How To Wait Tables, A Template
If You Are New To Waitressing Or Waiting Tables, This Crash Course Is Meant For You
When you begin employment at a restaurant you will go through a period of training that will most likely last no longer than one week. That just isn’t enough time to absorb all you need to know.
You will be bombarded with information: where products are stored, protocols, the computer program, and menu descriptions.
This “course,” which is actually more of a simple step by step template, is meant as a supplement to your regular waitress/waiter training. Read the article and watch the videos. Pick up habits and hints to guarantee that you are doing the best job you can do.
You will work with a lot of people with a lot of bad habits. Don’t be influenced by bad behavior: you are way better than that! It’s important that you take care of guests needs and practice table maintenance.
If you haven’t found a serving job yet then read Server Resume to help you create a resume that will help you get a restaurant job!
If you have never waitressed before or if you are rusty, this crash course will show you how to do your primary job: serve your customer perfectly.
I have been serving tables for over eight years and I still get anxiety in the few moments before I speak to a new table. It sounds silly, but it’s true. It’s like meeting up with an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time–you are pretty sure it will be a good time, but time changes people so you can’t be sure until things get under way.
There are a few things you can do to ensure (to a certain extent) that your relationship will go smoothly, that your old friend will still be a pleasure, that everyone will be happy, and that you will earn your tip.
Starting things off well is the best way to begin. You never know how things will turn out, but if you gain total control and rapport from the word, “Welcome!” you are much more likely to have a happy table and a happy you.
I am a firm believer in greeting people calmly, kindly, and warmly, with no over-familiarity. While this seems obvious, sometimes it is hard to not show more of your feelings. A great mood, a crappy mood, or franticness can be hard to conceal from your guest. However, you must find a way to do it.
If you are calm, kind, and give your table one hundred percent of your attention while you are with them, they will feel much more confident in your ability and desire to take care of them. It is hard for people to be rude to, or untrusting of a kind, calm, polite, and warm server.
At every restaurant that you work, you will have to give some type of spiel to your guests. A spiel is a way of delivering information to your guests so that they will be properly informed on the restaurant, the menu and what you have to offer them. You are simply passing along information to help them make the best decisions, and have their best experience.
Some spiels are long. For example, the one I give on a nightly basis is about two minutes long. Others are short little gems informing the customer of a happy hour special and the soup of the day, or that you are out of chicken. Either way, I strongly recommend that you create and memorize a spiel. Make it your own.
You may have to modify it nightly for different specials or 86-ed items, but if you have a strong template you will come across more confident, relaxed, experienced and trustworthy to your guests. An out-of-sorts spiel is hard to listen to and uncomfortable to give.
“Which is better, the chicken or the scallops?”
When you wait tables you will often be asked, “which is better,” or, “what’s your favorite.” From trial and error, experience and experiment, I have learned that people really don’t care which you like more. What they really want to know is which one they’ll like more. You may wonder how they will know without trying it? From your amazing descriptions, that’s how!. Here’s an example.
“What’s better, the chicken or the scallops”?
That is difficult to answer! The chicken is a breast portion that is skin on, bone in, and very lovely, especially if you appreciate citrus. It is baked in a lemon butter sauce. We use red potatoes, roasted with dill, which is certainly a prominent flavor profile. Another prominent flavor of the dish is mushrooms. We are using a medley of button and oyster, and sautéing them in butter to accompany the chicken.
As for the scallop dish, we are using diver scallops which are the larger variety. They are sautéed in butter with a light sear on the outside. The scallops alone are wonderful, but the other star of the dish is the parmesan risotto that the scallops are served over. The risotto has a beautiful creamy flavor. The dish itself is on the rich side.
Hopefully from reading this you have decided which one you would prefer to order. That’s the idea. Let your guests try the food through visualization spawned by your wonderful descriptions. If the guest asks, “What’s good?” or, “What’s your favorite?” pick three popular dishes and quickly explain them. If they ask what you like then tell them- but tell them why you like it as well. For example, “I love the tataki because it has a lot of bright flavors and I like rare beef.”
There is nothing worse than not knowing an answer to a guests question.
Especially basic ones! The time that it will take you to track down the lead Server, the Chef, the Manager or the Bartender to find an answer to a basic question is time consuming.
Often you don’t have time to spare to track people down.
Learn as much as you can about your menu, culinary terms, cocktail ingredients, wine, wine pairings, allergies and all other aspects of your restaurant.
How fast could you answer the following questions:
- Can you split an entree for me? How much is it?
- “I’ll take a perfect martini“. Do you, the server, know what that is?
- What’s the difference between sautee and pan roasted?
- What’s the martini called that is garnished with a cocktail onion? I want that. How will you ring it in?
- What is the difference in flavor profile from this Pinot Noir and this Malbec?
- If I order this Sauvignon Blanc, which entree will pair best with it?
Checking in on your table is the only way you know if your guests are happy, in need of something, or have any questions. Asking them straight out how everything is, is a simple way of finding out what you need to know. However, I am a fan of specific questions, such as, “how are your first course selections?”, “is everything prepared to your liking?”, and, “would you care for another round of cocktails?”
You may find yourself with a table that is very into their conversation, or is giving you the vibe that they don’t want to be disturbed. It is important to give them the space they are telling you they desire. But at the same time, let them know that you are around and available to them. For tables like this I do a “slow pass,” meaning I will walk by their table slowly and make it clear (without lingering) that I am looking at the table itself, not at them. I may move an item or fill waters, but I will do so in a way that lets them know that I am aware of them and available to them.
They happen. They suck. But you can really use a complaint to make an experience even better for the guest. Some of my happiest guests have come out of a mistake or other offense (real or perceived) that has been rectified swiftly and aggressively by me or my manager.
People that complain are in one of two camps (and please bear in mind that I am painting generalizations). The first camp is comprised of the person that wants to be heard. They are show offs, who want to make it known to everyone involved that they know more about how things should have gone than you do. The other group-which I think is in the majority- is the person who feels very uncomfortable stating that something is not to their liking. It takes a lot of courage for most customers to fess up to their unhappiness, and chances are they feel horrible that it could inconvenience you or, God forbid, offend the chef. Chances are they are uncomfortable with having to complain and that surfaces in many different ways. Some customers turn cold, bitchy, over apologetic or quiet. You have to perk them back up! That’s your job, your a perker-upper.
Either way, with either type, all you have to do is listen and be prepared to remedy. Know what you can do for upset customers. Every waitress will ask how everything is, (they are trained to do so), but only a small percentage are actually prepared to hear and handle the answer the customer gives. If a customer is not happy, do everything you can to encourage them to tell you everything that they are unhappy with. If they tell you that they didn’t like the scallops, apologize and ask what it was that they found distasteful. Ask about the rest of the dish. Did they like the risotto that went with it? How about the sauce? Was the temperature correct? Once you find out everything that was disliked you have a much better chance of fixing it.
Some people are just jerks. Any profession where you deal with the general public will bring you to this conclusion…it’s not just the restaurant industry. Don’t take rude people personally. Read, “Rude People Have Nothing To Do With You” to understand the reasons why some people are mean…(it could be you’re too good looking)!
When I have a complaint I do 4 things:
- #1 Listen raptly without interruption
- #2 Apologize and repeat the complaint back to them (I learned this in therapy for conflict resolution. It was never suggested to be used with customers but I have had great success with it)
- #3 Offer my best solution, and then offer my second best solution
- #4 Inform them that I am willing and excited to hear any of their suggestions if they are not happy with mine
When you offer a remedy to a guest’s issue, and if they have felt genuinely heard, chances are all anger or feeling of discomfort will fade with every action you take to fix it. Take that moment to go above and beyond. If they don’t think the scallops are cooked enough but they love the risotto, re-fire the scallops. When you’re ready to bring out their food, add more risotto and tell them you did so! “I hope these scallops are cooked correctly. I’ll check back in just a moment to see that they are. I also had the chef add just a little more risotto to the entree because I know that you really liked the flavor”.
So, you have greeted them wonderfully, answered their questions, refilled their drinks and handled their complaint. Good job! Now things are winding down and it is getting near the end of the meal. You are almost done… almost.
Offer coffee, bring dessert menus
Once it is time for the final clearing of entree plates, it is time to offer coffee and dessert drinks. Does your restaurant make cappuccinos? How about a chocolate martini? Port? Offer these things specifically. The McDonalds’ drive-throughs have it right when they ask, “Would you like fries with that?” rather than, “Would you like anything else?” The power of suggestion is nothing new in sales. The key about offering more is that the customer never feels like you’re upselling. However, they will feel like their server is ready and willing to keep on serving them. Make it clear that you’re offering them every opportunity to have all of their needs and desires met by showing them all of the possibilities they have.
Do not ask if they would like to see the dessert menu! Do not give choices for steps of service that are free. Presenting a dessert menu is free. “Looking is free,” as they say in Thailand. Present the dessert menu and take that moment of transition to offer all of the drink options. The offer should be simple and go something like, “Would anyone here care to enjoy any coffee or espresso drinks”? Or, “we have a chocolate martini that is new to the menu and getting rave reviews, would anyone here care to enjoy that this evening”? Have it become part of your memorized spiel. Do not deviate. This way you will build comfort in the recital and come across as confident, calm, and friendly.
Present check, thank guests, invite back
“Thank you, thank you for coming in!” Always thank your guest for dining with you. Remember, there are a lot of restaurants to choose from and your guest chose to spend their time with you…that’s a big deal. The end of the dining experience is also a great time to remind your guests of hours and promotions. It’s a perfect moment to say “come back and see us! We’re open every night and we’re open for lunch Monday through Friday. Have you joined us for lunch before? It’s wonderful! If you’re a fan of crab cakes, we serve great ones at lunch!”
- Get a spiel down! Practice what you will say in greeting and in your closing. Get it down pat!
- Check in with every table after every new item is served. Even if it the “slow walk”, check in!
Thanks for reading! And have a great shift!
Serve From The Left, Remove From The Right: An Industry Myth
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