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“Waiter, there’s a watch in my salad.”

From Access Atlanta, this nice guide about how to deal with sending food back, and a glimpse into the scam that waiters all over have experienced at one point or another – the slimebag who deliberately eats most of the meal only to send it back in order to get free food.

Normally, I only quote the first paragraph and then send you to the site, but in this case, I’m going to quote some of the middle of the article because it best embodies the spirit of the piece:

5. You just don’t like the food. The sauce is a little salty. The chicken lacks flavor. There’s a spice in there you don’t appreciate. Should you return any dishes for these reasons?

No, but if the waiter asks how you like the food, be honest.

I recently ate at the restaurant John Dory Oyster Bar in New York. I started with two small plates and ended with a soup called “lobster panade” for my entree.

The waiter had warned me the soup was thin and didn’t have any lobster meat, and the dish proved him a man of his word.

It was a russet broth made from the deeply roasted shells, with a caramelized — almost burnt — flavor lurking inside. I didn’t find it appealing.

When the waiter came to ask how it was, I responded, “Fine.” I wasn’t going to lie and praise it, but I wasn’t going to make a fuss and complain. Fine was an honest response.

“Just fine?” he asked, astutely picking up the clues. “We can always get you something else.”

I insisted I was copacetic. Then he said something really smart. “Just flag me down if you change your mind.”

After five minutes of pushing the soup around, I called the waiter over and ordered chorizo-stuffed squid. I loved this dish. “Are you going to finish the soup?” he asked. When I said “no,” he quietly cleared it away.

The bill came, and the waiter told me he didn’t charge me for the soup. “You didn’t like it, so you shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he insisted.

This, people, is the definition of good service.

That said, I was ready to pay for the soup.

All you can expect a restaurant to do is replace a dish you return. Do not expect them to take it off the bill, or offer free dessert or drinks. If that happens, then appreciate the hospitality and reward the restaurant with your continued business.

This passage is great not only because it shows the spirit of cooperation that should exist between the diner and the waiter, but it also points out the importance of reading the guest and acting appropriately when it seems that the guest is struggling with a dish.

Sometimes, it’s the inflection of the voice when the guest says “Fine”. They can say it with a big smile and a twinkle in their eye, but this is rare. Usually, when a guest says “Fine”, there’s a downward lilt to the word. The eyes don’t quite meet yours and the wise waiter will take the cue and dig deeper.

There can also be an awkward moment when the guest has expressed some measure of dissatisfaction, but doesn’t want something for free or cause a scene. I have actually had a guest or two take offense when the item is taken off of the bill. The best way to forestall this is to withhold that you are taking the item off of the bill until the actual presentation of the bill, unless you sense that you need to immediately let them know that they aren’t going to pay for the meal. I’m referring to someone who is clearly uncomfortable with sending something back. Sometimes you can make them defensive for the rest of the meal if you go back and forth with them about taking the item off of the bill – “I’ve taken this off of the bill”. “Please don’t. I’m not looking for a freebie”. “But it’s our policy to do it”. “I don’t want you to do that”….and so on. This can go on so long that you’ve now made a dicey situation worse by doing the right thing.

Instead, as you present the bill, you thank them for being honest, saying something like, “Most people don’t bother to tell us when we fall short of our standards. Thank you for being honest. I’ve taken the dish off of the bill because we don’t want you to pay for something that you didn’t like and didn’t even finish”. Most of the time, they’ve mellowed out in the time it took to get to the bill and they won’t protest too strongly. When they say, “I don’t want something for free”, I’ve said something like, “I know that, but this is a thank you for helping us identify a problem that needs to be addressed”. Usually, at this stage, they’ll thank you, being glad that you didn’t put them on the spot before the meal was over.

When do you let them know immediately that you are taking a dish off of the menu and when do you wait? There’s no one answer; you’ll have to rely on your instincts. Go with the flow and try to factor in the diner’s mood throughout the dinner.

To read the rest of this great article, go here:

If you are a diner, this is a must read.

From The Food Network

BTW, there are some hilarious actual food products pictured there. Everyone is advised to check it out!

Serving the business dinner pt. 2

A couple of weeks ago, I covered waiting on the small business dinner. Today, I complete my discussion of business dinner service by talking about the dynamics of the large business gathering.

I’m really not going to get into the large catered affairs since that’s a different animal entirely. Those are structured differently and the service aspects are different. I was going to say more limited, but that’s not exactly correct. While most of the service is choreographed, there is plenty of service going on.

What I’m going to discuss is the large business dinner that you find in quite a few restaurants that have private dining rooms or who occasionally do buy-outs of the restaurant for large groups. These are basically extensions of any normal table in the sense that most of the same service steps that you have to employ for a table of four have to be applied to the larger group.

Restaurants manage the large party in different ways. Most restaurants that do substantial private party business have a dedicated banquet manager, whose responsibilities include not only managing the functions through contracts and setup instructions to the staff but also selling the restaurant’s availability to the business community as well as working with the client to nail down the best menu, beverage choices and service needs. There are a few restaurants who actually manage this function as part of the management team’s responsibilities instead of having a dedicated banquet manager.

Before I get any further, I don’t want to you to confuse the term “banquet manager” with that position in a large hotel or country club. That position is really a department position roughly equivalent to a GM in a restaurant, except that the banquet manager answers directly to other on-site personnel instead of a regional manager. They deal with some different issues of service and personnel that the restaurant “banquet manager” doesn’t.

I’m really not going to go into the different ways that a restaurant manages the larger parties except to discuss certain facets of service that can vary.

Also, under the rubrik of “business dinner”, I’ll also touch on the non-business larger dinner as well (the rehearsal dinner, the big birthday party, etc.

A waiter serving such parties has to apply different strategies depending on the circumstances of the different parties. Some of those circumstances are predetermined (pre-set menu, restricted beverage choices, etc.). Sometimes the flexibility is required based on the flow of the party (party arrives via bus vs. trickles in, award presentations and discussions, etc.) We’ll try to address these in a free-flowing fashion ourselves.

Let’s start with the first challenge – dealing with the party as it arrives.

If everyone arrives at once, it can be a challenge to get everyone either settled in their place or settled with a drink. Sometimes, the party order includes a “cocktail hour”. This means that they will stand around and visit before sitting down. This may or may not entail hors d’oeuvres, passed or set. The key to a successful cocktail hour is blanketing the arrivees with drinks. If they all arrive at once, this can be a challenge. The key is to try to get drink orders from 4 – 6 people at a time max. If you try to get more than that, it can take more time distributing the drinks and the chance for error is greater. There are some waiters who can easily memorize names and drinks and if you are one of them, that’s great. But for many waiters, it’s easy to get confused, especially if there are a lot of dark business suits mingling around. Try not to extend your capabilities past their limits. It could be that you are foced by a lack of manpower to push the envelope and that’s just part of being flexible. But try to make it as quick and easy to get drinks in the hands of partygoers as quickly as possible. Remember, you’ll get 4 drinks quicker from the bar than 8 and you can distribute them quicker that way. It could actually take longer to get 8 drinks to drinkers than to make two trips to get 4 drinks a trip. You might have to tell someone that you’ll be right back, but remember that they don’t know how many drinks you’re wrangling. Just give them the idea that you’re maxed out and most people will be patient. You might also signal one of your fellow waiters to get their order first. Teamwork is key in this situation.

The better situation is if the attendees come separately. The quicker you hit them up for a drink, the better. If they come in in knots of two to four, it’s easy to get their orders quickly. This also applies to people arriving for the large lunch where alcohol isn’t going to be served. Let’s say that they go straight to the table – best that you get them their tea or coke as soon as possible. This means that you won’t have to deal with this when taking orders.

When it comes to actual food service, there are a couple of considerations. The smart restaurant will require a fixed menu for parties of over a certain number (varies according to restaurant and kitchen capacities). If it’s a fixed menu, you can actually take orders before each table fills up, but it’s best to wait until most of them are sat. Obviously, if your house service policy forbids this, ignore this advice. But if you are allowed to do this, it can save you a lot of time and you can get your order to the kitchen a lot quicker if you take the orders as the tables fill up. It’s essential that you leave pivot point spaces open on your order pad so that you can fill in the missing spots properly. Also, even if the host says that everyone has arrived, leave any open seats blank in case a straggler arrives. If you don’t, you can screw up delivery of the food to the table. If they never show, you can tell your food runner to skip that spot. Some people like to get rid of the empty spaces, but I prefer to leave them where they are. You can decide for yourself. While I will eventually get rid of the place setting, I try to leave the chair to keep the position in place. That way, there’s no confusion. they might want you to remove the chair so that the table can spread out. If you do that, make sure you re-number your positions in order to make sure that there’s no confusion when handing out the food.

If you have a fixed menu and it includes salads, try to resist the temptation of presetting salads unless it’s part of the event order. while it would appear to make your job easier, there’s a drawback that inexperienced waiters fail to consider – the gap between the sald course and the entree. some diners will start nibbling at their salad when they first sit down. They might very well be almost finished with their salad before you even put in the entree order. The entire party will surely be finished with their salads quickly and then they’ll have to wait and wait and wait for their entrees. Best to deliver the salads after you’ve taken the entree order. That way, the gap is lessened. Also, even the dressing on the salad is set, there will be the inevitable dry salad requests or requests for different dressings.

In our next installment, we’ll discuss dealing with the host.

From The Motley Fool: Waiter – there’s an iPod in my soup

Waiter, There’s an iPad in My Soup

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz |
February 18, 2011 |

The two founders of BJ’s Restaurants (Nasdaq: BJRI) are striking out on their own with a new concept called Stacked.

There won’t be waiters taking orders. Every table will have an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad, allowing patrons to scour the menu and send customized food and beverage orders to the kitchen.

A high-tech automated eatery isn’t new. I hit up uWink — a concept dreamed up by the same guy behind Atari and Chuck E. Cheese — three summers ago. Every table had a pair of touchscreen monitors where guests could place orders, play games, or engage in trivia bouts with other diners.

Read the rest of the article here:

This really isn’t that new of a concept. Back in the Sixties, when I was sprouting hair in places I didn’t even know existed, we had a steak house that had a push-button system for ordering. It was almost like Sonic – you had a series of push-buttons that you used to order. I’ve got this image of 4 of them, although I  don’t know why you’d need so many, since you ordered through a speaker. I want to say that it was a George Lindsey Steakhouse. I also remember a lot of pounded copper in the restaurant.

Strange the things you remember from your childhood.

I’ve been a bad blogger…

…because I really haven’t had the time to keep up with the ever-expanding universe of restaurant bloggers.

Normally I like to give a little review and add links to fellow bloggers individually because I think that they deserve credit for their hard work and I like to make it easy for my readers to decide whether a blog is worthy of following.

So this is a bit of a departure for me.

I’m going to list a raft of blogs that have popped up recently. I have at least taken a cursory look at each of them and feel that they are worthy of inclusion in Ye Olde Blogroll. I am not listing them in any particular order nor is the inclusion of them a permanent condition. But I think it’s important to give them exposure and I’ll let you decide for yourself which ones you find relevent, entertaining and informative. I’ll be actually adding them to the blogroll shortly. Meanwhile, use the links that are provided here.

I’m sure that there are more that I’ve missed. If I’ve missed your blog, feel free to list it in the comment section of this post.

I apologize in advance for not giving each of these blogs their rightful due. But I think it’s better to at least get the links out there. Perhaps I will comment on them later, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Needless to say, I found a lot of entertaining stuff in these blogs and I think you will too.

I got many of these links from this compendium:

I’m proud to have been included. I’m listed #2, although I doubt that they ordered their list in any particular hierarchical fashion. Also, there are quite a few related blogs at this site that will be listed later, especially those dealing with the kitchen (i.e. back-of-the-house, chef/cook related).

Serving the business dinner pt. 1

I’ve discussed this before, but it seems appropriate to delve into it again.

There are a couple of variations on the business dinner.

The first is the small non-business business dinner. This would be your standard table of business types (up to about 6 – 8 people). This is a gathering of people with shared business dinners just getting together for a social dinner. There will be some business discussed, but mostly in the context of work-related conversation, much like we as waiters do when we gather for post-shift drinks. Lots of shop talk, but little actual business done.

This table is treated just like any other table. while they might all be dressed in Armani suits, they aren’t needing any special consideration. However, it can be helpful to identify the “host” or the alpha male/female. They might be the one to either order the wine or identify the person who’s considered the “wine geek” of the table. However, you shouldn’t play to this person to the exclusion of the others because you’d be surprised how many times someone who you didn’t expect actually pays the check.

This brings up an important point about every table. You should give everyone equal attention. You never know if someone who you don’t suspect ends up paying the check after all. I can’t tell you how many times it’s an administrative assistant or other diner who ends up paying because they have the corporate card and perform the task of paying the bill in lieu of “The Boss”. It’s almost like “The Boss” isn’t bothered with such mundane things like paying the bill.

How do you find out if the event is a social one? Simple. You ask up front. If it appears to be business-related, you ask someone who appears to be in control if it’s a business dinner and if you need to serve them in a particular way. If they say, “We’re just getting together; we don’t have any special needs”,  then it’s full speed ahead with the normal service steps. If they say, “We’re going to discuss some business, so we’re not in any big hurry”, or “Yes, we’re going to need some time before/after the entrée to discuss some things”, then you proceed to:

The small business dinner.

This requires restraint on your part. Interrupting conversations to inquire how everything is is not a good thing. You almost have to throw out the service steps book and rewrite it. the main thing is to make sure that they get cocktails/drinks quickly. Once you do that, take a step back and observe them. If the menus remain untouched and they seem into heavy conversation, simple cruise them periodically to look for signs that they are starting to lose interest in business/cocktail hour behavior and getting interested in food. This could mean a couple of them picking up menus, snatches of conversation about the cuisine, looking around, etc. Many times, business colleagues like to discuss business over cocktails and this is where some important business sometimes gets done,  so it’s not as important to sell apps or script specials. Wait until the time is right.

Hopefully, you got an idea about how they want the pacing of the meal to go when you asked them your initial question. Just remember that you have to be flexible and intuitive. If you notice them shifting from business to hunger, be ready to suggest an appetizer. If they go for it and don’t ask about the specials, the best thing to do is to get an appetizer order, ring it in and then return to the table to talk about the specials. Try not to do it all at once if you can. Reciting the specials gives you the chance to fill some time while you’re waiting for the appetizers to arrive. However, if you tell them about the specials and then ring in the appetizer because they’ve asked about them, you can always fall back on taking the entrée order while you’re waiting.

One optional thing that you can do, which requires an additional step on your part is to suggest that you take the menus away and bring them back after the appetizer. Juggling menus while trying to eat appetizers can be awkward, especially when they’re wearing thousand dollar suits. of course, this holds true for any table, but it’s especially true in this instance.

One key thing to remember is that people talking business can be incredibly focused. We waiters can feel uncomfortable when we are excluded from interacting with the table. Try to repress this by remembering that they don’t need your “entertainment” or “service”. They are focused on themselves. If they spend 20 minutes over drinks, it’s not like a normal table being stuck with drinks for 20 minutes while they’re waiting for you to return to talk about appetizers. However, you do need to continue to monitor them because these sorts of folks can shift quickly from business to dinner.  Just watch for the signs that I mentioned.

You need to give business tables their time and space. If you are in a restaurant where you are concerned about turning tables quickly, you should simply write them off as a candidate for flipping. Normally, business tables spend more money anyway, so don’t begrudge them their time. They usually aren’t concerned with the cost of the meal and some business tables spend a lot of money because a. it’s not their personal money to begin with and b. sometimes they are expected to spend a lot of money to achieve a business goal.

This brings up a good point. Now is not the time to worry about suggesting a big wine or upscale liquors. I wouldn’t pick the most expensive bottle on the list, but I’d definitely start at the upper end. It’s always good to have a go-to pricey wine in the major varietal categories. make it something that you know well and are comfortable in selling, and would be comfortable in buying yourself if money is no object. It’s easier to sell something that you believe in.

Finally, don’t necessarily expect 20% even in the face of flawless service, even if you usually get it. It’s probably not you, it’s probably a company guideline.

In part two, we’ll talk about the large business function (Christmas party, awards dinner, pharmaceutical dinner, etc.).

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:

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

Advice about starching

If you are a waiter who has to have starched aprons and starched shirts/jackets/etc. and you’ve been disappointed with spray starch, you’re not alone.

Spray starch has some drawbacks as well as its advantage in terms of convenience. It tends to clog and it just doesn’t seem to give you the stiffness and crispness that you get from professional laundries. Even “heavy starch” just doesn’t quite measure up.

Professional laundries use liquid starch (some use powdered starch but it’s a lot harder to use at home) and that’s what you should use too.

The main liquid starch is Sta-Flo. It comes in big blue bottles and is mixed with water. You use a household spray bottle to apply it. Even if you use it at its maximum strength (1 to 1), it has the additional advantage of being a lot cheaper than aerosols and it’s much more environmentally safer. It’s harder to find than spray starch but many grocery stores carry it and you’ll find it at some department stores. If your local store doesn’t carry, you might ask them to carry it.

So if you haven’t tried Sta-Flo, you should give it a shot. You’ll be surprised how much better it is than spray starch. It doesn’t scorch as easily and it even works pretty well with older aprons that don’t take starch so well.

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.

Bigger isn’t always better

About two years ago, they expanded my local Target.

I thought, this is great! More stuff to buy! More specials!

Turns out that I was wrong.

Not only did I see less stuff (just more of less assortment), there were fewer yellow tag deals. There were several items that I was used to buying that disappeared. Suddenly, it was hard to buy usable pens in bulk on special. There used to be regular buys of bulk pens for cheap – now they are few and far between.

Also, prices jumped up on certain things like laundry detergent and bleach.

I guess they had to pay for the renovations somehow.

So, how does this relate to waiting tables?

The next time you get a smaller station than your neighbors, think about the opportunities instead of the downside. Think about the fact that a larger station can keep you from maximizing your sales. Think about quality over quantity. Think about having time to get personal with your guests, which can help you maximize your tip percentages.

I’m not saying that you should hope for smaller sections, but you shouldn’t let it get you down. You should take a different mental attitude. It can really prevent you from having a bummer shift. Keeping a positive mental attitude is paramount.

“I know I said I don’t mind a smaller section, but this is ridiculous”.

End of month uniform check

Yep, it’s that time again.

Time to inspect your uniform from top to bottom. Look at each item with a critical eye. If you have any unserviceable item, time to wastecan it. If you have any “marginal” items, put them in your emergency pile.

You’re going to be busy for the next 30 days, but the next 3 or 4 days are usually the calm before the storm. Now’s the time to buy new shoes, stock up on socks, ties, aprons, or anything uniform associated.

Your uniform affects your mojo. Don’t let it suck the mojo out from under you.

“Hi, I’m Rusty and I’ll be your waiter. Can I bring you a nice Chardonnay”?

(Actually, Emmitt Kelly Jr. at the New York World Fair – 1964)