Server Life - #Winning
Everyone thinks being a server is easy.
If I was to give you a nickle for every time I’ve heard someone say that being a server is easy work, you’d be a multi-millionaire. It’s no secret that most servers, bartenders, hosts, bussers, etc. make half of minimum wage and must rely on their tips to pay the bills. That’s all well and good until it’s the slow season, or you serve in a restaurant that seems to attract those stingy diners. Chefs always say that they’d rather be out in the air-conditioned dining room than slaving over a hot line, but we all know they’d change their mind after 30 seconds dealing with some of those problematic customers.
I once had a table put down $20 in $5 bills. The table said “this $20 is your tip, and for every mistake you make, we will take away $5”. Can you believe some people are this f*cking entitled? Yes, you can. Because a similar situation has probably happened to you, or a server you know. Thankfully, it’s rare I encountered people of this character, but you’re always going to get some bad apples along your journey.
It takes a special kind of person to succeed in the Front of the House world - someone with an Oscar, a Master’s in psychology, and Bachelors in digestive diseases. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye, and I’m going to share some simple tips with you to help make it survivable and maybe even enjoyable!
“Leave your sh*t at the door!”
We all have personal stuff going on in our real lives and there’s no place for it at work. Use your job as a break from your own reality. Walk in the door, put on your happy face mask and kill ‘em with kindness. Your team will all benefit from you focusing 100% on work and remaining undistracted by personal junk while trying to memorize orders and relay tickets. The guests of the restaurant don’t know you and won’t be able to tell that your smile is 100% fake. You can set the mood for their time in your section within the first 30 seconds of greeting them. I know it’s easier said than done!
“be a pro on the floor”
If you walk up to your table, looking put together, with a confident smile and make eye contact, you will reduce the likelihood of them harassing you by 90%, and automatically give a great first impression (which statistically, raises the chances of a better tip). They are called guests for a reason. This is your restaurant, you’re hosting this dinner, so you want them to be wowed, but you must be in charge. Always use professional language and give equal attention to all the guests at the table. Serve the ladies first (when applicable) and use phrases like “absolutely” “my pleasure” and avoid slang*.
*Different restaurants call for different interactions and a different type of service. If you’re working in a diner or a bar, you probably aren’t going to be providing the same type of service than what you would in a high-end restaurant.
“Know the Menu”
Even if it’s your first day, there’s no excuse for not knowing the menu, at least the specialty items. Nothing pisses the chefs off more than someone who doesn’t know about the food they’re cooking. The LAST thing a chef wants to do when buried with tickets is talk to the FOH about what menu items are Gluten Free or Vegan - you should know this. Ask to make copies of the menu or visit the restaurant’s online menu and STUDY! Ask the chef to explain the specials, what menu items are good for people with dietary restrictions, etc. If you don’t know anything about a particular ingredient, then ask! Chefs (by nature) have a crazy ego, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, talking about their food - you asking them pre-service about menu items will put you in their good books.
If the guests asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, never say “I don’t know” try “ Let me find out for you!” and go and ask the kitchen or your manager for clarification, consult with our old friend Google if you choose! Bottom line - know the menu like you created it.
“Avoid Conflict with the Kitchen”
Everyone knows that chefs tend to get frazzled and take out their frustrations on the servers from time to time. They’re under a lot of pressure, just like we are, thankfully they don’t have to pretend like everything is fine in front of guests while the house is on fire all around them. If the Back of House starts to get snappy with you, it’s in your best interest to be the bigger person. Lead by example and treat the chefs with respect, call them “chef” and ask nicely for anything you may need from them. They will more than likely return the favor (and their temper cools off quickly). If they start to shout, let them finish, then simply state what you need from them in a calm voice and take a walk through the dining room while they figure it out.
“You Screwed up an Order”
It’s always tempting to blame everything on the kitchen or to tell the guests that the pasta that you watched the chef generously toss with butter, is “definitely dairy-free!” to avoid conflict. However, it’s always best to own up in these situations. Most guests will react a lot better if you simply get on their level, let them know what happened, and offer them a round of drinks while they wait for their corrected order.
Check-in periodically throughout the meal to make the guests feel cared for without bothering them every 5 seconds. Ask how their drinks are if you notice that they aren’t eating their appetizers, ask how everything is tasting. If they’re obviously enjoying the first course, just let them eat and ask how they enjoyed the dishes as you’re clearing their empty plates. Once the entrees are served check-in 5 minutes later and make sure the meat is cooked to their liking. If at any point in their meal, someone has a complaint or a dish needs to be re-fired, simply apologize to the guest, and get it fixed as soon as possible. Don’t place blame on the chef when returning the plate, just relay the exact feedback from the guests and get them to re-fire the dish on the fly.
“You got the Table from Hell”
Sometimes it seems like certain guests go out to eat simply because they feel like giving someone a hard time. Think of this time as an opportunity to play a game. Try to see how quickly you can turn them around. Honestly, that’s probably what they’re doing anyway, playing games. Usually, if you can put up with their harsh requests at the start of the meal, you’ll be able to crack a joke with them by the end and these types of people often give the best tips!
The stupid real-life stuff we leave at the door at the start of our shift, the guests have that too. But they aren’t at work, they have all their stuff still on their mind and might be venting it out to their spouse at the table. Try to realize that we’re all human and sometimes people just need to feel “special”. So, although the “special treatment” is taxing, especially when its for people who are “vegan but eat chicken” do your best to keep that smile on and be pleasant.
That’s all the advice I have for you this time. Just know that we know server life is FAR from easy!