guests stop coming for a week or two while they get their kids in school, you’ll be for a big shock.

Now is also the time to use your menu knowledge to your advantage. If you can get in sync with the guest’s internal rhythms, you can show yourself almost on an unconscious level that you are creating the perfect dining experience for the guest. You’ll find your suggestions flowing instead of fighting the impression that you are just trying to sell the guest something. You are trying to sell the guest something – the perfect culinary experience. You start using your wine and alcohol knowledge to the advantage of both you and the guest. For instance, when someone asks you for a beer suggestion in the middle of a humid summer, instead of randomly picking a beer or your own personal favorite, you steer the guest toward a summertime perennial, wheat beer instead of a Guinness. Of you discuss the advantages of choosing that violet-scented viognier that you have never been able to sell in the past. It’s all about matching food and drink to the climate.

See the change of seasons as an opportunity and a challenge. By staying in tune with the seasons, you force yourself to stay current on your menu and alcohol knowledge. You fine-tune your knowledge of the flow of your restaurant. Most restaurants are fairly predictable in terms of ebb and flow. It might not be totally congruent year day to year day, but patterns emerge over time. It’s almost like the restaurant has a unique biorhythm. This is one argument for staying with one restaurant instead of bouncing around, trying to find the new hot restaurant. The longer you stay with a restaurant, the more you can deal with the natural ups and downs of a particular place.

The seasons are your friend, but only if you embrace them.

 http://verydemotivational.com/category/motivated-photos/?id=60941

Waiting on celebrities

Celebrities are people too. They like to go out to eat. After all, they put their pants on one assistant at a time.

I’ve waited on celebrities from all areas of life. I’ve waited on celebrities from sports, politics, the Arts, science, and even reality shows. I’ve waited on a guy who served 15 years for murder. I’ve waited on the scientist who inspired “A Beautiful Mind”. I’ve waited on every Tennessee governor since 1971 sans one (the older ones were when they were ex-governors). I’ve waited on a couple of presidential candidates (one of whom is now a bigwig in the Senate and the other a shill for reverse mortgages on TV). I’ve waited on the “Bad Girls” from the “O” network. I’ve waited on local celebrities, regional celebrities, national celebrities and international celebrities. I’ve waited on celebrities on the cusp of fame, those whose fame is burning brightly (for better or worse), those whose 15 minutes is long ago spent, and celebrities who have crashed and burned. I’ve actually been around a huge number of celebrities over the years (I’ve done “celebrity waiters” gigs as well as having mass numbers of celebrities dining with other waiters).

This isn’t bragging – it’s just to show that I’ve waited on a pretty healthy cross-section of celebrities.

The important thing to remember is, despite all of the horror stories you hear about celebrities behaving badly, tipping poorly and being demanding publicity sluts/and or freakishly demanding of their privacy, that usually isn’t the case. Most celebrities are quite warm and friendly, especially if you don’t make a fuss over them or appear to be fanboyish. Most don’t mind being acknowledged for who they are, although with some celebrities, you’ll probably go farther with them if you just wait on them like anyone else.  You might say something in the middle of the meal like, “How is the veal, Mr. Springsteen”? Surely, you didn’t greet them with, “Good evening everyone, welcome to The Hungr…OH MY GOD – IT’S YOU!!!! I’ve been listening to you since 1974! I saw you 4 times on the Born To Run Tour alone!!!!” Better that you gave him a knowing glance, an arch of the eyebrow and a slight nod as you cast your eyes around the table (as a good waiter, you don’t just greet the table, you greet each person by making eye contact with them).

Celebrities expect a certain amount of attention when not deliberately dressed down – in fact, they demand it on various levels. It’s part of the deal with the devil that they made to achieve their level of fame. Most celebrities are content with a tacit acknowledgment of their status, but obviously there are those divas that demand fealty from all they meet. If you get the latter (and I must admit that I’ve never encountered such a beast), I suspect that the best tactic is just to give in and do whatever fawning seems appropriate. after all, you’d like to separate as much money from their black AMEX card as possible. Playing to their ego might very well get you the bottle of Cristal or Dom.

In any case, don’t get nervous and tongue-tied (or starstruck). It’s easy for me to say after all of the celebrity encounters that I’ve had – but trust me, after the first few, you learn that celebrities are, in the main, not much different from everyone else. They can have their moods and you still need to read them just like any other table. You still have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. You still have to hit your marks. 

If you get a celebrity in the house, don’t tell your tables until they’ve left. You wouldn’t tell the celebrity that they are there, would you? If your restaurant is known for celebrities and someone asks you if there are any celebrities in the house, your stock reply should be (as you glance around the restaurant) “I haven’t seen any tonight, but I’ve been kind of busy”. Of course, if your restaurant is known for celebrities, then you already know this; this advice is for the novice who might accidentally find him or herself waiting in a celebrity-rich environment.

Be careful about telling stories out of school, even when they are complimentary stories. This goes double for Twitter, Facebook, et. al. It can come back to haunt you, as I have pointed out a few times on this blog.

If you get a celebrity with a handler, play to the handler. They’re the ones who are there to absorb or deflect some of the unwanted attention directed to the celebrity. They might also handle the purse strings.

Speaking of purse strings, most celebrities are very generous. I said most. Your chances of getting a good to great tip with a celebrity is higher than if you wait on the average person. I can only remember a couple of celebrities who were poor tippers.Some celebrities are extravagant tippers. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to wait on one day. but don’t expect a huge tip just because a celebrity is rich and famous. Remember, they are just people too. don’t invest them with super tipping powers.

So, to recap, celebrities are like anyone else. They can be friendly, moody, pissed off, generous, cheap, annoying, engaging, interesting, demanding, bored, imperious, quiet, reserved, boisterous or just plain nice. Just because they were in the Super Bowl or acted in a movie with Gene Hackman or were famous for being a pivotal character in one of the pioneering cop shows of the early 80s or being one of a brothers’ acting dynasty or being the distaff half of the Moonlighting duo doesn’t mean that they deserve any less than your best.

Or any more for that matter.

No, that’s not Zach Braff dining with Hung from Top Chef. PSYCHE!

A tall order: The challenges of being a state dinner waiter at the White House

From The Washington Post:

White House State Dinner Waiters Dish On Hospitality Under Pressure

By Robin GivhanWashington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

 To be a waiter working amid Washington’s power brokers means having one’s Social Security number screened weekly, if not daily. It means not flinching in dismay when lawmakers — more concerned with sobriety than respectful of vintage — order white wine with ice. (Oh yes, dear oenophiles, it’s true.) And it means not letting one’s nerves run amok and one’s hands go shaky when serving red wine or sizzling mole to the leader of the free world.

Read the rest of this article here:

http://tinyurl.com/Waiting-at-the-White-House

I love the three rules:  “Rule No. 1: Don’t gawk at the guests. Rule No. 2: Don’t talk to the guests unless necessary. Rule No. 3: Don’t hover”.

New link added – More Bread Please

Here’s a new promising blog from someone who is documenting his move from one restaurant to another.  It’s well-written and it’s obvious that this person has a lot of restaurant experience, so we can learn much from this blog.

The blogger isn’t afraid to directly document what’s going on during his or her shifts, unlike myself.

I think that all restaurant people will enjoy getting in on the ground floor of this nice blog.

So let’s welcome this blogger with a slice of ciabatta, a wedge of Manchego cheese and a glass of La Rioja Alta “Viña Ardanza” Reserva Rioja.

Restaurants go to the dogs in Nashville

In a new trend, restaurants are allowing dogs to accompany their owners on selected restaurant  patios in Nashville. This isn’t a new thing for me to experience, as it’s quite common in Europe for patrons to bring their dogs with them in restaurants. It’s probably even pretty common to have al fresco Fido dining in other parts of the country. But it’s a pretty new thing here.

Due to health codes, it will probably always be forbidden for dogs to come in the dining room (with the exception of dogs for the disabled). Personally, I think it’s a shame, but, to be honest, some guests probably wouldn’t have the sense not to bring a dog unless it was totally comfortable with lying still for a couple of hours at the foot of its owner. Look at the problems we have with children sometimes!

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20100826/FEATURES01/8260302/Dog-friendly-restaurants-welcome-all-to-dinner

Occasionally, I’ve seen people sneak their tiny dogs in a large purse. Happened just a couple of months ago. Back when I was managing a restaurant, we had a homeless-looking guy sitting at the bar who had a red squirrel under his coat. I thought to myself, “Hmmmm, now we have a new soup of the day”.

 

I ordered my peanut MEDIUM RARE! I want to see your manager RIGHT NOW!

 If you have this image as your wallpaper, then I’m worried about you. However, if you don’t have this as your wallpaper and desperately crave it, then, by all means, go here, the source of the photo:

http://www.1280x1024desktopwallpapers.com/1280x1024wallpapers-animals.php

Personally, I have a photo of a Patagonian Toothfish (aka sea bass) as my wallpaper. No lie! But let me tell you, it ain’t warm and fuzzy:

Blind waiters and dining in the dark

This interesting story about a restaurant where the waiters are blind and diners dine in the dark:

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/blind-waiters-serve-diners-dark-restaurant/story?id=11431202

What an intriguing idea!

Could this be in your future?

VIDEO: iPad touting waiters, is this the iPad’s killer app?

May I take your order please

11 May 2010 12:07 GMT / By Stuart Miles

Apple might have sold 1m iPads in the US and expected to show bumper sales around the world when it launches at the end of the month everywhere else, but many people still can’t grasp why or what you would want to use one for. 

In steps the latest idea – a Point of Sale app that will let the waiter at your favourite restaurant take your order via an iPad and have it beamed back to the bar or the kitchen so they can start cooking. 

The system – similar to how Wagamama waiters already take orders, but with older PDA style devices with a stylus – could presumably evolve into letting the customers see pictures of the dishes they are ordering. 

See the rest of the article here:

http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/33030/ipad-touting-waiters-what-next

Pooling

What is pooling?

Broadly speaking, it’s combing sales and tips by two or more waiters.

In some restaurants, it’s done globally. Some restaurants require their whole staff to pool their tips. This is pretty rare. It’s done primarily in restaurants with small staffs. More common than global tipping is using the captain system, where the staff is grouped by teams, each team employing a captain, who usually gets a larger proportion of the tips. The captain is the “front-person”, the most visible waiter to the guest. He of she “fronts” the team, supported by the support members who might so everything from taking the actual order and inputting the order to the kitchen, takes drink orders, runs the food, etc. This is fairly “old school”, drawn from the days of head waiters and maitre de’s. It’ still a pretty uncommon situation for most restaurants.

Another form of pooling is in private parties. In most modern restaurants, the captain is still employed to maintain a sense of accountability and a point person, but usually, the captain shares equally in the pool. This is the most common method for private parties. Usually, if there is more than one private party, all parties are pooled together.

The last form of pooling is between two or more sections. Sometimes this is mandated by management in the case of  extraordinary situations where non-pooling would result in potentially uneven distribution of tables or in the case of situations where the restaurant might see the addition of additional tables because of some special event happening in the community that will generate more business than usual.

Pooling has advantages and disadvantages.

The major disadvantage is that it can allow sub-standard waiters to ride the coattails of better waiters. Another disadvantage is that is reduces the incentive to be an individual producer.

The major advantage is one of fairness. It allows all participating waiters to have the chance to benefit regardless of the influence of “luck”. All waiters have been in the situation of having their neighbor “luck” into having a better earning situation due to getting a lucky table or being seated more frequently than a neighboring section. It also can be a “hedge” against such a situation.

I’m generally not in favor of global pooling unless the restaurant is so small that there are only a few stations and fair seating can’t be guaranteed. In this situation, it’s imperative that all members of the team are strong and they pull their weight. Underperformers simply can’t be tolerated. They will generate ill-feelings from the stronger members of the team who rightly don’t like having to pull others’ weight.

I think that waiters, used to seeing the disadvantages of pooling, sometimes miss the potential advantages, and this is why I’m writing this post.

If you are a strong waiter, sometimes it’s to your advantage to pool with another strong waiter of your choosing. You might do this in order to hedge your bets. Both waiters go into the shift being subject to luck. By pooling, both waiters can be assured that the “fuzzy end of the lollypop” doesn’t come their way. Also, sometimes it’s good to have a backup in the case of a doubleseat or some other situation where the waiter is stuck doing a task that keeps them out of their section for a prolonged periof of time. Teamed waiters can greet the others’ table or help with drink orders, etc. Perhaps one of the team had a big party that demands a lot of extra attention or required more service than a single waiter can deal with easily. In this case, the other waiter can take care of all of the other tables while offering help at the precise moment that it’s needed.

I think that more waiters should take advantage of this on occasion.

Some ground rules that I think should be followed.

First,  pooling should be agreed to before the shift starts. It shouldn’t be done when it becomes clear that luck is running one way or another. for instance, if a waiter gets a goldmine of a table, it’s unseemly for another waiter to offer to pool.

Second, it’s best for the waiters to continue to wait on their own tables in their original section instead of alternating tables. While this can be better in certain situations, it can be confusing. Whose turn is it? Which tables are mine? Also, it scatters the tables out for no good reason. It’s just more to keep up with.

Third, the pool should be 50/50.

Fourth, it must be OK to do this by management. Obviously, you could  keep them out of the loop and just keep it private if you want. who’s to know if you are pooling your tips at the end of the night? but it’s better to do this with the blessing of management. You want to think carefully about going around house policies.

Fifth, you should coordinate the “ground rules” with your partner. For instance, you might agree that no matter what, whoever is closest, that waiter will automatically greet a new table regardless of whether it’s in their section or not. Or you might break it down like a captain system and have one person front all of the tables while the other does all of the logistic stuff. Perhaps one member of the team doesn’t mind doing more of the logistic work because they are more confident in the other’s ability to drive sales or be a better “public face”. I don’t particularly recommend this method but if both members are more comfortable with the arrangement, then I say, “Why not?”

Sixth, it’s always better if the sections are adjacent. Try not to pool with someone whose section is across the restaurant. There isn’t much of a logistical advantage to pooling in that situation.

And finally, don’t worry about who actually made more tips. This is counter-productive. It’s almost guaranteed that one person will “make more” than the other. If you do it enough, especially with the same partner, it will even out over time. that’s the “hedge” aspect of it.

Pooling can give you a sense that you aren’t going be screwed by the vagarities of seating rotation. Pooling can give you more confidence that you can provide better service to your guests, especially when it’s done voluntarily and with the partner of your own choosing. Perhaps you have another fellow waiter that you are totally confident in. In this case, why not try it out?

It’s worth thinking about. Even if you’re in a restaurant like Applebee’s where you don’t see private parties or unusual seating rotations, you might think outside the box.