So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: tips

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

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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.

Clever and easy way to track your tips

http://www.mycarprojects.net/

Yep, you saw that right – MyCarProjects.net.

Huh?

They have a tracker for miles per gallon which would work great for tracking tips, as you can view a graph online. You do have to put in “Miles Driven” and “Gallons Bought” but I just put 1 in each one.  I don’t worry about it figuring out MPG as I’m just tracking dollar amount. I use it not so much for actual dollar tracking, but I’m trying to establish baseline weekly, monthly and seasonal trends.

They have an Android app that ties into the web site. You can’t view a graph on your phone yet, but you can access it online. There have been a few glitches here and there with the interface between the Android app and the online site, but they are mostly in the various car modules and updating between the two (they are continuing to refine the whole thing, but if you just use it for tracking tips online, they are pretty much non-issues).

It happens to be a pretty good way to run a car log as well.

Sure, you could set up an Excel spreadsheet to track your tips (and some of you might have already done that) but this is a pretty simple way to do it. It’s free as of this writing but I’d suggest donating a little bit to the developer in order to encourage him and to keep it from becoming a paid site. Several “car log” sites are free for some log functions but make you pay for important functions like MPG tracking. This one is totally free and it’s a pretty clean solution to auto log-keeping.

I have no connection with this site other than being a user. I have no idea if the developer does any data mining or anything like that, so please use this site at your own risk. I don’t see a lot of danger in it myself.

Oh yeah, it’s really easy for me since I declare all of my tips. I just pull the figure off of my pay stub (my figures are bi-weekly). If you are someone who doesn’t declare all of your tips, you’ll still have to keep track of them separately and add them to your declared tips to get an accurate tracking. And no, I’m not going to take this opportunity to scold you for not doing the right thing (oh wait, I guess I just did!)

Closing

This is more for newbies than vets. Veterans of waiting tables know all about what I’m going to talk briefly about.

At some point in your career, you will start to be tapped to be a closer. This is a good thing. It means that you are considered competent enough to be trusted to close down the restaurant.

But it takes a little mental adjustment.

The main thing to realize is that you lose a lot of your support systems. You don’t have nearly as many food runners to help you out. You have to become more self-sufficient because the team has scattered to the four winds.

Hand in hand with this is the fact that simple tasks are not so simple anymore. Things don’t always fall to hand as they do during the shift. Glasses, plateware, silverware, etc. are sometimes in the process of getting cleaned and/or not yet restocked. This can be frustrating. The kitchen is breaking down and trying to get out, so sometimes food is already being stashed in reach-ins and walk-ins or off the steam table and under the heat lamps, which means it takes longer for the kitchen to access them. They do this so that they can start draining and cleaning the steam tables. But it means that, like silverware, the food doesn’t fall naturally to the hand of the line cook. This can delay preparation of the food, and you should take that into account.

The kitchen is also in “get out of town” mode, which can cause some focus problems. They are no different than waiters, who can lose focus when they start dreaming of that post-shift drink with the crew. This can mean that entrees and side dishes don’t get coordinated properly. Side dishes might not come up at the same time as entrees, for instance.

Then there’s the whole “check out” thing. Many closers have the responsibility to check out their fellow waiters’ closing sidework. This can distract from the waiter waiting on the tables that he or she is still dealing with. There’s the frustration that closers can feel when a waiter has skated on their sidework and the realization that they are going to have to do that work themselves.

So, it all boils down to a shift in tactics.

Once the close begins (basically when people start getting cut), the closer should start changing the mind set and shift from normal shift strategy to closing strategy. Assume from the start that you’re going to have to plan for extra time in firing food, grabbing silverware, finding condiments. If you do this, you won’t be as frustrated when you discover that you have to beg the dishwasher to run the last load of silverware or when you find that the kitchen has already put the soup up and they’re going to have to heat some up on the stove for you.

You have to be prepared to step away from your tables and check sidework. Eventually you’ll learn who can can trust at their word and who has to be watched and checked. Just remember, if they don’t do their work, you’ll be doing it in addition to your own sidework.

These are all things that waiters pick up over time. By heeding the things that I’ve talked about, you can flatten the learning curve significantly and reduce the number of hair-tearing-out incidents.

Listening to Tom Waits first LP,  as I type this post…

New link added – Tips On Improving Your Tips

Be an early adopter to this new WordPress blog.

But only if you want to improve your tips.

http://tipsfortips.wordpress.com/

It’s pretty cool so far. You’ll find it a nice companion to this very blog, especially since it’s a lot more tightly edited than mine.

Some interesting concepts so far, some that I’ve covered in the past, others that are fresh. Anyone want to take odds on how many I steal for my own blog? <g>

It can’t help but help you explore new ways to approach your table.

Let’s welcome our newest member of Ye Olde Blogroll with a hearty IPA and a big pretzel!

Big bucks.

Get it? Big bucks.

I crack myself up sometimes…

The story about Lehigh students arrested for refusal to pay service charge

My fellow WordPress blogger, Jonathan Turley has posted the story, a story that places like Waiter’s Rant have already covered:

http://waiterrant.net/?p=1564

http://jonathanturley.org/2009/11/19/lehigh-students-arrested-for-failing-to-leave-tip/#comment-92031

There are some interesting comments on both sites. I’ve added my own at the bottom on the Turley blog which are still awaiting moderation which has to do with the difference between gratuities, tips, service charges and autograts (which is a bit arcane).

My thoughts on this? From my admittedly biased view of this, I think that the students were acting like spoiled rich students with a sense of entitlement (not to say that they didn’t have cause for complaint). IF, and this is a big IF, they turned down getting part or all of their meal comped by the manager, and then turned around an refused to pay the autograt, their passive-aggressive behavior merited some sort of consequence (“No I don’t WANT you to take $30 off off for the bad service. WHAT??!! You expect me to pay $16 for service I didn’t receive??!!!) Hopefully they’ll learn that it’s not always a zero sum game in life.

Now we turn to the idiot management and restaurant employees. Starting with the poor service, continuing with allegedly poor food quality, proceeding to a management that couldn’t communicate their remorse in not providing decent service and ending with the arrest of the participants, the restaurant violated just about every tenent of customer service possible. Having been on the other side of arrogant, entitled and unreasonable guests, I can understand how this could have spiralled downward. Yes, I’m calling out these students as “unreasonable” even though they might have gotten the worst service imaginable (if it’s true tha tthey were offered comps on their bill). And yet, if the management sent hostile, non-apologetic, defensive and passive-aggressive signals themselves when offering said discounts, they deserve the huge hit in business and the national scorn that they’re facing now.

Hopefully both parties have learned something from this. Perhaps the students will get the message that sometimes you accept an accomodation, not necessarly “stand on principles” when it’s counter-productive to their own interests and the owners of the pub will have a better shot at success in their next restaurant after they are forced out of business with this one.  

From Yelp.com. Photo credited to Daniel H.

BTW, for those confused as to how a $16 tip on a $74 bill goes from 18% to 22%, Max, who responded to this story in a different blog seems to have nailed it down:

“Please note that other sources state the owner said “some” of the food was comped. I suspect that their bill was $105 ($89 + $16 gratuity), then when the customers complained, the idiot bartender comped them $16 dollars worth of food instead of removing the gratuity. This would reduce the bill to $89 ($73 + $16 gratuity), which would still look like they were being forced to give a tip. So they paid the $73 as was stated in the news story, and fought the rest”.

The thing is, most POS systems don’t let the service charge ‘track” purchases. In other words, when you add the service charge, it takes a snapshot of the bill and computes the service charge at that point. It doesn’t change, even if the server has forgotten to ring something in and has to add it after the service charge has been added (which means that the percentage would actually fall in relation to the bill). The only thing a manager can do is remove the service charge and start again. If the bartender comped the amount of the service charge from the food portion of the bill, the service charge would remain the same. This is where the students should have said, “It’s a wash” and just paid the darn bill. Instead, they “stood on principle” even though legally, they were still on the hook for the service charge. Not reasonable in my opinion. If they really wanted to stand on principle, they should have called the manager over, said that they wanted to pay the whole bill but have the service charge itself removed.

Just my 2¢.

First of the month

As you know, I always have a reminder at the end of each month – check your uniforms!

Well now, I’m going to suggest that you take the first couple of days of the month to decide a focus for improvement for the rest of the month. Take one topic and concentrate on that each day for the rest of the month.

It can be something as broad as increasing your PPA (per-person-average) or something as narrow as learning the different types of vodkas that your bar serves, taking care to learn which vodkas belong in which categories and fine-tuning your descriptions and comparisons between the two.

You generally want to choose topics as specific as possible, but broad strokes can be useful too. The main thing is that you choose topics that you are deficient in or unsure about.

Now’s the time to set personal goals for the month as well. If it happens to be the start of a new quarter, you might set your goals for that quarter as well. The goal can be the usual like “I want to make X dollars” or it can be improving a facet of your game such as “I want to sell more premium brands of liquor”.

When you take the time to focus on the smaller details, the larger picture often comes into focus as well.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to do this – just take a few moments each day to focus on the goal of the month and you’ll see an improvement in your job performance.

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.

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.

However…

…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.