How to be a good waitress

August 15, 2013 5:42 pm Published by 18 Comments

Be a good waitress.

Over 20 tips for servers that will help you become a better waitress.

Sometimes our experience keeps us blind to the fact that we may be doing something the wrong way, and sometimes that wrong way gets taught to other waiters and waitresses. In fact, if you are doing something the wrong way, chances are it was taught to you. Well, the cycle ends here!

 

The following tips aren’t the be-all-end-all of restaurant service, but they are basic actions that when done wrong, in front of a knowing guest or co-worker, can show your amateur background.  These tips for servers will make your job easier and help you to become a great server.  Add any missed ones to the bottom in the comments below.

Want to measure your “Basic Server Knowledge“?  Take the quiz. Click on the link.

 

    • Handle stem-ware from the stem not the globe!  You spend a lot of time polishing your stem-ware so why would you negate the job by getting your beautiful and unique fingerprints on the globe before it even touches the table?  It’s just a habit that good waiters tend to do–but it’s totally breakable

 

      • When clearing glasses from a table DO NOT GRAB FROM THE RIM.  Palm the glasses in your hand or use a tray.  Don’t know how to palm glasses?  You can learn.  Can’t carry as many that way?  That’s okay.  It’s better than spreading germs, hepatitis and looking bad on the floor.

Holding at the Rim is a common no-no

    • When you go to your table, return to the same spot every time.  People are creatures of habit.  By returning to the same spot every time you gain the tables attention much faster because you have “trained” them to notice a presence in that particular spot.

 

    • Folding napkins?  Doing roll-ups?  Seams down, seams in.  It’s a simple thing to do and creates a much more polished look.

 

    • When putting linens on the table, make sure the seams are down.  It may seem like a simple thing that doesn’t mean much but it does.  Have you ever put your shirt on inside out?  It’s not a huge deal but it’s kind of a stupid thing, isn’t it?

 

    • Do not carry your server book in your butt.  Can you believe this is even on the list?  Some people do it and those people shouldn’t.

 

    • Do not carry your serviette over your shoulder.  It’s by your hair.  Your serviette should be no where near your hair, even if it’s beautiful!  Good servers carry their serviette in their hand and/or pocket  when it’s not in use.

 

    • Do not point in the dining room.  Pointing is rude, remember, you were taught that when you were little.  Well, that rule applies in the dining room as well.  A flat hand or pointed fist is how you should show direction.

 

    • Waitresses, waiters: Don’t call a female guest “Mam”.  Mams hate that!  Even if you were raised that “Mam” is a salutation of respect like I was, it’s hayday is over. Some woman hate it so much that they become rude. (Find out the other reasons some guests can become rude and find why it normally has nothing to do with you.)

 

    • Don’t stand akimbo at a table.  Don’t stand with your hands in your pocket.  Stand with your arms at your side, clasped in front of you or clasped behind you.  Too formal?  Well remember, you’re an actor and sometimes actors play a part that they personally are not.

 

    • Present food open handed.  What is open handed?  If you could immediately and easily hug your customer after you set down their food that is open handed.  If when you set down their food you could immediately and easily elbow them in the face, it’s not.

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    • Do not auction food.  Even if the restaurant you work at doesn’t use position numbers for ordering food, you an create your own system.  Auctioning food is lazy.  Create a system and know where the food goes.

 

    • Don’t tell a guest how you are unless you are doing good.  If they say “how are you?” DO NOT tell them ANYTHING negative.  No paying customer should ever have to hear that your house burned down, you’re tired, you’re having a bad night or that you were supposed to have the night off.  When they ask how you are, treat it as a nicety and nicely reply.

 

    • Don’t touch your face in front of guests.

 

    • Don’t touch your hair in front of guests.

 

    • Don’t begin speaking to guests without waiting for a break in their conversation, don’t interrupt.  If they are in conversation, go to your “speaking spot” at the table, count to five, if they don’t give you attention then walk away and try back in a few minutes.  Do this as many times as it takes.  That’s no biggie though.  You have other things to do anyway.

 

    • When asking permission  to remove a dinner plate from someone, do not ask the guest if they are “still working” on their meal.  Remember, dining on the food that your restaurant serves is not work.  Instead, ask if they are finished “enjoying” their meal.

 

      • When bussing a table, don’t stack plates on top of food or silverware.  There is a correct way of stacking plates.  Hold one plate in your hand, this plate is for silverware, share plates, bread plates and food scraps.  Place the next plate on your forearm, balancing it.  From that position add more plates to the plate nearest you and the food scraps, silverware and small plates to the plate in your hand.  When you have stacked all you can, put the plate from your hand on the top of the plate stack nearest you.   You are left with a nice, neat, manageable stack of plates.

          • When carrying plates out to guests you should not have your thumb on the plate.  Carry with the meat of your thumb/palm as much as possible.

 

          • “You guys” isn’t an acceptable way to communicate with your guests.  I bet you know that though.  As a fun game keep your ears open and listen to your co-workers.  I bet you hear someone address guests in that way.

 

          • If you didn’t catch what a customer just said, don’t say “what”?  Say “excuse me”, “pardon me”, or “can you please repeat that”?

 

          • When possible, remove from the right, deliver from the left: MYTH  (What a silly girl I have been! This way of serving is Butler Style and is only the correct way to deliver food when you are the one putting the food onto your guests plate for them or when offering a tray of food for them to take from. When the food is already plated in the kitchen, the correct way is to deliver from the right, remove from the right. I believe that restaurant conformity is even more important in food delivery so get with your fellow servers and decide what your protocol is.) 

 

          • Restaurant traffic hierarchy: Do you follow a set direction on the floor?  Developing a traffic map will make service more seamless and less clumsy.  When everyone flows in the same direction the whole energy of the room changes and becomes less cluttered.  There is also more sense to what has been done.  As an example, if you go to water the room and see that tables 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are watered but 6 isn’t, that indicates that neither is 7, 8, 9 or 10.  Knowing simple things like that can save you time on the floor.

 

          • When presenting a bottle of wine for a table, remember to place the cork on something, never just place it on the table.  Also, place the cork on the table with the wet side away from the customer.  That way if they reach for something on the table the wine has less of a chance getting on their shirt cuff.

 

          • Do you leave the cork on the table?  You shouldn’t…unless they want to keep it. A good server always asks their guest.
            • A great idea is to agree with co-workers on where to put the cork if the guest does want to keep it.  So, maybe you agree to move it to the center of the table.  That way there will be no confusion and your co-workers won’t feel obliged to ask the guest (again) if they would like to keep the cork, they’ll undoubtedly know that you have already asked.

 

What did I miss?  I’m sure there is something or maybe many things.  Please add your knowledge to the comments below! 

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Jennifer, iamWaitress
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Jennifer, iamWaitress

Hello! You're finally here! Thank God, I've been waiting for you.

I'm Jennifer and I would be honored to be your virtual restaurant consultant. I'm a real human, immersed in the industry, here to provide you with the most helpful ideas, information and products to make you more money and more successful.

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Jennifer
Jennifer, iamWaitress
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18 Comments

  • Katrina says:

    Jennifer,
    I’m really enjoying your website and I plan on having my service team take your courses. In regard to no-nos as a service person – one thing that drives me crazy is when my service staff is having an “engaged” conversation with a customer, say at the bar, and their tables are waiting for water, to pay, to order more…

    I have repeatedly brought this to the teams attention – and one specific server just doesn’t seem to realize she’s the worst offender. And honestly, what she’s talking about just isn’t that interesting to begin with. Customers do no want to hear our problems, issues or stories, they are at our establishment to spend time with their friends and family. We’re there to serve them professionally and with as little interruption as possible – so their time is well spent.

    Cheers,
    Katrina

    • Oh Katrina, spot on. Thanks for pointing this out because it is an issue! There is a line between engaging with the guest and seeing that others need you as well. It’s like off kilter parenting: nurturing the personality and gifts of one child so they can have the best life, while making the other kid go without the basics: food and water. (I understand this is a little dramatic of an example, buuuttttt…)

      I am a big proponent of honest dialogue. I write about it in my article about the benefits and how to conduct a line up. I think you should check out that article: http://iamwaitress.com/conducting-line-ups/ and pay particular attention to #1 and the comments. They really get to the meat of the issue.

      Another “rule” you could implement, for those on your team who need a little logic and math, would be to use the 80/20 split. This would mean that the general rule of thumb for your hospitality team would be that they are only allowed to talk about themselves 20% of the time. You could kick the rule up and say, “You’re only allowed to talk 20% of the time and about 100% positive things.”

      You could even have a little class on reading people. When do you walk away? What are the social cues that people give when they are sick of you? What about when they need you to talk to them? When do they need water? How often should you scan the room? What are you looking for when you do scan? Etc.

      You could even begin to teach the bartender to know what is going on with their guests. Pull them aside a few times a night and without letting them turn around, ask them to tell you what is going on at every seat. What are they drinking? Who is low on water? Who is low on drinks? Who has menus down? I promise you that the bartender will be annoyed!!! But they will also start to look around more, because they know you’re going to be asking. All you’re doing is training them to look around and really internalize their environment.

      I do strongly recommend that you look at: http://iamwaitress.com/conducting-line-ups/ and read the comments too. If you have a worst offender, they should know that they are the worst offender. Tell them. One can’t “know thyself” if no one is helping them to know.

      Katrina, thanks again for the comment! I appreciate your reading my articles and caring about your service team! You make our industry great!

  • Alysia says:

    Hello there! First off — I’m loving your blog! I’m still perusing through some of it but absolutely love your writing style and this is all good info — Thanks! …. Now… There is only one thing in this article I feel compelled to comment on. *Please,* people, if you are a younger person, do NOT address a female 30 yrs your senior as MISS! Miss is reserved for very young women, teens, and little girls. By the age of 50, I feel I have earned the right to be addressed as “Ma’am.” It’s a matter of respect, and have found it very odd how many very young service people (grocery stores, wherever) address me as “miss” and it’s so annoying that I’ve started correcting people (yeah, I’m crabby like that. In a very polite way though 😉 ). Just to make sure I wasn’t off on some crazy personal tangent, I did a bit of research and if you look up, you can easily find out when it’s appropriate to address a female as Miss or ma’am. And yes, I am a server in a very nice restaurant and have never yet managed to offend anyone by my use of ma’am. I actually dislike the term “miss” so much that when I am addressing a very young girl, I will refer to her and ‘young lady.’ “Miss” is just so … Ugh. M2CFWIW /// Other than that — love the rest. Keep it coming! 🙂

    • I totally agree with you! I think that mam is a term of respect.

      It’s strange how we are in the same industry and I offend everyone when I say mam and you offend no one. I’m not kidding though, woman have gotten really upset with me mam-ing them. Now I do say Miss and they eat it up. To quote the witch of the West in her dying moments, “Oh, what a world, what a world.”

  • Roy says:

    Hi Jeniffer send me your e-mail am soon starting ma training of hotel management am from uganda.

  • Peter says:

    Jennifer

    Having worked in the Hospitality for 50 years and semi-retired I am working on a power point training program and find your article very interesting.

    So often waiting staff are paid minimum wages and treat the job as a last resort !!

    Restaurants need to train their staff to appreciate food service. Look after the customer and they will look after you has always been my motto.

    Regards Peter Burke

  • DB says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Have enjoyed exploring your website. I am a long-time server, but believe there is always something new to learn or improve on, so thank you! I’m also planning on taking your course.
    I think your advice on leaving a cork on a table is useful, but servers need to be careful in this regard as I have had numerous tables decide to cork their unfinished wine and take it with them. No big deal, unless you did what I did in my early days and throw the cork in the garbage. Not a good thing when your guest has spent major bucks on a wine. Now, I either put my corks in my pocket or leave them in an out-of-the-way place in a server station.

    • YES! Excellent point. I’ve done it too and it’s a silly, totally avoidable “mistake.”
      “Oh, you want to take that $400 bottle of wine with you? I threw away your cork, but here’s a cork for your collection from out $30 house wine. Have a great night! Come on back, soon!”

  • Beauty says:

    Good morning Miss Jennifer… trying to search-out some of the bad habits of waiters and waitresses I fortunately stumble into this beautiful piece of brilliance, and I’m glad I did, because I have wonder and try to find out what I am doing wrong from all I thought is perfect and a norm in our working place… thank you so much… struggling with my internship and trying to complete all the coursework, I sometimes wonder if the stress reflect on my face or actions…..
    I am passionate about serving and making guest happy, I just still do not understand how to showcase my passion to guests ..
    God bless you, love from Beauty

  • jessica says:

    Okay so I have a question! what would be a proper way to greet a table?
    and how long should i wait to ask for drink orders sometimes i feel like i ask too soon and have to make more trips to the table than i should have.

    • Hello Jessica–

      It depends on where you work and their protocol, but it sounds like your place of employment doesn’t have one. Soooo, we may have some comments come in that disagree with me, and they should definitely speak up, but here’s what I do. I welcome them with water or bread (whatever the opening gift is, i.e: “Good evening. I’d like to bring you some water. Do you prefer bottled or tap?” or, “Allow me to showcase the bread this evening. We have a raison walnut and a rosemary.”) And then I almost ALWAYS say, “I know you just sat down, but may I bring you something for you to drink besides your water or shall I give you some time to settle in?” Some people have NO IDEA what they want to drink and some (like me) know exactly what they want. At least you are giving them the choice…
      Play with some verbiage and see what feels best to you! Thanks for the question.

  • Sari says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    It’s been a little hard for me to tell whether or not this is an ongoing, active operation you’ve got, but I figured I’d write in to say thanks, this blog and your accompanying media are very helpful! I have been struggling out of college to piece together meaningful work in a very, very economically depressed (tourist) region, and I just landed a position as a server at a hibachi restaurant. My only experience is catering, so I’m very pleased to have been able to read up on some protocols, tips, etc. from a veteran of the industry. You give me hope that my desire to make a secondary career out of serving while I pursue graduate degrees in writing is not only possible but wholly valid. I know that service is an art, and I appreciate your dedicated reporting from the floor!

    • Jennifer says:

      Your curiosity of iamWaitress’s ongoingness is pretty valid. The answer is YES, I dream, think and move for iamWaitress. But, I don’t treat it like a blog with tons o’ posts per week. That is probably my bad and confusing, but I really appreciate you sticking with me!
      You can make a lot of money and be an excellent server! YOU. The day you get comfortable and think you have it down and know everything is the day you become ‘not great’. Just continue to make little tweaks, contact me with any questions and enjoy your work.
      Thanks Sari for commenting…that makes me happy!

  • tracy says:

    Jennifer, I like the concept youre building your blog on. lots of good stuff! my hubby got laid off and his brother got him a job working at a high end restaurant with no prior experience he was awarded certificate of excellence and promoted to a “top gun” trainer. He says people have been working there YEARS (including his brother, approx 5), and haven’t gotten close to this promotion, and you pinpointed all the reasons why in this clever article.
    thank you for sharing!

    • Jennifer says:

      That is way awesome Tracy! Congratulations to your husband. There is experience and knowledge and if you don’t utilize your experience by gaining more knowledge…who cares how many years someone has worked there?

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