So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Tag Archives: waiter tips


Well, the holiday season is officially started. In many restaurants, this week is a sort of calm before the storm. Next week is when it gets started in earnest.

Now’s the time to get into the correct head space. Things worth considering:

Shifts, especially lunch, get longer. Cuts usually can’t happen when they usually do and this can be tough since we tend to get into a groove and a rhythm. Might as well just accept it now.

The closer you are to the mall or shopping areas, the more stressed out shoppers you’re likely to encounter. Try to be a little more patient with people when they seem to be on their last nerves. It’s hard when they don’t seem to understand that you’re just as stressed, if not more so. But this is the time where a little bit of compassion can pay dividends in the form of higher tips from grateful diners. Try to accommodate this as much as you can and you’ll find that it will pay off more often than not. This isn’t the time to really push table turns, even if you’re getting that pressure from management. A good manager will realize that table times are just naturally longer, but, as we know, not every manager is a “good one”. It’s hard to veer away from your normal practices but I guess I’m saying just try to roll with the flow of each table.

Be more aware of alcohol consumption and remember that sometimes, guests might already be coming from parties or other gatherings where alcohol has been served. Start watching guest behavior early and try to keep them safe.

Try to be as upbeat as possible, even as you’re getting your butt kicked or having the holidays kicking your butt just as your guests are experiencing.  This goes without saying, but sometimes it’s just hard to reflect a joyful spirit when the shifts are long, the diners testy, etc. Here’s one way of getting through it – remember that for most of us, December is like June and July combined. Your wallet will thank you.

And speaking of that, now is the time to squirrel some of that extra cash away, whether it’s to add to your tax withholding for the next quarter or as an emergency fund for the slower summer months (assuming of course that you aren’t in a tourist area that’s busy during the summer).

And, of course, now is the time to count your blessings, stake stock of your personal situation and plan for the next year. Just don’t make any resolutions please. Most of the time, they are just stupid and get forgotten by Valentine’s Day.

Happy Holidays from me to you and yours!

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:

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.


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.

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 other side of the tipping equation – some tips from a former waiter

From “The Mountain Murmur”

This is an article that wisely outlines some dos and don’ts for waiters. I love this part:

It’s not that I’m stiffing good waiters. I always tip good waiters, at the going rate plus. (If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out.) But the grouchy, the indifferent and the glassy-eyed, whom I used to tip because I too was once a waiter — well, they still get tipped. A bit. More leftover coin, less paper.

Also, something that takes new waiters a while to learn:

Another trait of the self-narrating waiter is to ask too many times, “Is everything okay?” Often, an honest response would be, “Everything is okay except for the waiter who keeps interrupting our conversation.” Rather than pester your diners, go Zen. If all your customers are jabbering, eating, laughing and generally having a good night out, you’re golden. Examine faces from a distance. You’ll eventually spot one neck craning. Zoop, you hustle up on her blind side as if by magic: “May I help you?” The mind-reading servant is most treasured.

This is soooooo true. If a table is entertaining themselves, there is no need for you to interfere with that. You should rejoice – they are making your job easier. However, you still have to be observant, especially if the food is taking longer than usual. If they are engrossed in conversation, you’ve just bought more time without having to give them updates. But observe one of them glance at their watch? That’s the time to let them know what’s going on, and not a second before.

I still occasionally find myself interrupting conversation. I used to do it without considering what I was doing. Most of the time now, it’s just because I thought that there was a lull in the conversation and I could break in, only to have the conversation resume at just the wrong time. It’s almost like that moment when you are getting ready to go through the intersection and the light turns yellow at exactly the point where you have no choice but to run a red light.

If you are a newbie, try to be extra careful when you have to interrupt a conversation. You should do it only in the case of a service emergency.

All waiters should read this short primer.