Crappy Servers, Who’s To Blame?

March 24, 2013 8:55 am Published by 12 Comments

Crappy Servers, Who’s To Blame?

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Oh those pesky crappy servers!  How have we gotten to be so bad?

We front of housers don’t have the best reputation, do we? But, it’s not really our fault, not really.

Well then, who’s fault is it and how did “they” do it to us?

What do I even mean by crappy servers?

There are high expectations of our profession from the public and our employers and not many servers are delivering on that expectation.

Let’s ask ourselves a question:

Who are the real leaders of the restaurant industry and why?  Who seems to be in vogue and in the spotlight lately?

Who are the people pushing for recognition in the restaurant industry? Who are the ones spending time training for perfection and knowledge?

Chefs.

Sommeliers.

Cicerones.

Waitresses.  Waiters. Restaurant managers.

*ahem…did I say waitresses, waiters and managers?

I didn’t mean to.

But, it is time we did. But unfortunately, we can’t do it alone.

No way. Someone has to step up.

I (I as in me as a server), was recently called “a dime a dozen” by a very respected chef.

You see, people in the restaurant industry (and outside of the restaurant industry), don’t think very highly of the profession of server or restaurant manager.

Why would they?

There are a million servers and restaurant managers in this country, but whether you receive great service when you go out to eat is still an absolute crap shoot.

Why?

Consider this real life scenario: when someone dreams of starting a restaurant  they usually dream about the food they will serve and the look and feel of the restaurant.  They daydream and give effort to all aspects of the restaurant, except service.

They are sure their restaurant will provide great service…they just don’t understand how.

But they don’t worry about those pesky details.

And why should they?  Servers know how to deliver great service, right? After all, it is our job!

So, when it comes time to hire the wait staff they think “I’ll just hire a bunch of servers…experienced servers, and that will be that.”

And that is that…until the reviews come in.

And the complaints.

And the incompetence.

And the laziness.

WTF?

So, they fire some of their worst servers.

And hire new “experienced” servers.

We’re a dime a dozen, right?

When it comes to waitstaff, people tend to consider the word “experienced” to be synonymous with “great,” “knowledgeable”,” “hospitable,” or “excellent”.  But the truth is, often experienced just means very efficient at not doing things great.

So, the restaurant gets more complaints.

And things get even more unorganized.

The “restaurant decision makers” begin to trust their service team less and less. Why should they trust them? They suck!  F’n servers. Arg!  I hate servers!

Since it’s up to the servers to deliver great service and they are not delivering, the owner (or restaurant decision maker) will begin to believe that giving the servers fewer tables will make the servers give better service. That should do the trick.

Now the servers can focus more of their attention on fewer guests.  That makes sense.

The problem is, it doesn’t work.

Anyone who has been in the restaurant industry for any amount of time will quickly tell you, the slow nights are when a lot of things go wrong. The shifts where you have more than enough bodies to get things done are the shifts when nothing gets done.

So, now you just have more servers on the floor. That means your labor costs go up.

Oh wait! You only pay $3+ for servers per hour so it’s no skin off your labor costing back. You can afford the paltry amount it takes to keep more servers than needed.

Except you haven’t really done the math. If you had you would realize that the paltry amount it takes to keep more servers than needed will amount to thousands of dollars each year.

But you don’t need it.  You are loaded.  That must be why you are always in such a great mood and beaming with that stress free attitude!

For everyone else, read on…

The restaurant ends up making less money and the servers are making less money, all because they aren’t trusted to wait on more tables.  (Which is probably a fair assessment because no one has actually trained them on how to be efficient while still providing exceptional service. Anyway the servers should already know how!…it is their job.)

So, service doesn’t get any better.

And now everyone is unhappy: owner, servers and customers.

So, the guests stop coming.

The servers begin to quit.

Now you run a low volume, high turn-over restaurant which gives you even more problems: you must find more servers, interview them and train them (train them what exactly?).

You are at your wits end!  So you turn to your Front of House manager, “hey manager!  What is going on with the service?”

“It’s hard to find great servers,” the weak manager that doesn’t know how to train servers laments.  “How can I have a great service team with these servers?”

But, servers are a dime a dozen!  You should be able to find some more experienced ones!

Hire. Fire. Hire. Quit. Yell. Anger. Fire. Hire. Mad. Complaints.

Time to fire the manager!  S(he) was useless!

And repeat!

Where does the buck stop?

With the servers.

But is this wise?  Yes, servers should be better.  But, the problem is this:

There are few servers who are trained how to be exceptional.

Have you trained your servers?  I mean, beyond “here’s the computer, here is expo, up-sell from well spirits to premium, don’t get in the owners way, here is where the dumpster is, blah-blah-blah and bull-shit and more bull-shit and blah-blah-blah.”

It seems that no one actually trains servers, yet everyone expects them to be awesome.

I mean, fricken awesome.

And knowledgeable.

I mean, fricken knowledgeable.

Awesome, knowledgeable servers are a rare commodity.

Restaurants that know how to deliver great service are a rare commodity too.

But why?  As many rude-ass people point out “serving isn’t rocket science.” Which is true.  It doesn’t take years of intense training to become a great server.

Or does it?

Oh shit, what if it does take years of intense training?

You don’t have years!  You need to provide better service NOW!

What do you do?

This scenario is not a rare one and it is a slippery slope!

It’s a catch 22.

Why? Because

  • you can not expect to have great servers and expect them to only take three tables.
  • three tables can’t provide the income that great servers are used to making.
  • you can’t increase the table sections because the servers that you have on staff are not trained to handle a bigger load.
  • it’s hard to allure excellent servers to a restaurant that is unorganized.

Someone needs to get their shit together for this to begin to become a great service team and it is not going to be the servers.

How could it be?  The servers have ZERO control or say.  The typical chain of command has made it that way. Now, you, as a restaurant manager or owner, have to deliver.

Delivery!

Special delivery!

What is it?!?

It’s a box!

What’s in it?

A plan of action, a service minded brain and a pair of balls to carry it out.

You or a restaurant leader must create a plan of how you will get your restaurant from broken to mended and strong.

Or from okay to excellent.

Or from excellent to superior.

Because the longer you allow your restaurant to be broken, the longer you are a dime a dozen restaurant with dime a dozen servers.

And that is how and why the profession of waitress, waiter and manager has gotten such a bad wrap.

No leadership.

Little clue.

But, you deserve to have an excellent restaurant and you have the ability to create it.

Your servers deserve to be trained to be excellent and to be a part of an excellent service team.

You have the power and the ability to make the right choices for your restaurant.

You just have to get going, create that plan and begin implementing it.

Begin today.

Do it now!

What do you think about this article?

Who’s responsibility do you think it is to create a great service team?

What makes a great service team?  Let’s hear your two cents below!

 

 

Jennifer, iamWaitress on Google+!





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Jennifer, iamWaitress

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12 Comments

  • John says:

    Stop reading your article after the acronym WTF.
    A professional hospitality person would never use this publically.

    • If that offends you, I’m happy you found WTF. Things can get much worse. But John, I have to say…I’m speaking to my people here. On the floor and to guests we are proper, civil, balletic kings and queens. In my experience right when you turn the corner to the server station and kitchen the colorful language flies. This “public” space is my restaurant. No diners are here. Only us.

  • Sean says:

    Awesome article Jennifer! I agree that there are far too many restaurants that boast underachieving staffs, bad organization, sloppy service and bad leadership. I think that with any profession, you’ll find a portion of employees that are simply there for the paycheck, but liked your reply to Korynne’s comment about hey, maybe this isn’t my chosen career, but why don’t I just go ahead and strive for excellence anyhow? The position of server offers individuals the unique capability to actually directly impact and maximize their earning potential without having to nervously approach a boss about a pay raise or a promotion-learn your shit!! Server knowledge, charisma, salesmanship, efficiency are only a few of the areas that can be developed/improved and that will effectively raise a servers salary. Who doesn’t want to make more money??? The fact that this “built-in motivation” is present should make it even easier for restaurant ownership/management to bolster their service by supporting their servers with opportunities to further learn and grow in their positions. However, like you said, the most important facet to all of this is that proper training and support is actually provided to these individuals who are more than ready and willing to soak it all up. Cheers!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks Sean! Awesome comment. Thanks for sharing. These comments are just as valuable as the article! Boom!

  • Tiana says:

    Well said Jennifer!

  • Korynne says:

    This is very true, I think there are a lot of experienced servers in the world but very few “professional” servers who really care about the restaurant industry and consider it their career. I believe that a server who loves what they do and feels valued amd trusted in their position will in turn deliver great service. A “professional” server who loves what they do will not remain at a business where he/she isn’t trusted to handle a full section. They will move on to a well run restaurant with efficient and integrous management because they want to move up in their career, not down. That starts from the top. A diner can easily tell whether or not the server enjoys what they do. Great article! I think this is a well thought out assessment of a very large issue in the service industry. I wish more people had your perspective, the service industry would be in a much better place.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks for commenting on the article Korynne. But, I have to say, I don’t even think that a requirement for delivering great service is that serving is your profession or your chosen career. I mean, why should you go through life only being great at your “calling”. Why not be great at everything you do? And maybe my idea is too extreme so I would say this: I think there are not a lot of people in the industry who HATE it. Most people like it and when they are taught how to be even better in it, excel and are really happy to be in it. This profession is pretty beat up, I think if we started treating it with more respect, more people would respect it. That goes with what you said in your comment too, about working for people who have integrity and trust and run a great restaurant. It does start from the top…there is a responsibility there, there is in every profession. Great comment! Thanks again!

  • Tyler says:

    I love the article. I think it is usually the case that departments view other departments as a dime a dozen. It is easy to lack perspective and empathy, we just weren’t brought up as people that way.

    I LOVE the line about getting service from okay to excellent and excellent to superior. I would stress this line a lot and make it very known that there is no end to this line. What would be next after superior? Then what? Then what? Keep that edge to your establishment by always asking “How can we be better?”

    Keep up the outstanding work Jennifer, it is great to hear a voice from another state give perspective to our industry. It is easy for me to get stuck in a box and not pay attention to what else is going on or what else to be thinking about. BOOM!

    • Jennifer says:

      Excellent point Tyler. I mean points! It is too easy to get stuck in our own awesome restaurants. It is important to gain perspective, inspiration and ideas from other great restaurants. And your second point, always striving to be better. What is after superior? There is something! There is always room for tweaks, changes and updates. Thanks for reading and commenting! Keep running those great restaurants!

  • Kathy says:

    I liked this article Jennifer. Everything that you said is so true. Experienced staff is experienced at letting someone else do their job and the chefs hardly ever realize what is going on in their restaurants. Nice job!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks Kathy! I enjoyed writing this article as well. I also think that oblivious attitudes come not only from some Chefs, but from Front of Housers as well. We all have to stay with it and see the whole opperation, appreciate what we have and fix what we don’t like. “It takes an army”…or is it “It takes a community”? It takes a lot of great restaurant peeps! Thanks for reading Kathy. May all of your guests be cheerful, kind and excellent tippers.

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