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Tag Archives: Tipping

Followup to the “non-tipping pastor” story

In fairness, here’s (apologies to Paul Harvey) “the rest of the story”. At least the pastor says that she left a cash tip of $6. I’m inclined to believe her. Despite her self-proclaimed “lack of judgment”, I doubt that she would break a Commandment to compound her embarassment.

The real lesson in this is that a waiter (remember, I use that term for both sexes) has a responsibility to guard the privacy of his or her guests’ transactions when dealing in public forums. We all dish stories out of school over drinks and the like, but if you publically violate a guest’s privacy, especially in regard to names, credit card slips, signatures, etc., you must be prepared for the consequences. Surely you wouldn’t like your own privacy violated that way, right?

 

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/tipping-pastor-apologizes-687234

Pastor shows his un-Christian side

First, this proves that waiters should be very circumspect about posting to social sites, especially when sharing things like receipts.

But, above all, it shows the sort of thinking that supposedly religious people apply in the real world. Disgusting. Hope that this pastor is outed. Feel free to share. Repeatedly.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/31/applebees-waitress-fired-god-tip-receipt_n_2591794.html

Image

Business dinners redux redux

In part one, we discussed the beginning of the business dinner.

We’re going to wrap up the discussing in this post.

After presenting and serving the wine, it became clear that they weren’t going to need a lot of entertaining, as people kept talking about this and that to each other. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason or any particular direction that the various conversations were going in.

So, this was my cue to ask if they wanted me to order some appetizers. Which they did. And I did.

 This gave me another clue as to how to wait on them. I suspected that they wouldn’t even need me to give them a song and dance about “The Specials”. Sometimes you can just tell that they are simply going to order directly off the menu. When this happens, the best thing to do (especially with a group of 6 or more) is to simply start going around the table and quietly ask each person if they’ve decided. This accomplishes two things. First, it establishes that the meal is going forward and, it gets the menus out of their hands. Menus can be a real distraction if you have appetizers coming.

So I started around the table and, sure enough, I got an order pretty quickly.

The rest of the meal was pretty standard. Appetizers were served and eaten, app plates bussed and new silverwear marked, salads dropped, salad plates bussed, silver marked and entrees delivered.

Finally, about 3/4ths through the entrees, one of the principals started making a low-key pitch. Apparently, they were trying to entice a couple of potential new account managers. At this point, I made myself scarce, although I stayed within eyesight most of the time. Whenever I had to refill a glass or remove a plate, I did it as silently as I could. I was like a Ninja!

As is the custom with a lot of this type of group, when they finished their meal, they were pretty much ready to wrap up the eating.  I gave them a cursory “W0uld you like to see a dessert menu”, knowing that they wouldn’t be interested. I did have a couple of coffee and espresso orders though.

At the end of the meal, I presented the check and the guy said, “Great service as usual”. I was pretty sure that this wasn’t the kiss ‘o death that it usually was. The bill ended up $1150. I thanked him and shook his hand and them proceeded to shake each of the other guests’ hands one by one.

The tip?

$240.

Nice.

I guess the thing that I’m trying to get across is that the business dinner can be lucrative if you follow the cues that your guests are giving you. Not every business dinner is going to go this smoothly or have a huge payoff.  The key is to go where they lead you, establish yourself with the table, and try not to step all over whatever business that they might be conducting. Just remember this as well – they don’t have to be overtly discussing business to be conducting business. Sometimes, the dinner IS the business.

From Tip20! – The right to do your own server accounting…

An interesting “Dear Tip20! question was posed to the blog. I’m going to reproduce the question and answer and then give my own viewpoint:

Tip20! User Question:

“Hi,
I’m a server at a breakfast place and some really shady stuff has been going on! I’ve always worked in places where I have my own bank and we have POS systems. This place is not like that! They have a cash register and we hand right tickets, ring it in to an ancient register, staple it and turn it into the kitchen. Anyhow, my concern is all tickets are cashed out as cash.. even when that ticket is paid for on credit card. So me and my fellow servers started noticing we weren’t making as much on the day’s we have a particular hostess aka asst. manager! Therefore, I started making copies of every ticket I printed out for that day! At the end of the day I look at my end of the day checkout to see how much sales, togo’s, and housed items I have! Well, management does not like this and has stopped letting me look at my checkout slip! My question is, Isn’t it my right to see MY checkout? At other places i’ve work I actually had to print my own checkout and sign it! very curious what you think…”

Dear “What are my rights”,

As always, I must state that I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to give legal advice…

It does seem obvious that there are shenanigans going on at your work place. But whether you have “rights” or not is a fuzzy grey area.

Not knowing your exact work environment – and/or owner involvement it seems that you are in a pickle. If the Managers have final say in everything that happens in the restaurant, then in my opinion you are screwed. There is a conspiracy of some sort that you are fighting against and are unlikely to win. You really have no “rights” to speak of, as you are employed at their whim. If you feel you are being stolen from, then it seems only fair to yourself to confront the issue with management. Is the owner a player in this? If so, I would definitely let them know that you feel you are being taken advantage of. Often the problem with smaller mom-and-pop operations is that you can end up with uncomfortable situations and inappropriate work conditions.

I believe you should be able to review your slips and keep good accounting. But if they don’t let you, I believe that is their prerogative. having said that, I would not work very long under those conditions personally. Is there anyone in the company that you can go to, to air your concerns?

Tip20!

I will also say that I’m not a lawyer. I’m also going to assume that the writer is in the US.

One thing that Tip20! doesn’t address is the fact that, according to US current labor law interpretation by the Department of Labor, tips are considered the sole property of the employee and must be allowed to retain all tips, with the exception of tip pooling to other “normally tipped employees”. This precludes tipouts to others not normally tipped, such as managers, kitchen employees, custodial employees, etc. – more about this in a moment.

In order to assure that you aren’t participating in a “tipout” that you didn’t agree to (a tipout to the hostess/assistant manager could be allowed as a tipout since the assistant manager is “technically” a hostess, which can be a tipped position), you should have the right to have access to your own daily sales report.

There are some wrinkles to what I’ve written above though.

First of all, there are states that don’t allow a tip credit, states that already mandate full minimum wage for all employees. Oregon is a such a state, as are California and Washington, all of which mandate a higher minimum wage than the Federal minimum wage for all employees. Here’s some insight about how Oregon treats tips:

Oregon law fails to address tips and tip pools and, therefore, BOLI does not enforce any standards regarding tips.  While the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) establishes regulations regarding tips based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the DOL and the courts interpret the law differently.  Recent cases within the United States District Court for the District of Oregon have held that the FLSA does not regulate tips if the employer does not claim a tip credit (and Oregon prohibits employers taking a tip credit).  Employers are also free to make the tip pooling arrangements they dictate a condition of employment. As a result, even though the Department of Labor regulations grant restaurant workers control over their tips, those workers cannot currently assert those rights in Oregon courts.

They go on to describe the Federal standard quite succinctly:

Below are the standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor on the topic of tips.  Be aware, these interpretations are specific to DOL and the FLSA and are not meant to be confused for Oregon employment law.

Tips:

All tips that an employee receives are his or her property.  The law forbids any arrangement between the employer and the tipped employee whereby any part of the tip received becomes the property of the employer.

Tip Pools:

The requirement that an employee must retain all tips does not preclude a valid tip pooling or sharing arrangement among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls and service bartenders.

Tip Pool Criteria:

  • consists of traditionally tipped employees: waiters, waitresses, servers, bartenders, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls, and hosts
  • cannot include owners or managers in the tip pool
  • cannot take more than a “customary and reasonable” amount of each employee’s tips (15% of tips or 2% of sales is customary and reasonable according to the Department of Labor)

When non-traditionally tipped employees are included in a tip pool, that is when the system has to be entirely voluntary—each employee can decide how much (if any) of her tips to share with anyone else.

Here is the whole blog page:

http://pdxrwa.org/category/know-your-rights-a-restaurant-workers-survival-guide/introduction/tip-pooling-tip-out/

This is the reason why kitchen employees in Oregon are tipped out in quite a few restaurants. In my state, tipping out kitchen employees wouldn’t be allowed because I live in a $2.13/hr state.

The other wrinkle is whole “hostess/assistant manager” thing. If she is acting as a hostess, then she falls under the “traditionally tipped” category and is entitled to a tipout if she is part of a tip pooling arrangement that everyone has agreed to.

What’s interesting is that the DoL used to have “interpretations” of the US Code that apply to tipped employees on their website. These no longer exist. It’s possible that, with certain court rulings in certain states like California, they no longer offer these “interpretations” because of uncertainty in some areas. Or they might just have revamped the web site.

Business dinners redux

I know I’ve discussed the concepts around serving business dinners but I recently waited on one the other night and, well, I need to get back in the swing of things, so I thought I’d dissect  this particular one.

It was a 7 top. They were all late 30s – mid 40s. Dark suits. Well groomed but not stuffy. They were all talking with each other as they sat down. As they settled in, they were all engaged in conversation, joking a bit and smiling.

At this point, as I brought them their menus, I scanned the table and saw that every one of them was either laughing of smiling and they seemed to be in the mood to enjoy their time together. As I passed out the menus, I asked them if they wanted the wine list. One pointed to the other, who pointed to another and two of them pointed to another guy. So I said,  “Guess you’re elected by popular vote”, which elicited some chuckles.

At this point, I knew that they were going to be a pleasure to wait on.

I’m going to stop here to say that it’s the initial impressions of a business table (or any table for that matter) that will determine what your service strategies are going to be. They were all dressed very formally but their demeanor was one of relaxation. Had they conveyed seriousness when they sat down, I would have been more formal. Or, had they been dressed more casually but seemed to be “all business”, I would have been similarly more reserved. I think what I’m trying to say is that you have to be sensitive to all aspects of the table, from their dress to their mood, to their body language.

So, rather than wait for a wine choice, I immediately asked first for their water choice and if they wanted cocktails. Which they did.

For those of you who haven’t waited on a lot of business people, take note – a lot of the time, the first thing they want to do is have a round of cocktails, even if they’re going to have wine. So don’t try to jump the gun and force a wine choice out of them. A cocktail round helps you as well –  it gets them settled. Usually cocktails are accompanied by either idle chitchat or work discussion or both. In this case, it was both.

After delivering the cocktails, I went to the guy with the wine list and we discussed wine. He was discussing some wines in the $100 category so I mentioned a particular wine that is a real sleeper at about $115 and he thought it sounded good. I might have been able to move him to $150 but, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, with a table like this, greed should be the last thing on your mind. Especially when he orders a Pinot Noir as well. The fact that he ordered a Pinot as well as taking my advice showed me that he knew wine, was looking out for the welfare of the others at the table,and was also confident enough in himself to trust the waiter.

So, I ordered two each of the bottles. Did I ask him? Nope. First of all, in my restaurant, I can return an unused bottle. Second of all, I have no idea how many are going to drink Pinot and how many are going to drink Cabernet. And third, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to sell at least a second bottle of one or the other and what happens if the bartender forgot to tell me that I was buying the last bottle or that there was only one left and another table orders it before I can. Always hedge your bets whenever you can. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m going to pour the entire bottle of either on the spot. However, I don’t know how many people are going to want Pinot or the Cabernet. So, I asked how many people would be drinking the Pinot (guessing correctly that there would be fewer people drinking it). Now I know that up to 5 people will be drinking the Cabernet. So, after I present the bottle, I go around to the Pinot abstainers and pour about 4 oz for each person (turns out that all 5 guests wanted wine, which might not have been the case). This left about 5 oz in the decanter. Why didn’t I pour the whole thing? Because I knew that we’d be into a second bottle pretty quicker. Basically, I’m telegraphing that I’m not out to gouge them or drain every single penny out of their wallets.

I poured a little more for the two people who wanted the Pinot, but it was still less than a full glass. With two people, I figured that I probably wouldn’t get a second bottle unless I really manipulated them and I wasn’t about to kill the goose that might lay the golden egg. Yeah, I could have probably forced a second bottle, but they probably wouldn’t drink a lot of it. I would have another $70 on the check, but heck, it was going to be a pretty good check to start with. And I’m firmly convinced that some guests are able to tell when you’re trying to get the last penny out of them and will penalize you for it when the time comes.

The main lesson that you should take away is that you should NEVER pour the whole bottle on the first go-round. You should always leave a little in the bottle. If you are pouring a bottle for 8 people, then only pour a couple of ounces per person.  Obviously, in that extreme case, you would ask if you can bring two bottles because you know that there’s no way that anyone’s going to get more than a sip or two. And if they say that you can pour from two bottles, then by all means, pour 5 ounces. But make sure you leave some in the second bottle.. Don’t try to force a third bottle.

OK, I’m going turn this into a multi-part page turner. This has officially turned into part one.

It might be a day or two before I do part two, but I’ll be continuing the lesson shortly.

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 THIS BOOK.

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

Gotta love Mark Cuban!

Article on tipping out from The Orlando Sentinel

Waiters can keep the change – but not all of it

By Sandra Pedicini, Orlando Sentinel

12:28 a.m. EDT, March 14, 2011

When you leave your waiter or waitress a tip, chances are they don’t keep all of it.

It’s common in the restaurant industry for servers to share part of their tips with other workers, sometimes voluntarily, but often because they have to.

But many workers have balked at what they describe as unfair tip-sharing policies, and some have sued. Starbucks, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse and Orlando-based Hard Rock Café International are among companies that have faced lawsuits.

Restaurant workers often depend heavily on tips because in many states, employers can take “tip credits” and pay regularly tipped employees less than minimum wage — in Florida, as little as $4.23 per hour.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-law-and-you-tip-sharing-20110313,0,1299262.story

Tipping out is something that most waiters grudgingly tolerate. Afterall, we are told upfront what we are required to tip out. Problems generally occur when tipout policies change, and several companies who have changed their policies are discussed in the article, mainly because their staff went to court against them.

In states where there is no “tip credit”, i.e. hourly wage is at least minimum wage such as Oregon, there really aren’t too many restrictions that can be made to the tipout. Kitchen personnel are often part of the tip pool in those states. In states that have a tip credit, or allow sub-minimum wage, tipouts are restricted to personnel who directly serve the public.

As much as I respect the work that line cooks and dishwashers do, I’m against the mandatory sharing of tips with them. Their positions are production positions and they are paid a commensurate hourly wage. While they generally make less than waiters overall, they also get raises periodically and have the benefit of a steady and predictable income. And, while generosity is a good thing, I also don’t like the idea of voluntarily sharing tips with them, only because it sets up the possibility of unfair delivery of the food. It’s only human nature to wash the hand that feeds you and it feels a bit like extortion to be forced to pay to get your food in the order that it was sent to the kitchen, or to have someone who’s greasing the kitchen get a better plate than someone who isn’t.  Having said that, if a waiter ever goes out for drinks with a kitchen person, I feel like they should buy at least a couple of drinks for the kitchen person, if not pick up their tab. After all, it’s a fact that waiters generally make more money than kitchen personnel. And they work very hard under hot and dirty conditions. Of course, they are doing what they want to be doing and many of them are working toward the goal of being a chef one day. Waiters really don’t have any upward mobility in their profession, except to work at another restaurant that offers a higher tip income.

Most tipouts take between 15 – 40% of a waiter’s tips. The average that I’ve seen is more like 25 – 35%. Many waiters, including myself, usually grease our backwaiters a little extra as well.

Tipouts can be done two ways – they can be based on sales or they can be based on tips. My current job is the first that I’ve had that has based it on tips, and I definitely prefer that way. That way, everyone benefits or suffers from how well the guest pool has tipped. With sales, you’re stuck at a percentage regardless of how great or poor the overall tip percentage has been. I guess I understand the idea behind tipping on sales. You don’t want the possibility of a waiter hiding cash tips from his or her support staff. But I highly encourage restaurants to consider basing the tipout percentage on tips, not sales. It’s a much fairer system. A waiter can’t complain that they’re tipping out on a stiff.

Anyway, I’ve discussed tipout in the past. If you want to revisit the topic, go here:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/15/tipout-pt-1/

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/tipout-pt-2/

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/tipout-pt-3/

One bit of disturbing “news”, if you will; something that was discussed in pt. 2. The Department of Labor used to have “fact sheets” on how tipped employees are treated. Those fact sheets have disappeared from the DoL website. Here is what it said about tipping out:

“Tip Pooling: The requirement that an employee must retain all tips does not preclude a valid tip pooling or sharing arrangement among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel (who serve customers), busboys/girls and service bartenders. Tipped employees may not be required to share their tips with employees who have not customarily and regularly participated in tip pooling arrangements, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors. Only those tips that are in excess of tips used for the tip credit may be taken for a pool. Tipped employees cannot be required to contribute a greater percentage of their tips than is customary and reasonable”.

I don’t know if they have just changed the website and haven’t added the old worksheets back in, or whether because of states like Oregon that specifically allow kitchen employees to share in the tip pool, they can no longer make that statement. And, with other court rulings that have impacted on tipouts, perhaps the governance of tipouts is in flux now. Therefore, it’s best to discuss with your local Wage and Hour people or with a local attorney that specializes in labor law what the current thinking on tipouts is if you have concerns about how your tipouts are being handled.

Article on tipping pre or post-tax from The L.A. Times

Tip suggestions on receipts usually are after-tax, but is that fair?

Even some restaurant owners are surprised to find the recommendation is typically calculated based on the total including tax. That flies in the face of etiquette advice.

August 03, 2010|David Lazarus
Glendale resident Lee Lanselle ate breakfast the other day at the Hill Street Cafe in La Cañada Flintridge. As he waited for his credit card receipt, he worked out the tip in his head.

The receipt arrived and Lanselle was surprised that his estimate of a 15% tip was less than the “suggested gratuity” printed on the form. A closer look revealed that the recommended tip on the receipt included the full amount of the meal, including taxes.

<snip>

Read the rest of the article here:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/03/business/la-fi-lazarus-20100803

Basically, the article goes on to cite etiquette books as saying that tips should be pre-tax.

I’m probably going to piss off fellow waiters by saying that I understand this sort of thinking. If a tip is clearly tipped on pre-tax (by clearly I mean an “exact” percentage like 15 – 20%), it doesn’t bother me at all. As a matter of fact, years ago, my mom asked me, “Why should I tip on the tax”? I answered, “I don’t know, but it’s not very much difference, and your son is a waiter, so why don’t you just tip on the final amount”? After that, she always tipped on the final total.

Not everyone has a son or daughter who is a tipped employee, so I understand the reluctance in tipping on tax. If you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for a large bill. However…

…one advantage of tipping on the post-tax total is that it’s a little easier to tip on the final total, since that’s the total that’s reflected on the credit card bill (when paying with a credit card, of course). Also, not every restaurants shows all of the taxes that are paid, because some of the tax is included in the price of alcohol (my restaurant actually breaks it out, but it’s the exception, not the rule). Considering that the tax usually only adds between $.50 – 2.00 to the tip, it seems to me to be easier to simply use the bottom total. Of course, there is self-interest involved, so I can’t claim to be a neutral observer.

There’s another factor as well – believe it or not, I’ve found that the majority of people actually tip on the final total. When the bill is, say $60, generally I’ll get a $12 tip, assuming that the service has been fault-free. Sometimes I’ll get $9 even if the service has been impeccable, because some people only tip 15% regardless of how stellar the service has been. I rarely get $11 or $8.25.  I think that people are just used to looking at the total on the credit card. Obviously, I’m just fine with that. Having said that, it doesn’t bother me when I get one of the latter tips, since people sometimes find a way to “round down” as well. Every waiter knows all too well that if you have a check for $59, sometimes people will tip as if the bill was $50 instead of $60. So, I might get $10, with the guest thinking that they still tipped 20%.

So the waters get muddied if you aren’t tipping on the total amount.

Is that a reason to tip on post-tax? I’m not convinced that it is. However, if you really want your waiter to know the exact percentage that you’re tipping, tipping on the final total is a good way to ensure that, and it usually doesn’t cost that much to insure it.

So…tip pre-tax or post-tax. However, at least try to tip something other than a random amount like, say, 13% of either total (unless of course, you’re trying to send a message that service was sub-standard). Obviously, the amount of tax that your community charges affects this, but rarely does a 13% tip on post-tax equals a 15% tip on pre-tax. Try to make it easy for your server to figure out whether your tip is truly reflective of the service that you’ve received.

I still say that any waiter will very much appreciate the generosity and lack of “saving a few pennies” if you tip on post-tax. It’s a nice thing to do, and don’t we need more of that these days? Besides, it’s positive reinforcement for a job well done.

Finally, in every restaurant that I’ve worked in, any auto-grat is based on pre-tax. That may not be the case in every restaurant.

From "How Stuff Works"

Serving the business dinner pt.3 – The Host

Business dinners invariably have a host. He or she might not be called The Host, but there is always someone “in charge”.

It might not be the boss, it might be the boss’s administrative assistant. It might not be the boss’s administrative assistant, it might be the head of HR. It might not be the head of HR, it might be the “party planner”. It might not be any of them; it might be the “on-site contact”.

In any event,  it’s always helpful to find the person with the power. The power might actually be shared by more than one person. One person might have the power of the purse while deferring to the “wine geek of the company”. Or The Boss might be the center of power but is merely the person that everyone is deferring to (read “sucking up to”), while someone else is making all of the critical decisions (bottled water vs. tap, drinks by the glass or wine by the bottle, cheap wine vs. expensive wine, etc.).

If you work off of some sort of written contract, and there’s a person designated as on-site contact, it’s important to find them as soon as possible. As people arrive, I usually ask the first people if they will tell me who it is when they arrive. Sometimes it’s the first person to arrive but it isn’t always the case.

I try to find out a couple of things.

First, is this a formal business meeting or is it just colleagues just getting together socially? If it’s a formal business dinner, is there going to be a presentation, lecture, Q&A, or any sort of structured timetable? If there is a presentation, should service cease until it’s over or does the service staff serve through it? If it’s the former, I always like to find out if that means no presentation of food but continuation of refilling glasses, taking drink orders etc. Sometimes they’ll even ask the service staff to not reënter the room until the presentation is over. You don’t want to teach the person all of the nuances of service, but you should try to find out as much information as you can without making the contact’s head spin.

Next, you’ll want to ask if they want to offer bottled water to their guests. If so, do yourself a favor and just offer flat water. Try not to say “sparkling or still or both”. Make it easy. If someone prefers sparkling as you pour around, just get them sparkling water. You don’t want yourself or your server assistants to have to keep track of who’s having what.

If you have no “on-site contact” name, don’t be shy about asking who’s in charge as soon as people start arriving. Identify the person in charge and go through the previous sequence.

The next thing you’ll want to find out is whether they want to choose wine for the group (if it isn’t already known). Sometimes they’ll defer to someone else. Before you talk to anyone around wine, have a couple of “go-to” red and white wines in the budget, mid-priced and expensive category. You don’t want to fumble around if they ask you on the spot what you’d recommend. My strategy is to lead with wines in the $50 – 70 range unless it looks like they’ll want something expensive (this is a matter of feel – sometimes you can just sense that this is an important function where they’ll want to impress their attendees). But I generally don’t offer suggestions immediately. I like to hand them the opened wine list and point out the various categories. By doing that, I can sometimes tell what price range they are focusing on by following their eyes and their fingers. If they are only looking at budget wines, that tells me that I need to avoid talking about more expensive wines because I don’t want them thinking that I’m trying to gouge them.

Next, I want to find out if I can provide appetizer assortments for the group.  I try to imply that sharing some appetizers can make it a smoother dinner since there’s one less decision that each attendee has to make.

While the “power person” in the room might not be paying or even making any decisions about food and drink, they are still the Alpha of the group. You always want to be cognizant of their mood. However, you never want to give them extra attention. The same goes for the person who ordered the wine or the person who’s paying. You don’t want them to think that you’re grassing for the tip or avoiding their guests to concentrate on them. Just always be aware of them throughout the meal.

These are just some general guidelines for working with the host of the party. Feel free to flesh out the subject by commenting.