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Conducting Line Ups

Restaurant Preshift Meeting


Conducting a server lineup before every shift is one of the most important things you can do to steer the course of your service into excellence. Without daily direction and conversation, service can veer off course and vary from server to server. By talking about issues, sharing ideas and concerns, and stating expectations you will create an excellent service team.


When to do it?


Before the shift begins, that is when everyone’s mind is on the same thing: the upcoming service. Make sure your service team has mental focus available for the line up. If a server has a section that is still wanting speck, or an apron that needs ironing, you don’t have their full focus. To ensure everything that needs to be completed before the preshift meeting is completed, you may need your servers to come in a few minutes earlier than they do now. Then again, you may not. It is important that you convey to them that set-up must be complete by the time the line up begins. No ifs, ands or buts.


Where to do it?


The dining room is a great place to conduct your line up. Make sure when the meeting is over everyone leaves the dining room in pristine condition. Image of Grey Plume Service Lineup

A photo posted by Jennifer (@iamwaitress) on

Positions everyone.


On my service tour I encountered many variations of the lineup. Some restaurants had their servers stand while others allowed them to be seated. The purpose of having servers stand is, I assume, to show respect and maintain their attention. Standing isn’t necessary, though. In fact, it can be a distraction. When you are seated your body is relaxed and all attention can go to what you hear. Sitting makes writing things down easy and creates a friendlier line up, and the line up should be just that. After all, you are all in this together.


What to talk about?


There are a million pertinent things to talk about, just make sure you are talking about things, not telling about them. A lineup that consists of one voice, one manager for example, is not as effective as one that includes the thoughts and involvement of everyone. Ideas should be welcomed.


Here are three aspects of a great lineup.


1.     Yesterday.

What happened during the last shift that could be discussed? Almost every shift has a one of the following:


        A.     A total service fail. What happened? Where did it go wrong? How will it be approached next time so the fail can be avoided? Create a prevention plan and be prepared to implement it.

        B.     A unique issue, one that “rarely comes up,” but did yesterday. These types of issues are the kind that managers usually blow off because they “never happen,” rarely happen, or it was the first time it happened. But who cares? Talk about it anyway.

        C.     An unhappy guest. Why were they unhappy? Were they picky or was it a #1 from above? Who was their primary server? Have the server tell the story. Learn from it. Share it! Talk about it!

        D.     A happy guest. Why were they happy? Who was their primary server? Have the server tell the story. Learn from it. Share it! Talk about it! Dissect the reason and then make a plan to repeat it to other guests.

        E.     Team work that was amazing. What were the specifics of the team work? How did it feel for those involved? How did it look from the outside? How can that type of team work be replicated every time?


Remember, no guts no glory. Learn to talk openly, honestly and with integrity. Mistakes happen. Talk about them! Great things happen too. Bravo them, don’t ignore them! But for the love of god, communicate openly.



2.     Education.

Every lineup should be utilized to learn more about the products you offer. Wine, spirit, cocktail ingredients, dish components; pick something and learn the shit out of it! Ask a server to explain it. And then ask another server to explain it further. Was anything forgotten? Now taste it. Explain it. Listen to why some of you hate it. What about those of you who love it? Each group, the haters and the lovers should learn the other “team’s” why.  By asking each other the following questions you will create a profile of which guests will hate the product and which will love it.

  1. What do you normally drink/eat? (There is probably a palate connection.)
  2. When did you first experience the product? Was it in a certain drink? Brand? Was the wine/cocktail/spirit paired with a certain food? Was the food enjoyed with a certain wine or cocktail?
  3. How, when and why do you sell it? Will you give us your spiel?


(This exercise helps you realize that everyone has a very different palate. Just because you love or hate something doesn’t mean everyone does. On the other hand you may discover that everyone on the team dislikes something. In this case it may be wise to consider changing the recipe or replacing the product.) 



3.     Goal. What is the goal of tonight’s shift? Give everyone the same thing to work on.

“Tonight we are going to work on looking for people with dishes before we enter the dish pit. Take dishes from a fellow server. Condense steps.” When everyone goes into a shift with a shared focus, you can really create the support needed for positive change.


Bonus 4th Aspect

4.     Free.

Are there any issues that need discussing? Does anyone have a problem with how something was handled? Does anyone have a suggestion? Does anyone want to bring something up? Does anyone want to call another server out for something awesome they did? SHARE! In the beginning your servers will be closed down, totally unfamiliar with the idea of their voice being heard. If this is the case, call on a server and have them bring something up. Anything. Who cares what? Meeting is adjourned afterward.


The more preshift meetings you conduct the more you will notice your service changing for the better. I promise.


Thanks for reading! And have a great shift!

Jennifer, iamWaitressI-Am-Waitress-Logo (2)


(There is excellent reading in the comments below!)


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  1. i have to respectfully disagree with Jennifer the Server. Waitstaff are generally sensitive people who don’t like being called out on. In fact, most people are. Why does the entire staff need to be aware of WHO made the mistake. That’s entirely unnecessary and puts that particular staff member who made the mistake in a very awkward space RIGHT before going on the floor. There’s no need in that. The mistake being addressed can be communicated and discussed all around without making anyone feel bad or insecure. I personally feel that too often restaurant servers have to deal with soooo much from all ends of the spectrum. Keeping things at ‘home’ (ie. Our fellow staffmates) compassionate, caring, empathetic, and sensitive will lead to better work environments and people employees sticking around a lot longer 🙂

    • Hey ServerGirl. Thank you for the great comment! I have to say, you are definitely not the minority with your opinion. I’m happy you said what you did because you certainly represent most people’s feelings on this approach. My advice is different than most out there, but I stand by it with a vengeance.
      I agree with you that most servers are sensitive, most people are. And most restaurants cater to that mentality. But I don’t advocate, teach, preach or like how most restaurants operate. I am about creating a culture that is different than any (most) other restaurant(s). “My” restaurant approach is based on what I have seen that works. Please remember that I investigated this on my tour. I don’t just talk based on opinion but on how I have witnessed the best restaurant teams in the country operate. (I’m not saying my way is the only way, but it certainly works.)

      Everything on this subject has to do with culture. This approach of calling people out in front of their peers before a shift is pretty stupid if you only implement this one approach. It has to be backed up with a kind of culture that is active, robust, involved, accountable, honest, and that sets a high bar. From a management team that is involved, gets everyone involved (and demands that they are involved), takes the blame when it is theirs…I guess I’m saying that the leadership has to be the example to this highly evolved, not run-of-the-mill culture. The management should be comfortable saying something like, “Hey everyone, I fkd up. Here’s how and here’s why. This is what I plan on doing to fix it. What do YOU THINK?” But you don’t hear that. That’s because leaders are also sensitive and don’t like being called out or owning up to their mistakes, especially “in front of their peers, or worse, their “subordinates.”

      I always say that everything stems from the leaders: owners, managers and lead servers. If you have a team of leaders who owns their faults, talks openly about their faults, asks everyone for input on their faults so they can improve, (and then they try out the advice) then you create a culture of FOH’ers who can say, “Oh. This place is different. It’s honest. I’m not afraid to say what I think, own my mistakes, teach others through my mistakes and be prideful about my victories. I* have to learn to be better, not insecure or awkward. It’s what everyone here does.”

      And to be clear, I don’t advocate just calling people out on mistakes that everyone can learn from but also on the great things that an individual does. I will tell you this. When you work at a place that isn’t afraid to talk about specific mistakes for the betterment of everyone, and when you have been the living example of a mistake, when the inevitable time comes when you did something awesome and it is talked about, in front of everyone, it feels real and great. It feels far more powerful when you know that it is coming from an honest-about-everything cultural leader.

      Honesty and excellence have a price: uncomfortable feelings. That is until honesty and excellence becomes your personal norm.

      But like I said, the culture that I believe in is not average, sensitive, or eggshell walking, like most. I want everyone to be better, stronger, more honest, less fearful and better than the rest.

      I’m sure it’s hard to believe be if you’ve never been a part of a team that lives it. I suppose you can believe me or not. If I was in your shoes I don’t know if I would believe me. I’m a skeptic and what I talk about seems impossible and arguable. But it’s real.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment!

      Jennifer, the Server (iamWaitress)

  2. I would suggest that when you go over “negatives”, you stay general (IE avoid using the employee’s or guest’s names—use “we” and “they”); when discussing success, be very specific.

    • Hey Sean. Thanks for the comment! I respectfully disagree. From my view, when this type of management is done, it is with a group whose culture is not one that can go very far, emotionally or professionally. Being vague is exactly that, and will get you nowhere great.
      Why would you choose to be general? My guess is to spare feelings or to not single anyone out. But in my experience, if great strides are to be made, I have to know that I will be called out on my good and bad deeds–that’s how real growth comes. That’s also how you create an honest and aggressively progressive culture. At a line up: “Jennifer forgot to bring bread last night to her table 10. They were pissed. We all get busy sometimes and Jennifer is a great example of that last night.” Instead of, “Hey everyone. Remember bread. There was an incident last night…” It’s all about honest communication and sometimes it stings and sometimes it glows, but that shouldn’t be the differentiating factor of when it is used.
      I’m not saying to berate Jennifer, but let Jennifer talk about the incident. How did she get too busy? Why? What can help in the future? It opens an honest dialogue. When it’s general there is no room for dialogue. Singling out specific people and examples is obviously not how you do business so no one will ever offer their self or their specific examples up for examination.

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