For those who want to know everything.

The Truth About Team Serving

relayI believe in team serving like the Pope believes in God.  There is no better way to ensure the guest receives every attention possible while at the same time relieving stress on servers while the servers and restaurant makes more money.

This is a business, right?

What is team serving/tip pooling?

Team serving is the sharing of  responsibilities, duties, tables and most importantly–tips.

What the naysayers of team serving say..

  1. You have to carry incompetent servers dead weight.
  2. You won’t make as much money.
  3. You won’t work as many shifts.
  4. Co-workers will ruin the rapport you have built with guests.
  5. You’ll look bad to your guest because you’ll look incompetent if your co-worker is helping you.
  6. You’ll have to work harder.
  7. You don’t want to help people that you don’t like.

Who are the naysayers anyway?  I have found that only people that have never worked on a team or that have worked on a “fake” team, think poorly of it.

Here’s the facts…

  1. Dead weight servers are naturally weeded out.
  2. You make reliably good money.
  3. If you are part time, hopefully you won’t work any shifts (rarely can part timers be extraordinary) and the full timers will have as many shifts and make more money on them.
  4. Co-workers add to the guests experience and help you build connections with your guests.
  5. You will look excellent in front of guests because their needs are more likely to quickly be met.
  6. You’ll have to work just as hard as you do now, and often less.
  7. Unlikable servers also tend to get weeded out.
  8. The restaurant saves thousands of dollars every year on labor by choosing to run a tight, lean ship.

Take a look at the following add

michelin star add

 If team serving is such a bad idea then would a Michelin Star restaurant have created a team serving system???  The best restaurants (with the best service) have a system of team service. It works and is an excellent way to save money and provide excellent service.

 

 

You are running a business.

A restaurant is a business, so why would you take an approach that doesn’t suit its ultimate goal:  make customer happy and make as much money as possible!

Jason Fried of 37signals.com says in his article for inc.com

But I believe it’s good to operate at the limits of your organization. Limits force you to come up with creative, elegant solutions. Being forced to get more done with fewer resources is the right kind of pressure.

A smaller team keeps you focused. It crowds out all the things you’d like to do and replaces them with the things you have to do. It forces you to prioritize and focus on the next most important thing instead of the next “wouldn’t it be cool if…” thing. There are always plenty of those.

 

So, what is team serving?

Team serving is when you have a group of service professionals that work together to wait on the tables in the restaurant. The team then splits the tips.

It means that everyone on the team has a say on how the team should run based on set, high standards, or the team is already structured in a way where every member has their designated duty.  Examples of these titles or designated roles are:

  • Captain
  • Front Server
  • Back Server
  • Busser
  • Food Runner

 

Team serving minimizes micro-managing because everyone knows the expectations and  holds each other accountable for their service follies, their job well done and their job duties.

I am not saying management isn’t necessary, but the hand holding and low trust that goes with micro-managing isn’t necessary.

Expectations are high and are monitored by the very people who are the ones delivering the service. After all, who best to see than the ones in the thick of it?

Team service and tip pooling, when done properly, creates a self sufficient,  strong group of people who learn to trust themselves and their coworkers. This form of service creates an environment that encourages every server  to constantly be their best at every moment, for the greater good–and the greater good translates monetarily to their greater good.

Team serving is a style of restaurant service that utilizes every member of the FOH staff.  It involves everyone by having everyone work smarter together rather than harder apart.  The end result is a restaurant that runs seamlessly using the least amount of the best people and having a customer who’s every need is anticipated by their main server and an army of competent “co-servers”, who also want the guest to have the best dining experience possible.

Restaurants that do not team serve tend to run heavy on labor yet still manage to have a hard time fulfilling guests expectations.  This idea is in line with the common silly restaurant service theory that “the fewer guests that a server has, the better the service given”.   But, this just doesn’t really translate.  There is a sweet spot and managers expectations of their staff should be higher.

Non team serving restaurants tend to have servers who will not help a fellow weeded server, even if they have all the time in the world to do so.  Why would they?  They gain nothing from it.  But, do you know who would benefit from it? The guests, of course! They would have more than one person intent on delivering exceptional service.

A common misconception about team serving is that  the best servers will have to pull the weight of the worst servers.

If this were an actual problem, why would any of the best servers stick around a restaurant that team served?

Besides, in a genuine team environment, this scenario is highly unlikely because the team has created its own expectations, they have created their own culture.  That is why team serving only works when you have highly competitive, helpful, service aggressive servers, managers and owners that begin the team or maintain its integrity.

 If you would like to listen to more about team serving, here is my interview on the topic: Podcast interview.

Creating the team is the hardest part, beyond that it is simply maintenance.  It is when the expectations of the servers are low or unclear, from the team itself or from management, that the team will fail.  The people that form the team are the same ones who must come  together and agree upon set standards for the future; for themselves and for their team-mates.  They have the power and the right to expect, if not demand, that everyone helps themselves, helps the team, and contributes as much as everyone else.  There is not a system that is more fair and logical.

When it won’t work

If you have a restaurant leader in charge who is unwilling to make hard decisions or is unwilling to listen to their strong and healthy FOH staff, then the system is doomed before it has even began.  

Example:

Team members 1 -6: are strong servers who each can deliver great service to 6 tables at a time and still offer assistance to their teammates.

Team member 7:  is weak and can never take more than three tables without becoming frazzled or weeded and constantly struggles more than everyone else on the team. They consistently receive more assistance from their team than they give.  

Team confronts:  team confronts the server and gives the weak server points to work on, but server 7 never progresses.  

Management: team 1-6 comes to the manager about the problem employee and wants this person off their team.  

Broken team: If the manager is unwilling to listen, respect and carry out the wishes of a healthy team, then the team is doomed.  The team will break down, become problematic, bitter and  there is no reason for continued employment.

Mend-able Team: If the manager either complies with the healthy teams wishes OR if the manager helps server #7 to get better, the team will remain healthy and strong.

Summary: When a management team doesn’t listen to a healthy FOH teams complaint, then there is no team, no democracy. You must have a manager on board who is willing to listen to the team, help the team train the weak server and finally, have the balls to terminate a weak server.

 

Team serving captures some main points that individual serving does not.  They are

  • Fairness.  The work load would be evenly distributed; this removes any luck that many servers count on (what section they get, who their cleintelle is, what they order and how they tip).  It would no longer matter if you got a bunch of burger tables or if you have a 6 top of business men going crazy on Caymus.
  • Consistant.  The fluctuation in income for restaurant and server is removed as much possible, people can come to count on a pretty steady nightly tip-out.
  • Server can spend much more time loving on their tables because they know that their competent team has their back and their section is being properly cared for.
  • Cuts down on sitting around time.
  • No hustle to flip a table unless the restaurant requires it.  Sometimes, once a server knows that a table is not going to be lucrative, they will hustle to get them out the door or will just blow them off–that’s not too cool.  But when that server isn’t counting on that one table but a whole dining room of guests, the bitterness and laziness is quelled.
  • Let’s servers take appropriately fit tables.  With traditional serving, sometimes there will be a table who will obviously be suited for a particular server but they get an ill-fittted server because of “sections”. (A group of 50 year business exec’s don’t want a male server, they want a female.  A group of girls in their early 20’s don’t want a female, they want a fun male server.)
  • Tables are bussed more efficiently because everyone is on the task.
  • People are watered more often because everyone is on the task.
  • Guests needs are more often anticipated because everyone is on the task.
  • Let’s servers use their ability for the “greater good”.  E.g. I have extensive wine knowledge and will happily make time to answer questions for your guests’ wine questions. The guest ends up happy, you are relieved.  Now, you will make time to share your knowledge about food allergies with a  Celiac  at my table who has menu questions. The guest ends up happy and I am relieved.  Happy, easy, money making concepts.
  • Some “hard decisions” will make themselves. (Crappy servers naturally get weeded out)
  • Team serving requires exceptional servers.  Because of that, within a reasonable time frame , you can create the best servers in your city.  People will pine for a job at your well run and lucrative restaurant.
  • Give employees more at home time, with better income.
  • Saves on labor. You can save $1,000 to $20,000 per year.  That money can start another restaurant, give raises to main kitchen staff or management, be invested for retirement by owner or buy more things for the restaurant.  Every minute a server waits to get a table or is not doing as much as they are capable of,  that is money out the window.  You loose money they hate the mismanagement of their time. No one wins.

Team serving is the shit and so are you

Stop running your restaurant like it’s fat, weak and lazy.  You can tighten it up, make it stronger, and get it buzzing with competence and action.

You can go team!

You can do it!  (You know you can). Gradually and strategically.

If you have questions or comments or need a little help, I am always here for you.  Service is my thing and I’ll help you when you’re ready.

How To Convert Your Service To Team Service, In 4 Weeks

Jennifer@iamWaitress.com





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5 Comments
  1. “If you are part time, hopefully you won’t work any shifts (rarely can part timers be extraordinary)”

    Wow that is utter garbage. If you are a part-time worker you will still have contracted hours so surely not being given any shifts to work would be illegal? They have a right to work just as much as the full-timers.

    And the point about them rarely being extraordinary is also less than truthful. I have met plenty of amazing part-timers in my time! A lot of the time they actually perform better than the full-timers as they are more motivated. They only have two or three shifts to earn good money (from tips) in comparison so make a bigger effort. They cannot afford a bad night’s tips. Whereas full timers are not as fussed since they have plenty more opportunities. They tend to be slightly too relaxed and perhaps lack the incentive that part-timers have.

    Something you should consider before writing such nonsense.

    • Hello Mel,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it. I’ll address your points.

      “If you are a part-time worker you will still have contracted hours so surely not being given any shifts to work would be illegal?”

      As to that, I don’t know so I cannot comment. But that is not the solution anyway: docking shifts. My stance is that when going to team service the first qualifier should be time commitment. There is a minimum time that it takes to become successful in creating a team service environment as well as maintaining its success. If someone cannot be a part of the time it takes, then they should not work at that restaurant. When a healthy team is created it is because of everyone’s participation, ideas and willingness to adapt. It takes searching for and finding the best practices and then having the time to practice their implementation.

      “They have a right to work just as much as the full-timers.”

      Of course they have a right! But the restaurant team, the people who are willing to commit their full time and energy to creating and nurturing a strong team also have a right to work with people who are an equal part of that process.

      There are plenty of restaurants where a server can go in, do a bang up job and leave, only to return for their Friday night shift to do the same thing over again. But when you go to team service, you need the attention and time that full time employment provides. It’s not about their right to work, it’s about setting up the restaurant team for success.

      “I have met plenty of amazing part-timers in my time!”

      Me too! But waiting tables on a team service scale is totally different than being amazing, great with tables, strong, funny or a joy to work with… part time. One of the biggest struggles that servers have when working in a team service restaurant is getting used to the level of communication that is necessary to be a part of the team. Not to mention the actual team work. When you’ve been working for your own tips, in your own section, doing your own thing, with co-workers and managers who, for the most part leave you alone, for most of your career, looking at the entire room and learning how and when to help out can be overwhelming. And foreign. And tough. When you have an amazing person up to the task, that’s half the battle. But that amazing server needs time on their side–full time.

      “A lot of the time they actually perform better than the full-timers as they are more motivated. They only have two or three shifts to earn good money (from tips) in comparison so make a bigger effort.”

      Well, that’s horrible. It’s horrible that someone would be allowed to be sub par. The front face of someone’s restaurant is at this very moment being represented by the type of person you speak of. And they’re allowed to do that full time? There is no excuse. Just because I advocate the removal of part time servers doesn’t mean that full time servers have carte blanche.

      I have a hard time understanding why any manager/owner/leader would allow any full time employee to become unmotivated or not make a big effort. This is not a server’s fault, it is the fault of bad restaurant (or any business’) culture and/or lazy or ineffectual leaders. But, in fairness, when left on their own, most people have a hard time motivating to be better. That is why the entire team service template changes the game.

      If you have never seen the kind of team I am talking about, it’s hard to grasp this concept. But the entire team template (when carried out correctly and consistently) totally removes the option for any server to be less than stellar. Why? Because the team doesn’t allow the team to slack, which leads me to your last point…

      “They cannot afford a bad night’s tips. Whereas full timers are not as fussed since they have plenty more opportunities. They tend to be slightly too relaxed and perhaps lack the incentive that part-timers have.”

      One person’s bad night in tips is everyone’s bad night. But before you get upset about someone having a bad night in tips and having another server suffer for it, let me remind you that I am talking about team. TEAM: not in name alone, but in function and in action. Again, when the team is running healthily, no server is allowed to become “slightly too relaxed.” The team won’t allow it. The team sets the expectation and the team holds everyone accountable. Everyone is working for the same outcome: to provide superior service to every guest. If a section of the restaurant is receiving poor service, it’s because the team has failed. If a section of the restaurant is receiving superior service is because the team has knocked out of the park.

      The next time you are out to eat, notice if there is one busy server and one or two or three or four who are not busy. That is a gleaming example of time mismanagement that non team-service restaurants offer. It is also a great way to miss an opportunity to wow the guest. The next time you need water and your server is at another table, look for the server that is talking to the other server in the corner. Don’t you wish they’d care about you enough to bring you more water? That would never happen in a team restaurant…

      Ok, I went on a tangent there. Sorry.

      Anyway, I owe you my gratitude. Because of your caring about the subject enough to comment you have made me really think about the folly of my statement. While I stand behind my opinion about part time servers, it is not because they are “rarely amazing.” It is because the level of time and involvement it takes to be a part of a strong service team is more than a part time server can realistically live up to.

      Thank you Mel for standing up for part timers and commenting on my article!

      Jennifer

  2. It’s totally not personable

  3. I hate it when a different person brings my food than waited on us and asks who gets what? If you can’t do the whole job, I’ll leave 1/2 the tip for half service. I think think they try to make people feel like they owe both. Conniving greedy people, that’s what it amounts to. I give 1/2 the tip when you pull that.

    • Craig, your perception is super conniving. “I think they try to make people feel like they owe both.” Do you really think that, Craig? All you really have in this life is your perception so Craig, if you feel like people are conniving, I think it would be worth the work to windex your perception and get some clarity. It sounds like a shit way to think.
      But okay, Craig, maybe you do think like that. But I would suggest that if you really, honestly, truly feel that when you go out to eat and they are trying to make you feel like you need to tip everybody, you’re eating at the wrong places. We all know that great service doesn’t exist in many places, but when you experience it, especially a kick ass team, you don’t feel like it’s “totally not personable,” but instead you leave feeling like a ton of people gave a shit about you: Craig. Not one but three or five, or seven! And when the team is set up well and properly maintained, there is never any food auctioning. NEVER. The restaurant industry uses something called “position numbers” to know where the food goes. I think I should reiterate, if you are dining at places where they are auctioning food, you are not eating at places that practice the kind of team service that I am referring to.

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Website: http://iamWaitress.com
Email: jennifer@iamWaitress.com