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Multitasking, 4 Ways You Can Work Smarter

The power of multi-tasking can not be taken lightly in the restaurant industry.  If you can multi-task, you can manage a large section.  If you can manage a large section, you are an asset.  If you are an asset, you have job security and better sections (or if you team serve, you are on a level playing field with your co-workers).  Multi-tasking skills set apart the A-team from the “oh crap, XYZ is working tonight? We’re f’d”, team.

Multi-tasking is not something that many people are naturally good at but luckily, with intention, it can be learned.  It does take practice.

1.  Don’t burn rubber!  If there is one thing that I see new servers or not very good servers do, it is burn rubber, otherwise known as “one tripping”, doing one task at a time.  That technique does not serve you well and does no one any good.  New and crappy servers complete one menial task at a time.  They keep their head down with intention to the task at hand “ring in table 9’s Martini-ring in table 9’s Martini-ring in table 9’s Martini”.  What’s worse is they will often complete the task immediately by ringing the drink in, pressing send, and going directly to the bar to w a i t.  This is a horrible mismanagement of time and will earn you no love from the bartenders who hate it when servers sit and wait.

server guest

 

2.  Get eyes for the room!  This is the first part of multitasking, you must see what needs to be done before you can do it.  You must anticipate the needs before it is asked of you.  Once you start to  fall behind in anticipating needs that is when guests eyes begin seeking you out, fingers and eyebrows are raised in your direction, fingers point to empty drinks.  Once you begin down that road, you are playing the game of catch-up.  When you are playing catch up, you don’t have time to anticipate guests needs and if you aren’t anticipating guests needs then you are not being a great server.

3.  Gather information by keeping your eyes peeled on your section or the room if you are in a team.  You need to be gathering information of needs that need to be met or will need to be met.  Then, put that information in your brain and keep gathering.  Once you have a handful of tasks…

4.  Compartmentalize your thoughts.  Having a list of things that need doing is the first part, the second part is doing them in the most efficient way.

For example, here is your list of tasks that need doing…

  • Table 1 needs to be greeted
  • Table 2 needs their drinks rang in
  • Table 3 needs dessert menu’s
  • Table 4 needs a clear
  • Table 5 needs to be crumbed
  • Table 6 needs an order taken
  • Table 7 needs a check dropped
  • Table 8 needs to order deserts
  • Table 9 needs to be marked
  • Table 10 has a lot of questions

If you do all of these one at a time, you are absolutely screwed.  This small list will take up more time than you have.  An example like this is where good multitasking and task compartmentalizing  comes into useful play.

What would you do in the above situation?  Take a second to think it over.  What do you think the best approach is to getting this stuff done?  I would…

  • Greet table 1 (greeting is priority one)
  • On the way back take a dessert order on table 8
  • take desert menus from table 8  and give them to the table 3
  • crumb table 5 on my way to the server station
  • ring in drinks for table 2, ring in dessert for table 8
  • mark/re-silver table 9
  • drop off check for table 7
  • Clear table 4
  • drop off plates from 4 to dish, return to take order on table 6
  • and answer tons of questions for table 10
  • Now, the drinks should be ready.  I’ll drop them off and swing by table one to see if they have questions or need assistance and pick up payment from table 7. Ring in table 6’s order, receive payment on 7 and re-scan the room, getting more information to do it all again.

I think that memory games are an important way to increase your multitasking ability.  My favorite is Simon.  Play a game and take the poll.

What did score did you get on Simon?

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If you can multitask you can face most challenges with ease and composure.  Some servers will freak out if they get triple sat.  Not you!  You will compartmentalize what you need to do and you will think smart, planning your moves calmly and effectively.

The more you find yourself hurrying around the more a pause is necessary.  I call it taking a ‘S.E.A.T’.  Stop Everything And Think.  If you stop everything and think you will be able to handle your tables and customers by re-focusing on what is important and how best to get it done.  I know the urge is to HURRY UP.  But you need to SLOW DOWN and think smart.  I am not saying to move slow, only to slow down your mind.  A frantic mind does not work very well.

Remember that etiquette, table maintenance and multitasking can be learned.  It can be overwhelming but it is absolutely within your reach if you are intentional about it.  If you have a genuine desire to make people happy through service then you are in the right industry and I have faith in your success.

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32 Comments
  1. I just started at Buffalo wilds wings and this is my first serving job. My first day didn’t go that smooth I messed up people’s orders and I just constantly thought of how bad of a server I am. I lost a couple of my credit card receipts. I hate how we have to keep up with all of the receipts. My second day went surprisingly well and I maybe only had one mistake. Today was my third day and it was probably the worst. I had to take on a party of almost 20 by myself and it was completely overwhelming. It takes me Forever to ring up someone’s food in system because I second guess myself because I’m afraid of screwing up their order. I am not sure how to be fast but accurate on the touchscreen order system. I also feel like some of the other servers talk about How bad I am lol Tips on how to manage big parties , writing down orders, multiple split checks would be great.

  2. I started working as a server at an IHOP about 4 months ago. I’ve been a server before at a Waffle House (it’s a chain of restaurants in the South that specializes in waffles and is a lot smaller than IHOP…just in case someone doesn’t know what waffle house is) but it was only for a few months and it was like 7 years ago and I worked a slow shift. After Waffle House I got into healthcare as a CNA and did that for a couple of years but then I quit my job, got divorced, lost my two boys to my abusive ex husband (he’s the one who made me quit my job), and became homeless and was unemployed for almost 2 years because I didn’t have an ID to get a job. This caused a lot of problems with my mental health. I’ve also had a troubled childhood. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 5 and my parents weren’t the greatest at raising me. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a adolescent and difficulty concentrating on tasks for as long as I can remember. Not trying to use that as an excuse because it’s not. But I have a history of having absolutely no multitasking skills. I’ve struggled with completing school (graduated HS but never finished college). I’ve gone through 15 different jobs in the past 12 years. This is just to give you an idea of how bad I am. But going back… Once I got on my feet I started doing freelance work on Care.com as a companion (like my own boss sorta thing). But that fell through because I wasn’t getting enough clients. Then IHOP hired me. And so far I think it’s safe to say that I’m their WORST server. I’ve been written up 4 times since I’ve been working there (2 of them was because I missed a shift and the other two were from yesterday and today). I’m on very thin ice with my manager. She’s brought me into the office so many different times because of my performance. I don’t handle stress very well so when I’m getting sat 4 or 5 times in like 10 mins (that happened to me yesterday and 3 tables walked out) I tend to get very frazzled. Even when my manager puts me in a 2 or 3 table section, it seems like I still can’t get anything right. So my manager is now taking me off the floor and is either going to put me into hosting staff or will put me into retraining. All I know is that she’s furious with me. Everyone at work sees me as one great big joke. And I think my problem is that I just can’t multitask. But I really need this job and I think that if I just learn how to multitask (something no one has ever taught me) maybe I’ll get better as A server and my boss will decide to keep me and maybe my coworkers won’t hate me as much as they do now.

    • How are things Ms. Davis? I’m rooting for you!

    • Hey A. Davis,
      My name is Jake; it’s nice to meet you.

      I have been a server for about six years I have also been a bartender for two years now and my family owns a company that owns very busy restaurants in North Carolina. It sounds to me like the multi-tasking thing is a dead on conclusion to your troubles
      I know it has been a while since you posted this but please never and I mean NEVER! Say that you are the worst or put your self down like that. The service industry is a very hard job to do the correct way, trust me I know all to we’ll. I was a horrible server when I first started don’t worry about it it happens to everyone. I hope you are doing well now😁 and that you chose to be re-trained. Serving tables can be very lucrative I hope you stick with it!!!!

  3. Hi Jennifer! I’ve been serving at an Applebee’s for a month now but I’m still struggling. I almost always feel like I am behind and I get really stressed. Last night my manager wrote me up and suggested that I think about quitting. I think I am struggling because I don’t multitask much. However, the strict guidelines they have at the restaurant keep me from multitasking. For instance, a guest’s order is supposed to be rung in 30 seconds after they place it. They really don’t like it when you put in more than one order at once (as I have been criticized for this by our inspector.) But I feel that it is unreasonable and counterproductive to put in 3 orders separately instead of at once. It is the same with taking drink orders and checking guests out. Should I start doing everything at once, even if it is looked down upon? I really don’t want to quit because I know that I can do this; I just need some advice which management is refusing to offer me. Please help!

  4. Oh god, this is my living hell. I started a waitressing job about a month ago at a cafe/bistro/coffeeshop. It’s basically a restaurant under a different guise! I’m trying so hard to multitask but it’s so hard. The manager’s husband is horrible and verbally abuses us, so I’m living under a cloud of fear which doesn’t help me get over my nerves! He sits and watches us, whispering in his wife’s ear.

    Last week I burned my hand with hot milk because he was screaming at me for not buying ice, which is not my job or any of the servers jobs. Now I’m a bag of nerves.

    Today one of the long time servers told me that I need to multitask better – he’s lovely and meant it kindly, but it will only be so long before he gets frustrated. He was supposed to be having a break and I was left managing about 14 tables. I haven’t been trained – I’m expected to wait tables, ring in food, work the till, clean, greet, and make fancy coffees. It gets packed in there and it’s not easy! My training didn’t exist; I just worked alongide a girl who left, and then I was told she was supposed to be training me to take over her job.

    I’ve already had my shifts moved around because of all of this. I just don’t know what to do. I NEED to keep this job. I’ve worked a waiting job before but it was so chilled out and we didn’t do this kind of thing.

    Please help! 🙁

  5. Ok..so I’m not new at the serving deal. I’ve actually done it for a total of about 8 years. BUT I’ve taken a lot of time off between my last job and this one. I can handle two tables, three, four, Hell 5 or more if need be. But just the other night I had the entire room to MYSELF. The seating capacity is 90 and there wasn’t an emoty seat. I managed to live through the day/night.. barely. Nobody complained about anything but I could tell they were frustrated with wait times and my occasional forgetfulness. Do you have any detailed tips as to what to do to help myself? I’m responsible for greeting, menus, drink orders, food orders, drink and food running, refills, communication with the bar tender and kitchen, and everything you can probably think of plus pouring the occasional beer or coctail. Wtf do I do??? Normally there is 2 of us but obviously they didn’t come in. Two days later I’m still mentally and physically recovering 🙁 I was definitely burning rubber that night

    • Kristen. You did the best anyone can do when handed a shit sandwich. Hopefully nights like that are a rarity. The best thing you can do is fight the urge to one trip. Slow down and look at every table. What does each need? Lump the tasks together and bang them out in bulk. Wash your hands in some cold water and let that night go. Goodbye to bad rubbish!

    • We’ve all been there. I work at a sort of greasy spoon 70s style breakfast diner. Family owned, home made food, large portions, and cheap. We don’t have hostesses or bussers most of the time, but we get through it. Our restaurant is right next to the beach and we’re a tourist town, so summers are especially busy. The most important thing I can do when I’m up to my neck in work and food takes 25 or more minutes to get to the table is be honest with the customer. “We’re a little busy now and short staffed, so it might be a bit of a wait for food. But if you need anything, let me know.” Make it a priority to stop by their table to refill drinks and ask if everything is okay. You’ll still have assholes occasionally, but most people will be patient if you let them know. Just remember: try to leave work at the back door. I already have bad dreams about over crowded sections and I’ve been known to wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Shit, I forgot the side of fruit for table 3 today.” You’re only human. You will fuck up sometimes. And it doesn’t make you a bad server.

  6. Thanks for the inside information and perspective. Lol I did burn rubber on my first shift last week. But I’ll definitely remember SEAT.

    • Hey Isaiah. We’ve all been there. The thing of it is the busier you are the harder it is to slow down yet the more important it is to do so. Oh, the conundrum!

  7. Monday was my 2nd day of opening shift at a small town restaurant and this is my first time ever waiting on tables and there was 2 of us on and it just seemed like I could not get the hang of managing more then 6 tables at a time. the place was packed full and the pour other waitress had the rest I felt so bad! we have to write out the checks total them up cut up pies and cake when asked for make the salads and soups get the drinks bus the tables ring pple up at cash register does that seem like a little to much to do when we where so busy?? this place is old school!!!

    • That does sound like a lot to provide, especially since you are also there to show composure, hospitality and attention to details. But, if other people are doing it successfully, then there must be a formula of success. The key is talking to your best server and asking them what the key is. There must be a trick or two that helps. And remember, you’re new. Repetition will help you; sometimes the only way out is through.

  8. Hey,
    So I’m more or less in the same boat as Hesham, only I’m working for a poorly managed small town restaurant rather than a corporate one. This is my first job as a waitress and I’ve done pretty well the past few times I’ve worked until last night when I had about five tables at once and the restaurant was PACKED. There were only three of us on and not only are we servers, we’re our own bussers, salad-makers, and water fillers. I was entirely overwhelmed and made a few costly mistakes… not to mention forgetting to clean and reset the tables that had left. If you could email me, I’d love some advice on multitasking and calming down when there’s countless things to do. I definitely don’t want to have a repeat of last night!

    • Well, I hope you at least made good money!

      Rather than e-mail you direct, here is what I told Hesham:

      I used to be 100% like both of you. Give me one table and I am a MASTER!!! Give me two at once and I lose my head. I used to describe it as moving through warm honey. I would get warm with nervousness and the world around me would be whizzing by and I would be moving super slow, getting nothing done!

      This is normal. It’s a bummer, but it is normal.

      There are still nights where I want to say “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”.

      The first thing you have to realize is EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY, if you stay calm. Your mind is a champion when it comes to multitasking if you let it. You let it by staying calm.

      Stay calm.

      Breathe.

      I call it (this is corny), taking a seat. Stop Everything And Think.

      When I train people, if they get flustered by getting double, triple or quadruple sat, I would make them STOP everything and think!!! Stop everything, stand in the middle of their section and look around it. What does everyone need and how best can you accomplish it?

      This goes against what you want to do when you are busy. (Have you ever snowboarded? If you have then you know that the first couple times going down the Mountain your natural inclination is to lean back. But, that’s when you fall. You have to go against what feels natural to succeed. In snowboarding it is hunkering down and staying on top of the board, not leaning back. In waiting tables it is slowing down long enough to get your bearings).

      Anyway, when I train people and they would feel overwhelmed I would make them stop in their tracks and look at their tables. Often they would argue with me “but I have to ring in this order!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” But, when you stop and have a look, you can get more done. So for example, on your way to ring in a drink, you can stop by the table that just got sat and say hello. Tell them that water is on the way and while your at it, would they like anything else to drink? (Now, maybe you can ring in two orders: food and drink). Now, stop at your third table and tell them that their soups and salads are on the way, is there anything else you can get them?

      I am a strong believer in communicating to your tables. Sometimes just acknowledging them can ease everyone’s mind. You may not be able to bring water to a table, ring in an order and deliver food at the same time, but you have just touched base with everyone and now they either A.) Have faith that you REMEMBER that they have salads on the way and B.) Feel acknowledged. There’s no “where’s our server?!? What’s going on?!).

      Greeting tables is number one!

      Getting drinks down in number two! (People want to have something in their hands as soon as possible).

      Hot food is number three. (It’s actually number one but I am assuming you have food runners or other people run food besides you. My point is, it will get done)

      The key is calming down, talking to your tables, stopping everything and thinking and did I say calm down???

      When you are on your way to deliver one drink, grab the water pitcher and hit your entire section.

      When you deliver a drink, remove something from the table. Sugar packet, unused plate, dirty unused plate, etc.

      When you get double or triple sat, treat them as ONE TABLE. Greet each one and get a drink order. Deliver drinks to all of them. Get an order for each table. ***(Some places get upset at this. Some places don’t like it when you get a bunch of orders and ring them in at once, but you are at a high volume corporate restaurant so they should be able to handle it. You have to handle getting all you tables at once, they should handle getting all the orders and one time).

      I have one suggestion for you. When you are slow, walk around the dining room and ask yourself “if these tables were mine right now, what would I do”? Try to see things on the table that need tending to: low drinks (would you ask about a re-fill or another round? would you water the table?), are they waiting for entrees or first course items, do they need their check?, do they have clutter on the table that needs to be removed?

      I like this idea for you because it takes the pressure off of you because they are NOT your tables, but you can still begin to train your brain without the pressure and with a calm attitude.

      I hope these ideas help you in some way.

      • This helps so much! Thank you. I also talked to my coworkers, who are more experienced than I am, and suggested if it gets that busy again I’ll drop out of the rotation and let them take other tables that I can help them tend to without having the full responsibility of managing everything which they thought was a good idea

        • Excellent idea. Keep it up. Pretty soon you’ll be rockin’ full sections like it’s a piece a cake!

  9. Hi,

    So i just got my first serving job at olive garden(more like olive hell) and as if the bread sticks and salads and soups aren’t enough try handling 3 tables..I have never served before and i just got this job and have already received my first warning :/ i get that im not that strong of a multitasker however if i just get a hang of what im supposed to do then i can manage my time more wisely its just that when i get bombarded by 3 tables my mind goes blank.. i don’t know whether to greet table 3 when table 2 hasn’t received their salads and soups and when to drop the check off to table 1! its all mind boggeling please help! any tips please feel free to email me! i don’t want to lose my job!

    • Hello Hesham! I have e-mailed you a pretty extensive e-mail of steps and ideas, but I just want to say thanks for the comment. Corporate restaurants really make me mad. These are the restaurants where most people have their first serving job. They hire people with little or no experience and then they do a crappy job training them. And then we wonder why this industry has a bad rap, why service is bad and why servers end up thinking that the job sucks. Meanwhile, the restaurant makes millions of dollars each year, and they spend it on advertising, not training. You have to have a tight ship before you entice people to dine with you. Anyway, it’s a face-palming situation. But, I know that you are going to get better and be fine because you care and you want to be better, so you will …it’s really that simple. Thanks again Hesham!

      • Can you please email me tips & tricks too. I’m in the same boat. I’m getting confused and losing my mind when I have too many things to do. Please help!! thank you

        • My newsletter is what you are in need of. You can sign up for it Here.

          • Just started at Olive Garden this is my first serving job. I need more info on multitasking it’s just remembering what the needs are and not to have them waiting. I had a rough night last night I got 5 tables at once and neglected a table that was dropped on me. I feel bad and want to get it right so I can be a top server and make more money! Thanks

      • Hi Jennifer, I’ve just found you whilst scouring the internet for help to be a more efficient server. I was taken on for Christmas in a monster restaurant in fact probably thee busiest in Edinburgh, Scotland with no serious previous experience. I’ve nailed it and ‘made the cut’ but now feel a little pressure about being seen as a weak member of staff. I want to become a great waiter, customers blow smoke up my ass all the time and I love it! That sense of satisfaction is what drives me to want to do this job well, that and the cash monies of course. My problem right now is when I get sat too many tables my composure is shot, I start to lose focus and it all just becomes too much I feel like even asking for help is going to too long…

        …The “pretty extensive e-mail of steps and ideas” you sent to Hesham there sounds like an interesting read. But I think Prioritizing, Optimizing my Efficiency and ‘I’m in the s**t’ Foresight is where I’m falling short.

        • Hello Louis- You simply have to force yourself into the habit of slowing down and thinking. The more tables you get, the more things you have to do, the more things feel a bit out of control is the best time to breath, slow down, and take a S.E.A.T: Stop Everything And Think. What can I do for ALL of my tables right now? What can I get done on this next trip and how???

          It will get easier, but forming the right habits now are essential. You’ll do great Louis, I’m sure of it.

    • I have the same situation as Hesman. I just started serving at olive garden and I can’t seem to be fast enough at getting soup, salads, breadsticks. Along with drink refills and all of that. I haven’t gotten a warning yet but I can tell sometimes that my guest are unhappy. Hoping you could give me some advice, please.

      • I am currently the lead server at one of the best restaurants in the U.S, certainly the midwest. Just tonight, I trained a server. We are a team of 5, I am leaving, so I am training the guy that will be “my replacement”. I told him, “you may think you are awesome and that’s great, but what I see EVERY server do to their detriment, is ‘head down to task at hand’. And sure as shit, tonight I had to remind him at least 6 times to BE AWARE of all of the tables. He would get an order…5 courses with wine pairings for example, and rush to ring it in. So, I would stop him and ask “what’s going on with table 33? Did you look? What about 44? 43? Does 23 need a clear, mark and re-fire? How is 31? What about 21?” Every time, he didn’t know. That’s somewhat okay because he is “new”. But, IF he had looked around and watered 43, checked on 44, seen that 23 needs a clear, cleared 33 and noticed that 21 and 3 were lookin’ good, it would have saved him time in the long run. I am there to help re-train his brain and sense of priority, a luxury you don’t have…and a blessing. You can do it on your own. Know what is going on with all of your tables at EVERY moment. I am here to tell you it is possible, and once you have the hang of it, it becomes easier. Train your brain to look at the room. Next time you have one thing to do, like getting bread sticks and soup for a table, think 1.) In what order should I do this? 2.) How can I do these two things AND one other thing, right now, at once, on this one trip. You just have to arrange things in your brain and take actions that make sense. Don’t do one task at a time…don’t do it. Plan. See. Multitask.
        Best of luck to you Kara!!!
        Jennifer

  10. Great stuff. Wondering what your score on Simon was.
    This website is great. I hate being thrown onto a floor with 10 minutes to look over a menu and a quick tour of the kitchen. I like to know how other people operate around me. Anway,your whole site has me thinking about my last shift. Hope to see more up here!

    • Hello Ava!
      I think it was like 18. But that was the second time. The first was like 11 or 12. I had to get warmed up! How did you do? Welcome to the site and thanks for commenting!

  11. On the multi-tasking order, you wouldn’t drop the check right after greeting 1? If someone needs to be at an event, you are keeping them waiting by not dropping their check, which will put them in a bad mood, just as they are leaving/deciding how much to tip you.

    • Most excellent point Eric. Yes, that would make sense. My bad. Thanks for pointing out the better way!

  12. Great article, I’m posting this at my restaurant for everyone to read. Thanks!

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