So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: Tom Waits


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…