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How To Convert Your Service Over To Team Service


Managers, thinking of going to team service? Read this BEFORE you do so…

There is no better way to run a restaurant than by implementing team service.  When team service is done correctly, everyone makes more money, service is better and turnover goes down.  But, many people don’t know how to implement changes to go to team service.  They usually say something horrific like, “we are now going to team service.  You are expected to help one another and split tips.”  This approach is…well, you mind as well not even do it.  It won’t last. Your servers will fight you.  People will steal money.  It’s a shit show. So, follow my advice and take things slow and purposeful.


Here is a quick how-to list of things you can do to turn your restaurant into team service.

1. Week one (or week 1 through 3), everyone will focus on two things:

A. When at a table: clearing or taking an order, get into the habit of discreetly catching the eye of a fellow waiter.
B. When walking through the dining room, look for the wandering eyes of your fellow waiters.

What this does is get everyone in the habit of having eyes for the room, not just their section. Any server can maintain their section, big fuckin’ deal. But when you are expected to know what is going on IN THE ENTIRE RESTAURANT, that’s when servers become excellent.

I was training my “replacement” at my last job, he had a table at the end of the dining room so he had to walk past a number of other tables to get to his table and back to the kitchen. I said, “Seth, when you leave table 33, I want you to come back and tell me what table 32 needs.” (Table 32 wasn’t “his table but it was on his way.”) I had to do this exercise with Seth 4 times! His brain refused to look at table 32 after receiving a task to complete at table 33. One must create new habits, scanning tables is a hard habit to create, but once you do, you’ll never stop.


Seth’s bad habit of going to his table and not looking at 32 as he passed it was totally unacceptable. A truly competent server will be able to tell you what is going on (at least in general) with EVERY table in the restaurant, or at least the ones they just walked past.

As a server, there are times that a table may take too much of your time. These are the moments when your team can save you. You can catch their eye (because they are aware to seek eye contact) and after they come to you, you can share with them what you need. “Please ring in a Merlot for table 20,” or a general “get my section up to speed,” which may mean taking an order, running drinks, clearing for the next course, folding a linen while a guest is up, etc. The beauty of this is, you don’t need to tell a fellow server how to fix your section, after all, they are a waiter too. They know what it takes to get a section in perfect condition.

Week one is just catching the eyes of fellow servers. When someone is at a table and looking to catch the eye of a fellow server walking by, and the walking server doesn’t look up, TELL THEM as soon as possible. “Hey, I was looking at you, you never looked at me.”

This is important for two reasons:

1. How can one ever improve if they don’t know their faults?
2. Most importantly, it gets people on the team talking to each other and that is really-really-really-really hard for some people to do. And it is really-really-really-really important. People on the service team that refuse to share/talk/communicate with fellow servers should not be allowed on the service team. You want adults on your team; people that can act and communicate like a grown up. That is a basic expectation and it should easily be met, or taught.


2. Week 2 (or week 3 through 5) , the manager should be at the entrance of the server station and they should be asking every server random table questions. Examples would be: 

  1.  What’s going on with every table in your section? Give me a run-down. (The server should know and if they don’t, your questioning them will begin to teach them to pay attention.)
  2.  What is table 7 eating? (This should be asked about tables that are NOT in the servers “section.” But, the server should know.)
  3.  The guests at table 4 seem unhappy, what’s going on? (This could be true or a lie, the point is the server should know the demeanor of the table.)

As a manager, you need to know these things as well.  Take a loop around the restaurant and then ask your questions.  Don’t ask about a table to a server that has not walked by them in the past minute or so.


THIS IS THE PART OF TEAM SERVING THAT PEOPLE BELIEVE IS NOT POSSIBLE: TO KNOW EVERYTHING. It is possible! It is also necessary to team serve. Consider this: How much better (percentage wise) would every server have to be to get to this point? 5%? I doubt it. I would guess the average server would have to get 50% better at their job. But with that comes being able to run with fewer people, and that means more money for everyone! Think, if you can get rid of two shitty servers per shift, that can add $50 to 200$ to your servers tips every night and save about 7k to 30k per year as a restaurant. When you have a team that SEES the room and helps everywhere, you need less people. It is called “running at full potential” and most restaurants run at about 50% potential.

team money saved
‘The Q. and A. by the manager’  is a vital part of the team service transition, and it’s also the part that has the most resistance. Here’s the time when the service team will get mad.  Here’s where people start to scream at the manager (or trainer. I know, I’ve been the trainer before.), or quit, or simply break…here is when the weak servers break.

It is maddening to a server because they’ve got shit to do!, and here this stupid manager is drilling them with “stupid” questions. But, the reason it makes people so mad is because they are being forced to grow…and growth is never easy. Growth is hard! But,this mental demand will only make them stronger. If it were easy, any server could do it. But, you have to become BETTER. You must.

…because who wants to go back on the floor to find an answer they could have had if they would have just looked in the first place?
If a server doesn’t know the answer to the questions asked of them, send them back to find out. This will teach them to look, because who wants to go back on the floor to find an answer they could have had if they would have just looked in the first place?  They will start to look at tables so they are prepared for any question that may be asked of them. If they were too busy to tell you, have them stand there for 20 seconds (which isn’t long, but it kind of is. And when you’re busy, standing and doing nothing for 20 seconds is enraging and feels like forever) before they are allowed to go do the things they “need to do.”  Your service team must be prepared to stop and communicate! There is no excuse for not fulfilling this part of the training.  And, it doesn’t come in just one or three weeks. It is an ongoing server muscle to be built. These random questions should be asked by fellow teamates for the end of time. It keeps each other sharp.

So, week two is about scanning every table and internalizing what is going on at it and creating the ability to articulate it out loud, on demand.

Don’t run a service team below their ability just because you haven’t ever really witnessed what a STRONG, effective, and lean team looks like. If you haven’t seen a team running at 100%, it’s hard to believe that it’s really possible or what it looks like. If you haven’t seen it, then try to trust me because I have seen it, time and time again–and it’s stunning.

You must have vision, belief and high expectations…oh, and patience. It takes awhile to get there. (Have you ever seen the video’s of dogs that know a crap ton of tricks? Any dog can do those tricks, but it takes patience and persistence from the TRAINER. Servers aren’t dogs, but God Damn It, it’s the same concept.)

Listen to my team service focused Podcast interview here:



3. Week 3 (or week 5 through 7), same thing as week one and two but now you have to ring things in for a fellow teammate.

Get to know each other’s employee numbers, get comfortable with asking tables that “aren’t yours” if they would like another glass of wine, or cocktail, or whatever. Servers that are not used to team serving usually have shit-fits when someone helps to this degree at “their table.” I often wonder, why? It’s a silly thing to get mad about when you really think about it.

Remove your ego and think about service. I promise you, the guest doesn’t give a shit how they get their drink, they just want it! When you begin to practice being a strong team, your guests will notice. They will see the ballet of the service, and they will know that their server isn’t a bad server (the fear of most servers), but that the #1 priority of the entire service staff is that they, the guest, are taken care of, period. They will soon realize that EVERYONE in the restaurant cares about their experience, not just one person. They will realize that they have an army of people fighting for their service perfection, not one lone soldier.

Anyway, get used to treating other people’s tables as your own, because they are. When a table leaves a 20% tip, every server should feel that they’ve contributed to the reason for it. When a table leaves a shitty tip or complains, everyone should feel responsible. Everyone! You will share the highs and lows…that is a team, and it feels excellent.


4. Week 4 (or week 7 through 9) The hardest thing for every new team server: communicate everything!

“I’m taking bread to table 4. Do you have bread going out that I can take?” Sharing this one thing can save a teammate time. “Yes, will you deliver this bread to table 5. I have to run drinks.” “Yes, I have a Cab up for table 7, will you run it?”
I used to tell new servers, “if you fart, you should tell your team.” Communicate your actions! “I’m taking bread to table 4. Do you have bread going out that I can take?”  Sharing this one thing can save a teammate time. “Yes, will you deliver this bread to table 5. I have to run drinks.”  “Yes, I have a Cab up for table 7, will you run it?”  This is just one example, but the point is to remove un-needed actions. Condense tasks. Utilize the team. Work smarter together rather than harder apart.


5.  Every Week:  Have an “all hands on deck” FOH meeting.

Until everyone’s expectations of the team and service are fulfilled, it is detrimental that you have mastermind meetings. Everyone should have an open opportunity to share frustrations and provide ideas.  The manager should write down the key points of the meeting and everyone, upon meetings end, should know of any changes that were agreed to.  You may find that small tweaks make all the difference.


Follow the iamWaitress hospitality blogumentary. This year Jennifer is spending one shift with the top 100+ best restaurant service teams in the United States. Follow along and learn from the best! And if you want to become an even better server, check out her Spirits & Wine course. It’s 100% Money Back Guaranteed to make you better!

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